by Jim Frazier

Joe and Chris Miller operate Miller Farms with their seven children. Niece Alyssa Mallard, 10, helped sell produce last week. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun,” she said. Miller Farms market produce at 43 locations in the region.

How would Colorado feed itself in an emergency?  That is just one of the questions to be answered by “From Plant to Plate”, a research project funded by three northern Colorado counties: Weld, Larimer, and Boulder. Larimer County planning department is the lead agency in the project whose data will be used to strengthen the local food system and economy.

Some interesting facts have already been discovered by this Northern Colorado Regional Food System Assessment. The initial data was presented in Weld County on July 15th.
For instance, bees are the fastest growing new livestock in Weld County, and people in Boulder County eat more vegetables than people in Weld County. These simple facts, and hundreds of others, may hold serious implications for the region and present good ideas for economic development.

“The goal is to understand the local food system in the northern Colorado region,” said Linda Hoffman, Larimer County planner. “The data can be used for food security, economic development, public health, and land-use decisions.”

The project results are being conveyed to the public via a series of open house events from August 12 to September 2. The final report will be presented near the end of 2010.  More details are available online at The open house events will be held at the Southwest Weld County Services Complex at exit 240 off Highway I-25.

Data is still being gathered on agricultural processing, marketing, public health, nutrition, and food security.

One interesting fact is that 81% of Weld County land is used for farming or ranching. “That’s just an enormous amount compared to Boulder and Larimer County,” said Hoffman. About 29% is used for the same purposes in Larimer and Boulder counties.

One idea for economic development is for schools to purchase locally produced food from area farmers for school lunches. More than 2 million lunches are prepared in the region each year. “When kids eat at school, they can be inspired to know they are eating food from a local farm,” said Hoffman.

The number of farms has increased in Weld County mostly due to carving up bigger farms into smaller 35-acre plots for weekend and specialty crop farmers. Lifestyle farms now make up 43% of all the farms in Weld County.

Also, compared to the other counties, Weld farmers are the youngest. More young people are staying in agriculture in Weld than in Boulder and Larimer County.

Vegetable consumption has doubled in recent years, but the region imports more fresh vegetables than the people consume. Thus, farmers may want to grow more vegetables.

As for eating out at restaurants, Colorado is the number one state in the nation for people eating out away from home.

A main focus of the initial research was the spending of money by farmers. What do producers buy? Where do they spend their money?  Livestock producers spend about 70% of their money for livestock, and 14% for farm operations.

In Weld county agricultural producers spend $14 Billion a year, which is 7 times more than spent in the other two counties.

Issues like farmers markets, tourism, and conservation are the focus of future events. For example, farmers might be inspired to help with conservation by creating habitats for birds.

Organizer said that the public should learn to “Know your farmer, know your food. Whether you are buying small or big, local or foreign, the more you know about your farmer, the better” said Hoffman.  For further information contact Linda Hoffmann, Director of Planning and Building Services. Her email is:, or call 970.498.7681.

Funds for the Northern Colorado Regional Food System Assessment Project were awarded by the Colorado Heritage Planning Grant Program of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA).

Boulder County Larimer County Weld County
What percentage of the county’s land area is in agriculture?
29% 29% 81%
What percentage of production expenses go to paid labor?
24% 20% 8%
What was the fastest growing livestock category,
as measured by the number of farms?
Goats Bees Bees
How many school lunch meals are potentially served in the region per year?
What percentage of the county’s consumers ate the suggested 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day in the’07-’08 period?
30.3% 29.4% 23.2%
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