Location: Colorado, USA
A project of: Rocky Mountain Farmers Union
Contact: Bill Stevenson, bill.stevenson@rmfu.org

Mobile farm worker walks toward mountains on Colorado farm

Nationwide, there are two jobs available in agriculture for every new job seeker. Farmers and ranchers in the Rocky Mountain West haven’t escaped the problem of securing reliable, efficient labor, and the current lack of available labor especially affects smallholder and family farms and ranches.

However, a creative solution is in the works in Colorado to help farmers and ranchers with tasks that run the gamut from fence-mending to pruning to harvesting to even setting and pulling irrigation pipe.

In 2018, two mobile farm workforce pilot projects along the northern Front Range and in southwest Colorado showed enough promise that Rocky Mountain Farmers Union has announced a commitment of $4000 to each project for 2019.

Last year, the pilot along the northern Front Range, coordinated by UpRoot Colorado, involved 15 mobile farm workers setting foot on 10 different farms and ranches across four counties for nine weeks, from September till early November. The workers harvested ~200,000 pounds of crops for participating farmers and ranchers. Three members of the workforce were veterans who found that farming resides at the intersection of an honest day’s work and the healing and spiritual benefits of stepping onto the land.

The southwest Colorado project sponsored by The Good Food Collective worked with two distinct cohorts. The first involved providing skills, training, and job experience for five young professionals eager to engage in community organizing and/or food systems work. This team provided an invaluable service to southwest Colorado’s recently revitalized orchard industry, harvesting over 112,000 pounds of fruit for area cideries and juice manufacturers, while receiving much-needed project management experience and 21st century skills development to support the team’s future professional endeavors. The second cohort featured students from Fort Lewis College in Durango providing farm labor as part of a co-curricular, paid learning and professional development experience. The land has a special place in the culture and curriculum of the college, whose students include individuals from 170 Native American tribes and Native Alaskan villages.

The vision for the pilot projects is for them to evolve into worker-owned farm labor cooperatives in the near future—a great way to bring the benefits and responsibilities of business ownership to workers who likely have not owned and managed their own businesses while addressing the labor gaps currently existing on both farms and ranches in the Rocky Mountain West.

Part of RMFU’s work with the pilots this year will be to assist them in raising additional funds as they work towards sustainability.

About Rocky Mountain Farmers Union

Rocky Mountain Farmers Union is an advocate for family farmers and ranchers, local communities, and consumers. We are a progressive grassroots organization whose members determine our priorities. Founded in 1907, RMFU represents farm and ranch families in Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming. Working together with similar National Farmers Union chapters across America, we are the heart and soul of NFU.

About UpRoot Colorado

UpRoot Colorado was established in October 2017 and works to measurably reduce on-farm surplus agriculture in Colorado, support the economic stability of farmers, and increase the nutritional security of our state’s residents.

About The Good Food Collective

The Good Food Collective was established in October 2017 to reinstate an intact regional food system in southwestern Colorado that would drive local economic vitality, create workforce opportunities, promote environmental stewardship, and provide equitable access to healthy, local food. The GFC operates three different initiatives in La Plata, Montezuma, and Archuleta Counties which include Food Security and Health Equity, Regional Convening and Coordination, and Agricultural Support.