Local food producers faced many challenges this year. Hail, extreme seasonal temperatures and grasshoppers have made it difficult for many small market gardens and community-supported agriculture farms in El Paso County to deliver fresh, local veggies. But water issue impacts on popular small farms topped the news.
Venetucci Farm near Security suspended food sales and irrigation of crops in response to contamination in the aquifer, used to irrigate the farm's famous pumpkins and community-supported agriculture-share vegetables. Closer to Falcon, Ahavah Farm in Peyton announced that they received a cease and desist letter from the Colorado Division of Water Resources directing them to stop using their well for irrigating vegetables and chickens for eggs.
These announcements created concern among market gardeners and small farms in the area, said Yosef Camire, owner of Ahavah Farm. “We need more small farms in El Paso County, not fewer,” Camire said. “Only a small single-digit percentage of food eaten in this region is grown anywhere near here. What happens when the trucks stop, even for a little while?”
Water law in Colorado is complicated. Lawmakers must balance the needs of agriculture in the state and thirsty urban areas versus what Colorado is legally required to release down river to the Midwest and desert Southwest. “We are a prior appropriation state, where people have very old water rights that are their private property,” said Kevin Rein, deputy state engineer for the Division of Water Resources. “People rely on those rights to run their businesses and livelihoods. If someone comes along and intercepts, it's going to impact those people downstream.”
A new farmer or gardener may not realize the water they pull from a shallow well eventually would have been the water a farmer in the Arkansas Valley or in Kansas uses. The water flowing under a property may be part of larger water rights purchased generations ago. “Someone might do that without intending to impact someone, and they may get a long way into their plans and spend a lot of time and money, only to realize they can't do this legally,” Rein said. “And that's not good for anyone involved.”
The relatively new beyond-organic small-scale food movement tries to keep water use as low as possible as part of an overall environmental philosophy. “We're trying to do the right thing for our food supply and everyone else,” Camire said. “We're trying to take into consideration the water supply, livestock and the environment.”
However, for small-scale producers like the Camire family, Colorado law historically viewed even a single gallon of water from non-commercial wells that had been used for commercial purposes illegal.
“There's a few different kinds of water legally in Colorado,” said Hank Worley, Colorado Springs based water law attorney. “It's all 'H2O,' but its treated differently by the agencies.” Most homes with wells in El Paso County will have exempt household well permits that allow either inside-the-home use with no outside watering at all or domestic well permits that allow watering of up to an acre of personal lawn or garden and personal livestock watering, Worley said.
Newer micro farms and market gardeners get hung up on the phrase “personal use.” The local organic food movement is relatively new in the Pikes Peak region, so the law and policies have struggled to determine where these micro farms fit into water laws. “Before, I haven't done much of these small farms, but it's becoming much more popular,” Worley said. “I've been doing this for 30 years; and, before 2011, the state would have taken the position you couldn't do anything with the water for any sales purposes.”
Receiving the cease-and-desist letter from the DWR was a huge blow to Camire, especially after a series of devastating hail storms that already had stretched his farm to the limit. “I was scared when we got the letter,” Camire said. “We had worked so hard to build this farm: compost, building soils, fencing, hoop houses, everything. I thought it was over, and it was a potentially life-changing moment for us. Knowing that I had done all the research to make sure we were doing it right, then getting this letter boiled my blood.”
The Camire family was able to fight the DWR's cease-and-desist order by showing that their homestead farm met the requirements of a relatively unknown 2011 policy. The policy was in place to help rural residents commercially sell a limited amount of vegetables and livestock without violating the law and interfering with downstream rights.
“There's that continuum moving, from home lawn and garden through selling extras to actual irrigation of a large commercial crop,” Rein said. “The law describes it as a home lawn and garden. Initially, you might interpret that to mean that's entirely for your own use. But we recognize the intent of the law is that people in rural areas will grow more and sell at a farmers market. So we articulated our interpretation to apply that people may grow products like vegetables that could be sold, but we require certain criteria is met for that irrigation.”
The DWR's Policy 2011-3 allows the 1-acre of home gardens and lawns to include plants for sale as long as
- The property has a home that is the primary single-family residence for the party growing the plants
- The revenue from the plants sold is not a primary source of income
- The primary purpose of the irrigation is for personal use of the same kind of plants being sold
- Irrigation of plants remains within the seasons for irrigation (i.e., no heated greenhouses)
As of this season, Ahavah Farm and the other small farms Camire spoke to soon after receiving the original letter meet these restrictions. Camire is also an engineer, which is his main source of income. Camire said they are still working on getting commercially permitted water brought to their farm to avoid any future changes in policy, and to allow them to eventually grow the farm into a primary source of income for the family.
Commercial well permits and augmentation plans are also available depending on what aquifer system a well reaches. The exact details vary greatly on where a well is located. “For someone who doesn't do well-permitting issues every day, it can get complicated,” Rein said. “So the best idea is to contact us at the division before committing to a great idea that doesn't quite work.”
Residents on metropolitan systems, including Colorado Springs Utilities or Falcon's Woodmen Hills or Meridian Ranch Metropolitan districts may be able to use their water to grow plants for farmers markets, provided it is also in compliance with community covenants and county land use restrictions. “If you're on a central system like CSU; and, if I pay for a tap that's appropriately sized unless there's something in the district's bylaws that prohibit it, you should be able to use what you pay for,” Worley said.
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Glancing around the Falcon High School track underneath an azure sky, Joyce Clapham, Relay for Life Falcon/Peyton event lead had a wide smile on her face.
“I've never had this much help setting up before,” Clapham said.
From across the field on Saturday, Aug. 20, she watched as Falcon High School students with the Student Crew, JClub, JROTC and Key Club prepared the track for the Relay for Life Falcon/Peyton event kickoff.
Just after noon, Christina Breiner, the “people lead,” joined Clapham in welcoming participants to the event, which marked the 31st year of the Relay.
To a crowd of cancer survivors, caregivers, friends and family, Clapham said, “We’re very excited to bring you together in the fight against cancer. Relay is 31 years strong, and it would not be strong without each and every one of you.
“All of you are the American Cancer Society. It’s not just this large national organization, but it really is a grassroots organization ... serving all of the people ... here today.”
Relay for Life is the American Cancer Society’s largest annual fundraiser, Breiner said.
Gathering in front of a banner that read, “There is no finish line until we find a cure,” survivors and caretakers took to the track to officially start the event, which ran for 12 hours through midnight.
As they finished the first lap, the crowd cheered loudly; and Breiner talked about the survivors.
“They’ve endured days of illness, medical appointments, tears, surgery, fear of the unknown — all kinds of things. Yet, they’re still here with us today, and we want to honor their crusade,” Breiner said.
Randy and Shelly Cuellar and their daughters, Samantha, age 15, and Grace, age 7, understand the battle against cancer. At just 6 months old, firstborn Samantha was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, an aggressive brain tumor located in the cerebellum.
According to the American Brain Tumor Association’s website, “Medulloblastoma is relatively rare, accounting for less than 2 percent of all primary brain tumors and 18 percent of all pediatric brain tumors. More than 70 percent of all pediatric medulloblastomas are diagnosed in children under age 10. Very few occur in children up to age 1.”
Doctors tried to prepare the young parents for the road ahead.
“It was really overwhelming. I remember our little baby going through a10-hour surgery; and, after that, going through chemo; and 10 months later going through another major eight-to-10 hour surgery,” Randy Cuellar said. The next three to five years were about working hard on the path to recovery, he added.
“We had so many people and organizations come alongside us,” Cuellar said. “You can’t do it on your own … you need people to surround you.”
Ten years later, they noticed signs in Grace, who was 2 years old at the time. Concerned, Randy said he and Shelly spoke to doctors and told them their history. Doctors assured the couple they were “over-concerned.”
“They said, ‘This type of tumor is not genetic. There’s no way it strikes twice,’” Cuellar said.
But Shelly, with “mom’s intuition,” refused to give up, he said. They urged doctors to take a closer look, and soon they discovered that Grace also had medulloblastoma.
Their story has a happy ending. Samantha has been cancer-free for 10 years and Grace for five.
“As a family who’s been through this thing twice, it’s amazing how different our experience was 10 years ago ... . Technology, science and medicine have completely advanced. It’s honestly because of organizations like this,” Cuellar said.
As of Aug. 23, 20 Relay for Life Falcon/Peyton teams and134 participants raised $28,712.51 for the event, according to its website.
The top individual fundraiser, Diane Saign, raised $3,804.22 with her Relay team, Golfing for a Cancer Cure. Saign held her fourth annual Golfing for a Cancer Cure Golf Tournament July 31.
The money she raised benefited the Relay for Life and American Cancer Society’s cancer research, programs and services for cancer patients, caregivers and survivors.
The top-earning Relay team, Josh’s Crew, brought in $5,713 for the cause.
Other highlights of the family-friendly event included the Luminaria and Fight Back ceremonies, which honor loved ones who have lost their battles with cancer and those still fighting the disease.
Additionally, the Falcon High School choir sang the National Anthem; the FHS JROTC presented the colors and the FHS cheer squad performed.
Relay for Life Falcon/Peyton would like to thank the following sponsors:
Presenting sponsors: Fox 21 and SoCo CW
Platinum sponsors: iHeart Radio Sunny 106.3 and Mountain View Electric Association
Gold sponsors: Falcon High School and District 49
Silver sponsors: Colorado Springs Winnelson Co. and JAKs Brewing Co.
Bronze sponsors: Thunderbolt Builders, Guadalajara Mexican Family Restaurant, The New Falcon Herald and Farmers State Bank
Signature sponsors: The Furnace Guy, Happy Heart Homes, Rescued Hearts, Falcon Property Solutions, Flowers Flowers etc., Firehouse Subs, Dion’s Pizza and the Falcon High School JROTC
Relay for Life Falcon/Peyton also thanks everyone who donated their time and services for this event.
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