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| by SEAN WATERS |
Seth Jansen and I are both Fort Collins natives; we went to Cache La Poudre Junior High and Poudre High School. We both got undergraduate and graduate degrees from Colorado State University, where I studied humanities, and Seth studied engineering. We both love the scene here. Since graduating, Seth has stayed in Fort Collins, working for a sustainability engineering firm and starting his own smart home services business. His newest project – a land cooperative called Poudre Valley CommunityFarms (www.farmland.coop) is an exciting and heroic venture in community investment.
On our first ski trip this season, Seth began telling me about the land co-op, which he said was moving along well. They had already raised, at that point, $300,000 to “buy and preserve local farmland.” As Seth shared the challenges of creating a legally recognized land cooperative, I wondered: what drives an engineer to preserving farmland and supporting local farmers? How did this happen? At first, the discussions about soil health and high-impact investing seemed like a departure from his work as an engineer and entrepreneur. Now, however, I see the co-op project as a kind of humanitarian engineering that is providing away for the Fort Collins community to invest in farmland, farmers, and the highest quality local food.
As I got more interested in the project, Seth agreed to meet over coffee and describe his work as President of the co-op’s Board of Directors. “Across the country we have vanishing farmland, diminishing topsoil, and struggling local farmers,” Seth explained. “The agricultural land surrounding Fort Collins is at risk of being sold to the highest bidder—and that’s not likely to be a farmer.”Local farmers—Seth’s friends—were at risk of losing their access to farmland.
The Poudre Valley Community Farms land cooperative, a product of countless meetings and human connections, presented a solution to these problems. By “harnessing the power of member-owner investment, creative financing techniques, conservation easements and community partnerships,” the co-op has now raised more than 70% of their $600,000 initial fund-raising goal. They’re set to purchase their first tract of farmland later this year.This is local heroism at its finest. Seth Jansen– the whiz-kid who built robots in middle school– is now building solutions to benefit our local ecological, economic, and social health.As Seth talked about the wellbeing of his farmer friends and the soil they cultivated, I thought of our human interactions as a kind of complex ecology – like the soil itself. “This is a true community effort,” he emphasized,citing the crucial work of “volunteer soil lovers and local food advocates, board members, and member-owners.” Smiling with humor and humility, he then credited his wife, who basically made it possible for him to “dedicate a year anda half to work without pay.”What’s next? Now that the Poudre ValleyCommunity Farms land cooperative has been created, Seth is looking for more opportunities for creative solutions that draw on our community’s cooperative and entrepreneurial natures.Perhaps, Seth wonders, a member-owned cooperative could incubate and invest in talented artists in Fort Collins.Let’s hope so.If you’d like to learn more about the cooperative and becoming a member-owner, visit the website, farmland.coop.