Democracy is decidedly out of fashion in 21st-century American political culture. Indeed, one could argue that democracy has been out of fashion for decades. At this time, it seems almost truistic to note that what is often styled “representative government” is all too frequently representative of little more than private interests, special interests, and corporate interests. We have become narcotized to the contemporary reality that corporations and lobbyists often dictate law and policy—and unabashedly do so to a most disturbing and unprecedented extent.
The reasons for the demise of American democracy are not far to seek. For decades, tens of millions of Americans have routinely abdicated their right and responsibility to vote. Long work hours, incessant entertainment, bread and circuses of all kinds have kept many, if not most, Americans entirely out of the political process. And from at least as early as the 1970s, American corporations have been rapidly consolidating power and influence at the expense the American people. In his well-received 1995 book, When Corporations Rule the World, David C. Korten noted: “what we are seeing is a frontal assault on democratic pluralism to advance the ideological agenda of corporate libertarianism.” The above-mentioned influences—and there are many others—have spawned our current political system, an impenetrable network of bureaucracies which have little desire or use for public “intervention”: we the people are expected to leave policy to the politicos.
This is no longer acceptable, as if it were ever acceptable. The evidence is all too clear: blind faith—or any faith—in our current political process and leadership is neither prudent, responsible, nor democratic. The nation-wide “Occupy movement” would seem to be an inevitable consequence of the decades-long status quo of corporate control of our political institutions. Meanwhile, here in Boulder County, an epicenter of all things organic, the presence of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on the county’s publicly owned open space has been a source of alarm to the majority of residents of Boulder County in recent years. Boulder County citizens, highly informed and deeply concerned about the irrefutable dangers of GMOs, have found themselves consistently “shut out” of the crafting of public policy, and the governing bodies of Boulder County have consistently resisted public input.
In response to this unacceptable and undemocratic state of affairs, a local gathering of concerned citizens has recently forged The Citizen’s Cropland Policy, which is based upon the policy statement proposed by Boulder County Parks and Open Space. The Citizen’s Cropland Policy significantly improves and expands upon the original document in such a way as to preserve and sustain tens of thousands of arable acres of open space for future generations.
Context and Chronology
To better understand the background of the Citizen’s Cropland Policy, it might be helpful to briefly revisit the recent history behind the current GMO controversy in Boulder County. In 2003, local farmers were given permission by the Boulder County Commissioners to plant genetically modified BT corn on land they leased from open space in Boulder County. From 2001 to 2011, the area allotted for Bt corn expanded from 347 acres to over 2000 acres. At the time, few Boulder County citizens were aware that GMOs were being grown on 25,000 acres of their Open Space croplands.
The watershed year in the controversy was 2009. That year six Boulder County farmers sought permission from the Boulder County Commissioners to plant genetically modified sugar beets on Boulder County Open Space. The still unresolved request ignited a public outcry, raised local awareness of the presence and implications of GMOS on publicly owned open space, and precipitated regional, national, and international press coverage.
To address mounting discontent throughout Boulder County, the Boulder County Commissioners created the Cropland Policy Advisory Group to assist the staff at Parks and Open Space. Two central goals of the consortium were: 1) to explore the purported benefits and potential risks of GMOs; and 2) to apply findings to the end of creating cropland policy. In 2011, the nine-member Cropland Policy Advisory Group (CPAG) comprised “three conventional farmers, two organic farmers, a representative from an organic dairy, and three at-large citizens.” And in February, they began the process of crafting the policy. The 2011 Boulder County Parks and Open Space Cropland Policy Draft notes the following:
CPAG meetings were open to the public for observation; public comments were taken in written form and forwarded to CPAG for review; at the request of members of the public, a public input session was added the to CPAG schedule.
In spite of such “appeals” for public observation and input, not a few Boulder County citizens felt their presence and input decidedly unwelcome at the CPAG meetings held in Longmont, Colorado in 2011. Moreover, their pleas for caution and their own extensive research—over 1000 pages of peer reviewed studies, articles, and public comments providing information on the dangers of GMOs—were summarily ignored in the final CPAG documents. And aside from minority reports filed by a few members of CPAG and a mere two articles, no documentation was to be found other than sources provided by Monsanto. Clearly, a new vision was in order.
So in true democracy fashion, a group of citizens, scientists, growers, farmer and policy wonks, took it upon themselves to craft the Citizens’ Cropland Policy to put forth as an alternative management policy for the 35,00 acres of Boulder County citizen owned Parks and Open Space agricultural lands. The eight guiding principles for the management of Boulder County Open Space agricultural lands are as follows:
- Boulder County Open Space (BCOS) agricultural lands will be managed with a focus on soil quality and health & sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices.
- The use of BCOS agricultural lands will be prioritized for food, fiber and fodder production that support local markets and provide direct benefit to the citizens of Boulder County.
- A multi-characteristic mapping and inventory of all BCOS agricultural lands shall be conducted and maintained to identify and rank the Highest and Best Use of all parcels.
- Testing and monitoring for soil health and other factors will be performed yearly and the data maintained as part of the mapping and inventory of all BCOS ag lands.
- GMOs are prohibited on BCOS agricultural lands.
- Glyphosate and neonicotinoid pesticides are banned on BCOS agricultural lands.
- A moratorium on the use of biosolids (sewage sludge) will be implemented until a thorough evaluation can be completed on the risks to BCOS agricultural lands.
- As with cropland, grazing land and livestock operations should be preferentially managed using sustainable and regenerative agricultural production principles and prioritized for local food and fiber production.
The Citizens’ Cropland Policy was grafted alongside and within the original CPAG document so the two documents may be compared side-by-side. This table can be accessed at www.bcccp.info.
On Thursday, December 8th, the County Commissioners will be holding a public hearing beginning at 6:00pm at The Longmont Conference Center, 1850 Industrial Blvd in Longmont to hear public testimony regarding the Open Space Cropland Policy. Sometime this month, they will decide if they will continue to allow the planting of GMOs on Open Space lands.
Conclusion: A Call to Action
A critical joint meeting of the Boulder County Parks and Open Space Advisory Committee and the Food and Agriculture Policy Council took place in Longmont, Colorado on November 15th. The Citizen’s Cropland Policy was presented and was met with immediate praise that evening. Twenty-four hours later, the Boulder County Food and Agriculture Policy Council rejected the continuation of GMOs on Boulder County Open Space, advocating a phasing out of the undesired technology. And 24 hours after that, the Parks and Open Space Advisory Council voted 5 to 4 for a phase out of GMOs from Open Space land.
Shanan Olson, an organic farmer and member of Boulder County’s Food and Agriculture Policy Council stated: “In my lifetime, this is an unprecedented act of democracy that I’ve never seen before.” As Americans struggle to reclaim their long lost freedoms, let us hope that what is now “unprecedented” may one day become the norm.
 David C. Korten, When Corporations Rule the World (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 1995), page 144.
 Boulder County Parks and Open Space. Cropland Policy – The Cropland Advisory Group Draft, November 2011, page 8.
 Cropland Advisory Group Draft, page 8.