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Preserve Long’s Gardens, Expand Urban Agriculture


By and

Long’s Gardens and the adjacent community gardens cover 25 acres in the heart of Boulder. Those who visit Long’s Gardens at 3240 Broadway experience a unique piece of Boulder’s heritage that is like stepping back in time. The Long family has owned the property since 1916, and they have offered the City of Boulder a perpetual conservation easement for the entire property that will ensure this urban gem remains dedicated to agriculture and agricultural education for future generations.  The conservation easement could enshrine Long’s Gardens as the crown jewel of urban agriculture in Boulder and continue our marvelous history of land preservation for community benefit.

Long’s Gardens (photo by Peter Mayer)

Many people are under the mistaken impression that the Long’s Gardens property, including the community gardens area and ¡Cultiva!  youth project is already protected and preserved.  This is not the case.  The entire 25 acre Long’s Gardens property including the community gardens area is private land.  Even the bike path that follows Farmers Ditch near North Boulder Recreation Center is leased annually to the City by the Long family.  Without a conservation easement, the long-term future of this historic agricultural property is uncertain.

This is a defining moment in the illustrious history of land conservation in Boulder.  Preserving this 25 acre urban farm will establish Boulder as a leader in urban agriculture, will further our long-standing goals of land preservation for agricultural uses and agricultural production, and will contribute immensely to the quality of life of our community.  Boulder citizens have spent millions over the past 50 years to conserve land as far away as Jefferson County.  In 2013 we have the opportunity to take action much closer to home by preserving the last significant piece of agricultural land within the City limits.  Surely this is among the most deserving proposals to come before City Council in many years.

Urban agriculture is part of Boulder’s heritage, but it is also essential to our future.  To reduce our carbon emissions we must grow more food locally and decrease the distance from farm to plate. Long’s Gardens possess suitable soils and irrigation water delivery systems that are essential for growing crops.

Iris at Long’s Gardens (photo by Peter Mayer)

Much of the land at Long’s Gardens is already used intensively for community agricultural projects and agricultural education.  Growing Gardens, which manages the eastern part of the property, each year serves about 10,000 people of all ages, income levels, and abilities.  Low-income families and people with disabilities are a particular focus.  Over 70% of people served by Growing Gardens access the Hawthorn gardens on the Long’s property.  About 220 local gardeners have plots at the Hawthorn gardens, and there is a waiting list each year.  Growing Gardens ¡Cultiva! youth program operates a 2 acre organic market garden and greenhouses on the Long’s property. Participants ages 12 to 19 plant, nurture, harvest, and sell their produce shares weekly to CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) members, and participate in volunteer projects for the community.  The Children’s Peace Garden program, which also operates primarily on the Long’s property, teaches children about the source of the food they eat, organic gardening practices, the importance of biodiversity and community, and reconnecting with the Earth. The Mountain Flower Goat Dairy, a non-profit which now operates on the western side of the Long’s property, invites children, school groups and adults to participate in and learn about sustainable animal husbandry practices and small-scale dairy production.  The Long family is also engaged in educating the community about the history of farming in Boulder through public presentations, private conversations with those shopping for iris on their farm, and by welcoming visiting school-children to their historic buildings.

A key goal of open space, pursuant to the Open Space charter, is the preservation of agricultural land and an agricultural conservation easement is not a new concept for the city which has been buying similar easements all over the county and beyond for many years.   However, the Long’s property also has some significant differences from existing open space agricultural properties due to the focus on education and the property’s location.  Long’s Gardens is in central Boulder and easily accessible by public transportation, foot and bike.  This land is already far more intensively used by the citizens of Boulder than any similarly-sized rural open space holding.   Rural holdings are critical to Boulder’s unique character—but so is Long’s Gardens.

A well-crafted conservation easement that incorporates the city’s extensive land preservation experience and acknowledges the wishes of the Long family can successfully preserve this land from development and for agriculture.  In 2011, the Long family offered an easement to the city for $4.8 million.  The city has completed an appraisal of the property which should give taxpayers confidence that the final price for an easement, whatever it may be, is appropriate.

Some have asked if an outright fee-purchase of the Long’s Gardens land would be a better choice for the city.  However, this is not an option at this time: Long’s Gardens is not for sale.  What has been offered is a perpetual conservation easement.  For Boulder taxpayers, the good news is that this is actually a less expensive way of preserving this land and ensuring it will be part of Boulder’s agricultural legacy.  The Long family’s pursuit of a perpetual conservation easement rather than a property sale underlines their dedication to our local history and heritage and to the expansion of urban agriculture in Boulder.

Another important question is how the farm will be managed when the Long family decides that it no longer wishes to be involved in day-to-day operations.  This issue must be carefully and considerately addressed in the negotiations for the easement.  Given the success of Growing Gardens in managing the eastern portion of the property, it is clear that a well-run non-profit organization can successfully manage this land for the city.  Furthermore, there are numerous examples of flourishing urban agricultural projects from around the country we can draw upon.

The Boulder City Council will be discussing whether to investigate purchase of the conservation easement for Long’s Gardens on June 18, 2013.  If approved, it is expected there will be further negotiations with the Long family and review by the Open Space Board of Trustees before a specific proposal returns to the council for approval.   To support this important preservation effort:

  • Contact City Council before June 18 at council@bouldercolorado.gov
  • Talk to your friends, neighbors, and interested local organizations and businesses and ask them to support the preservation of Long’s Gardens.

Preservation of Long’s Gardens would be a significant and lasting achievement for the city.  Future generations will judge us on what we have done to conserve our heritage and reduce our impact on the planet.  Creating a crown jewel of urban agriculture and education in the center of Boulder is a legacy we can all be proud of.  Timing is critical.  We have the opportunity to preserve this land now.  Let’s make it happen.


for our email subscribers: this article was co-authored by Peter Mayer and Amanda Bickel

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