April 2004

Growth is a problem, not a solution

By Galen Larson

Anyone who believes residential growth is the answer to our economic problems should take a hard look at the Front Range. There, growth has destroyed all that people moved to Colorado to enjoy. They have covered their agricultural fields with expensive homes and crowded onto the mountain slopes, where newcomers complain about the natural habits of the wildlife they once thought were cute.

Growth has brought water shortages, electrical outages, ruined views because of neighbors’ new homes, communication towers on the mountains, and polluted streams and rivers. Meanwhile, the citizens eat foods brought in from foreign countries and often sprayed with banned pesticides, grown by greed-driven agricultural corporations that care not about nature or nurture, only profit and control.

The Feb. 27 Denver Post had a headline: “Douglas County tackles affordable home shortage.” Two things stand out in that headline that should scare us here in Montezuma County: “affordable” and “shortage.” Growth provides a one-time personal profit and leaves our young nowhere to turn for jobs. They won’t be able to afford to buy or rent any of these fancy summer homes that are sprouting up everywhere, but will be relegated to mobile homes while they work in lawn care or at Wal-Mart, relying on the taxpayers to provide their basic socialservices needs. The fact is that growth does not support the needs of our community. But agriculture, through purchases, sales and jobs, supplies a contining source of tax revenues that grows with the success of the venture.

We are fortunate in Montezuma County to have all the components to support agriculture: abundant sunshine, a fairly mild climate, open space, and large markets within a four-hour drive. The produce and beef grown here are a lot fresher than those that take seven days to reach the supermarkets. And we know who grew them.

Isn’t it odd that the pioneers of this area saw the potential of agriculture here from the seat of a covered wagon, when today with our vaunted technology we are about to squander everything for a few fast dollars. What a shame.

Those here that are touting tourism should be eager to help promote the ag community because, folks, that’s all you have to sell. If our area becomes covered with ticky-tacky homes on endless subdivisions with big-box discount stores on every corner, we will become a ghetto. The tourists from New Jersey are not coming to see the same things they left behind. They prefer wide-open spaces, cattle, uncluttered mountain vistas and the down-to-earth atmosphere of agriculture.

Take a look at Aspen. It seems money and affluence don’t cure all ills. Aspen, the crown jewel of rapid growth and a magnet for the pretty people, has developed a problem. A consultant hired to evaluate their downtown business core describes it as “embalmed.” Is the next step then burial?

It seems growth, even with the millionaires’ wallets, couldn’t sustain itself. A disparity between the haves and the havenots and a change in the clientele from $100 dinners and $10 martinis down to $3 burritos has forced more than a dozen upscale restaurants to close. Let’s face it, the rich are flighty and unstable. Ranchers and farmers are stable and dependable. Before it’s too late, we had best take a page from Douglas County’s book of problems and define what we are to become. Do we want to be an overpopulated cardboard community with high prices, traffic, school shortages, stressful noise levels, rising crime, and everything else that comes with uninhibited growth?

Our recent economic-development efforts have not, to my knowledge, brought us one major business from all their outside contacts. Why don’t they support the local agricultural community instead? If one has a “can’t” attitude, one never can. We don’t need outside sources to better our community. To paraphrase a famous line from the Pogo cartoon, we in agriculture have met the future and it is us.

Galen Larson is a landowner in rural Montezuma County.