City of Boulder OSMP Bidding Process

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May Regenerative.jpg
The difference between regenerative and conventional management is very obvious by simply looking down. These two photos were take the first week of May, 2018 across the property line from each other. The difference is due to the much higher carbon content of the soil. This results in both greater productivity and greater carbon capture.

Update here

The City of Boulder, along with Boulder County, owns the majority of agricultural land in our area and they lease this land out to farmers who manage it.

Over the past several years our farm, Jacob Springs Farm, has submitted bid proposals for a total of 11 properties, all within one mile of our farm (land prices are so high and the city owns so much of the agricultural land that it’s very difficult to expand without leasing land.) Time and time again our well-researched and extensive proposals have been turned down in favor of other, less sustainable and less desirable farms.

For years we have attempted to find out what we could do to make our proposals more attractive and to understand how the decisions were being made. City staff have told us that our bids themselves were fine, and then proceeded to give us a variety of reasons why we were not awarded the bid - reasons that did not make much sense ranging from questionable to illegally discriminatory (City staff “gave it to them because they come from an “old farm family” - whereas Andre, an immigrant, came to Boulder as a child - isn't this discrimination based on ancestry?) Even though winning bids are supposed to be public record, for years our requests have been ignored. This year, confused and puzzled at being denied once again we escalated the process until we had some answers.

What We Found

When we finally received some of the bids that won out, we were shocked and confused. We are publishing the results so that you can see for yourself the kinds of decisions that are being made.

Some Lowlights

Did you know that your public land is being mishanded? Here’s some recent decisions:

  • A competitive Organic and sustainable proposal was passed over, and a large parcel of land was awarded to a conventional farmer who proposed in his bid, to spray a dangerous neurotoxin which is known to be toxic to fish, directly into a ditch? (an off-label use!)
  • A conventional farmer with over 2,000 acres turned in a sloppy one-page proposal to grow hay for horses using conventional synthetic fertilizers and pesticide applications, his bid was for $5,500 annual rent. An extensive proposal from a respected local organic farmer bid $10,600 for the same property and lost.
  • Several parcels totaling 157 acres were awarded to a farmer who doesn’t own a tractor or a baler when the bid criteria clearly stated that “Ability to meet equipment requirements” was a major criterion for the decision. How are these decisions being made?

Look at the bids for yourself

Call to Action

Thanks to all those who joined us on Wednesday, May 9th at 5:45 in the Boulder Council Chambers (1777 Broadway) to tell the Open Space Board of Trustees that we need them to do better! For how it went see the update .

What We Want

  • We want the proposals awarded for hay properties (Swartz and Aweida) this year to be re-bid by an objective, outside party ASAP.
  • We want an Open and Transparent bidding process that makes land-allocation decisions objectively on the basis of the actual proposal, according to the published criteria, possibly including public comment.
  • We want the City staff to apply the following principles enumerated in the Agricultural Resource Management Plan
    • To encourage and support the next generation of farmers and ranchers
    • To expand the variety of agriculture operations on OSMP lands as appropriate with a focus on diversified vegetable/pastured livestock farming and micro dairies.
    • To introduce new operations based on market needs, working closely with existing farmers and ranchers
    • To avoid impairment of existing successful operations
    • To “Update business practices... to maintain fairness in value, transparency in process, and fiscal responsibility.”

Talking Points

If you're planning on coming to the meeting and don't know what to say - here are some talking points that you could use - let me know which of these points you'll like to focus on and I'll let you know if anyone else is covering the same points.

  • Organic values: Since the public has very clearly stated their preference for sustainable farms and local food suppliers, how can the clear preference for conventional farmers be justified? Out of over 15,000 acres of farm land, less than 500 acres are in the hands of such producers, why is the city not responding faster to the will of the public?
  • Open and Transparent Bid Process: We have a very active and involved population - why not have a bidding process that publishes bids openly and invites pubic comment? The “state of the art” would be an open bidding process, this would create a competitive environment where farmers will have an incentive to please the public and will strive to outdo one another in areas such as sustainability and stewardship, however Boulder chooses to employ a closed bid process. Why is this?
  • Agricultural Resource Managment Plan: In order to determine the public’s will for the open space properties, the city recently invested a lot of money, time and human resources on a variety of public processes to decide what to do with public land. One resulting document was the the OSMP Agricultural Resources Management Plan. This document has a strong focus on ecological and sustainability goals, and encourages local food production - if we're not going to actually apply these results to our bidding process did we just waste all the resources that we spent on that process? Did all the events, the catering, the musicians and consultants that were hired have any effect? Or was it all for show?
  • The City is supposed to "avoid impairment of existing successful operations" and should be "working closely with existing farmers and ranchers" yet the way the city has treated Jacob Springs Farm has been downright aggressive - denying them all the land in their vicinity and and supporting their only direct competitors in the area? (there's more than enough land for everyone, but why place the only two small dairies in direct competition while only supporting one? Why isn't the city honoring their commitment to "work closely with existing successful operation?" If the City is in the business of picking winners and losers- what criteria are they using? (Since it clearly isn't the criteria they are publishing!)
  • Systemic Bias/ Institutional Racism: Given that over 50% of Agricultural Workers in the State of Colorado are minorities, it seems wrong that not a single acre of Boulder farmland, to our knowledge, is leased by a minority farmer. It would be nice if we had a program to address this, but at the very least, since the bidding system is clearly not being run in an objective or transparent way - how can we be reassured that systemic or implicit bias is not at play in our bidding system? If we are actively favoring "Old Farm Families" over immigrants - as staff have stated that they are - how is this consistent with the City of Boulder's policies on diversity and against discrimination?
  • Pesticides: We don't want proposals that include pesticide operations to be winning over regenerative, sustainable and ecologically-minded proposals!
  • Financial Accountability: It's not good financial stewardship to concentrate properties in the hands of a few large operators who generally don't have a lot invested in any one property, who make thin margins in commodity agriculture and who, when they go under, leave a huge void! But it's entirely another thing to refuse bids that will pay nearly TWICE as much money when there is no good reason to do so! Spread things around more! Small farms create more value per acre and this benefits the city.
  • Local food: Why is so much land being allocated to farmers who are not involved in local food production? Why are farmers producing horse hay being subsidized when farmers producing diverse foods for local consumption are disadvantaged?

Update, May 10, 2018

The OSMP Board of Trustees Meeting was a definite step in the right direction. Thanks to everyone who came to support the cause! Here is a summary of what happened.

About 15-20 supporters attended the OSMP Board of Trustees meeting on May 9, 2018 including a few farmers, and at least one member of the press. 6 people signed up to speak on the matter. The speakers each spoke powerfully and convincingly.

A video of the meeting is posted here

Speakers were each given 3 minutes during the public comment section of the meeting:

  1. Alice Starek, of Golden Hoof farm spoke from her perspective as a farmer (see her talk at 21:57 in the above video)
  2. Andre Houssney of Jacob Springs Farm speaks at 33:25
  3. Kate Lazarov speaks on the need for transparency at 39:07
  4. Austin Hamilton speaks on the Economics of Open vs Sealed Bid processes at 41:50
  5. Matt Bentley speaks on the Environmental impact of the winning bids at 55:51
  6. Chris Korba speaks about Regenerative agriculture restoring prairie dog land its impact to alleviate floods at 1:05:55

Questions from the board members begin at 1:08:30 A few notable questions / comments they had for OSMP Staff:

  • Board member Thomas Isaacson "Were you expecting such a turnout on the Ag leasing issue?" (Note: Andre alerted OSMP Staff member John Potter to our plans to attend the meeting earlier in the day)
  • Board member Thomas Isaacson 1:11:30 “We hear a lot that there’s a shortage of ranchers and farmers.. what we heard tonight… puts a somewhat different light on that… and raises a question
  • Board Member Curt Brown 1:13:38 "do you have a sense when you might be able to come back having done your analysis and give us a report on proposed changes to the process?"
  • Board Member Kevin Bracy Knight 1:14:18 “It would be nice to have some clarity on this, from my perspective… I heard one side of the story that was very, very compelling tonight, as a person who part of my job is evaluating landscapes based on concrete metrics, to not make those publicly available, nor the results of those publically available given public land to me… seems like a really bad idea, as a manager you would probably get better bidding if you had complete transparency because everyone knows what metrics you are using to evaluate the landscape.”… “What your plans are for the future so that anybody, whether it’s Andre or someone else can come in and say “I met the criteria, I got and 8.5 and he got a 6.5, I’m going to sue,” and that would make sense - that kind of transparency is really vital for a public process.”
  • Board member Thomas Isaacson 1:16:40 "I just want to add to those who came to speak to us tonight: I get the sense that this has been an issue that has been festering for quite some time. Please feel welcome to come and express yourselves, it’s obviously a well thought out presentation and you have our attention

Update, January 16, 2018

Next Steps

I feel that the meeting was largely a success! it's also important to keep the pressure on so that we can ensure that the needed changes are made. I'll be contacting the board members and probably will be attending future OSMP Board Meetings with follow up comments - stay tuned for more.