Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg wants those whose work boots are on the ground to help drive policy.
“The first thing is listening,” Greenberg said Friday, as Week 1 of her new role drew to a close.
“I’m planning to get out into the field as much as possible to understand what people are up against and to build out our game plan. I see this work as being highly collaborative. It’s my role to bring as many people together as possible to come up with what we need to do down the road.”
Greenberg, appointed by Gov. Jared Polis, oversees the state ag department’s daily operations and its divisions: animal health, brand inspection, Colorado State Fair, conservation services, inspection and consumer services, laboratory services, markets and plant industry.
She is no stranger to the Western Slope and its agri-issues, having served as the western program director for the National Young Farmers Coalition in Durango. Her duties there entailed working with basin roundtables, working on the state’s water plan and Colorado River basin water policy.
Greenberg joined the Sonoran Institute in 2011 as a restoration field assistant. She has also previously managed natural resources field programs and worked full-time on a direct market farm in Washington State.
Greenberg’s professional accomplishments include receiving an “Emerging Leader” award from Western Resource Advocates in 2016.
Greenberg spent the last six years traveling the Western Slope to help farmers and ranchers build networks and reshape policy.
“I think agriculture across the state of Colorado is immensely diverse and clearly our topography on the Western Slope is unique,” she said.
“I am excited about Western Slope agriculture. I see so much creativity and perseverance from folks doing it for generations and people coming in now and starting their own businesses.
“With Western Colorado being so rural, and a vast majority of people being on the Front Range and the vast majority of water on the Western Slope, we are going to depend on that creativity to keep agriculture thriving out there and rural agriculture alive.”
Water is the lifeblood for the entire state and that creates challenges for all producers.
“I think producers know that better than anyone, in terms of how precious water is and how important it is that we find solutions that allow agriculture to continue to thrive in Colorado,” Greenberg said.
Montrose’s upcoming Western Food and Farm Forum helps grow agriculture by connecting producers, indicated Greenberg, who is set to address the conference on Jan. 26. She previously helped organize the annual forum and worked with steering committees.
“The forum was a meeting ground for folks across the Western Slope. I think the forum is an excellent place for producers to come together before the season takes off. It’s a fantastic even to celebrate agriculture and it’s geared toward producers,” Greenberg said.
The forum takes place over two days, starting Jan. 25 with the Western Water Workshop at the Montrose County Event Center. The forum’s “Healthy Fields, Farms, Futures” conference is Jan. 26 at the Montrose Pavilion. See www.foodandfarmforum.org for details.
Regardless the scale of individual operations, farming and ranching is rife with challenges, Greenberg said.
“Trade is a big one. Low commodity prices. Farmer mental health,” she said.
“My predecessor (Don Brown) helped establish a crisis hotline for farmers who are struggling. That’s a real problem in rural Colorado and across the agricultural community.”
Family farms also have to consider what comes next when there’s no one in line to take over operations.
“We’ve got so many farm families who don’t have the next generation coming in and have to make tough decision,” Greenberg said.
On top of such strains, drought, climate change and the ever-present pressures on water supply dominate as challenges.
“But I think at the same time there are big opportunities for farmers and ranchers to get out ahead of it and build a vibrant future. We’re up against a lot and that’s sort of the day-to-day reality. I see it as part of my role to understand those challenges,” said Greenberg.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist and the senior writer for the Montrose Daily Press. Follow her on Twitter @kathMDP.