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401 Meeker St Delta CO 81416 970.874.4421

Delta County farmers share heritage during panel discussion

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Photo by Emily Lynn Roque Cisneros -- Panelists Charles Klaseen, Don White, Shirley Ela and Mark Roeber share their thoughts on their farming heritage and speculate on the future of agriculture in Delta County.

On March 28, the Delta Farmers Union held a supper and panel discussion at the Maloney House on the Delta County Fairgrounds in Hotchkiss titled "Heritage." The event featured generational farmers and ranchers sharing their history, thoughts on family farming and speculations on the future of agriculture.

The Delta Farmers Union is part of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, an organization representing family farmers and ranchers in Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico according to its website. Each chapter works together to focus on education, legislation and cooperation between members and the community.

Last year the DFU decided to start holding discussions in February, March and April as a way to reach out to the community and take advantage of the less busy winter months. The "Heritage" discussion was part of a series on stories from agricultural entrepreneurs in Delta County.

Hayden Kessel, Hotchkiss resident and farmer, finds the series useful for meeting potential members and learning more about Delta County's history and expertise in farming.

He joined the DFU three years ago as a way to gain knowledge of how to be involved politically while working in agriculture.

"I believe our farming community is stronger because of our efforts with the union," he said. "We have a good age diversity, too."

Four panelists led the discussion: Charles Klaseen, Don White, Shirley Ela, and rancher Mark Roeber. Harrison Tropp, membership director, moderated the discussion. He noted that while they contacted several crop growers, none were able to attend.

Tropp began the discussion by asking each panelist to share their background and history in agriculture. Several panelists shared stories from three to four generations of farming legacy.

"I've been in the farmers union my whole life," commented Klaseen. "I was just a child sitting in meetings with my parents."

Next, the panelists were asked to share some challenges and mistakes from their years of farming. White shared how he found it challenging to get everything going and deal with setbacks.

One year hail destroyed all of his apples. "You could see a hole right them," he said.

Being honest, Klaseen also remarked how his biggest mistake was borrowing $1 million at 19.5 percent interest. While many would have filed bankruptcy, he said, he knew he needed to keep his word and pay it back.

Each panelist agreed that while there will always be mistakes in farming, the key is to "improve, adapt, and overcome."

Tropp asked the panelists to share how they've seen the county change and where they see it going. Roeber noted there are fewer orchards now than when he started ranching.

He said part of that is because farming is becoming tougher for people to invest in due to increasing land prices. Several nods of agreement ensued from the other panelists.

Ela highlighted that ease of transportation has drastically changed. While railroad used to be the main method, trucking has made shipping goods quicker and easier.

Many of the panelists also shared the belief that agriculture will always be around, but it will face threats from urban growth.

To conclude the evening's discussion, one attendee asked why these farmers stayed in the business despite the challenges. Roeber commented that he "feels good feeding people."

Similarly, the other panelists remarked how much they enjoyed seeing their business grow and couldn't envision themselves doing anything else.

"You need to have a tolerance for risk and investing to be in farming," said Ela. "No matter how much work or experience you have, mother nature has a mind of her own."

She also said that if someone truly wants to farm, they'll find a way to make it work and continue.

Before members were dismissed, Robbie LeValley, Delta County administrator, gave an update on the Delta County Master Plan. She said there will be one more round of public input, and it will be finalized soon. Details can be found at www.deltacountyplan.com.

Jacob Gray, president of the Delta Farmers Union believes the union is a great way for the county to come together. In addition to discussions, quarterly meetings, the DCFU also hosts different events such as potlucks and farm tours. The RMFU offers forums, camps and training programs for children and adults.

"We all have similar fears, goals and questions as farmers," he said.

The last discussion in the 2018 series will be titled "Women in Agriculture" and be held April 25 at 6 p.m. at Maloney House 575 S. River Lane in Hotchkiss. The event is open to the public with a $5 suggested donation for dinner.

If interested in attending April's discussion or joining the Delta Farmers Union, please email jacobsgray@gmail.com. For more information on the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, visit www.rmfu.org.

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