When a midwestern news outlet recently posted a story on Facebook about how heavy rains had caused many of Indiana’s farmers to fall behind in their planting, someone responded: “Why is there a need for farmers growing corn and soybeans when most people go to Kroger or Albertsons to get groceries, anyway?”
An ignorant comment, or an innocent question?
Let’s go with the latter, especially if you’re fresh from spending an afternoon at the Colorado Agricultural Leadership Foundation’s Lowell Ranch, learning about the nonprofit organization’s mission of “connect- ing people of all ages and abilities to agriculture through authentic educational programs, community programs and leadership opportunities.” And, “to help people experience agriculture and better understand the importance of agriculture in everyday life.”
Staff and volunteers at CALF’s Lowell Ranch hear, all too frequently, program participants saying they had no idea things like potatoes come from the ground—they only knew them as French fries, potato chips or as mashed potatoes that come from a cardboard box—or that hens lay the eggs that are tucked into their breakfast burrito or Egg McMuffin.
Others marvel at being able to run around on dirt instead of asphalt or concrete, or being able to splash around in a creek.
CALF was founded in 2002 by John and Bea Lowell, who put 133 acres of their 3,000-acre spread along Plum Creek, three miles south of Castle Rock, into a trust to be run by a foundation that would help to “preserve a piece of rural life within the suburbs and promote agriculture.” The Lowells died within weeks of each other in 2009 and in 2018 their son sold an additional 38 acres to CALF. Fundraising events this year, plus a $50,000 challenge grant from the Gates Family Foundation, will help pay for it.
The programs at Lowell Ranch, says CALF’s president and chief executive officer Brooke Fox, reflect John and Bea Lowell’s vision of underscoring the importance of agriculture, both in keeping America fed and ensuring that young people would become inspired to become farmers and ranchers.
The Lowells were considered to be among the best sheep producers in the country, Fox added, and a large part of why they formed CALF centered on “the great things they saw happen when kids had a chance to experience ranch life first hand. They were dedicated to ensuring that all youth who wanted to be involved in agriculture had the opportunity to do so.”
Today CALF’s four paid staff members and 450 volunteers welcome 3,000 youngsters annually for educational programs that include Connecting Kids to Agriculture, a series of field trips that begin in April and end in October. There’s also Camp CALF, a day camp where third through seventh graders spend a week “running through the fields, feeding the chickens and tracking snakes and frogs.” A Camp CALF brochure points out that this is not a camp for the faint of heart. “Kids will come home dirty, wet, smelly and full of smiles,” it promises.
No ranch? No problem. That’s the call that goes out to members of 4-H and Future Farmers of America who raise their market livestock projects at Lowell Ranch. CALF Kids like 13-year-old Kenzie Summervill, a seven-year member of 4-H who is in her second year of raising pigs, sheep and chickens at Lowell Ranch.
Like other CALF Kids, Kenzie must come to Lowell Ranch twice daily to feed her animals and ensure their well-being. So devoted is the Summervill family to Lowell Ranch that they recently moved from Highlands Ranch to a home closer to the CALF property in an effort to reduce the commute time; Kenzie’s mom, Jennifer, also installed a wireless camera so that Kenzie and her brother, Ethan, also a CALF Kid, could more easily monitor a lamb that was about to give birth. Previously, the Summervill family, CALF’s 2019 Volunteers of the Year, would camp out in a trailer at Lowell Ranch whenever a birth was imminent.
“CALF teaches us to understand what responsibility is,” Kenzie notes. “Like what it means to sometimes have to stay up all night to feed our animals in order to keep them alive.” Kenzie is looking toward a career in culinary arts, specifically as it relates to farm-to-table eating. Her brother plans to enter the field of animal science.
Animals aren’t the only focus at CALF. Gardens with hundreds of varieties of plants and herbs are planted, maintained and harvested by young people while representatives from Colorado State University focus on experimental planting—working, for example, with non-native trees to see which ones acclimate to this climate. Special raised beds are available for those with issues that prevent them from bending over. There also are gardens that accommodate those with sensory and tactile issues, a limited number of community garden plots and the opportunity for the public to pick and purchase tomatoes, kale, squash, pumpkins and other farm-grown produce at the Harvest Day held each September.
Andrew Salazar completed his preparation for becoming an Eagle Scout by making two potting benches and a mobile field washing station
for the Lowell Ranch gardens. Young people also maintain ranch beehives.
Volunteer opportunities for families, teens and adults include helping with field trips, barnyard cleanup, livestock feeding, office duties and special events.
Carla Holst, a Sedalia rancher and president of the CALF board of directors, perhaps best sums up the organization by pointing out that “CALF programs teach how crops and animals can grow faster, better and stronger. We can be the center for the future of agriculture.”
Colorado Agricultural Leadership Foundation
2330 Interstate 25
P.O. Box 581
Castle Rock, CO 80104 303-688-1026 thecalf.org
Admission to CALF’s Lowell Ranch is by reservation, or during public events.
Joanne Davidson’s hands-on experience with farm animals pretty much amounts to participating in a celebrity sheep-shearing contest at the National Western Stock Show. She came in dead last.
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