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State of the Rockies Project Studies Big Ag

Monday, October 12, 2009

If you're a Westerner - and what American isn't, really? -- Colorado College's State of the Rockies Project is a must-read, must-bookmark web destination.

The project's mission -- to conduct "state-of-the-art research to help Rockies residents clearly see their communities, environment and economy, so they can better shape their own future" -- is strikingly like Environmental Working Group's detailed, hyper-local data and analysis.

This year: Food & Ag This year's topic, food and agriculture, is a natural fit with EWG's work. CC students, guided by economics professor Walter E. Hecox, an economics professor, are using EWG's farm subsidy database to help document how the economics and demography of farming are changing the physical and cultural landscape -- and how its traditions and economic and demographic pressures are shaping agriculture and ranching.

Last week, I traveled to the CC campus to preview EWG's new AgMag for a State of the Rockies symposium on the politics of agriculture. (Full disclosure: my son Shannon Morgan, a CC sophomore contemplating a major in an environmental field, was in the audience. It was great to see him and enjoy a few moments at an historic campus where Katherine Lee Bates, a visiting teacher, was inspired to compose America the Beautiful. But he's not one of the privileged few upperclassmen tapped each year for the project team.)

Students find complicated agricultural picture The student researchers have already dug up some facts that make for a complicated picture. On one hand, farmland acreage is shrinking and the number of farming and ranching operations is growing. That could suggest more family and small-business farms profiting from rapidly expanding demand for locally-grown food. On the other hand, "mega-agricultural enterprises" are major factors in the regional agricultural economy.

Upcoming speakers: Stanford professor Rosamond Naylor, an expert on trade-offs between grass-fed and industrial livestock, journalist and author Richard Manning, author of Rewilding the West: Restoration in a Prairie Landscape,"and Dr. Bonnie Lynn-Sherow, associate professor of history at Kansas State University and author of Red Earth: Race and Agriculture in Oklahoma Territory.

If you can't make the lectures, no worries - you can download past report cards and sign up for the agriculture edition, due in March.

Meanwhile, there's a wealth of information in previous years' report cards.

The most recent, published last spring, focuses on incarceration, historic preservation and protection of wildlife in a region whose population is increasing 2.6 times faster than that of the U.S. The CC Rockies project is aimed at helping the West's people manage that tumultuous change.

You can still see the wilderness as it was, and still is, and should remain, in the State of the Rockies photo gallery.

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