Sunday, April 14, 2024

Food Insecurity: Family that used to farm Buc-ee’s land has a message about the effects of development. Todd Olander says agricultural acreage needs to be conserved in Colorado April 2024

Family that used to farm Buc-ee’s

land has a message about the

effects of development

Todd Olander says agricultural acreage needs to be 

conserved in Colorado


NOTE:  This article can be LISTENED to at the full article location: ........ HERE

Colorado’s first Buc-ee’s is nothing short of a phenomenon.

On March 18, the Texas-born travel center opened one of its largest locations in the nation in Johnstown with a 74,000-square-foot convenience store, 116 gas pumps, and enough beaver nuggets to feed the entire Rocky Mountain region.

Hundreds of fans attended its grand opening, some coming from other states just to bask in the red and yellow “aura,” as one fan put it, of mascot Buc-ee beaver. Even in the weeks after, cars full of visitors backed up from the gas station to the highway exit ramp, which sits in a mostly rural section of Colorado, just southeast of Loveland

Amidst all the excitement, it can be easy to forget what inhabited the land where Buc-ee’s resides before all the brisket and hullabaloo. But not for Todd Olander.

For nearly 20 years, Olander, a 5th-generation farmer, sowed and harvested the fields under and around what is now Buc-ee’s. He leased the land to grow corn and alfalfa to feed local cows, as well as barley that he kilned for local brewers to turn into beer. Because of its proximity to Interstate 25, the lot also served as Olander Farms’ distribution hub for livestock feed.

In 2021, Buc-ee’s bought 28.5 acres of those Weld County fields from a company called Platte Land & Water; property records show the beaver bigwigs paid $9,375,000.

On the day of the gas station’s opening, Root Shoot Malting Co., also owned by the Olanders, shared some thoughts about urbanization with the company’s followers on Facebook.

“We aren’t here to knock on Buc-ee’s. We’re excited for them! It’s just too bad that it’s at the expense of some of our best farmland that we used to lease,” the post states. “We also aren’t oblivious to inevitable development along I-25. We get it. We’re adapting to the urban sprawl and attempting to farm (successfully, we’ll add!) in our densely populated Front Range suburbia.”

Development like this has become commonplace in rural areas, which is why Olander and other conservationists have worked to preserve land throughout the state.

The northeastern plains boast some of the richest soil for farming while also making an apt habitat for wildlife, according to Tony Caligiuri, president and CEO of the Colorado Open Lands, a nonprofit that works to protect land so that it benefits both wildlife and people. The region also happens to be one of the fastest-growing parts of the state.

“It’s important soil that you don’t get back when you build things like convenience stores on top of ’em, but the ag industry is a huge economic driver in northeast Colorado. So we see what we do as not only protecting open space but trying to protect rural economies,” Caligiuri said.

RELATED: Colorado barley farmers aim to brew a sustainable future with novel grains

Olander Farms operates on about 2,000 acres, but the family doesn’t own it; most of it is leased. The company has lost access to 250 of those acres in the last three years alone. While Olander was able to secure more land, he chalks it up to being in the right place at the right time.

“Farmland’s hard to come by. It’s really competitive around here between farmers that still exist. It’s hard to secure more land because there’s less of it and there’s just not that many farmers around either. They’re all looking to have more acreage and expand their operations as well,” Olander said.

Photos by Chet Strange, Special to The Denver PostThe site of a future Buc-ees ...

LEFT: The site of a future Buc-ees gas station near I-25 is pictured on Friday, July 15, 2022. 
RIGHT: A field near a new housing development in Johnstown is pictured that same day.

And the clock is ticking on another 70-acre plot adjacent to Buc-ee’s where the family-run farm currently grows corn, barley and rye. Most of Olander’s leases include a crop damage clause, which guarantees the landowner will reimburse the farmer for crops should the plot be sold and developed between the planting and harvest seasons. The lease for the fields near Buc-ee’s doesn’t. Olander calls it a “farm at your own risk” deal.

(Platte Land & Water couldn’t be reached for comment for this story.)

“The arrangement that we have, I think it’s fair. The lease isn’t super expensive for us, cheap farmland for us even though we have that risk,” Olander said. “Risk and reward I guess is what we’re measuring out.”

The Olanders own 135 acres in Loveland, where Root Shoot Malting Co. is located. In 2022, they worked with Colorado Open Lands to put 112 acres into a ............

                     conservation easement, 

meaning it is protected from development in perpetuity.

BERTHOUD, CO - SEPTEMBER 21 : Farmer Todd Olander and his team will be planting a winter grain called Lightning on about 20 acres of farmland in Berthoud, Colorado on Thursday, September 21, 2023. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)Farmer Todd Olander and his team will be planting a winter grain called Lightning on about 20 acres of farmland in Berthoud, Colorado on Thursday, September 21, 2023. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

Since its founding in 1981, Colorado Open Lands has helped conserve 690,000 acres of open space, mostly farms and ranches. That space includes 3,000 miles of streams and rivers, Caligiuri said.

The organization came to be in response to thought leaders in the state, who were concerned about increased development coming to Colorado. Its work targets the Clear Creek Canyon, the Gunnison Basin, the Northern Front Range, Northwest Colorado, the San Luis Valley, South Park and the Wet Mountain Valley.

Landowners receive tax incentives for putting their plots in easements plus the guarantee they can farm it for generations. They can also sell the land in the future and the easement gets passed along to the new owner as part of the deal.

Conserving open space is not only beneficial for the people who work here, but also the people who play here, Caligiuri said.

“People come to Colorado and both visitors and residents spend a lot of money because of the amazing, epic views. So protecting these viewsheds is also an important way to protect Colorado’s economy,” he said.

Both Olander and Caligiuri maintain they are not anti-development nor are they anti-Buc-ee’s. However, they are in favor of raising awareness about the oftentimes unseen impacts of urbanization. Still, neither has yet patronized the beaver-topia.

“I’m sure I’ll go over there at some point once the hype has died down,” Olander said. “But if you ask my dad, he’ll probably never step foot in there.”


Rudy Arredondo 

Latino Farmers & Ranchers International, Inc. 


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