Preserving the Environment

What’s the Secret to Making a Town More Prosperous?

January 23, 2015
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What’s the Secret to Making a Town More Prosperous?
Agriculture is part of what's making Wheat Ridge attractive to newcomers. Scott Olson/Getty Images
Old-school agriculture is growing this Colorado community.

As more areas become urbanized, Wheat Ridge, Colo., is going back to its roots. Literally.

At the end of the 1960s, Wheat Ridge turned its focus from its agricultural origins to residential and commercial growth. But 50 years later, it realized that farming was the backbone of the town for a reason. So, starting in July 2011, the town amended its comprehensive plan to make urban agriculture a central part, reports CityLab.

Some of the measures include allowing urban gardens (including for-profit farms), farmer’s markets and produce stands in every zoned area, as well as making the process of starting a farm as easy and efficient as possible. One way? Eliminating urban-garden permits.

“We wanted to move the city forward and encourage investment, but we didn’t want to lose its unique charm, which is largely based on our agricultural history,” Ken Johnstone, director of community development for Wheat Ridge, explains to City Lab. “We weren’t the only city getting grassroots interest in local farming and food production. We saw it as an opportunity to brand ourselves.”

And with these changes, the town’s actually seeing a boost in residents as people are coming back to the area to farm. In 2013, Dan Graeve and wife Christa moved to Wheat Ridge with their two friends Adam Slack and Shannon Dils to start True Roots farm. Although they didn’t have business or agriculture experience, it wasn’t a problem as city planners were there to help them every step of the way.

“We contacted the city as a place to start,” Graeve says. “At that point we didn’t even have a model per se. [The city planner] was willing to just sit down with us and talk about whether there was any city-owned property, or other space [for a farm].”

As Wheat Ridge continues to attract residents, its plan could be an inspiration for others.

“We’ve gotten a lot of attention for it, which is a good thing,” Johnstone says. “I don’t know if it’s a fad or not, but it [works for Wheat Ridge.]”

As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

MORE: This App Helps Urban Farmers Get Their Crops Growing

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