June
7th 2009
Yippee ki yi yay, Mr. and Mrs. Stoltzfus! Hope you like cactus farming.

Posted under: American history, local news

amishincolorado

Photo by Alysia Patterson for the Associated Press

The Amish are coming!  The Amish are coming!  To Colorado, that is:

“The reason we moved out West is the farm land is a little bit cheaper and it’s not as heavily populated, a little more open space and a little more opportunity for young people to get started with their own farms,” said Ben Coblentz, a 47-year-old alfalfa farmer from Indiana.

“The general public seems to have a little slower pace of life than what it was back East. Everybody here respects us.”

Of an estimated 231,000 Amish nationwide, more than 60 percent still live in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana.

But from 2002 to 2008, Colorado’s Amish population went from zero to more than 400, according to the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Pennsylvania’s Elizabethtown College.

The headline of the Denver Post article is “Colo. land prices luring Amish,” and it states that “Cropland is worth an average $1,400 per acre in Colorado, compared with $6,000 in Pennsylvania and about $4,000 in Ohio and Indiana, according to a 2007 census by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Cropland values jumped 17 percent from 2006 to 2007 in Pennsylvania, but only 6 percent in Colorado.” 

Uhm, has anyone explained to them exactly why land in the San Luis Valley is so much cheaper than in the East?  Because it doesn’t include water rights!  Unlike Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, where it rains on a regular basis in the warm months, irrigation is mandatory, not optional.  And whereas Eastern landowners have “riparian rights” to any bodies of water that border or flow through land they own, every drop of water in Colorado is already encumbered and owned by someone else.  Yes, if you spit in the street, someone else owns the rights to your spit:

The early miners are credited with finding a solution to the problem. By custom, they all accepted the fact that the first miner who used water from a stream to work a placer claim was protected against latecomers. Soon this custom expanded to include the use of water for all purposes, not just for mining. Finally, as the land was organized into territories and then into states, the custom became law through express recognition by court decisions, constitutional provisions, and state statutes.

.       .       .       .       .       .       .       .       .      

Under appropriation doctrine, the oldest rights prevail. The earliest water users have priority over later appropriators during times of water shortage. Another fundamental philosophy expressed in western water law is that public waters must be used for a useful or beneficial purpose. The appropriator can use only the amount of water presently needed, allowing excess water to remain in the stream. Once the water has served its beneficial use, any waste or return flow must be returned to the stream.

Yep–them what got here firstest got the mostest, and they get dibs in a drought, too, under this “appropriation system” of allocating water rights.  So in addition to buying land, which may appear cheap, one must purchase water rights from someone else, and water rights are hard to come by.  Western water law is more difficult, intricate, and arbitrary than Canon law, and makes Chicago politics look transparent and fair by comparison. 

I wish all new Colorado farmers the best of luck.  It will be interesting to learn how Amish farm families decide to adapt to the High Plains Desert.

2 Comments »

2 Responses to “Yippee ki yi yay, Mr. and Mrs. Stoltzfus! Hope you like cactus farming.”

  1. Indyanna on 07 Jun 2009 at 12:01 pm #

    Well see you and raise you two, Historiann. Western PA is still increasing its Amish population, if only slightly, via migration from what is still the original hearth east of the Susquehanna River. There might even be some backdrift from Ohio and Indiana, which were early secondary sites of internal migration. Water we/ve got lots of, albeit some of it affected by coal mine seepage, and much or all of it by acid rain fallout. We have all these ominous looking fossil fuel burning electric plants with cooling towers that seem to say Three Mile Island.

    A scary thing to me would be mixing traffic streams on the highways out there between horse propelled conveyances and motorized with the more hammer down driving styles in the West, though much of that may be just mythos I suppose.

    John Nichols Milagro Beanfield War, set in New Mexico, does some interesting things with water rights issues.

  2. Geoff on 08 Jun 2009 at 8:17 pm #

    I spent two summers living in the San Luis Valley, and it is an enchanting place — the summers are gorgeous, the views to the Sangre de Cristos are singular. While the east side of the valley is dry, there is a long history of agriculture on the west side of the valley, primarily potatoes and alfalfa I think. Baa Ram U has an ag research station there. The earliest Spanish settlements go back at least two centuries. Settlers were dependent on what agriculture they could raise along with game from the mountains to make it through the winters. Devout Catholics and Mormons have a long history in the valley, and I can understand the lure for the Amish. Culturally, the southern part of the valley is an extension of New Mexico – Taos isn’t far from the Colorado border.

    Good memories, thanks for the link.