A local nonprofit focused on sustainable food proposed amending the city’s current lease on a parcel of land on the Monolith Ranch to allow for new research gardens and sustainable food options, but Laramie’s City Council was hesitant to do so during its work session Tuesday.
The current lease on the entire 11,000-acre, city-owned Monolith Ranch, which doesn’t end until 2023, is with Baer Livestock.
Feeding Laramie Valley proposed amending the lease with Baer Livestock so they could lease what is called the Hunziker parcel, a 115-acre parcel of land located on the outskirts of the ranch. Gayle Woodsum, founder and director of Feeding Laramie Valley, said having the parcel would be more conducive to the group’s vision than smaller gardens scattered around the city.
“What we propose to do on Hunziker parcel is to be able to expand our ability to do large-scale food production,” Woodsum said, “and to continue and advance our research, which is already had some national impact in terms of learning how much gardens can actually grow in a place like Laramie.”
The proposal included a variety of options and projects for the land, including training new or disadvantaged farmers and ranchers through an incubator program, which partners them with existing ranchers and farmers with no legacy plan. Christine Porter, the Wyoming Excellence Chair in Community and Public Health at the University of Wyoming, said Feeding Laramie Valle’s vision would have major impacts on the community.
“This model of community food production could save our children to have enough to eat and save the aging-out of our farmers,” Porter said. “One of the missions of this land is to ensure the viability of this community, and I cannot think of a single better use for any square foot of land than growing food, but also growing farmers, people, internships and action research.”
However, many council members still had concerns about the project, which Woodsum said has been proposed periodically to council since 2013.
Although Woodsum said the ranch would use a separate well system instead of the city’s water right, City Manager Janine Jordan said the parcel and the water right are more tied together than most think.
“That Hunziker parcel contributes to the carry capacity in the ranch,” Jordan said. “It is not an accurate perception that there is no tie between the Hunziker parcel and the water right; the two are tied. If we separate the two, we will have to reconfigure and find a way to feed more animals with the hay we’re growing now.”
Councilman Bryan Shuster was also concerned with how the altered lease would affect residents’ water bills, since a portion of each water bill goes to maintain water rights on the ranch.
The chairman of the Monolith Ranch Committee, Marius Favret, said although the committee hadn’t read the updated proposal yet, they had some initial concerns, particularly because the Baer Livestock lease is in effect for four and a half more years. Although Feeding Laramie Valley plans to pay for the use of the land, Favret said he wasn’t sure if it would be enough to balance out the current lease payments that may have to be adjusted.
“Does this open up an issue with Baer Livestock in terms of the location of livestock and their total land use of the ranch?” Favret asked. “How will that impact his operations and whether he may ask for a total renegotiation of lease? That I don’t know; that’s a big question mark.”
Councilman David Paulekas said he was not comfortable altering a lease with anybody, both personally and through the city.
“I’ve talked to Baer personally, and the reason he hasn’t responded at all is because he believes he still has lease with the city of Laramie for the entirety of the Monolith Ranch,” Paulekas said. “When I sign a contract with people, I abide by it. I don’t change my mind; I don’t find a better deal down the road. That’s who I am as a person, and I would like to believe that’s who we are as a city.”
While most council members at the work session, including Councilmen Charles McKinney and Joe Shumway, voiced their agreement with Paulekas, they all added they liked the vision of the proposal and want to work with Feeding Laramie Valley to find suitable location alternatives should they choose not to consider amending the lease.
“I think that the values of Feeding Laramie Valley very much align with those of our community,” Councilwoman Phoebe Stoner said. “I’m interested in continuing the conversation.”
Woodsum said the city knew about the proposal in 2015 when they renegotiated the lease with Baer Livestock, and the city has sold other portions of the Monolith Ranch during the lease, albeit smaller portions than the Hunziker parcel.
“[In the 2015 meeting] there was a motion made and passed to say that the city was committed to creating partnership with Feeding Laramie Valley on a large piece of property — including consideration of the Hunziker parcel,” Woodsum said. “And that the current lessee, while [council] needed to move forward and approve that lease, needed to understand that there may very well need to be adjustments made because of this ongoing negotiation.”
The City Council will decide if the proposal needs to be moved onto a regular agenda. Jordan said city staff had not received any requests at this time to begin the process of putting the proposal on a future meeting agenda.