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Colorado farmers lobbied to grow energy

Allen Best
Vail, CO Colroado

DOVE CREEK, Colorado ” In the late 1990s Jeff Berman quit his job as an engineer with IBM in Boulder and took up the life of an activist.

His first chapter was nipping at the heels of ski area operators. He was instrumental in creating the Ski Area Report Card, which is issued at the start of every ski season.

It’s similar to the ski area rankings done by ski magazines, but is filtered through the lens of environmental impacts. He also helped start an organization called Colorado Wild and was its first director.

Several years ago he took up more quiet work in energy activism. He got elected to the board of directors of his local Durango-based electrical cooperative, La Plata Electric. He also started a company, San Juan BioEnergy.

The project is ambitious. Since 2004, he has been out in the desert country around Dove Creek, located near the Colorado-Utah line, halfway between Durango and Moab, urging farmers to begin producing sunflowers, which can be harvested and turned into biodiesel.

“Jeff, he pushed and pushed to make it happen, like a dog with a bone,” a local farmer named Matt Carhart tells the Durango Telegraph.

Dove Creek is a struggling community, with school enrollment about half what it was 30 years ago. There are no problems with a burgeoning second-home community, no enormous gaps between rich and poor. Everything is on the thin side.

What the farmers like about the idea is that sunflowers are basically drought tolerant, and drought is a too-common feature of southwest Colorado ” with the worst yet to come, according to global warming climatologists.

Last year pinto beans yielded 75 pounds per acre, compared to 800 pounds per acre for sunflower.

All this does not quite yet amount to a success story. Capital must still be raised, and there are also unexpected problems with the crops. It seems that sunflowers are tasty to critters. Carhart lost close to 25 percent of his 400 acres of sunflowers to wildlife this season.

“That’s my profit margin,” he said.

GUNNISON ” The Gunnison Valley Hospital is having a bumper crop of babies. It may be coincidence, but the baby boom occurred approximately nine months after a natural gas pipeline serving Crested Butte ruptured last January.

The Crested Butte News says it cannot be ascertained whether the outage drove young couples to drastic warming measures, but 30 babies were expected before October was out. The hospital usually delivers only 150 babies for the year.


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