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Tuesday, January 26,2010

Farmer, neighbors tussle over 'demonstration' designation

By Pamela White

Update: County OKs permaculture classes at farm on 63rd

Zia Parker lifts a piece of old carpet to reveal a thick layer of compost  below. She scoops up a handful of moist, rotting leaves, crumbles it in her palm. Several hens rush forward and scratch at the leaves. They already know what Parker is trying to show a reporter — that worms are hidden beneath the rotting leaves, alive and well despite the frosty weather.

“The show’s over girls,” Parker says, gently shooing the hens away and lowering the carpet back into place. “That’s enough.”

The landscape on Parker’s two-acre farm may be bleak, the trees and bushes bare, but beneath their blanket of leaves, the worms are busy turning last summer’s vegetation into rich nutrients for next summer’s plants.

This compost bed — one of many — is part of Parker’s permaculture operation. Having worked with the Peace Corps in Africa to build sustainable agricultural operations suitable for the desert, Parker, a massage therapist, has been teaching permaculture — sustainable farming in tune with a specific climate and landscape — for many years. She bought this property, located at 6481 N. 63rd St., in order to start a sustainable farm and to teach permaculture classes. Last year, she applied to the county for designation as a demonstration farm and began the long process of going through a limited impact special review. Over the past few months, she has worked with the county to address traffic and parking problems, decreasing the scope of her plans, which at one point included a “demonstration kitchen.” (The demonstration kitchen lessons will be held in the kitchen at Niwot Market, which sells Parker’s herbal and honey products.)

For a time Parker felt certain her application would be approved. But now her plans have hit a snag. Four of her neighbors object to her plans to teach classes on her property, citing concerns about increased traffic, parking and the potential disruption of the neighborhood caused by the classes.

In response, the Boulder County land-use staff last week recommended conditional approval of Parker’s request, requiring that she cut the size of the class in half from 20 students to 10 — a reduction in teaching income that would render the class unprofitable for Parker.

“I’ve already cut about 70 percent of the income from the current proposal,” she says, “and they’re saying I need to cut another 50 percent.”

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