The Historic Splendid Valley in Adams County, Colorado is identified as one of the best places left in the greater Denver metro area for growing, processing and distributing local food. Just northeast of Denver, the county’s mixture of suburbs and farmlands has created tension between agricultural and non-agricultural uses. As farmers retire and urban development creeps nearer, productive farm soils are being forever lost, mirroring the national trend of losing 157 acres of agricultural land every hour.

In a unique partnership with Adams County and the City of Brighton, we are completing community-driven conservation in the Historic Splendid Valley that is preserving this prime agricultural land, water rights and more.


In addition to providing the food we eat, agricultural land also plays an important role in conserving Colorado’s scarce water resources. Thanks to the historic floodplain of the South Platte River, the farms in Adams County have two finite and irreplaceable resources — soil classified as USDA prime and water rights from the Fulton Ditch, one of Colorado’s oldest ditches. But water is a strategic concern for farmers, as rights are often transferred from agricultural land to meet the needs of Colorado’s growing towns and cities.

The Historic Splendid Valley also creates a key buffer from encroaching Denver development for wildlife and recreation. The area is a defined “fly-way zone” for migratory birds, waterfowl and shorebirds. A regional trail system is being developed between Barr Lake State Park on the east, through the farms in the Historic Splendid Valley to the South Platte River Greenway on the west, better connecting the community with its farmland, open spaces, and wildlife and bird viewing areas.


Recognizing a need to protect these scarce resources, Adams County and the City of Brighton formed a unique partnership to establish an agricultural district where 1,250 acres of the most fertile farmland was identified for agricultural land and water conservation efforts. That’s when we stepped in. We’ve been working to acquire properties identified within the agricultural district from willing sellers before they are developed. We then permanently protect the properties with conservation easements, and then match the farms with new owners who will carry on agricultural operations. Since 2004, eight farms have been protected within the valley, totaling 566 acres.

The partners’ joint vision for preserving agricultural heritage in the Historic Splendid Valley is positioning local farmers to capitalize on the growing demand for fresh, local and organic food. It also supports a burgeoning agritourism economy. The Historic Splendid Valley helps educate and connect the community to the history of many Issei (first generation immigrants) and Nisei (second generation immigrants) Japanese-American families who settled in the Brighton area before and after World War II, becoming some of the most successful farmers in the region. The community’s foresight to advance community-driven urban food security serves as a model for Colorado and the nation — one that was even featured in Building Community Food Webs by renowned food systems analyst Ken Meter (Island Press, 2021) for the courageous collaboration of local governments committed to a bright future for the Historic Splendid Valley.