5 Generations of Farming
Surrounding Keith Bateman’s great-grandfather, Adolph Waneka, is the aura of family lore. Adolph was one of Boulder County’s first homesteaders, setting up his home and farm back in 1859. As the story goes, recounts Keith, he moved out west to find and start building on his own land, leaving behind a wife and five children who eventually crossed the country on a wagon train to join him.
The Wanekas have been here since. Keith Bateman is now the fifth generation to cultivate land in Boulder County and call it home. Land ownership has shifted somewhat since 1859, but the family trade remains the same. Keith’s son Cory farms alongside him, learning the ins and outs of large-scale wheat, barley, corn and alfalfa production. “There’s something about it that’s in (our) blood.”
The original family homestead was built on Baseline Road just west of highway 287 over a hundred years ago. Boulder County was a much different place back then. Keith can remember highway 42 being built. He recalls a Lafayette with only two stoplights before 287 bisected it. Driving down Baseline road, his grandfather never got in the habit of using his blinker. “Why should I signal?” he famously quipped. “Everybody knows where I live!”
Land ownership and management has changed since Keith’s predecessors’ time. When Keith was 15 years old, his father sold all the farm equipment and was ready to move to Oklahoma, exasperated by the rapid development springing up around him. Around this same time, the Boulder Open Spaces program was buying up farmland for preservation and leasing it back to farmers. Keith saw this as his opportunity to stay in business. With $800, he leased his first 40 acres, going all-in.
Today, Keith farms thousands of acres—a combination of leased and owned land. “While I’ve managed to stay ahead of urban development, a lot of the land that I’ve farmed is shopping centers now.” On Baseline and 287, the family’s original homestead no longer stands. A lone silo, weathered and deserted marks its place.
Keith acknowledges that conventional farming can be a lonely and misunderstood profession. “The biggest challenge,” he observes, “is the urban-agriculture interface. There are always new housing sub-divisions and new neighbors that aren’t happy with what you are doing.” Eventually they build a rapport, but farming takes place at odd hours and can be noisy at times.
While it’s uncertain whether Keith’s grandchildren will take the role of seventh generation farmers, Keith and his son would be supportive of whatever they decide to do. But they’re hopeful. “I would like to see them stay,” says Keith. “Boulder County is home to us. That’s why we’re still here.”