Aspen buys into beef program

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— Yampa Valley Beef is coming off its best year ever and now the company is setting its sights on expanding sales to Aspen Skiing Co.

The local company that started as a good idea has now grown to the point that it sells 20,000 pounds of beef a year.

"That's pretty good for us," Extension Agent C.J. Mucklow said.

Most of the beef was purchased by the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., which bought 14,000 pounds for its restaurants on the mountain.

When the ski corp. deal went through in November, Yampa Valley Beef believed it would open up other markets for beef raised in the Yampa Valley.

Since then, Yampa Valley Beef officials have been meeting with similar community beef companies to combine forces and sell beef raised on the Western Slope.

A deal started to take shape when ranchers from the Roaring Fork Valley and Rocky Mountain Beef and Homestead Beef, which are community beef companies in the Delta area, asked the Aspen Skiing Co. if it would be interested in buying beef from the Roaring Fork Valley. They pointed to the ski corp. deal with Yampa Valley Beef as an example of the business relationship they were looking to establish.

The ski resort agreed and will purchase Roaring Fork beef for one of its restaurants over the summer, said Peter King, food and beverage director for Aspen Skiing Co.

He plans to supply all of Aspen's mountain restaurants with local beef by the ski season. However, there isn't enough cattle in that area to supply the ski area's demand.

"The idea is for us to supplement them without losing our individuality," said Geoff Blakeslee, president of Yampa Valley Beef.

If the Aspen deal goes through, local ranchers will team up with ranchers in Carbondale, and with Rocky Mountain Beef and Homestead Beef.

Down the road, the four cooperatives might create an umbrella organization and market the beef they're producing on the high plains of the Western Slope, said Gary Baysinger, owner of Mountain Meat Packing in Craig and a member of the board of Yampa Valley Beef.

He owns two of the four federally authorized meat processing companies on the Western Slope and processes all the meat for Yampa Valley Beef. Baysinger is opening another store in Fruita and will process the beef for the Roaring Fork ranchers.

"We're looking to expand the market for Yampa Valley Beef," he said.

By opening up the Fruita store he hopes to stimulate more business for the local company, as well as help out ranchers in the area who are transporting their cattle long distances to be processed.

Baysinger has attended most of the meetings with the Aspen Skiing Co. representatives and said the resort is interested in buying beef raised on protected lands as well as supporting local agricultural producers.

King agreed.

"We think that supporting ranchers on the Western Slope can help save open space and agricultural land in the valley," he said.

He also thinks customers will appreciate the locally grown beef.

King said he felt confident that an agreement would be worked out at a meeting May 3.

Either way, Yampa Valley Beef is keeping its commitments.

"We're staying with the same plan," Mucklow said.

That means at least 25 percent of the beef it uses is from cattle raised on protected lands. It also means paying ranchers a premium for their product and donating part of the proceeds to a local land preservation organization.

To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206 or e-mail dcrowl@amigo.net

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