Group continues ag preservation effort

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— Even as the nonprofit Community Agriculture Alliance holds its annual meeting with a barbecue at Harmony Ranch today, letters are making their way to people who could help stop the loss of Routt County's agricultural lands.

The letters are the latest effort by the Agriculture Alliance, which was formed just two years ago to preserve Routt County's ranching and farming culture.

The letter campaign "is our biggest effort to date," said Medora Fralick, president of the Community Agriculture Alliance.

The Agriculture Alliance's newest project is called the "Land Stewardship Network."

Fralick said letters have recently been sent to people who have been identified as second- or third-generation farmers or ranchers who want to stay in Routt County but can't afford the land.

The Agriculture Alliance wants to connect such people with current landowners who might be new to ranching and farming and need help. They're also targeting older-generation agriculture producers who may want their land to stay in agricultural production but no longer want to do the work themselves.

"If we can put that young person back in Routt County and keep that piece of land in agriculture, we've helped two people and the agricultural industry," Fralick said.

Like the rest of the country, Routt County has seen a decrease in the amount of land involved in production agriculture.

Fralick hopes the Land Stewardship Network can stem the loss.

Another aspect of the project is a mentoring program.

"For example, you have an existing rancher who's willing to work with a new landowner who wants to stay in agriculture," Fralick said. The experienced rancher will help the younger rancher "understand the climate and the growing season... help them to understand local regulations that affect agriculture."

The Community Agriculture Alliance is funded by grants and with contributions from the city of Steamboat and Routt County. Board members of the alliance including agriculture producers, business owners, bankers and attorneys also contribute.

There is only one paid position, held by Executive Director Ellen Stein who runs the day-to-day operations and seeks out grants.

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