Steamboat Springs Casey Earp was driving by the massive and vacant TIC campus in Steamboat Springs a few weeks ago when an idea suddenly came to him.
Why couldn't this place, currently one of the largest pieces of available industrial land in the Rockies, become a new hub for food producers in the Yampa Valley?
At the hub, food could be grown indoors year round, processed and sold all in a place that is easily accessible to the community.
The idea would be to get several non-profits and producers working together at the same property.
It also could help smaller food growers and producers overcome the bureaucratic hurdles they face when they're out there on their own, including the fact that the nearest USDA-certified beef processing facility is in Craig.
“The opportunity (at TIC) is pretty much endless,” said Earp, an economic development intern for the city. “There's a lot of open space. There's room for an open farmer's market. There's room for solar recycling and maybe a shared commercial kitchen. We have a huge potential to have a huge economic boost through local agriculture production.”
With more than 20 acres and 45,000 square feet of office space included at the site, the TIC property certainly would be large enough for a new local food and products hub that would include processing and distribution centers.
But it could be too large, and too expensive.
Earp said while the TIC campus remains a “pie in the sky” type of idea, the fact that it's even available has spurred a new dialogue among local non-profits and food producers about finding a way to make a new hub a reality somewhere.
He's hopeful the dialogue will continue, and food producers here can market and sell their products as well as they grow them.
“I think the coolest thing about all of this is it brings together so many people in the community,” Earp said. “There's a ton of interest here (to open a food processing facility) in the community, and I don't think it's ever going to go away.”
He pointed to other communities, like Asheville, N.C., which have found success in developing a shared commercial kitchen for local food producers.
Locally produced food is proudly displayed here in places like Bamboo Market, where fresh kale and carrots grown in Strawberry Park were for sale on Tuesday.
On the other side of the store, packages of meat from local beef producers Yampa Valley Farms and Rockin J Cattle were running low.
“I think a lot of people out there are talking about what economic development means,” Earp said. “To me, it's about fostering the things we have here in the community already. It's about local business, local production. But a lot of people don't understand how many hoops these local producers have to jump through to get their products to the market."
Groups that Earp has contacted so far to help further the dialogue about developing a new food hub here include the Community Agriculture Alliance, Yampa Valley Sustainability Council, Colorado Mountain College, the CSU Extension office and Yampa Valley Farms.
Marsha Daughenbaugh, the executive director of the Agriculture Alliance, said she was excited when Earp approached her with the idea.
“It would be really exciting if we could find a way to consolidate all of the different products that are made here and to help these producers get to the market,” Daughenbaugh said. “They're great at growing; what we're having issues with is marketing and retailing.”
Community members who want to jump into the dialogue on local food can call Earp at 970-871-8218.
“Maybe it isn't TIC,” Earp said. “But regardless of what happens in the end, the conversation that is happening right now is beneficial.”
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10