In the early 1900s, Routt County had a broad agricultural base and even was referred to as a “breadbasket” area where people had the local benefit of a range of grains, meats, fruits and vegetables. There was a grain mill in Steamboat Springs that produced a local cereal called “Joe Dandy.” Throughout the years, any commercial level of fruits and vegetables disappeared; the grain crops were limited to wheat and a little bit of barley. The growing crop became hay, the sheep ranches struggled and even the cattle market diminished.
The Community Agriculture Alliance was established in the late 1990s with a primary objective of preserving this community’s agricultural heritage and working with our local business community to do so. Much of the agriculture focus at that time was on local beef production, local wool production and local hay production. In more recent years, the Ag Alliance has worked with a group of local vegetable growers — Deep Roots — and begun to expand its support of regional agricultural crop interests.
Today, a variety of individual efforts and larger-scale initiatives has started to return us to the broad agriculture opportunities that were here many years ago. People are interested in knowing where their food comes from, how it is processed and what antibiotics or pesticides are involved. People are interested in the good taste of food that is present when the food is fresh and not “processed” or “preserved.”
In the early 1900s, there were a number of agricultural speciality organizations — the Routt County Strawberry Company, the Routt County Produce Association (potatoes) and the Yampa Valley Head Lettuce Association. The commercially produced crops included strawberries, potatoes, peas, spinach, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, carrots, turnips, rutabagas and artichokes.
In the past several years, there have been a number of formal and informal efforts to bring more local foods into production and onto local tables, including some tables at local restaurants. Organizations such as Deep Roots, Yampatika, the On-line Food Cooperative, Northwest Colorado Products, the LiveWell Northwest Colorado Food Coalition, the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association and the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council all have been involved in parts of such efforts. These are in addition to individual efforts to move from home-grown items to commercially available local products. Today, we have our Routt County Extension office and the Community Agricultural Alliance working with the recently formed Northwest Colorado Food Coalition to try to coordinate regional efforts with state and federal programs.
As our community looks in the direction of a return to the agricultural production that it once enjoyed, there will be challenges to moving small crops and products from household use into commerce. Rules and regulations that were established for large commercial enterprises will need to be reviewed for application to small commercial ventures. We recently have seen this type of issue occur with Moonhill Dairy, and the Routt County Board of Commissioners and county agencies are going to need to address these new agricultural challenges.
Rich Tremaine is an attorney with Klauzer & Tremaine LLC in Steamboat Springs. He also is a Community Agriculture Alliance board member. Rich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.