Ranchers Wayne and Sonja Shoemaker, from left, Natural Resources Conservation Service district conservationist Lori Jazwick and restaurateur Michael Fragola discuss ways to put more local farm and ranch products on the menus of local restaurants during a breakfast hosted by the Community Agriculture Alliance on Wednesday at the Steamboat Springs Community Center.

Photo by Tom Ross

Ranchers Wayne and Sonja Shoemaker, from left, Natural Resources Conservation Service district conservationist Lori Jazwick and restaurateur Michael Fragola discuss ways to put more local farm and ranch products on the menus of local restaurants during a breakfast hosted by the Community Agriculture Alliance on Wednesday at the Steamboat Springs Community Center.

Community Agriculture Alliance hosts 'speed-dating' breakfast for town, country folks

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— Routt County farmers and ranchers sat down to biscuits and gravy with town folk at the Steamboat Springs Community Center on Wednesday to celebrate National Agriculture Week, but there also was business being done at the breakfast table.

“It’s almost like speed dating,” Michele Meyer said about the Community Agriculture Alliance.

She was seated at a table hosted by the Routt County Cattlemen’s Association. Also seated at the table were Wayne and Sonja Shoemaker, of Yampa Valley Beef, former Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. executive Rod Hanna, Natural Resources Conservation Service district conservationist Lori Jazwick and, significantly, Steamboat restaurateur Michael Fragola.

The Ag Alliance organized Wednesday morning’s event.

The Shoemakers and Fragola engaged in a thoughtful conversation about how to facilitate putting more locally produced food on restaurant menus in Steamboat.

“Tourists and locals alike seek out and want to taste the local flavors,” Fragola said. “People are not only getting a meal, they’re getting an education.”

He represents three restaurants in Steamboat — Three Peaks Grill, La Montana and Cottonwood Grill.

Fragola said he thinks local restaurant operators would appreciate an addition to the Ag Alliance website where they could see what produce and meats are available at any given time.

In the past, he said, a local producer might stop by the kitchen of one of his restaurants and he would purchase salad greens, or perhaps mushrooms, but he never knew when to expect them to return. It would be helpful to hear from local producers in the spring and again in the fall, when restaurant operators are planning menus for an upcoming tourism season, Fragola said.

Wayne Shoemaker said he feels a need for greater coordination among local beef producers so that together they can provide a large enough supply of steaks of consistent size and quality to provide restaurants with a reliable supply for their menus.

“We need ranches to come to market at the same time with 50 boxes of tenderloins,” Shoemaker said.

C.J. Mucklow, western regional director for Colorado State University’s Extension Service, said the efforts to market locally produced beef and other ag products have been unfolding for decades, and he called Fragola a pioneer of those efforts.

“I used to buy a lot of (local) lamb, but I had to buy the whole animals and I ended up giving away hundreds of pounds of ground lamb to food banks" after serving the lamb chops to his restaurant patrons, Fragola said.

But he isn’t about to give up on locally produced food.

“We’re always shopping for local items we can feature,” Fragola said.

Mucklow said potatoes could become the next Routt County-branded farm-to-market produce.

“There were potato test plots here in the 1950s,” he said.

National Agriculture Week aims to highlight the importance of U.S. agriculture operations, including local ranchers and farmers.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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