New plan could simplify the Routt County permit process for those seeking to grow and sell food locally | SteamboatToday.com

New plan could simplify the Routt County permit process for those seeking to grow and sell food locally

If you go

What: Routt County commissioners discuss new local food production committee

When: 11 a.m. Tuesday

Where: Commissioners Hearing Room, Routt County Courthouse, 522 Lincoln Ave., Steamboat Springs

— Ag operators and locavores in the Yampa Valley hoping to start a new local food venture may have felt they had a long row to hoe in 2012 and 2013 when they made first contact with Routt County.

Lettuce growers, an experimental cheese maker and a poultry producer all engaged with the county in the past two years and found out that when it comes to producing food on a commercial basis, there are rules that must be followed. And it’s not always easy.

Now, government officials representing departments including CSU Extension, County Planning, Health and Environment and Road and Bridge, among others, are talking about making the initial contact with would-be food producers far less labor intensive for the public, and perhaps even for themselves.

In December 2013, the county commissioners gave Marsha Daughenbaugh, of the Community Agriculture Alliance, their blessing to investigate the concept of a new committee involving county department heads to informally explore the business plans of new food entrepreneurs and identify issues they may face. It's being called the Local Food Production Regulatory Advisory Committee.

On Tuesday, Daughenbaugh and others in the ag community will give the county commissioners a more detailed proposal.

"I hope it's something (the commissioners) will see some value in and ask us to move forward. Everybody at the county has been great about understanding people are interested in doing this," Daughenbaugh said. "On the other hand, we want to make sure the food is safe," for the public.

Daughenbaugh said Monday that she has had regular meetings this winter with county department heads, as well as local representatives of the Colorado Division of Water Resources.

"I think it's been a great learning experience for all of the department heads," she said.

One proposal coming from the winter meetings is the possibility of inviting emerging food production businesses to meet with all the county department heads at one sitting to allow everyone involved to get on the same page when it comes to evaluating how those business plans would mesh with county regulations across different departments.

Routt County CSU Extension Director Karen Massey said she thinks the new committee is a step in the right direction.

During the winter meetings, county staff members were made aware of a variety of regulations that can make a food business a lot less expensive and complex to get off the ground, Massey said. For example, the regulatory thresholds are less costly when all of the employees in a company are family members.

As a precursor to a meeting with department heads, applicants would be asked to complete a one-page questionnaire that would serve to qualify the nature of their prospective businesses in a way that would allow county officials to understand and explain the kinds of approvals the food entrepreneurs will need to seek.

The questions include:

• What products will be grown and produced?

• Will any food be served on site?

• How will products be produced, processed, cleaned, packaged, sorted and transported?

• Describe the water source?

• Does the applicant own a water right?

• Describe the type and amount of waste generated.

Applicants also would be asked to supply detailed site plans that can be economically obtained from the County Assessor's Office.

The hope is that one big informal meeting with department heads would go a long way toward eliminating the confusion people have experienced in testing their business ideas in the county process.

"I think it could be cost effective for the county," Daughenbaugh said.

On the other hand, she added, it might lead people with ideas for new food production businesses to realize they don't have the level of interest or resources required to make their ideas a reality.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1