HomeLink Magazine Summer 2017: Community Ag Alliance
Naked and Hungry
Where You Would Be Without Agriculture
By: Marsha Daughenbaugh, Michele Meyer and Meredith Rose,
Community Agriculture Alliance
To understand the connection Community Agriculture Alliance has with our region, it is helpful to have a historical perspective of Yampa Valley agriculture. Throughout the years, beef cattle, sheep, wheat, barley, oats, hay, alfalfa, and dairy cattle have been the recognized agricultural commodities in Routt County. The first cattle were trailed into the region in 1871 and by 1880 there were 65,000 head in the area for summer grazing. The first band of sheep appeared in 1890 leading to the infamous Cattle-Sheep Range Wars that plagued the regions for almost three decades.
When the railroad entered the valley in the early 1900s, the economic effects on agriculture were immediate. Rail transportation allowed needed supplies to be imported and agricultural products to be exported. In 1910, the newly formed Routt County Strawberry Company loaded 528 crates of berries onto the train for shipment to the front range of Colorado. By 1913, more cattle were shipped from the Steamboat rail-yard than any other single point in the United States. Vegetable agriculture flourished, and by the early 1920s, Routt County farmers were planting over 500 acres of peas, and 2000 acres of lettuce and spinach annually. Potato crops were yielding 7.5 tons of potatoes per acre. In 1926, Routt County shipped 720 train car loads of head lettuce to California alone. Cabbage, cauliflower, celery, carrots, turnips, rutabagas, and artichokes were also raised. During the same time, increased acreage was planted to wheat, barley and oats, and by 1922 Routt County led all Colorado counties in dry-land yield production of these small grains. During the 1930s, Hayden was the largest rail shipping center in the United States for lambs. At different times during the 40s, 50s, and 60s, there were medium size dairies throughout the county, almost every ranch had a small herd of dairy cows, and milk and cream were shipped to Denver via the train in five or ten gallon cans. Steamboat boasted a factory that produced powdered malted milk, and the county had four grain elevators to handle the volume of grain being produced in the region.
Today agriculture is important to the fiber of Northwest Colorado. It contributes over 46 million dollars annually to the local economy and provides an authentic heritage perspective. Surveys and studies continue to prove that many tourists return to the area because of our working landscapes and open spaces. People relocate to Steamboat to become part of our rural lifestyle. But the view has changed, and agriculture now centers around the cattle and sheep industries.
The reasons for the demise of larger scale vegetable, fruit and grain production is tied to weather and economics. In an area where we can easily have frost, 90 degree temperatures, drought, snow and rain in any given month, it is difficult to raise crops that need extended growing seasons. The financial return of these commodities does not cover the costs of production which include land and equipment prices, infrastructure requirements, labor availability and management of regulatory requirements. Banks find it difficult to loan to beginning farmers and ranchers because the overhead of starting an agriculture based operation is high compared to the rate of return.
Given these challenges, Community Agriculture Alliance (CAA) was established in 1999 and has provided leadership, support and programs for agriculture in the Yampa Valley. Through advocacy, partnerships and direct programs, CAA leads our community to enhance agriculture and create alliances. There are very few similar non-profits in the country and CAA serves as a role model for other communities wishing they had such a group to promote local agriculture.
CAA works to ensure the vitality and continuance of agriculture. They develop and maintain programs that enhance and promote local agriculture, provide education about the critical importance of agriculture, and they serve as an Ag Resource connection between the urban residents and the agricultural producers.
CAA encourages active community involvement with events such as Ag Appreciation Week, Cayuse Classic Horse Show Series, Moots Ranch Rally Ride, Plate & Pint Farm-to-Table Dinner and the CAA online local food Market. They develop and implement programs for landowners, ranchers and land brokers such as Water and Natural Resource Education workshops, Ranch Tours, Business Management classes, and Land Stewardship 202 which is an integrated seven-week course to help land owners and managers understand their land capabilities.
The CAA Market
Originally known as the Yampa Valley Co-op, the online market was managed by a group of dedicated volunteers from South Routt. But in 2014, CAA added a Local Food Coordinator to their staff and the organization began to take a strong leadership role for local food in the region. The YV Co-op transferred their assets to CAA, and the online CAA Market quickly expanded. Over 50 producers now offer hundreds of products. The most popular items are farm fresh eggs, seasonal vegetables and local beef, pork and lamb. Honey, homemade jellies and jam, pies, breads and other baked goods, locally roasted coffee, tea, hand-crafted chocolates, hot sauces, soaps, lotions and other locally crafted products are available through the CAA Market. All products must meet health and safety requirements, and CAA works closely with Routt County Environmental Health and CSU Routt County Extension to ensure regulations are followed. Each producer has a profile page on the CAA Market website that describes their farming and ranching practices. They set their own prices and inventory of available products and receive 100 percent of the product sales. Customers pay a ten percent markup to help defray administrative costs.
From backyard gardeners with limited seasonal produce, to those offering a few dozen eggs a week, producers continue to expand and grow their businesses with a wider variety of products. As the interest and demand for local food has grown, the online Market offers regular weekly ordering with Friday pickup or same day pickup for a limited number of food items available. CAA continues to seek new producers and customers, with the end goal of increasing local food production, availability and sales.
Diversity of Programs = Sustainability for Agriculture
Community Agriculture Alliance serves as the education unit for the Yampa-White-Green Rivers Basin Round Table and has implemented and hosted dozens of water forums, seminars, workshops and tours in Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties. Working with both the Round Table and Colorado Water Conservation Board, CAA strives to educate residents and guests about the critical importance of rural water issues in Northwest Colorado, the State of Colorado and Southwestern United States.
CAA partners with other agriculture-orientated organizations and government agencies to provide educational forums, workshops and programs that enable ag producers to be relevant in today’s world. They focus on connecting people with opportunities to expand local agriculture in a viable, diverse manner.
The Yampa Valley is very much alive with agriculture, and it must not be taken for granted. In the simplest of terms: Where Would You Be Without Agriculture? Naked and Hungry.