Beefing up local food production | PostIndependent.com

Beefing up local food production

John Colson
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent
ALL |

Garfield County, like most of Colorado, has for much of its history been dominated by agriculture.

In recognition of this historical fact, Gov. John Hickenlooper has designated today as Colorado Ag Day, in conjunction with National Ag Week across the United States.

According to the John Salazar, Commissioner of Agriculture for the state, the agriculture industry generates some $20 billion annually in Colorado, and employs more than 108,000 people.

Garfield County is home to 623 farms and ranches, most of 10 to 50 acres in size, according to the state’s agriculture census for 2007. Of the nearly 1.9 million acres of total land in the county, farms and ranches occupied 335,000 acres.

Garfield County currently is ranked 36th in the state in terms of ag production, with $22 million in total value of ag products sold, primarily livestock, according to Christi Lightcap, communications director for the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

Farming and ranching enterprises have long been family affairs, which in Colorado translates to the fact that 80 percent of farms and ranches are family or individually owned, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

Garfield County’s current crop of local-food purveyors are no exception to that rule.

A selective look at modern aspects of agriculture around the county turned up three enterprises – Crystal River Meats, Osage Gardens and the Peach Valley CSA – that rely on family ties to keep them running smoothly and profitably.

Jock Jacober and his sons, Rio and Tai, successfully opened a storefront in Carbondale a couple of years ago that offers locally grown, grass-fed beef, along with pork, mutton, chicken and eggs.

Crystal River Meats, at 55 N. 4th, once exclusively housed Jacober Brothers Construction, but the construction business is now relegated to less than half of the space, giving way to the meat market.

They sell grass-fed, antibiotic-free beef to 20 area restaurants and the Good Health Downtown Market, as well as at the Basalt and Aspen farmers markets.

Seated at a table in the middle of the room, Tai Jacober, 33, and his brother, Rio, 36, said their ranching enterprise began with two head of cattle kept on land owned by friends Dave and Nan Kelly on Missouri Heights.

By four years ago, Rio said, they butchered and sold a total of 25 steers.

In the past year, said Tai, the business put 200 steers onto the market, in the form of steaks, ground beef and other cuts. The Jacobers either raised the steers on ranch lands they manage for others or purchased the livestock from nearly a dozen local ranch operations.

The market has also sold meat from 100 lambs, perhaps 40 hogs and 1,000 chickens. That translates to 100,000 pounds of beef, 5,000 pounds of mutton and lamb, 4,000 pounds of pork and 3,000 pounds of chicken.

Oh, and they’ve sold about 40-dozen farm fresh eggs per week, at $5.50 per dozen.

Their gross income from the business, the two estimated, was somewhere north of $500,000.

But, while they are itching to expand and readily admit they have not yet reached the “sustainable” level of business, they still like to talk about why they got into this in the first place.

“I’ve always known that I wanted to ranch,” said Tai, noting that he and his brothers were raised on a ranch and, after coming to the Crystal River Valley with their parents in the late 1990s, they worked on the late Bob Perry’s Mount Sopris Hereford Ranch just south of Carbondale.

“The sustainability of raising the grass-fed cattle, we think, is the right way to raise beef,” chipped in Rio.

He mentioned the family’s environmental ethic, noting that they want to do what they can to “keep open space as open space” and help others keep their ranching operations going.

They have been working with the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, which encourages ranchers to switch from flood irrigation to the more efficient sprinkler systems and helps ranchers maintain healthy pasture and rangeland.

They still buy cattle from the Perry spread, now owned by investor Tom Bailey, and from other ranches, some of which are attached to such locally well-known names as Turnbull, Fales, McIntyre and others.

This year, the brothers are teaming up with the Osage Gardens CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) to sell their meats at the Osage Farms store near Silt, and to jointly operate a small farmers market in the yard at the south side of the Crystal River Meats store in Carbondale.

Aside from the collaboration with Crystal River Meats, the owners of Osage Gardens farm, 36730 River Frontage Rd. between New Castle and Silt, have embarked on a more local, to them, change in emphasis.

Owners Tom and Sarah Rumery have opened a farm store, where they sell their goods over the counter.

And the entire operation is changing, to give CSA members options in terms of where they can pick up their produce. Rather than boxing it up to hand over to members, Osage is gearing up to let members pick up their shares at farmers markets or at the store.

The store sells more than just the produce from Osage, according to daughter Theresa Rumery, 29, who was given the task of talking with an inquisitive reporter.

“We sell other local artisans’ food products,” she said, as well as items from farmers in other parts of Colorado.

Osage started 19 years ago, producing beefsteak tomatoes grown by Tom Rumery as a hobby turned livelihood. The family also grew and sold culinary herbs, and quickly saw demand growing by leaps and bounds.

They ended up with a lucrative business of growing herbs for the Whole Foods grocery chain and others, on a total of two acres in greenhouses and nine acres in the open air.

But in the past couple of years, Theresa said, they expanded their productive horizons beyond the herbs.

In part, she said, the expansion to a broader range of produce was due to “a desire to be more a part of the local foods movement.”

They joined farmers markets held Tuesday evenings in Glenwood Springs and Sundays in Basalt, and will join the market in Eagle.

As for the deal with Crystal River Meats, Theresa said, it gives them a new foothold in the Roaring Fork Valley and a new line of products to offer their customers.

“We were looking to increase our presence in Carbondale,” Theresa explained, “and … to have local, grass-fed meats in our farm store.” The Carbondale market, planned for Saturdays, will open in the summer.

Plus, they are changing the way they provide fresh in-season produce to their CSA members.

Rather than the traditional routine of boxing up food for members, she said, “we’re opening it up to be a free-choice vegetable share.”

Members will still pay up-front at the beginning of the summer for their share, but the produce for that share can be either picked up at the store, which is open seven days a week, or at any of the markets where Osage has a booth.

Members get special discounts at the point of sale, which can be rolled to the next week or used later.

“We’re trying to just give people a much more flexible schedule,” Theresa said.

About the CSA phenomenon, Theresa said, “It’s fantastic. I think people are become more and more interested in locally-grown foods, and more and more interested in nutrient-dense foods.”

The Peach Valley CSA, 3464 Peach Valley Rd. near Silt, first began operations in the early 1990s, selling “vegetable shares” to customers throughout the three-county region of the Colorado and Roaring Fork river valleys.

At first it was strictly a summer-growing season operation, said owner and operator Ken Kuhns.

“We’re going year-round now,” he said.

The CSA offers its members vegetable and fruit shares in two differently-sized parcels during the summer months. It also offers “spring shares” of early produce and “winter shares” of crops that can be stored long enough to be available during the winter months, Kuhns said.

He said his membership numbers shrink by about half during the winter and spring seasons, from the typical 80-100 in the summer to around 40 in the winter, but “a fair amount of our members stay with us throughout the year.”

“We’re certainly small scale,” he conceded, explaining that “the size of our operation keeps my wife and me busy full time.”

His crops are grown on a total of 10 acres, he said – five in vegetables and other row crops, and five in orchards. He employs two full-time apprentices in the summer months, who work alongside a dozen or so working CSA members who help pick the crops.

The small size and the intimate nature of having members come out and help with the harvesting and other chores is at the core of Kuhns’ agricultural philosophy.

“If people want to come out and visit, to us, that’s really the nature of community supported agriculture,” he said.

He sells his produce at the Saturday market in Glenwood Springs, in the Rite Aid parking lot, as he has done since his was the only CSA operating in the area.

“I think one thing we’ve seen,” he said, “is that … a lot of people that buy shares are people that have an interest in agriculture.”

Some of his former CSA members, he said, have gone on to start CSAs of their own, and many have found inspiration to grow their own gardens.

“This is a way that we can grow our own food, or at least be a part of something meaningful,” he concluded. “I think this valley really has some great producers, and production potential.”

jcolson@postindependent.com


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