Leadership Steamboat class sets sights on helping local ag producers
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Each year, the Leadership Steamboat class takes on a project it hopes will make a meaningful community impact, and in 2021, that mission seems to be on target.
The class will be purchasing a 40-foot commercial freestanding freezer that will provide 2,280 cubic feet of storage space. The unit will be made available to local producers as part of a cooperative. They are hoping to launch the “Routt County Store & Share” in June.
“We’ve identified storage as an issue for years,” said Todd Hagenbuch, extension agent and director at the Routt County Extension Office. “This project really has potential to be a game changer, because it allows us to slaughter those animals at the peak of meat quality, then have a well-preserved, quality product available to the consumer, whether that’s a restaurant or a private individual throughout the winter and well into the next summer.”
Hagenbuch said storage has always been a big hurdle because cattle and other livestock are normally ready for slaughter at about the same time many meat processing operations shift to meet the demand of hunting season.
“We always come back to the same problem in that our cattle are really ready for slaughter in the fall period,” Hagenbuch said. “Hunting season starts about that same time, so there is a very small window of opportunity between when our cattle are coming off of summer grass and before the two USDA plants shut down for hunting season.”
That means meat that comes from local producers must be stored in commercial freezers for the winter and the next year.
Those who want to support the Leadership Steamboat Class of 2021’s project can visit communityagalliance.org/leadership-steamboat-project to make a donation.
“If we want to build a clientele that is relying on sustainable meat supply, you’ve got to be able to have the product to give them when they are ready for it,” Hagenbuch said. “Storage is a big part of that system.”
To address that, the 15 members of the Leadership Steamboat class are hoping to raise enough money to purchase the commercial freezer and also provide money to help operate it.
“We’re hoping to raise about $64,000 in the next one to two months for this,” class member Amber Pougiales said. “These freezer units are quite expensive.”
The units, she said, are used to transport goods across the ocean to international markets and are food grade standard.
“Having a freezer storage facility available for producers kind of provides that security that they need in order to be able to say, ‘OK, I’m going to keep X number of cattle or sheep or whatever they produce here in our local communities for sale, and I know that I have this place to store them until the demand is there,’” Pougialas said.
Class member Angelica Salinas explained this year’s class, which started meeting in September and was reduced to just 15 participants because of COVID-19, was affected by the pandemic on a number of levels.
“It was challenging narrowing down a project, because we weren’t sure what we would be able to achieve with the various restrictions in place,” Salinas said. “The freezer storage was not only something incredibly impactful to the community, it was COVID-19 friendly and something that will benefit future generations.”
Though it was a challenge working on this type of project during a pandemic, Salinas said it helped group members focus while expanding their experience.
“In previous years, people will take on one aspect of the project,” Salinas said. “But this time, everyone’s had to step up and take on a lot of responsibility, and it’s been really great in that sense because everyone is super involved.”
The class begins fundraising this week, and because these freezers are in high demand, they will not be able to get an exact price quote until two days prior to ordering.
“We want have enough money to purchase the freezer unit, and then, we want to also set up a little maintenance fund,” Salinas said. “We are hoping to get community support for this by looking at past leadership class alumni to donate and to people who are passionate about the agriculture community.”
Michele Meyer, executive director of Community Agriculture Alliance, said demand and interest in local food at the nonprofit’s CAA Market has tripled.
“I was honored that they would choose to focus on agriculture and help our local ranchers and farmers,” Meyer said. “It’s been fantastic, and they are doing a good job. I really am optimistic that we’ll be able to move the needle on at least one piece of that whole cog that will help make more locally produced food available.”
Leadership Steamboat is a program coordinated by the Steamboat Springs Chamber. It exists to create a foundation from which its graduates will grow their personal leadership skills and further expand their involvement within the Steamboat Springs community.
John F. Russell is the business reporter at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach him, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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