March 2010

Celebrating the diversity of agriculture

By Gail Binkly

Agriculture is supposed to be dead or dying in the Four Corners, but every year, the Four States Ag Expo makes it clear that reports of ag’s death are quite premature.

The Four States Ag Expo in Montezuma County is now in its 28th year and is the largest agricultural exposition between the Great Plains and the West Coast.

It generally attracts 10,000 to 12,000 people every year, according to Elizabeth Testa, a member of the Ag Expo board. “They come from all four of the states in the Four Corners area,” she said.

The event, which will take place March 18-21 at the county fairgrounds, features vendors with expertise in everything from large farms to backyard gardens, raising a few animals to running large ranches, harvesting techniques, sustainability, bee-keeping and organics.

There will be hands-on demonstrations, competitive events, children’s activities, and FFA activities for the next generation of ag producers. More than 20 educational clinics, seminars and demonstrations will provide information on a variety of topics. In addition, there will be entertainment including antique tractor pulls and draft horses pulling trolleys.

“We have a bull sale and a big horse program, ranch rodeo and ranch sorting,” Testa said. “We have a youth and family day on Sunday. So we try to be all things to all ag people.”

This year, organizers are excited about the appearance of journalist and photographer Lisa Hamilton as a featured speaker on Saturday, March 20. Hamilton is the author of the critically acclaimed book, “Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness.”

Hamilton has researched issues of sustainability and economic viability in agriculture, and profiled three families who have adopted a new approach to farming on a small scale. Her basic question is: What practices result in a sustainable food supply, and how do farmers and ranchers embrace these good practices while remaining economically viable?

It’s a complicated matter, but there are solutions that she will present at the expo Saturday, beginning at 11 a.m.. A panel discussion at 3 p.m. will address the topic as it applies to different aspects of agriculture, such as sustainable cattle-ranching, boutique specialty farming, the community-supported agriculture movement, and the 21st century grange.

“This marks an expansion of the Ag Expo program into the realm of the sustainable and new approaches to agriculture,” Testa said.

She mentioned an historic-orchard project being done by Let It Grow Nursery in Cortez to capture and propagate the cuttings from historic trees in the area. “That’s the kind of new/old farm interests we want to attract to the Ag Expo,” she said. “I’m excited about this because I don’t think we’ve tapped into this before. We have had good coverage of traditional agriculture, and we will continue to do so, but now we’re also moving into orchardists, wine-growers, the real artisanal stuff like cheese-makers and organic wheat farmers in Dove Creek.”

In addition, there will be a full schedule of equestrian events to participate in or to watch, including workshops and demonstrations, equine clinicis, mounted shooting, ranch sorting and ranch rodeo.

Animals of all sorts will be on display and for sale, including at the second annual Four State Bull Sale. There will be beef/equine and swine judging and showmanship.

And on Sunday, the expo will offer “hands-on happiness” in a day for kids and families. All four days of the Ag Expo will offer events for kids such as carriage rides, a petting zoo, animals and more, but Sunday will have some especially kid-friendly bonuses: a stick-horse rodeo, face-painting, mutton- bustin’, and a beef show with a youth showmanship contest.

“We want to attract multiple generations,” Testa said, “so people realize agriculture is for the young generations as well and that the young people are involved in it.”

As for agriculture’s continued viability, she quoted something that Jude Schuenemeyer, owner of Let It Grow, likes to say: “If you eat, you’re involved in agriculture.”

The fairgrounds is 3 miles east of Cortez on Highway 160. Parking has been refined this year to increase capacity and reduced confusion.

For more info, see www. FourStatesAgExpo.com or call 970-565- 3414.