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The economic promise of Pueblo chile

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Pueblo chile

Is that chile you’re eating really a Pueblo chile?

Pueblo County Economic Development Director Chris Markuson wants locals, and eventually consumers across the country, to ask that question as the Pueblo chile grows in popularity.

The question will hopefully be the result to a three-year strategic plan to build the brand around the Pueblo chile.

This summer marked the first growing season of  the plan, which was created through a partnership between the county and a group of farmers in Pueblo to increase profitability of Pueblo’s most notable crop.

So far, local growers say it’s working.

Local chile growers Dominic DiSanti and Shane Milberger said they noticed more foot traffic in their stores throughout the growing season. Both are members of the newly-formed Pueblo Chile Grower Association, which has seven board members and representation from 18 Pueblo County farms.

More foot traffic is a win for the growers and a win for the city and county. The growers say a good number of visitors were not from Pueblo — which means they likely stopped to fill up their gas tank and eat lunch or dinner providing the city with sales tax money.

Part of the success of the plan is agritourism, Markuson said.

Of the 36,000 ranches and farms in Colorado 864 reported tourism income last year, according to the Colorado Tourism Office Heritage and Agritourism Program.

Those providing agritourism reported around $33,000 to $48,000 additional income, the office reported.

Shane Milberger

Several of the chile farmers on Pueblo’s Mesa come from a long line of growers. Shane Milberger, however, is a first generation chile grower, but his son plans to continue the family business. Photo by Kara Mason

The other part of the plan to take the Pueblo chile nationally is to get it onto as many plates as possible. That can mean wholesale or through products such as salsa or pre-packaged frozen chile.  

The goal is to make the Pueblo chile a specialty product unlike the competition, New Mexico’s famous Hatch Chile, which has heavily saturated the chile market across the U.S., according to Markuson.

“The strong asset of the Pueblo chile is that it’s more flavorful,” Markuson said. “It’s hotter, and meatier, and thicker and is much better for roasting. You just can’t debate that.”

It makes for a great high-quality option when it comes to chile, Markuson added. Highlighting the strengths of the chile has been a major push in the marketing campaign.

When the county and the growers initially talked about marketing they laid out the strengths and the weaknesses.

“To some, the perceived weakness of the Pueblo chile is the variable. The temperature, the heat is a little bit more variable,” Markuson said. “We said, no, that’s the strength. That’s fantastic. We use language like, ‘Oh, I got a hot one!’”

The group of growers already knew what makes the Pueblo chile great, DiSanti said citing the same strengths as Markuson. It was just a matter of putting that all into a marketing plan.

“The chile growers have been working against each other and with each for a long time,” said Markuson “We’ve got seven generations of history among all of the growers on the Mesa.”

This isn’t the first time the growers have teamed up to create an association, DiSanti said, but this time they have a marketing order and a plan in place to expand business among the growers.

“There’s a lot of strategy behind what we’re trying to get done. This whole thing is about water. It’s about tying water to the land and how we make farming profitable,” Markuson said. “If farmers are not making money, their kids are not going to come back and work the land.”

Milberger, a first generation grower, and DiSanti, a fifth generation grower, agreed. Milberger said his son will eventually take over the farm and continue the Pueblo chile tradition.

To grow the success of the Pueblo chile Markuson and the Pueblo County Economic Office have helped create a three-year plan with “three major bands:” Developing a wholesale market, introducing Pueblo chile to markets beyond Pueblo and expand the local market as much as possible.

A little bit of everything has happened already, though.

Year one was all about forming the association and really developing the brand, DiSanti said. But they’ve made contacts with a few big retailers, and media coverage of Pueblo chile making its way into Whole Foods hasn’t hurt. Milberger has been selling his chiles to the natural food chain for eight years. Pueblo chile can also be found in Wal-Mart, Albertsons, Safeway and Kroger stores as some growers have wholesale agreements with those retailers.

“There’s a lot of strategy behind what we’re trying to get done. This whole thing is about water. It’s about tying water to the land and how we make farming profitable.” – Chris Markuson, Pueblo County Economic Development Director

Earlier this year they awarded a $143,000 grant from the Department of Agriculture to trademark the Pueblo chile. Everybody agreed that is what really got the ball rolling.

The idea of trademarking largely came from an effort the state undertook with a group of Rocky Ford melon growers after a massive listeria outbreak that damaged the reputation of Rocky Ford growers even though the tainted melons were nowhere near Rocky Ford. The outbreak happened at Jenson Farms, located in Granada (east of Lamar).

Milberger saw the success of trademarking with the Rocky Ford growers and pushed the idea for quite some time, but he didn’t think it would be fair for him to trademark his own chile when a bunch of Pueblo growers were working the same crop.

“The cantaloupe industry was in a tough spot. It was really like how do we keep this industry alive,” said Tom Lipetzky, director of marketing programs & strategic initiatives for the Colorado Department of Agriculture. Lipetzky played a major part in trademarking of Rocky Ford melons after the outbreak.

The branding was all about creating a tie between the consumer and the product, much like the Pueblo Chile Grower Association is attempting by marketing the Pueblo chile as a high-quality product, Lipetzky said.

“We thought ‘hey, if they can have this kind of success in a crisis, why can’t we do this and be successful, too?’” Milberger said. “At the time I could buy a case of California cantaloupe for around $6 per case. Rocky Ford (cantaloupe) I couldn’t get for less than $18 per case.”

Much of the success of branding through a trademark is putting a face to the product, Lipetzky said.

DiSanti added that “the push for local produce is trumping organic at this point.”

The economic impact of Pueblo chile is expected to be around $1.1 million by the end of 2015 and grow just more than 9 percent each year, Markuson said.

After the three-year strategic plan, the hope is that there will be enough brand recognition to keep people across the country hungry for Pueblo chile and provide local farmers and the county with more business.

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Middle schoolers have a plan to stop rock art tagging in Western Colorado

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Courtesy gjhikes.com

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) — Arron Buehler’s day in a western Colorado canyon might not have had the Hollywood panache of Ferris Bueller’s day off, but something about seeing Buehler’s name scrawled on the sandstone escarpment gave Chris Joyner pause.

Joyner, spokesman for the Grand Junction Office of the Bureau of Land Management, looked at Buehler’s name — and those of many others emblazoned on rock in a canyon south of Grand Junction — and said that, paradoxically, there might be a reason for hope.

It was just last year that Buehler posted his name, next to Elizabeth, who left her mark in 2017.

Few of the names appeared to be more than a year or two old, and, “That tells me there’s opportunity here,” Joyner said.

The more recent the markings, the more likely the vandals are to be found, and the more likely it is that other methods might discourage younger people from following Arron Buehler’s lead, Joyner said.

Joyner and BLM archaeologist Alissa Leavitt-Reynolds are working in Grand Junction to deal with vandalism on federal lands, whether it be by graffiti artists such as Charley Humpy (who helpfully added, “Remember me” next to his name and yes, the BLM is doing all it can to achieve total recall), drug users ditching evidence in the desert, mayhem by “marksmen” and plain old dumping.

As much as Arron Buehler and a multitude of companions — Brian, Charley, Dizz, Dominique, Kay, Megan, Elizabeth, Jon, Sam and Tosha all seem to be begging for court dates (and Tosha, did you know your name covered an ancient petroglyph?) — Joyner said prosecution ought not be the only response to a growing trend of vandalism and worse on western Colorado’s rocky outcrops and arid landscapes.

Citations for vandalism aren’t tracked by the Colorado U.S. Attorney’s Office, which prosecutes offenses on federal land, so no precise numbers are available.

An Army veteran, Joyner is using his post 9/11 GI Bill funds at Johns-Hopkins University to study ways to divert people from what he terms “dysfunctional visitor behavior.”

“Dysfunctional visitor behavior” has a more authoritative ring than “vandalism” and “littering” and Joyner said he hopes that a scholarly approach can help agencies fend off some of the destructive activity on federal lands before it takes place.

Some of his research suggests that “informed participation in nearby historic and cultural sites” can influence the way many residents perceive those sites, Joyner said.

The students in Ginger DeCavitch’s social studies classes at Mount Garfield Middle School experienced “informed participation” last summer.

DeCavitch took her students into Bangs Canyon to see the mica mine and found the defaced escarpment “as we were stepping over broken beer bottles and charcoal” from fires.

Vandals had used charcoal to scratch names and slogans on the rock, DeCavitch said.

“They call it tagging” and few participants see any issue with defacing the rock, taking selfies and posting them on social media, DeCavitch said.

She contacted the BLM soon afterward to see if her class could help clean up the mess they found.

“They all wanted to go back,” enough that some students hauled 40-pound containers of water down an occasionally difficult trail to help clean the site, DeCavitch said.

Her middle school students sat silent as members of the Southern Ute tribe described how they perceived the canyon and the ancient markings, many of which had been defaced, DeCavitch said.

Far from being discouraged, her students were enthused about tackling the enormity of the defacement, DeCavitch said.

“We have a plan that we’ll be back,” she said.

Introducing young people properly to wild lands is one way to discourage future vandals and dysfunctional visitors.

It’s one “foot-in-the-door” tactic that Joyner hopes land managers take up.

Visitors also can be endowed with a sense of ownership by agreeing with a simple proposition — the idea that one ought not litter on public lands, for instance — and then be brought along to agree with how to visit them appropriately, Joyner said.

It’s part of a human tendency to want to be consistent, he said. People who agree not to litter tend to want to build on that as opposed to act in contradictory fashion, he said.

Even providing a small gift or trinket can engender a sense of responsibility among potential vandals, Joyner said.

Other techniques include the “broken-window” approach — the idea that replacing broken glass as soon as it’s found and thus denying miscreants their moment of victory — isn’t as easy as it might be in other environments, Joyner said.

DeCavitch’s class, for instance, learned that while cleaning up a mess might eliminate an eyesore, it also could erase history.

Her eager middle-schoolers couldn’t go forward with the cleanup until members of the Southern Ute Tribe, headquartered in Duchesne, Utah, approved the plan, DeCavitch said.

While Joyner’s studies have suggested that males 16 to 25 who live within 60 miles of Grand Junction are the likely offenders, one look at the escarpment suggests that young women are more active participants than crime statistics might suggest, Joyner said.

One study suggests that younger people prefer non-coercive approaches, but Joyner said that doesn’t mean the BLM is losing interest in prosecuting vandals and others.

Far from it.

BLM officials routinely contact school officials and consult high school yearbooks to match the names they come across with people who could be prosecuted.

Some miscreants make it easier, posting selfies of themselves with their works. Some even lower the level of difficulty by including hashtags.

The criminal exposure can reach felony levels because of the difficulty and expense of dealing with cleaning up or restoring the markings that date back hundreds of years.

If the malefactors are found, Joyner said, “We don’t write warning tickets.”

___

Information from: The Daily Sentinel, http://www.gjsentinel.com

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The #WhatNow of #MeToo for the #COLeg

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AP Photo/David Zalubowski

When several lawmakers, lobbyists and staff at the state Legislature came forward this fall to allege they were victims of sexual harassment by lawmakers, two big questions followed: how often does this happen? What can be done to prevent more cases?

Reporters have asked state officials the first question repeatedly, returning to readers with little response from the state. The latter prompted a conversation from leadership, but as for what’s next—how the allegations, formal complaints, and legislature’s response—will impact politics under the gold dome and whether women will feel any safer is to be determined.

So far, top state lawmakers have decided to hire a human resources officer—who would be independent from the legislature—to be a contact person when incidents involving sexual harassment are brought forward. Now, leadership is tasked with handling and investigating such claims.

The group also decided to hire an independent consultant to review the legislature’s sexual harassment policy, and lawmakers, staff, and aides will undergo another round of sexual harassment training this year. Typically, those working at the Legislature are only required to go through training every two years.

Those changes are a good start, said Erin Hottenstein, executive director of Colorado 50/50, an organization that aims to get more women in public office. But the legislature stopped short of changing any current policies. And Colorado 50/50 called for an entire overhaul.

“I’m very pleased that there was a recognition that the policy needs to be improved,” Hottenstein said.

But there weren’t any specific recommendations regarding transparency, which Hottenstein said is significant in looking at what happens next.

Lawmakers and staff said they couldn’t disclose how many sexual harassment claims that leadership in each chamber have received because they were personnel issues.

“I think there’s a way to be transparent and safe,” Hottenstein said. “There should be a high- level summary document that shows on a certain date a sexual harassment complaint was made and who it was against and a date of a deposition and what the result was.”

Hottenstein said transparency becomes crucial in these cases because it leads to accountability and the public’s right to know what actions the people elected to office are taking.

In October, Pueblo Rep. Daneya Esgar broke her silence posting on Facebook that she was no stranger to sexual harassment and experienced it just a week earlier with a colleague she works with regularly as a lawmaker. The post was part of the #MeToo movement after a New York Times expose highlighted the stories of several women who said they’d been sexually harassed or assaulted by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

Then, a flood of other allegations were brought to the surface in Colorado politics. Rep. Faith Winter said fellow House member Steve Lebsock had harassed her at a legislative party in 2016. Winter and a lobbyist say they filed formal complaints against Lebsock.

An intern said Sen. Randy Baumgardner harassed her with sexually suggestive comments. The same went for Sen. Jack Tate of Centennial, who was accused of telling an intern that if she wanted to get ahead in her career, he could help.

Rep. Paul Rosenthal, who is openly gay, allegedly groped a man and used his seat to try and get a date with another.

But the case between Lebsock and Winter gained the most attention, even prompting Lebsock to take a polygraph test, which the administrator says he passed, to prove his innocence. Lebsock has hinted that the entire incident may be a case of dirty politics, alleging that Winter is the one lying.

When several lawmakers were asked if the case would mean a splintered Democratic party in the House, they were unsure, but optimistic about the session.

Still, there haven’t been any resignations over the allegations, though several, including leadership and editorial boards from across the state, said these legislators should step down from their seat. Some even called for House Speaker Crisanta Duran to step down from her position because she promoted Lebsock to a chairmanship despite knowing there was an incident between him and Winter.

The transparency piece has yet to be addressed by state lawmakers, and it’s unclear whether any policy or legislative changes will address that in the coming months. But for what it’s worth, the women who have broken their silence about sexual harassment in the Legislature are supportive of the changes leadership has discussed.

“I’m encouraged to see the direction leadership is taking when it comes to developing new and independent methods of dealing with complaints of sexual harassment at the Capitol,” said Esgar, who still hasn’t named the colleague she said grabbed her thigh at a legislative event earlier this year. “I’m hopeful that new ideas are still being formulated and considered, when it comes to ways to change the culture itself.”

The lawmaker added that a new session will certainly mean new ideas will come to light, “it’s our responsibility to lead the state in changing cultures to help make work environments safe and productive for all employees on every level.”

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20 cities primed on the Amazon wishlist to be its next HQ

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NEW YORK (AP) — Amazon’s second home could be in an already tech-heavy city, such as Boston, New York or Austin, Texas. Or it could be in the Midwest, say, Indianapolis or Columbus, Ohio. Or the company could go outside the U.S. altogether and set up shop in Toronto.

Those six locations, as well as 14 others, made it onto Amazon’s not-so-short shortlist Thursday of places under consideration for the online retailing giant’s second headquarters.

The 20 picks, narrowed down from 238 proposals, are concentrated mostly in the East and the Midwest and include several of the biggest metro areas in the country, such as Chicago, Washington and Los Angeles, the only West Coast city on the list.

The Seattle-based company set off fierce competition last fall when it announced that it was looking for a second home, promising 50,000 jobs and construction spending of more than $5 billion. Many cities drew up elaborate presentations that included rich financial incentives.

The list of finalists highlights a key challenge facing the U.S. economy: Jobs and economic growth are increasingly concentrated in a few large metro areas, mostly on the East and West Coasts and a few places in between, such as Texas.

Nearly all the cities on Amazon’s list already have growing economies, low unemployment and highly educated populations.

“Amazon has picked a bunch of winners,” said Richard Florida, an economic development expert and professor at the University of Toronto who helped develop that city’s bid. “It really reflects winner-take-all urbanism.”

Among those that didn’t make the cut were Detroit, a disappointment for those excited about progress since the city came out of bankruptcy, and Memphis, Tennessee, where the mayor said the city gave it its “best shot.” San Diego also failed to advance.

“Getting from 238 to 20 was very tough,” said Holly Sullivan, who oversees Amazon’s public policy. “All the proposals showed tremendous enthusiasm and creativity.”

Amazon said it will make a final selection sometime this year.

Besides Austin, another Texas city made the cut: Dallas. In the South, Miami and Atlanta are being considered.

Officials in cities that made the shortlist took the opportunity to further tout their locations, with Philadelphia’s mayor noting “all that Philadelphia has to offer” and officials in and around Pittsburgh citing the region’s “world-class talent pool” and other advantages.

Other contenders among the 20 include Denver; Montgomery County, Maryland; Nashville, Tennessee; Newark, New Jersey; Northern Virginia; and Raleigh, North Carolina.

“It’s a long list for a shortlist,” said Jed Kolko, chief economist at job site Indeed.

He said Amazon may use the list to pit the locations against each other and get better tax breaks or other incentives. Two metro areas, New York and Washington, have more than one location on the list, increasing the competition there, he said.

“It’s hard to say whether all these places are in play or Amazon wanted to encourage continued competition,” Kolko said.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether locations would be able to change their proposals or offer better incentives, but said in a statement that it will “work with each of the candidate locations to dive deeper into their proposals.”

State and local governments played up the amenities they think make their locations the best choice. Some pulled off stunts to stand out, such as New York, which lit the Empire State Building in Amazon orange.

Some gimmicks didn’t work: Tucson, Arizona, which sent a 21-foot cactus to Seattle, did not make the list. Neither did Birmingham, Alabama, which installed giant replicas of Amazon’s Dash buttons.

The company had stipulated that it wanted to be near a metropolitan area with more than 1 million people, and nearly all of those on the shortlist have a metro population of at least double that.

Amazon also wanted to be able to attract top technical talent; be within 45 minutes of an international airport; have direct access to mass transit; and be able to expand the headquarters to as much as 8 million square feet in the next decade.

But Amazon also made it very clear it wanted tax breaks, grants and any other incentives.

Boston’s offer includes $75 million for affordable housing for Amazon employees and others. Before leaving office Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie approved a measure to allow New Jersey to offer up to $5 billion to Amazon. Newark is also proposing $2 billion in tax breaks.

But many of the state and local governments competing for the headquarters have refused to disclose the financial incentives they offered. Of the 20 finalists, 13, including New York, Chicago and Miami, declined requests from The Associated Press to release their applications. Toronto’s mayor said Thursday that the city offered no financial incentives to woo Amazon.

Several said they don’t want their competitors to know what they’re offering, a stance that open-government advocates criticized.

Amazon plans to remain in its sprawling Seattle headquarters, and the second home base will be “a full equal” to it, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has said.

The extra space will give the rapidly growing company room to spread out. It had nearly 542,000 employees at the end of September, a 77 percent jump from the year before. Some of that growth came from Amazon’s nearly $14 billion acquisition last year of the Whole Foods grocery chain and its 89,000 employees.

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Associated Press writers Josh Cornfield in Philadelphia, Matt O’Brien in Providence, Rhode Island, and Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report. Rugaber contributed from Washington.

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