The Upper Arkansas Conservation District hosted its third annual 4-H rancher dinner Tuesday at Chaffee County Fairgrounds, welcoming about 100 people to break bread together.
“It’s mostly about community,” board supervisor Natalie Allio said. “It’s a way to bring the community together. In agriculture and ranching, you’re busy on your own farm and you usually don’t get to get together much.”
She said the county fair is historically a time when ranchers and 4-H members get together, and the dinner capitalized on that and gave them an opportunity to catch up and hear “how the grass and weeds are growing” on other people’s farms.
The third annual dinner also featured a pie contest for the first time, just for fun. About a dozen pies were entered in the contest, and Zharria Heinitz’s strawberry rhubarb pie stood out and claimed the top prize. Diana Wood’s peach pie finished second. The Rocky Mountain Farmers Union provided ice cream to go along with the pies.
The conservation district was originally created after the Dust Bowl and is designed to help conserve soil, Allio said. Volunteer members from the agriculture community meet monthly, and the group provides resources and education and also helps people find funding. The beginning farmers class, for instance, begins with an idea and then includes discussions on land and water and culminates with a business plan.
The district also collaborates with 4-H, who Allio called the next generation of farmers and ranchers. Each year the district provides two or three scholarships to 4-H kids to support their annual projects. The 4-H kids then do a presentation of their projects at the district’s annual dinner in October, which is also open to the public.
After Tuesday’s dinner, ranchers participated in a branding party at the fairgrounds. Their brands will now be displayed in the main building at the fairgrounds, showcasing local ranches during the county fair.