CORTEZ, Colo. (AP) — "Value-added agriculture" is a popular buzz phrase in rural areas for locally processing a raw crop into a more profitable, packaged food item.
The Ute Mountain Ute tribe is done with the talking. On Sept. 30 they took action with the official opening of a $4 million corn-mill facility on their farm and ranch enterprise.
The state-of-the-art mill will produce and package several varieties of food-grade cornmeal under the Bow and Arrow brand name.
White, yellow, blue and Indian corn are planned for processing using 3,000 acres of corn grown on adjacent tribal farmland, located south of Towaoc.
"As proud members of the Ute Mountain tribe, we move into the future with this enterprise," said tribal Chairman Manuel Heart, during an open house and ribbon cutting ceremony.
"Our children and grandchildren will benefit from the jobs and economic growth that our new mill brings."
Hundreds of invited guests gathered at the sprawling farm operation for the annual Ute Mountain harvest feast, featuring barbecued meet and corn bread made from the new product.
Spiritual leader Terry Knight performed a ceremonial blessing in the Ute language, and several speeches were made by local dignitaries and farm managers.
"It's amazing what you can do with a little bit of water," said farm foreman Eric White. "Get ready to taste something good."
Then the factory bay doors were rolled up, revealing gleaming new equipment positioned on upper and lower floors, just waiting to be turned on.
"We can't wait to flip the switch, which is actually on a Palm Pilot," said marketing consultant Mike Abeyta. "We have buyers lined up."
The milling will begin soon, said farm and ranch manager Paul Evans, once the corn is harvested in the coming days.
"It is the workers that made this happen," Evans said. "I'm filled with gratitude that the tribe has faith in our farm and ranch operations. We know we will be successful."
The mill expands a small-scale operation that already provides whole and milled corn products for local stores in Pleasant View, Mancos, and for the Durango snack maker the Chip Peddler.
The major ramp-up in operations allows the tribe to expand its market. Negotiations are ongoing with Affiliated Foods, an undisclosed baking company, and Kroeger Co., which includes City Market grocery stores.
"Our goal is in five years for Bow and Arrow to be a national and international brand, a household name that reaches our target of 1,100 stores," Abeyta said.
The 7,200 square-foot mill is unusual in the country because of its highly efficient milling process, said head miller Britni Beck. It can process 180 to 215 bushels per hour.
To get to the edible cornmeal, the corn is husked, the cob is removed and the kernels cleaned. It then goes through a degerminator and is processed through different-size roller mills and screens before moving to the packaging line and onto trucks.
Hominy, a byproduct from processing the corn, will be sold for livestock feed.
The mill will create four or five new jobs, Evans said, which could increase, along with the corn crop, based on demand for the product.
Said Chairman Heart, "Other tribes will look to our mill enterprise as a model for tribal self-sufficiency. It's an investment in the best interest of the community."