Three years ago Summit County started a new program in the realm of sustainable ranching. In the spring of 2010, Summit County Beef was established with the commitment to raising grass-fed beef, preserving open space and maintaining agricultural land. Now after swift growth the county is looking for a private buyer.
Assistant County Manager Anita Lewis was one of the initial individuals to help jump-start the program when she said they noticed that many of the cattle ranchers in Summit County sold their beef to the eastern United States. However, a demand for sustainable, grass-fed beef was present in the county, but that demand was supplied from ranches in the east.
"I had said, 'We have citizens that are buying their beef from stores that's coming from back east. Is there a way we can be more environmentally sensitive and do a more local program?'" Lewis said.
So, Lewis said, the county started a pilot program, supported by Uinta Headwaters, and found a rancher on the East Side of Summit County who was willing to hold back 30 of his grass-fed calves to promote and sell locally in the county. They then contracted with a beef harvesting company out of Logan that would then give the beef back to the county to sell.
At first, the beef was sold at the Park City Farmers' Market and the county also began to negotiate with Canyons Resort, Silver Star and other local restaurants to try to get Summit County Beef on their menus. After the first year, the county was able to sell all 30 cattle. The next year, however, there were some problems.
"The next year, we did it again, but there was a problem with the restaurants. We sell the calves in the fall because the ranchers don't want to feed them all year," Lewis said. "So the calves weren't available year-round to sell. Restaurants had to put them on then take them back off the menu."
The beef was also sold at a premium price both because of the sustainability practices of the rancher as well as the 'hassle factor' that the county granted to the rancher for having to truck his cattle from Kamas to the beef harvester in Logan. The 'hassle factor' increased the price of the beef by 20 cents per pound.
Despite the hurdles, Lewis says that Summit County Beef has had great support from people across the county who enjoy and appreciate sustainably raised beef.
"They like buying beef that they know is raised [outside] their back door," Lewis said. "Those that bought it loved it for its taste, its quality, the fact that it was local they were consistent in coming back and buying more."
Lewis did say the most prominent disadvantage of the program was that many who purchased anywhere from a quarter to a full order of beef did not have room to store it. The program was also not as competitive as other grass-fed beef operations in the region.
Lewis hopes that an interested private buyer comes forward because she truly believes the program can succeed if given the right amount of time and resources.
"People are aware of the brand. That usually takes a couple of years for people to know," Lewis said. "It has a good reputation and people know that it's good quality."
The county has received several inquiries from prospective buyers, but Lewis says that, as of yet, there are no firm commitments buying Summit County Beef. Seed money has been allocated to the program to keep it going, but Lewis laments the possibility that no one will carry its success forward.
"Unfortunately, if no one buys it, it'll just be a great idea and be put on the shelf," Lewis said. "If I was in a different position, I would buy it."
Lewis did offer advice to any still wishing to buy the program; namely, that demand of sustainable, grass-fed beef in the area is fully understood and that an accurate estimate of both individuals and businesses interested in buying and selling it is provided.
"I do hope that someone steps up to the plate to buy the brand because I want to see it continue," Lewis said.
Interested buyers of Summit County Beef should mail, fax or hand deliver a bid no later than Thursday, August 1, by 5 p.m. to the Summit County Auditor, P.O. Box 128, Coalville, UT 84017. For more information call: 435-336-3016. The fax number is: 866-873-6581