Bridging the Opportunity Divide

This Innovative Business Keeps Open Land and Western Traditions Alive

May 9, 2014
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This Innovative Business Keeps Open Land and Western Traditions Alive
A stable worker carries a bale of hay. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Crystal River Meats mixes foodie trends and smart leasing to maintain those storied Colorado vistas.

Rent grassland, save the cowboys.

That’s the aim of a new Colorado program creatively circumventing the staggeringly high price of real estate to stave off development and keep a traditional lifestyle alive — and creating a foodie favorite so in demand that Whole Foods can’t keep the shelves stocked.

The solution started, as solutions often do, with a problem. Tai Jacober saw his family’s land divided and sold after his grandfather died. And he and his brothers couldn’t afford to buy a ranch.

“You can’t buy ag land in Colorado,” Jacober, a third-generation rancher, told Kelly Bastone of 5280. The cost of maintaining undeveloped pasturelands has become too high for many ranching families in Colorado. What used to be open acreage now holds second homes and resorts.

Since he couldn’t buy, Jacober decided to rent.

Crystal River Meats of Carbondale, Colo., leases pasture land on a large scale. It’s a win-win — Jacober and ranchers like him get to keep their livelihood, while landowners get to support traditional ranching culture and snag agricultural tax credits without having to run cattle themselves.

Farmers and ranchers have leased land before, but Crystal River Meats does it wholesale, renting 250,000 acres dotted throughout various communities. And their local, humanely-produced beef flies off the Whole Foods shelves.

Jacober has big dreams for his rental business, dreams that stretch far beyond Carbondale’s cows. He wants Crystal River Meats to serve as a blueprint for other communities across the state to preserve that Western ideal of open land and cattlemen, especially near the state’s popular ski towns.

“There’s a cultural benefit to having a viable ag operation that preserves the rural look — and the cowboys that come with that,” Jacober says.

Thanks to projects like Jacober’s, the open vistas of the West might just have a chance.

MORE: How 40 Pounds of Leftover Broccoli Sparked a Farm-Friendly Innovation

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