Community members led a cattle drive and “freedom ride” along Main Street in Cortez Saturday morning to voice their support for the livestock industry in response to Gov. Jared Polis’ proclamation of a MeatOut Day.
Polis has received considerable backlash since he made the proclamation, in which he encouraged citizens to make March 20 a day of no meat eating and praised the benefits of a plant-based diet.
Beef is Colorado’s No. 1 agricultural export by value. According to U.S. Census Bureau foreign trade statistics, fresh or chilled beef exports brought in $531 million in 2020.
Many rural counties joined the Southwest Colorado Cattlemen’s Association in declaring the day a “MeatIn Day.”
The Colorado Dairy Farmers, Colorado Egg Producers, Colorado Pork Producers Council, Colorado Wool Growers Association and Rocky Mountain Farmers joined the Colorado Livestock Association in requesting that Polis declare Colorado Livestock Proud Day for March 22 in response to the previous proclamation. The Colorado Livestock Association posted a copy on its website on March 11.
In his proclamation, Polis noted that “farmers and ranchers raise livestock to provide nutritious, affordable protein for families across the state, and throughout the nation, and animal proteins supply the body with essential nutrients, including sources of zinc, vitamins B12 and D, and fatty acids.”
He also stated that agriculture generates more than $40 billion in economic activity annually, and livestock production add more than $4.6 billion to the state’s economy.
Supporters met at the Ute Coffee Shop Saturday morning to give speeches and coordinate their route along Main Street.
Ranchers and farmers were also joined by the Montezuma County Patriots, who gained public attention this summer during its weekly rallies and demonstrations on Main Street. The demonstrations began as a way to support reopening businesses in town during coronavirus restrictions, then shifted to support first responders, the Second Amendment right to bear arms, and then-President Donald Trump. The rallies up and down Main Street displayed American, Christian, Confederate, Trump and Three-Percenter flags and were held across the street from a weekly Walk for Justice and Peace, which included supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Earlier this month, the Montezuma County Board of County Commissioners passed a resolution proclaiming Saturday to be Cattlemen’s Day.
The county resolution highlights economic benefits of the livestock industry, which provides 1,013 local jobs, or 8% of total jobs in the county, representing the fifth-highest job creator, according to 2018 data compiled by Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado. The resolution states that in 2017, the sale value of Montezuma County cattle, calves, poultry and hogs exceeded $16 million.
On Saturday, Montezuma County Commissioner Joel Stevenson spoke in support of the MeatIn demonstration.
Local rancher Odis Sikes made it a day to support the U.S. Constitution.
“What they’re after is your Constitution,” said Sikes. “They are going at it hard and fast. They want your Constitution bad. But we are not going to let them do that.”
Tiffany Ghere, a leader of the Montezuma County Patriots, also spoke in front of the Ute Coffee Shop.
“The No. 1 one export in Colorado is beef,” Ghere said. “Our water rights have been slowly removed from us. What happens if we can’t feed our cattle? What happens if we can’t water them?”
Ghere also alluded to the governor’s sexual orientation during her speech, drawing laughs from the audience. A male demonstrator carried a sign stating that he would give up eating beef when Polis, the state’s first openly gay governor, changed his sexual orientation.
The ride was led by Buddy the 3,000-pound steer, who was hauled along Main Street. A line of trucks and trailers followed, sporting signs praising the importance of beef to the local economy.
Other supporters lined the street with signs of their own and waved to the procession.
The Southwestern Colorado Livestock Association and the Southwestern Cowbelles partnered with various restaurants to celebrate. Each person who bought a beef dinner at a participating restaurant had their name entered to win a free beef dinner.