The Pueblo West View

State ag dept. honored

Recognized for helping recovery of cantaloupe industry

The Colorado Department of Agriculture has received a national marketing award in recognition for the campaign that local farmers developed following the 2011 listeria outbreak.

The outbreak, which claimed 30 lives and sickened nearly 150 more, was traced to a plant near Granada where the cantaloupes were processed. Area producers were hit hard by the outbreak, even though the contamination occurred 90 miles away.

The department recently received the “Award of Agricultural Marketing Excellence” at the annual North American Agricultural Marketing Officials conference in Alexandria, VA.

Following the outbreak, the department and the families in the Rocky Ford growing region developed a quick, proactive and collaborative response.

With the help of private marketing and branding companies Mulligan & Co. and BrandWerks Group, the public relations campaign addressed the crisis and provided the public with accurate information about Rocky Ford cantaloupes.

“Farmers and ranchers strive to provide safe, nutritional food to their own families and friends as well as the consumer. This tragedy was an example of the importance of food safety and its significance to us all,” Commissioner of Agriculture John Salazar said in a press release.

“The tragedy could have spelled the end for Rocky Ford cantaloupe. That would have been a loss not only to their families after generations of farming, but to the people of Colorado who have enjoyed this local product for 126 years and look forward to these cantaloupes every summer.”

The Rocky Ford Growers Association was formed in 2011. To label melons as Rocky Ford cantaloupe, a grower must be a member of this association and produce melons within the growing region, which is now defined as Otero and Crowley Counties, south of the Colorado Canal.

Eric Hanagan, whose family has grown the famous melons for more than 100 years, said Rocky Ford melons are the best in the world.

“If they buy a Rocky Ford Melon, they can be assured that they are getting a safe, quality product,” Hanagan said.

“We always say if you know your farmer, you know your food. We don’t sell anything we wouldn’t feed our own family.”

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