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Steamboat Magazine

Through the Eyes of Three

08/26/2021 02:37PM ● By Dan Greeson and Deborah Olsen
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, CO – Joe Rossi was a cattleman and a true cowboy. He was a hard-working, churchgoing, family man who took what his father, George, started in the 1920s and turned it into one of South Routt County’s preeminent legacy ranches.

“His life was ranching, horses, raising beef and working,” says his son Steve. Where today’s ranchers may use four-wheelers to check on the cattle or during round-up, Joe did it all on horseback. As a young man, he broke his own cutting horses. He later changed to draft horses, which were used to feed the cattle. He loved team roping, a rodeo sport with its roots in ranching, and belonged to the Yellow Jacket Roping Club.

One could say that when it came to cattle ranching, Joe was a traditionalist. “He didn’t like big operations,” Steve recalls. “He didn’t like bringing in steers. You were supposed to raise your own cattle. He really didn’t like people bringing in outside cattle from Texas to graze on forest land.” The possibility of disease, lice and overgrazing were among Joe’s concerns. “I guess he liked his cattle quarantined,” Steve says.

Joseph George Rossi, whose father started what is now a South Routt legacy ranching operation, was first and foremost a cattleman and a cowboy. Photo courtesy the Rossi family.

Joe had enormous respect for the land. In fact, he did not believe in using fertilizer because he thought it would hurt it. From the Depression era, when lots of families lost their ranches, through the 1960s, the Rossis grew their holdings, one piece of land at a time.

Joe attended the Heart Mountain School through the eighth grade, when he went to work full-time on family ranch, just outside of Phippsburg in South Routt County. He only stepped away from the family business once, to serve his country in World War II. As a soldier in the U.S. Army, he served in the Philippines, and as Steve recalls, never talked about it after the war was over.

After that, Joe only left Routt County regularly for one reason: to attend Denver meetings of the State of Colorado Brand Board, of which he was a member. He took this prestigious appointed position seriously.

Joe met his wife, Virginia, in 1949 at a community dance. She had moved to the area to teach school in nearby Haybro. “It was her first and only teaching job because my dad scarfed her up,” Steve says. “She was the real worker. She still is.”

Alongside her late husband, Virginia fixed the fences, helped bring in the hay, and drove the team to feed the cattle. The matriarch of the family today, Virginia lives on Rossi land, across the road from the mountaintop on which Joe was buried in 1998. His grave overlooks hayfields and the family ranch. Now in her 90s, Virginia makes the steep hike to visit the site regularly.

Virginia and Joe Rossi share a picnic in the hay field beneath Heart Mountain. Photo courtesy the Rossi family.


Joe and Virginia also devoted time and energy to St. Martin-Tours Catholic Church, which the Rossi family helped to found. “Grandma and Grandpa would sit in the exact same spot every Sunday,” Steve recalls. Together, Joe and Virginia raised nine kids, most of whom are either still in South Routt County or involved elsewhere in cattle ranching today.

“Joe was a hard taskmaster,” says Steve’s wife, Eileen. Steve remembers a time when he was 10 years old and his father told him to drive the Caterpillar dozer. His dad only gave him a few words of advice: don’t kill it on the cattle guard. You can probably guess what happened. With a logging truck barreling down the hill toward him, Steve did, indeed, kill the dozer on the cattle guard. At least everyone lived to tell the story.

As his nine kids started getting involved in school sports, Joe developed an interest in them, too. Wrestling became a family tradition; one that continues today, with a display case full of Rossi trophies at SoRoCo High School.

Joe is remembered as a gentle grandpa who loved to tell his 20 grandchildren cowboy stories. Today, the family has expanded to include 12 great-grandchildren.

Shortly before Joe died in 1998, he told Steve that he only had one regret. He wished he had quit working so hard a little earlier and taken Virginia on vacations. While the couple may not have spent as much time as they may have liked traveling, their work ethic resulted in a multi-generational legacy that has withstood the test of time.

Michelle Meyer

When the Community Agriculture Alliance moved its Steamboat Springs marketplace to 743 Oak St. in March of 2020, executive director Michele Meyer had no idea what was about to take place. The market opened the same week that the Steamboat Ski Area – and for all intents and purposes, the world – closed as a result of the coronavirus.

Business boomed at the CAA Market during COVID. “The alignment of negative things turned into an opportunity to showcase local food as traditional grocery store shelves were often bare,” Meyer says. “Our whole model flipped; people started treating us more like a grocery store, and we were scrambling to meet the demand. People had more time, and time to learn about where their food came from.” On March 1, 2020, the Ag Alliance was selling $2,500 in agriculture goods per week, but by March 20, that number grew to over $10,000 per week. With lines out the door, CAA’s ag resource coordinator Patrick Stanko acted as the market’s impromptu “bouncer.” Since then, the CAA Market has continued a steady pattern of growth.

The CAA started in 1999 with the goal of promoting and supporting local agriculture, and Meyer began working there in a marketing role in 2010. During that time she got more involved in agriculture in her personal life, operating a small, 14-acre farm in Milner, participating in 4H with her kids and building a large garden. Channeling that interest, Meyer helped to start the local food program and develop what was at that time an online marketplace. “I had been researching how to sell stuff from our farm,” she says. “Around that time, Live Well Colorado was starting. The HEAL initiative here in Routt County was focused on healthy eating. So, everything kind of coalesced at the right time.” Meyer took over the executive director role of the Community Ag Alliance from Marsha Daughenbaugh in 2018.


Today, Meyer and the CAA aim to help producers sell local food to the community, inform the ag community in areas like water rights and land stewardship, and provide opportunities for the Routt County community to connect with farmers and ranchers. “That’s a fun piece of it – educating people on where their food comes from,” Meyer says. “We want to tell the story of environmental stewardship by our ag community and build awareness to all the pieces of the system.”

This is important to Meyer, she says, because she sees farmers and ranchers as the original environmentalists. “These local farms aren’t factory farms; these are people providing for their families,” she says. “Anyone doing ag here really is an environmentalist. There’s a positive environmental impact from the way we do ag here. People aren’t going to just trash the land they live on.”

Agriculture, Michele adds, is a difficult field to be in. “It’s a hard way to make a living,” she says. “There are very few family-run ranches where they don’t also have jobs in town.” The climate in Routt County, she adds, also adds a level of unpredictability that obstructs the ranching business model. Michele and the CAA hope to use the CAA Market program to help local ag producers by diversifying the people they can sell to – this helped many sellers during the COVID pandemic, when many ranchers could no longer sell goods to the restaurant industry.

The importance of ag to the Steamboat community is not lost on Meyer. “Ag started Routt County, before there was a ski area,” she says. “And the people who built ski area were farmers and ranchers. That’s why we have horses in our Fourth of July Parade and in our Winter Carnival Parade – that part of our ag heritage.”

Meyer emphasizes that her work at the CAA is a team effort. “So many people deserve credit. All of this is a community effort. Marsha Daughenbaugh and others left a legacy with so many hundreds of hours of groundwork.”

“It’s my honor to work here,” she says. “This is my passion. It’s the way to connect with people.”

Learn more about the Community Agriculture Alliance at, or drop by the market Tuesday-Friday 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

Leah Allen

Water, residential development and land conservation are all on the mind of Routt County Fair Queen Leah Allen, a fifth-generation rancher. The 17-year-old is beyond enthusiastic about agriculture and takes every opportunity to educate people about its importance.

“Agriculture is the basis of everything in our lives,” Leah says. “The clothes we wear, the food we eat. Where would you be without ag? Naked and hungry,” she says, alluding to the Community Agriculture Alliance slogan.

Occasionally, someone will come up to her when she’s wearing her silver belt buckle and cowboy boots in City Market. They want to meet a real cowgirl, and Leah is happy to oblige.

“I love to teach people about the importance of agriculture,” she says. “I love to talk to people.”

Routt County Fair Queen Leah Allen is laying the groundwork for the future on her family’s cattle ranch. Photo courtesy Leah Allen.


Right now, Leah has four jobs, including working on the family ranch. In summer, that means haying, checking on the cattle, and moving them between fields to keep them cool in the summer heat. “My favorite way to check on the cattle is by horseback,” she says. “That way we get to do it as a family.”

Leah has one brother, Levi. Her dad, Troy, runs the ranch and is a welder. Her mother, Adonna, is president of Alpine Bank in Steamboat. “They taught me determination. In last year’s (COVID) lock-down, I realized how fortunate I was to still be working on the ranch. We never stopped. We got to retain our jobs.”

Leah shows market steers, breeding beef and horses through 4-H; she is Colorado District 9 president; the district encompasses five counties within Northwest Colorado and includes Steamboat Springs and Craig. 4-H, which stands for head, heart, hands and health, is a deep-rooted youth organization that helps youth carry forward their agricultural heritage.

Leah, who will be a senior this fall at Steamboat Springs High School, is planning to go into the ag industry and will probably major in either ag business or ag communications.

“I’m excited and nervous about college,” she says. She currently has her eye on the University of Wyoming but her decision is still a ways off.


There’s not a clear path forward for family ranches like the Allens’. “My dream is to come back home to it after college and bring back that knowledge,” she says. “Routt County is becoming a harder place for families to hang on to their ranch.” She cites rapid local population growth and resulting development as obstacles. “It’s really important to keep ranchers here, to help them to conserve their land,” she says, adding that the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust is key to achieving that goal.

Water is another critical factor that will influence the future of ranching, Leah says. “It’s a huge issue. We use a bunch of water in agriculture, and anything that doesn’t get consumed goes right back into the river so it doesn’t get wasted.”

Agriculture and tourism go hand-in-hand in Routt County, and Leah loves to introduce visitors to her way of life. “Welcome to the Yampa Valley. It’s great to have you here,” she tells guests. “I would love to tell you about our ranch – how we conserve water, how we run cattle and how we’re working with the land – we try to help it. Yes, we’re a ski town, but we’re founded on agriculture.”

Untold challenges may yet face Colorado’s ag families, but their future is in thoughtful hands with people like Leah.