Where: Eagar and Springerville, Apache County, Arizona

Problem: The natural assets in the region offer great potential, but economic opportunities historically have been limited.

Solution: RCAC facilitates economic development and community revitalization in rural communities through technical assistance and workshops.

The Little Colorado Meats team proudly brings high-quality USDA-graded beef to southern Apache County’s community. Photo credit: Karli Salisbury, RCAC

Eagar and Springerville are two adjoining cities in Apache County, Arizona, with a combined population of 7,000. Just 15 miles from the state’s border with New Mexico, the sister cities are the self-proclaimed “Gateway to the White Mountains.” Eagar-Springerville borders the oasis-like Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. The Little Colorado River slashes through the valley, bringing milky, sediment-rich snowmelt and runoff to the greater Colorado River. The local economy is historically based on agriculture and timber, making it susceptible to boom-bust cycles and other factors that affect commodity prices. Since the late 1970s, the valley’s primary employers have been two large coal-fired power stations. The region is a mecca for ranchers, fishermen and hunters, and tourists flock to the area year-round to enjoy its abundant outdoor recreation opportunities. However, most banks are reluctant to invest in the area due to its socioeconomic status, scarce infrastructure and rural nature.

In 2015, residents formed the Foundation for Little Colorado Revitalization (FfLCR), a non-profit 501c3 dedicated to boosting local small businesses, creating jobs and improving rural quality of life in southern Apache County. In 2019, the foundation called on the resources and expertise of Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC) for assistance in obtaining grant funds from U.S. Department of Agriculture – Rural Development (USDA-RD) and strengthening its capacity. After securing USDA-RD grant funding, the foundation established a revolving loan fund for small and emerging businesses.

RCAC then hosted two Recharging Our Community Economy (ROCE) workshops where a new vision emerged: the foundation could create its own meat processing facility, a social enterprise capable of producing high-quality, USDA-certified beef. The project would grow value-added production, shrink rural dependency and reintroduce high-quality, responsibly raised meat to food-insecure communities across Apache County and surrounding areas. Little Colorado Meats was thus born. RCAC returned in 2021 to resume the ROCE workshops and technical assistance while USDA-RD stepped up to provide the foundation with some of the necessary capital for the project.

The foundation obtained land and established a facility consisting of three uniquely designed modular units where cattle are processed and inspected by USDA staff. The facility also has a USDA-approved mobile Meat Harvest Unit that travels directly to ranches to process their cattle. After the meat is inspected and graded, ranchers can sell it directly to consumers or to Little Colorado Meats. The team hopes the social enterprise can meet the demands for regional food insecurity solutions while strengthening value-added production. Little Colorado Meats launched a local sales website this summer but hopes to eventually ship beyond its region once it can iron out logistics.

“RCAC walked us through those really important steps of capacity building; they helped us with policies, procedures, procurement,” said FfLCR Board President Karalea Cox. “RCAC helped us hold ourselves together [and] step up, clear the weeds, look around, and say, ‘we can do this!”