Earth Notes: The Ute Tribe's Non-GMO Corn
Utes have occupied land in the southwest corner of Colorado for centuries. Now their food heritage is sowing seeds of prosperity for members of the Ute Mountain Tribe.
A Water Rights Settlement Act passed in the 1980s allows the tribal-owned company Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch Enterprises to irrigate 7,700 acres of their land—with 2,000 of those acres dedicated to non-genetically modified or GMO corn.
Growers are using their long experience of cultivating corn in the high desert terrain which nestles below the Sleeping Ute Mountain.
Although setting up non-GMO Project Verified status took a while, the remote desert location makes it easy to avoid contamination from genetically modified strains of corn.
Eight people work year-round at a state-of-the-art mill, which can store up to half a million bushels and process over 12,000 pounds of specialty corn products per hour.
The mill produces fifteen different corn varieties, with de-germed yellow corn meal being the biggest seller to industrial outlets such as bakeries, restaurants, tortilla and chip manufacturers. But blue corn meal, grits, polenta and cracked corn animal feed are also popular. A subsidiary company of Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch Enterprises markets the corn to bulk quantity and individual customers alike.
The tribe’s mission to deliver sustainably sourced non-GMO corn products nationwide has been boosted by winning three awards from the National Corn Growers Association, helping with the transition from small tribal business to packaged goods producer—one bushel at a time.