Against a colorful backdrop of farm machinery - orange Kubotas, blue New Hollands, yellow Caterpillars and green John Deeres - thousands of visitors ambled about the Montezuma County Fairgrounds last weekend for the Four States Ag Expo.
Inside the Main Pavilion, the old and new faces of agriculture were represented. Their philosophies may have differed, but they all agreed on one thing: coaxing edible food from the arid Four Corners landscape has helped shape Montezuma County's identity, even before it was a county.
At the Southwestern Colorado Livestock Association's table, Phyllis Snyder described agriculture as the foundation that drew settlers here and made them stick around.
"It's the backbone, the building block. The homesteaders scattered across the West and developed it for agriculture uses," she said. "Some of them came here. The spirit of agriculture has been with us ever since. If agriculture stays strong, the overall economy of the city and county is strong."
A few tables away, Jude Schuenemeyer spoke about his efforts to revive a deep-seeded tradition that fell by the wayside in recent years.
"Orchards were one of the earliest forms of agriculture here. There are plenty of 100-year-old trees in this county," said Schuenemeyer, who owns Let It Grow Nursery and Garden Market with his wife Addie; they also co-founded the Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project. "A (subgroup) of people have worked hard to keep them alive."
The popularity of orchards in Montezuma County has "come and gone in waves," he added. "Once McPhee (Reservoir) was filled, many farmers switched over to something like alfalfa - a high-value, low-labor crop that is easily mechanized. But we have a great opportunity here, with our climate. The altitude makes fruit sweeter."
Robby Henes, co-owner of Southwest Seed, is another "niche" agriculturalist. She and her brother Walter stockpile and sell seeds of native plants to private landowners and federal agencies for revegetation. Together, they fight the good fight against invasive thistles and cheat grass that crowd out indigenous species.
"We live in an area that takes its heritage and roots very seriously," she said, echoing the sentiments of nearly everyone asked.
Henes is pleased that various agriculture circles seem to be converging. She noted the increased connectivity between large and small farmers, mentioning farmers markets as a vehicle for communication.
"The revived interest in organic farming and local food is coming full circle. Farmers markets were a novelty item for a while, but they're becoming mainstream, which is great to see," she said. "We shouldn't function as old timers and newcomers, and never the two shall meet."
In the Equine Pavilion, Aaron Ralston taught spectators how to connect with their horses, but also how to maintain control.
"There are physical and mental sides to (training)," he said. "Establishing authority involves having respect (for your horse) and treating it fairly. But it's not just hugs and kisses. You balance rewards with fair discipline."
Ralston, who grew up near Grand Junction, was making his second straight appearance at the Ag Expo. He said it evoked some nostalgic feelings; he had ridden inside the same arena for high school rodeo twenty years earlier.
Schoolchildren who filtered through CSU's Ag Adventure exhibit no doubt left with some illuminating facts to share with their parents and friends, like how pigs are genetically similar to humans, and how 500 billion chicken eggs are laid on earth each year.
The next generation of farmers were also present.
Sixteen-year-old Whitney Finley, a Montezuma-Cortez High School student and FFA member, circled slowly inside the Seed Stock Row building on Friday, casting a critical eye on the Black Angus cattle quarantined in pens. On a clipboard, she analyzed and ranked them by desirable characteristics.
"If your rankings match (those of) the professional judges, you earn a high score," she said.
Fellow M-CHS student Vanessa Gapp also took the day off from school to be a novice judge.
Finley would like to follow in her forbearers' footsteps. Her grandfather owned a ranch in Montana, and her parents have cattle. Finley herself raises three show calves on her own. Long-term, she'd like to be an equine dentist or a high-school agriculture teacher.
Her reason for supporting agriculture was candidly simple.
"It's important to raise crops and livestock to feed everyone. Without agriculture you'd be naked and hungry," she said.