By Arden Trewartha
What do you get when you combine pigs and storytelling? The Hogs & Hot Air Festival, which was held June 21 in Saguache, Colorado. More than 60 locals listened to ranchers tell tales ranging from the grotesque (being pranked on with dead, swinging rattlesnakes) to the sentimental (a wiener dog mothering a motherless calf). Afterwards, over 160 residents dined on local pork, potatoes, green chili and churros. Mothers with 3-week-old babies sat next to 80-year-old ranchers, sharing stories, food and simply community.
The Friends of the Saguache Public Library spearheaded the event as a way to bring together the Hispanic and Anglo communities, especially those involved with ranching. Last year, the event honored the Hispanic population who built Saguache’s adobe library in 1963. The library director remembers the day after the event, “an elderly Hispanic gentleman came up and said that it was the first event he could remember where there was no agenda to raise funds, or participate in a church service. It was simply to appreciate our diverse community.”
In talking to people at Hogs & Hot Air, folks said they came for the food and the company. “It’s great to see everyone—you get so busy with summer, you forget to talk to your neighbors,” said one rancher who came with his wife.
“I appreciate the storytelling and knowing our history and culture—I worry we will lose this with the passing of a generation,” said a mother attending with her 10-year-old.
For me, as a community partner working in the San Luis Valley under the new Community Partnerships initiative, the event signified a community that is deeply aware of and appreciative of its roots, while also looking to the future and how to grow accordingly. Both the town and county of Saguache are among the poorest in the state. Young people who can leave the community do so, to the Front Range or beyond. In preliminary conversations with residents, jobs, “smart growth”—attracting or growing small industry or businesses, in other words—as well as youth development and engagement are recurring themes.
As asked of those gathered by (volunteer) Saguache Mayor Greg Terrell: “How do we build economic opportunity while still keeping the character of the town? How do we develop a healthy environment for our youth and people who live here?”
In eating my way through a second plate of pork and green chili while listening to conversations, it is evident that not only the mayor but local residents are pondering the same questions—looking to their history and heritage as lessons, as well as potential opportunities in their town and region to guide them toward a more prosperous future.