Blog Archives

Palisade’s Peach Past (Part I)

Palisade's East Orchard Mesa

The history of Palisade peaches began with pioneers, explorers, and town builders who breached the backbone of the continent—the Rocky Mountains—in the Territory of Colorado. The question is how did they know in the 1890s that peaches would be a juicy contributor to Colorado’s $40 billion plus and growing agriculture industry of today?

They had vision, motivation, and a market.

MARKET

Mining interest cut into the mineral-rich mountains of Western Colorado, extracting gold, silver, and coal. They laid out communities close to their mother lodes and far from their markets. Enter next the railroad companies like the Denver & Rio Grande (D&RG) and the Colorado Midland Railway (later Railroad) who set tracks within the precarious passes to export the precious commodities. The BLM’s Cultural Series No. 10 by O’Rourke, Frontier in Transition, explains:

DSC_0134_1078

 

“The construction of railroad lines in southwestern Colorado during the 1880’s and 1890’s was determined by the desire to connect gold and silver mining camps with the rest of the state, but was also motivated by the necessity of securing locomotive fuel from the many rich coal fields in the area.”

 

VISION

photo courtesy Grand Valley Water Users' Assoc.

photo courtesy Grand Valley Water Users’ Assoc.

“It is uninviting and desolate looking in the extreme.” That is what the Denver Tribune wrote in 1880 of the Western Slope, as cited in Ingersoll’s legendary 1885 book Crest of the Continent.

Yet, elephant-skin colored cliffs and dusty, brush-covered terrain is not what Colorado agriculture and irrigation expert William E. Pabor saw. He writes in his twelve-year agriculture study Fruit Culture in Colorado, published in 1883, “We see, through the mists of the present, the fruit-lands of the future.”  His extensive interviewing of fruit growers, coupled with his knowledge of irrigation opened his eyes to the possibility of a fruitful future in Western Colorado’s semi-arid landscape.

MOTIVATION

The world was moving west at a pace as fast as the railroad could lay tracks. Once the U.S. government relocated the Western Slope Ute Indians (again), the west was open for business. Town founders like George Crawford (Grand Junction) and Pabor (Fruita) set up orchards and communities. They, among others, recognized that the isolated Western Colorado was ripe for development. They untied their motivation with their vision to tap into the nearby market.

“The miners pay cash. The harvest gathered from the soil, under the genial influence of the sun and water, is as golden as that taken from the hills, whose supposed wealth attracts so many prospectors…. The mines furnish a very profitable market, and towns are springing up in every direction,” Pabor wrote, adding that food imported from California, Utah, Kansas, and Nebraska “ought to be raised at home.”

As so it was. In the 1880s, and as the end of the century neared, Harlow, Bowman (owner of the peach-picking sack patent), Blain, and Steele planted the roots of an iconic legacy.

This legacy is celebrated each year in August at the Palisade Peach Festival in Riverbend Park. The Palisade Chamber of Commerce, the Palisade Historical Society (run by chairperson Priscilla “Bowman” Walker), and author of Western Colorado Fruit & Wine: A Bountiful History will honor that history at the 2015 festival August 14 & 15th with a special “Palisade’s Peach Past” booth—a journey through the people, places, and tastes that have made Palisade a juicy destination.

 

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Winter in Palisade’s Orchards

Palisade winter orchard

Palisade orchards might be six months from dripping with their famous ripe peaches, but that doesn’t mean it’s not busy around there. If you look down the rows, through the barren branches and across the fields you’ll see why. It’s pruning season.

Workers are giving fruit trees their seasonal trim. (A little off the top, please?) The sun is out again after a snow—a gift during a much too warm winter with little moisture. Workers set up the ladders or ride on flatbeds through the orchards, long scissor-like pruning tools in hand. They pile up the downed limbs and twigs, removing them from the rows lest insects find a cozy home for multiplication … and I don’t mean 2 x 2 = 4. Think 2 x 2 = zillions of pests.

Prunning workersLabor needs aren’t just in the summer and harvest season. It’s year round. Child and Migrant Services (CMS) in Palisade is a lifeline. They are a network for farmers to connect with those looking for work. Plus, migrant workers find community at CMS. Director Karalyn Dorn says orchard work takes a lot of knowledge, skill, dedication. As a result, farmers like to hire the same guys (or gals) each year. “It’s a win, win,” says Dorn.Palisade winery

Even with the pruning activity in February, the Palisade Fruit & Wine Byway is pretty quiet. Sure, only a few country stores are open. (If you’re low on lavender and olive oil stop into Sprigs & Sprouts on Hwy 6.) Roadside fruit stands say “Thank you” and “Closed.” The good news for winter agritourists, though, is many of the gates to wine tasting rooms are open. (Thank you, Maison le Belle Vie!)