Monday, March 29, 2010

Farming on the West Slope of Colorado

Photo of Peach trees near Palisade, Colorado Sept. 20, 2009


Today, I'd like to report on my trip to the West Slope of Colorado last weekend. I had the opportunity to see a unique and charming farming community in and around Palisade, Colorado, population 2,500. This region is made up of small farms, often only 7-10 acres. The area is known for growing peaches, apples, pears, apricots, dark cherries, plums, vegetables, and grapes. The predominant crops are peaches and wine vineyards. In the past, they grew mostly sugar beets.

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes at Palisade, Colorado Sept. 19, 2009

The above photo was taken at Canyon Wind winery. The grapes were ripe and delicious and the generous hosts offered us to sample freely. The grapes were covered in netting to protect them from birds such as starlings, but we were also told that the bears come in and help themselves. The netting is useless for the bears, needless to say. They get to take whatever they want.

On this site previously, I ran an article, "From Corn to Cabernet", out of "High Country News" which described wine growing in the region as well as many other issues. Grand Junction to the West of Palisade is a very attractive retirement community which is growing quickly and annexing choice farmland for new developments and trophy homes. 4,600 acres have been annexed in the past eight years. This was very evident from our visit to this area and concerned me a great deal, because the farmland there is mineral rich with a great water supply and is highly limited because of the geography of the region. I only hope that they can establish some very restrictive covenants to preserve this precious agricultural land which feeds many people. My worst nightmare would be that this town grows to be a million people someday at the expense of this entire valley's rich and picturesque farmland.

Canyon Wind winery was established on 35 acres 18 years ago. Two of the wines which I sampled there were extremely fine, the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Petit Verdot. The water source in this desert area is from the infamous Colorado River, using canals and ditches. Canyon Wind winery had a computer controlled moisture sensoring drip system on the grapevines and they employed other sustainable practices.

We also enjoyed the tasting at Two Rivers and Carlson wineries. I loved the Two Rivers Cabernet Sauvignon that I had with dinner Saturday evening. All wine tastings are free in and around Palisade. Last weekend was their annual wine festival which draws 7,000 people. Carlson Winery threw a nice laid-back party with live music, lots of food, and even a front door Siamese-cat-on-the-counter greeter. I was lucky to meet a most pleasant Denver computer technology wonk there who knew way more than I do about blogging.

The fruit stand where I bought a case of Peaches in Palisade, CO

We were told that the region grows several varieties of peaches to stagger production. When we were there, last weekend, the latest maturing variety was still in season, so I felt lucky to bring a case home for making Peach Spiced Jam, Peach Salsa, and cobbler. Palisade is referred to as the "Peach Capital of Colorado" and this region is also referred to as the "Banana Belt". Their rainfall is around 11 inches per year with a growing zone of 6.

Since this blog is also about economics, I took note of some of the real estate in the area. As for the town of Grand Junction, ten miles west of Palisade, population of 54,000, there was absolutely no visible evidence of a recession. There has been a great deal of development there with many new hotels in one area and new retirement housing, new million dollar plus trophy houses on acreages surrounding the National Monument, and a high-rise new hospital, much taller than any other building in the city with impressive modern architecture and ongoing construction, like all hospitals these days. Restaurants and the very charming multiple sculpture-decorated Main Street were thriving on this Saturday evening.

The town newspaper had an article about the ailing construction business. It stated that contractors from Phoenix and LasVegas have relocated to Grand Junction in hope of more work in this area and that recently there are about 700 applicants for every one construction job advertised. There is currently twenty percent unemployment in construction in Grand Junction. Since this town has had a recent building boom, there are no doubt many extra construction workers there.

In the Palisade area, it seemed that nearly 20% of the acreage farms were for sale. One brochure offered 7.5 acres with an older 1200 square foot house for $500,000, so I'll assume that was a typical price sampling. This property did not have established fruit trees or grapevines on it.

One last subject that I want to include is that of the area extending a fifty miles east of Palisade and many miles north, which is the boom-bust natural gas and oil shale industrial region. Towns in this region have names such as Basalt, Silt, and Rifle. Since I-70 follows the beautiful life-sustaining water source, the Colorado River, there are many growing retirement communities which have fairly recently sprung up in this area and along this river. Some of these include Eagle and Parachute. But there is much evidence of idled natural gas drilling equipment now resting along this corridor. One sees trailers, trucks, wells, wellheads, pipes, silica tanks, and distillate tank cars.

Colorado National Monument in the rain last weekend

As a final bonus, the Colorado National Monument is nearby. These 32 square miles look like a smaller version of the Grand Canyon in some places. It is beautiful and well worth visiting.

There is one last comment I need to make and that was that I thought the people we encountered in this area were the nicest I've ever met anywhere, and I've traveled to quite a number of areas. I wouldn't say it if it hadn't been remarkable.


Colorado rural counties taking a beating in economy

See from LATIMES - Grand Junction healthcare is a model of low cost and high quality