Following this year’s snow-rich winter and cold spring, Western Slope farmers are both running a couple of weeks behind on their harvests and anticipating a banner year for crop production.
“We grow fruits and vegetables, and we rely on snowpack. That’s where we get our water to irrigate,” says Guy Borden of Borden Farms in Delta, which grows organic melons, peaches, tomatoes, chiles, eggplant, green beans, basil, cauliflower, cabbage, squash, and “just about anything you can grow in Colorado.”
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“We harvest seven days a week starting in June,” Borden says. “The best thing rain and snow do over the winter, in my mind, is put a lot of nitrogen and other things into the ground that you just can’t get from a commercial fertilizer. It adds a lot of good nutrients.”
Every year, Borden donates crops to Feast in the Field, a farm-to-table dining experience in Crested Butte that benefits Mountain Roots, a local nonprofit that educates the community and facilitates access to fresh, healthy food. Open to the public, this year’s Mexican-themed feast takes place August 2.
“Mexican cuisine uses lots of herbs, chiles, summer squash, and meats…everything we can grow here. In August, I really get to showcase everything we can grow locally at the peak of harvest,” says Feast in the Field chef Dana Zobs of Crested Butte’s Personal Chefs.
The “peak” of the harvest for many of these ingredients—tomatoes and peppers, in particular—is typically in August, although this year, that looks more like the onset of the season. But there should be plenty to go around once harvesting begins, with products tasting better than ever.
“This is the weather we need for great quality flavor,” says Mark Waltermire of Thistle Whistle Farm in Hotchkiss, which also donates to Feast in the Field every year and grows 110 varieties of hot peppers, 40 varieties of sweet peppers, and 180 varieties of heirloom tomatoes. “For tomatoes in particular, stress matters. Water stress, temperature swings—the plants have to adapt to these stresses and that brings out flavors.”
Besides tomatoes, which local farmers say are extra sweet this summer, peaches and cherries are also outstanding this season.
“The fruit is plentiful and really high quality. It was the perfect weather conditions—higher moisture from the snowpack, a fabulous wet spring, hot summer days, and cool nights…everything is just right for an epic fruit season,” says Jeff Schwartz of Hotchkiss’ Big B’s Delicious Orchards, which specializes in orchard fruit (apples, peaches, cherries, and pears), but also grows berries and vegetables, produces hard cider and juices, and hosts live music events and camping. “All the different varieties of apples have made it through this year, all the varieties of peaches…it’s one of the best fruit crops we’ve had in a while,” says Schwartz.
If news of the stellar harvest season sparks cravings for tomato salads and luscious peach pies, hit the farmers’ market nearest you. And hope for another wet winter.