This growing season has been a difficult one for Front Range farmers. We are still feeling the effects of the 6 weeks of rain from mid-April through May when we couldn’t get into our fields to plant. Thankfully we have been able to eek out enough food for our CSA shares each week. But we will see the effects of the difficult spring for the rest of this growing season.
I think the growing season has been even more difficult for fruit growers on the Western Slope of Colorado. I just finished reading this update from Ela Family Farms. In it they explain the particulars of why the weather was so hard on their fruit trees. There was an exceptionally cold night in April that killed almost all of the blossoms on their fruit trees. Then the rainy weeks that followed meant that the pollinating insects couldn’t get out to do their work on the small number of blossoms that remained. For those of you that don’t know the cycle of fruit production, the spring blossoms on the trees are pollinated and those pollinated blossoms later turn into fruit. One night of temperatures in the 20s at just the wrong time in the spring can kill all the blossoms and wipe out the fruit for an entire season.
As Steve Ela explains in his update, he still does not know what to expect in terms of fruit production for the season. Their harvests will be intermittent, so he can’t plan for labor to pick the fruit. Steve told us that he might have one variety of peaches that is productive, but then the next variety that should be ready has been lost for the season. Unfortunately, you can’t have skilled fruit pickers magically appear and then disappear as you need them. As with the rest of us, they need reliable work and can’t just work for a few days here and there. So the fruit growers might be faced with the sad circumstance of having a crop ready one week, but nobody available to harvest it.
We have worked with First Fruits Organic Farms (Paonia, CO) and Ela Family Farms (Hotchkiss, CO) since 2002. They have the highest quality organic fruit we can find in Colorado. We work with two fruit growers as a sort of hedge. If one has a crop failure for a particular fruit, the other will often have better luck. Unfortunately this year, both farms suffered from that very cold night in April. They have both told us that they will have fruit intermittently and will try hard to get it to us.
Last week were lucky enough to get some cherries from First Fruits–an unexpected surprise! They said they thought they would be able to get cherries to us again this week. But sadly, once they started picking for this weekend, they realized there weren’t enough cherries and many of them were damaged, so they don’t have anything to delivery to us. And if we had ordered enough cherries last week to get us through this week, they would all be moldy mush by now. They pick their fruit when it is ripe, which is what gives it that unbeatable flavor. The only downside is that the ripe fruit is more perishable, so we can’t order enough to get us through two weeks at a time. We will just have to take things week by week. That will be the sad theme for this season – unpredictable.
Wyatt and I have been thinking a lot about what to do with our Fruit Share this season. When there is a shortage of fruit, like this year, we can’t simply go to another farm to buy fruit because they are also short on fruit and need to supply their regular customers. We also don’t want to get low-quality fruit that may be under-ripe, bruised, or otherwise damaged. This has been our experience with many other fruit growers we have tried over the years.
We will do our best to fill our Fruit Share this season and hope for some happy surprises. In the meantime, Wyatt and I will evaluate the options if we fall short on fruit. And we will be thinking a lot about the families at First Fruits and Ela Farms. Steve Ela told us that he will likely get by this year, but they will need a good year next year in order to survive. Farming is risky work and we wish our friends on the Western Slope well as they endure this difficult season.