Yes, it’s the dog days of summer. It’s also the season for some of Colorado’s best-loved produce: Rocky Ford melons, Olathe sweet corn, Pueblo chiles and Palisade peaches.
Farmers and workers across Colorado are putting in long hours to get their bounty to market and to people’s tables. The Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association has a website that shows what’s grown in the state, where producers are located, links to farmers markets and even a harvest timeline.
Marilyn Bay Drake, executive director, doesn’t want to take for granted that everyone knows that now’s the time to start figuring out which stores stock Colorado melons and corn and where the best road stands are to find peaches grown on the Western Slope.
“I realize there are so many people who are new to Colorado, so they don’t understand the harvest schedule,” Drake said. “Some of the brands are completely fabulous and well known, really, across the nation. We just want to highlight those.”
This isn’t the season for everything. “Asparagus has come and gone,” Drake said.
“But if you have to choose a season, it’s sort of August, early September, before the freeze,” she added. “Peaches are heavy now. Corn’s coming on. Chiles start a little more into September.”
And there’s plenty of what Drake calls “non-branded” fruits and vegetables, like the kind sold at truck farms and road-side stands in the outer reaches of the Denver area where agriculture has maintained a foothold.
“When people think of Colorado, they think of mountains and skiing. But it’s a pretty big agricultural state, too,” said Michael Hirakata of Rocky Ford.
Colorado, a major beef and wheat producer, has an agricultural economy worth about $47 billion. The Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association said produce, grown on more than 90,000 acres statewide, contributes nearly $485 million to the economy, which doesn’t include the benefits as the products move through the distribution system.
Hirakata, whose family has farmed in southeastern Colorado for five generations, is in the middle of harvest. Hirakata Farms grows cantaloupes and honeydew melons, several varieties of watermelon and pumpkins.
While drought has been a problem for some farmers, the Rocky Ford area has received “quite a bit of rain,” Hirakata said. “But with rain comes hail, so we’ve had some of that.”
As a result, Hirakata said this year’s yield of melons will be somewhat smaller.
Another challenge for Colorado fruit and vegetable producers is the prospect of cold weather just around the corner.
“We have such a short, compressed season because it gets cold,” Drake said. “We’ve got a few growers with greenhouses who produce year-round. But for the most part, it’s a bit of a flash-in-the-pan. You go and get it while it’s there.”
Colorado farmers credit the state’s hot days and cool nights for the sweetness and flavor that have made the melons, peaches, corn and other produce such favorites. The Pueblo chile, which fans swear is superior to New Mexico’s Hatch chiles, was developed by vegetable crop specialist Michael Bartolo, who used the kind of seeds his uncle, Pueblo farmer Harry Mosco, planted.
The result was the Mirasol Mosco chile, which Drake said has thicker “walls,” making it better for roasting. “They’re hot, but not killer hot.”
At Hirakata Farms, people are busy getting the melons to market where people are waiting for the Rocky Ford fare.
“This is what we work for, these three to four months of harvest,” Hirakata said. “It’s very exciting to see the little seeds we’ve planted grow into fruit and to pick it off the vine and ship it off.”
For information about Colorado’s produce, go to coloradoproduce.org
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