Conserved Lands Ensures Local Food and Agriculture’s Viability For Years to Come

By Sharon Sullivan

Working in the VineyardSteve Ela moved his Ela Family Farms to the North Fork Valley years ago after subdivisions were built on three sides of his family’s Grand Junction farm where his great-grandfather  rst planted an orchard in 1907. In 2003 and 2004, the Elas conserved their 100-acre Hotchkiss farm with the Black Canyon Regional Land Trust. “As fourth generation farmers, we really believe in growing food and want to see our land stay in agriculture,” Ela said. “A conservation easement guarantees the land will stay in agriculture forever. We don’t want to see it broken up into lots – a house here and there. We have seen the effects of development on agriculture.” Ela grows organic peaches, pears, apples, plums, sweet cherries and heirloom tomatoes. During harvest season, he delivers produce weekly to 500 CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) members – who purchase a share of the harvest at the beginning of the season. Ela additionally supplies Roan Creek Ranch Grocery in Fruita, Big B’s Delicious Orchards in Hotchkiss, and Straw Hat Farm Market and Kitchen Store in Montrose – as well as Front Range farmers markets. Customers also come to the farm to buy directly from Ela. In Paonia, Lynn and Tom Gillespie conserved their 130-acre farm with Black Canyon because “they love farming” and want to preserve the land for that purpose, Lynn said. The tax credits they earned were helpful, considering pro t margins for farming are often tight, she said. The Gillespies grow strawberries and raspberries and an array of organic vegetables at The Living Farm. They also raise dairy sheep, pigs, turkeys, chickens and cows for its meat and eggs. The food is sold locally at stores and through a CSA. Lynn and her daughter also create woolen products from their sheep. Truly a family business, two of their children work with their parents on the land and another son runs The Living Farm Café in Paonia, which sources roughly 90 percent of its food from the farm. “It’s a true farm-to-table restaurant,” Lynn said. When Wink Davis and his wife Max Eisele bought their 36-acre Mesa Winds Farm and Winery in Hotchkiss the property was already conserved. “There are protected properties on three sides of us – it makes this more valuable because we know there won’t be a junkyard or other incompatible land use going in next door,” Davis said. Davis and Eisele grow peaches, apples, wine and table grapes at their certified organic orchard and vineyard. They also raise sheep – an heirloom variety known for its good-tasting meat and benefits to orchards where the animals graze on the grass and fertilize trees. Mesa Winds uses its own grapes when making its wines, which are sold in Hotchkiss, Paonia, Crested Butte, Delta and Montrose, and served at various North Fork restaurants. You can sample the various wines in Hotchkiss at ShadeScapes, 122 Bridge St., during tastings each Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m.- 5p.m. The Western Slope has proved to be a local foods oasis thanks to dedicated farmers like the Elas, The Living Farm, and Mesa Winds Farm and Winery. And, with their foresight, land in western Colorado will continue to be available for growing food for years to come.

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