Fruitlands Forever Initiative

The family farms surrounding Palisade in western Colorado’s Grand Valley constitute one of the state’s most productive and scenic agricultural landscapes.  With its unique micro-climate, prime soils, and senior Colorado River water rights, the area produces renowned peaches, outstanding wine grapes, and other orchard fruits that are an important economic driver for the region.  The area is an agricultural treasure for the state and is considered to be the best place to grow fruit not just in Colorado, but across the entire time zone.

In the heart of this landscape, the young Sanders family has been farming for over 7 years. James and Laura Sanders bought their first acreage in 2007 and have been going full speed ever since. They now farm 42 acres with 20 varieties of peaches and have fruit from the 4th of July through September. They sell peaches wholesale, marketed mostly through farmers’ markets in Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.    With the help of 10 full time local employees during the season, the Sanders manage to keep up with it all.

As part of their growing business, the Sanders turned to Mesa Land Trust in 2013 to help meet their goals for their farm. “We want to see the property stay just like it is, growing peaches forever,” said James. An ag-friendly, voluntary conservation easement allowed the Sanders to achieve this goal.

Great Outdoors Colorado (funds generated through lottery sales in the State) and the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program (a Federal farm program) helped fund the purchased conservation easement, which helped the Sanders invest in more land. This is a prime example of young farmers being able to get a foothold in an industry where start-up expenses and agricultural land can be cost-prohibitive and the agricultural economy benefits by conserving a land base sufficient to maintain a viable fruit industry.

Farmers need to know that the peach and wine industry have a stable land base available for agriculture over the long-term. So five years ago, Mesa Land Trust launched the Fruitlands Forever Initiative, an ambitious, landowner driven effort that aims to preserve 1,000 acre of productive farm ground in the East Valley.  This goal will conserve a critical mass of farmland sufficient to sustain a fruit industry into the indefinite future.  From 2009-2014, the Initiative has brought in $3.3 million of outside funding to the area to conserve 13 farms totaling 298 acres.

For thirty-five years the Mesa Land Trust has worked to conserve this precious landscape. Its founders included fruit growers committed to conserving the East Valley’s magnificent agricultural landscape and quality of life. Through exceptional partnerships with the Town of Palisade, Cities of Grand Junction and Fruita and Mesa County as well as incredible support from outside funders, the Land Trust’s efforts have conserved nearly 40 family farms and over 800 acres of prime fruit growing land through conservation easements.