Fruit a big part of area history

“The most favored district in Colorado”. At elevations fruit production was believed impossible, this Montezuma Valley grew some of the tastiest fruit imaginable. During the late 1800s and the early 1900s pioneer families began planting thousands of small and mid-sized orchards in Weber Canyon, McElmo Canyon, Lewis, Lakeview, Arriola, and Lebanon. Their trees came bareroot from California, or from scion wood collected back home in Tennessee. They searched for new and valuable kinds of fruit, they were educated farmers able to breed their own plant genetics. Across Montezuma County many of these orchards are still found. Much of the early history of the Montezuma Valley is about fruit production and orchard development. The reputation for quality fruit spread far and wide. In 1904 Montezuma County won three of the four Gold Medals awarded to Colorado at the St. Louis World Fair. Two years later, establishing a record “that has never been approached, much less equaled” Montezuma County fruits took 101 out of 104 ribbons at State Fair, 97 of them first place. Throughout the 20th Century these orchards dominated the landscape and culture of our county, though by the late 1990s the orchards had faded into the landscape and the great reputation became memories of an earlier time. But these trees, these orchards, and histories are still viable and valuable. They are irreplaceable building blocks of a local based agricultural economy. When the orchard economy fell apart, the distance of marketing and transportation proved too great. With the digital age, and the growing interest in local foods and healthy eating, and the availability of regional markets like Durango, Telluride, Shiprock, and Kayenta, this math has changed. There is potential for a sustainable fruit economy based upon the legendary quality of Montezuma Valley Fruits. But to do this we must have a coming together. In the old days this worked because people worked together. There was competition to be sure, and each orchard had its own cultural practices, but this fruit economy was successful because the pioneers were willing to share their knowledge with each other. They lived the Golden Rule. With that in mind, we invite any and all to an Orchard Social this Saturday afternoon from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Cortez Cultural Center. If you have an orchard, know of an old tree, or have knowledge of the history, this is a chance to come together and share. If you are interested in the local food movement, or just wish to taste the legend of Montezuma Valley Fruits, come and be a part of this heritage. There will be music and cider, apples to taste, stories to hear. We will be auctioning off several rare trees including a Colorado Orange apple and a Thunderbolt apple. Though most of this year’s spectacular crop will fall uneaten, it will not be wasted if we can move the restoration of our fruit economy forward. The great work and generous spirit of these early pioneers will not pass forgotten if we continue their worthy labor. Remember how much there is for us to learn from each other. Remember how important it is that we learn from each other.

Jude Schuenemeyer lives in an orchard in McElmo Canyon.