Updated: Dec 19, 2019
Steve Ela’s great-grandfather planted his first orchard in Grand Junction back in 1907. Over the subsequent years the farm continued to grow, but so did development in the valley. Eventually, subdivisions flanked three sides of the orchard, so the Elas moved their operation to Delta County’s North Fork valley in the late 1980s.
Now, Ela Family Farms is nestled in the countryside near Hotchkiss, where they grow over 55 varieties of organic peaches, pears, apples, plums, grapes, cherries and heirloom tomatoes. They also make and sell artisanal organic jams, jellies, fruit butters, sauces, dried fruits, and ciders.
As a leader in Colorado’s agriculture community, Ela Family Farms has received various rewards for their environmental stewardship, community service, and for the flavor of their tree-ripened fruit. This success is built on a holistic view of farming, as explained on their website: “All of the farm—it’s trees, water, wildlife, and soil—is part of a system which also includes us—farmers, neighbors, customers, and communities. To do well with one is to contribute to the quality of the whole.”
To ensure that they pass on these values to the next generation of farmers, the Elas chose to conserve their land in 2003 and 2004. “As fourth generation farmers, we really believe in growing food and want to see our land stay in agriculture,” Steve explains. “A conservation easement guarantees the land will stay in agriculture forever.”
Colorado West Land Trust holds the Ela’s easements and protects their conservation wishes, as it does for many other farmers on the Western Slope. With over 123,000 acres conserved in 6 counties on the Western Slope, the Land Trust has preserved over 2,000 acres of fruit-bearing land in Delta and Mesa Counties, which helps ensure that the fruit industry on the Western Slope has a stable land base available for agriculture over the long term.
As the Land Trust continues its work to support families that grow renowned peaches, outstanding wine grapes, and other orchard fruits, it is also preserving the rich legacy of those who worked the same land many years ago.
If Steve’s great-grandfather were here today, he might not recognize the land surrounding his original orchard in Grand Junction. But it’s easy to imagine that he would be proud of what his family has accomplished in Hotchkiss. The Ela’s rich legacy of growing fruit on the Western Slope is protected, thanks to a steadfast care for the land and its future.