Twenty-four Colorado families who have owned and operated their farm or ranch for 100 years or more were recognized during the 27th annual Centennial Farms Celebration at the Colorado State Fair. With two dozen submissions, this year's group is the program's largest since 1995.
Honorees received a certificate signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper and other state officials, as well as a sign to display on their property.
Ed Nichols, president and CEO of History Colorado, and John Salazar, Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture, presented awards to family representatives. The National Trust for Historic Preservation also recognized families who have demonstrated stewardship of their historic agricultural sites by maintaining four or more structures on their property that have survived for 50 years with a Historic Structures Award.
Nine farms and ranches in Delta County were previously designated Centennial Farms. Now there are two more — the Hice Ranch in Austin and Valley Homestead near Hotchkiss.
On July 14, 1910, native Iowan William Weyrauch and his brother purchased 87 acres near Austin from Austin Miller, the town's namesake. The brother moved back to Iowa after a year, leaving William to expand the thriving apple orchard to include peach trees. Produce from the orchard was shipped east by train from the Weyrauch Packing House to Kansas City and Chicago, among other places.
After the war, William and Genevieve Hice (Weyrauch's daughter) bought the orchard, growing apples, peaches, pears, cherries, prunes and pear-apples until the mid-1970s when Edward Hice purchased the land and took over operations. The 1920s house, barn, and garage are still in use as are the chicken house and granary.
Genevieve spent nearly her entire life in that house, eventually moving to Horizons at anadvanced age. She died in September 2012, having raised three children in that same house — Edward, Carolyn (who now lives in Fruita) and Marilee (who lives in Garden City, Idaho).
Ed recalls coming home from school and being sent out into the orchard to hoe weeds. "Dad was a real stickler for weeds," he said.
At harvest time, semis would pull into the driveway and load trailers full of fruit for transport to Kansas City. In later years, Ed says, folks would do the same with their passenger cars, having first taken out the back seats to maximize the available space.
The 60-year-old apple trees remaining on the farm bear old standard Delicious and Jonathon apples that "taste 100% better than any storebought apple you can get nowadays," Ed Hice says.
But because it costs so much to spray the trees for disease and insects, Ed lets the worms eat what they want and harvests what's left. His farming these days primarily consists of raising nursery stock. Nearly 8,000 evergreens — 90% of which are blue spruce — grow on the farm. They're sold to landscapers, golf courses and subdivisions in Aspen, Vail, Eagle, Granby and Denver.
Hice is also a surveyor, a sideline that carried the farm for several years. In today's economy, the tables have turned. Even in his parents' day, Ed says Genevieve's full-time job as a first grade teacher supplemented the farm income. He cited the "one in 10" rule of farming — every 10 years you'll have one year that makes up for the other nine.
The Hice property runs from Highway 92 just west of Austin to the top of the bluff. About 35 acres is cultivated; sagebrush and steep hillsides cover much of the remaining property. Hice is part owner of three reservoirs on Grand Mesa, which has been a big help in short water years, he says. He is also in the Orchard City Water District, an entity his grandfather was instrumental in forming after a family member died of typhoid. Grandpa Will was among the investors who formed Fresh Frozen Foods, which later became Skyland Foods, and he owned a lumber yard in Austin. "He did a lot for Austin and Orchard City," Hice says.
Ed says he only wishes he'd learned of the centennial farm program while his mother was still alive. "She would have enjoyed being part of this," he said.
Ed has no direct descendants to take over the ranch, so he plans to hold onto it as long as possible. "It depends on when I wear out," he said. "Farming is a tough sport."
In 1899 Amos and Fanny Morell traveled by wagon from Illinois to Delta County and acquired 160 acres to farm. The family brought with them a teacher, James Parks, who married one of the four Morell daughters, Cora, so it's no surprise Amos Morell gave land for and helped build the Midway school.
The family farm was passed down to James and Cora Parks and then to Ken and Ida Parks. Ken and Ida had four children, Jim, Dalan, Sue and Kevin. Today the farm is owned by Kevin Parks (who lives on the property with his wife Jackie) and Dalan Parks Raffaghello and their families. The land has been continually farmed since 1899 and is currently leased to the Campbell Ranch — another centennial farm — for corn, hay and alfalfa.
Forty-two acres have been placed into a conservation easement that includes 15 acres of wetlands developed in cooperation with the Partners in Wildlife program. Several historic structures are still in place including the Shepard-Wilnot ditch, a domestic pipeline and cistern, a 1908 smoke house and the 1899 log cabin homestead.
The log cabin homestead was restored by Bill Bailey, who first disassembled the structure, which was in danger of caving in. Each log was carefully numbered and laid back into place. Kevin refers to the log cabin as his "doghouse," but Jackie says "clubhouse" is more accurate. There's still a workbench where Kevin can reload his ammo, but the cabin is also a getaway for playing cards and watching football with buddies. Although the cabin is so primitive it still lacks running water, it does have DISH TV.
The log cabin was replaced by a house that arrived by train fully constructed. The house had no water or heat, so eventually it was replaced as well. But because it had historical significance, it was moved to Paonia and placed alongside the old Bowie Schoolhouse in the museum park.
The 42 acres in the conservation easement lie along the North Fork of the Gunnison River. What was once a gravel pit has been turned into a series of ponds that attracts eagles, herons, duck, geese and other waterfowl. "It's really a beautiful little park," Jackie says.
The peace and solitude of the area is just one reason Kevin wanted to put the property into a conservation easement.
"The wetlands was a magical place when I was a kid and it wasn't all overgrown with cattails and mosquito-breeding spots," Kevin says.
He's not only interested in preserving the family farm, he's determined to leave it in even better shape than when he received it.blog comments powered by Disqus