Colorado Agricultural Heritage
Colorado Agricultural Heritage of the WestThe agricultural history of the West and Colorado is a big part of the pioneering of the West. People migrated for various reasons once the West became "open" to settlers. Some pioneered in hopes of striking it rich during the Gold Rush era. Others just wanted a better life and were on the lookout for premium farm country. Still, others wanted to stake their American claim on the newly found country. Farming and ranching were the way of life during those days, and Colorado was no exception.
Colorado Agricultural HeritageWith an abundance of lush natural grasslands and fertile mountain valleys. Wildgame and cattle easily flourished. This enabled the cattle industry to expand and grow during the open-range era of Colorado and the West. Beef was a primary food for both settlers and the Colorado and California mining towns. Once towns began to develop, the early settlers worked together to create irrigation and develop farm crops in the fertile mountain valleys. Below is a quick overview of the successful farming in Fremont County.
The oldest orchards in Colorado's agricultural heritage were in Fremont County! The first apple trees (brought across the Great Plains in oxcarts) were planted in the Florence area by Jesse Frazer in the late 1860’s and later by Italian families, along with grapes in the Spring Creek/Brookside area. The Arkansas River and its streams were the source of early irrigation works, and the area’s elevation, climate, sheltering hills, and tillable soil provided a good setting for orchards, farms, and ranches. Initial markets for Fremont County’s agricultural heritage products included early Colorado mining camps, such as Cripple Creek and Leadville, for fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy products, meat, and other provisions. By 1888, total fruit shipments from Fremont County were over 700,000 pounds, primarily apples, including pears, grapes, plums, peaches, strawberries, and other berries. Fremont County’s 40,000 bushels of apples compared to that year’s production of 60,000 bushels for the entire state! Private investment stimulated the development of the agricultural industry, providing irrigation canals, storage reservoirs, and land preparation. By 1893 over 45,000 acres of land were in agricultural production. Irrigation was provided by 13 canals from the Arkansas River, Grape Creek, etc. Businessmen, schoolteachers and other residents had small orchards or gardens producing fruit, berries, and other crops for seasonal sale at farmers markets as supplemental income. Italian workers enjoyed a taste of their home country through wine from grapevines they grew as a family tradition. Associated enterprises like packing houses, flour mills, an ice plant, a Libby-McNeil-Libby pickle plant, cider mills, a creamery, and soda bottling companies prospered. In 1905, Armour & Company of Chicago marketed Fremont County fruit and produce in major cities from coast to coast as part of their extensive distribution network. An average of 800 rail cars (some refrigerated) per year of agricultural products were shipped to market.