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Why You Should Know About The North Fork Valley

Where To Find The North Fork Valley

When we were in Crested Butte it never crossed our minds to visit Paonia or Hotchkiss in the North Fork Valley. But when we visited the Crested Butte Farmers Market on our first day in town. We were greeted by so many friendly farmers with the most vibrant produce and flowers I have ever seen. So we were immediately curious about where all this food was coming from.

A table full of apples, pears, peaches, and cider caught our eyes. It was all from Big B’s Orchard a well-known orchard here in Colorado. We were glowing with excitement with our haul of farm-fresh fruit and fresh-pressed cider to take back to our place. The guy helping us out could clearly see the elation on our faces and said we should come over to their farm. It is only an hour away drive from Crested Butte.

We hadn’t realized how close we were to a neighboring farming community. So naturally, we were curious and set out on a spontaneous adventure heading to the North Fork Valley to see what we would discover.

We drove the full length of the scenic Kebler Pass to get to the small town of Paonia. It was an incredibly beautiful drive through the rural mountains and dense aspen tree forest. The trees were just starting to change into their vibrant autumn hues. So at every turn, we were delighted with the start of the changing colors. We passed by so many incredible homesteads. Far away from any town and surrounded by the most scenic views that I have ever seen in Colorado. So much untouched land that they were calling home.

As we continued our journey into Paonia we passed a coal mine that is a hot topic of controversy that we will talk about further here. But I want you to get an idea of where the North Fork Valley is because it will be an important place for all of us to know more about.

After we passed the fracking eyesore we entered into a lush valley covered in orchards and farmland. We decided to pull off into the little town of Paonia to look for a quick snack. We stopped into a cafe and ventured into the quaint locally owned natural grocery store. To get a feel for the farm to table hub of Colorado. We were immediately charmed by all the local organic food that was being offered on the menus and inside a tiny natural grocery store.

Just seeing that little bit of this town made us realize what a gem this little farming community is. They truly value each other and the farmers that make this land such a rich place to live. I was in awe of their humble, slow living demeanors.

I wish we were able to visit all of the farms in Paonia and Hotchkiss but I am so glad we were finally able to apple pick at Big B’s Orchard. It was almost like the orchard I went to in upstate New York. It was a really nice size with apple trees that looked like they had been there for a long time. The Jonagold, Honeycrisp, and Gala, apples were all ready to be picked when we were there. We found a bounty of apples and raspberries to take home with us. It was a special September day picking organic apples in the North Fork Valley.

History of The Valley

Paonia, Crawford, and Hotchkiss are the towns settled into the North Fork Valley which is also known as Colorado’s organic valley. The Ute Indian tribe lived in the valley for a long time but were forcibly re-located in 1881, following the Meeker Massacre.

The first settlers stole the valley from the Ute tribe because they saw the agriculture potential. The valley was naturally set up for irrigation, with rich bottomlands and a mild climate perfect for growing orchards.

The first fruit trees were planted in the early 1800’s. Till this day the farmers who acquired land in the rich valley learned how to pay attention to what best fits the land. Adding great care to how they treated the land very early on.

They payed attention to what land fit well with grazing, fruit crops, vegetable crops, and vineyards. Based on the altitude, soil quality, terrain, and availability of irrigation.

Organic farming has grown to be a popular way of farming in the valley over the years. The farmers have found that growing a small scale organic farm can be very profitable with the right creativity and niche identification.

The valley offers the perfect opportunity for farming because of its geological location with the Elk Mountain Range on one side and Black Canyon on another side and vast mazes of desert canyons surrounding it. There is nowhere else like it. And was named one of 15 rare and irreplaceable wild places in the United States by the Wilderness Society. The lands unique features protect the valley from drastic weather offering the perfect climate for farming, orchards, and vineyards. If only we were doing more to protect this land from irrevocable fracking that threatens the farming community and Colorado’s organic food supply.

The Fracking Battle in The North Fork Valley

Today the Valley’s natural resources have become a target for a major fracking project. Which would directly endanger contaminating organic farms and the wild ecosystems in North Fork Valley.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) compiled the Uncompahgre Resource Management plan. Which threatened the livelihoods and reputations of the farmers in the valley. So the towns of Paonia, Hotchkiss, and Crawford banned together in an effort to protect their land, water, and air from pollution.

In 2013 the organic farmers in the valley formed a union and wrote the North Fork Alternative Plan. This plan urged to reduce the number of public lands available for fracking and that the drilling should be at least a half-mile from the water supply.

March 2019 The District Judge agreed with the conservation group that the BLM proposal fell short and proved that they did not study the impact of the planned 175 drill sights would have on the farming community.

Then by June 2019, the BLM proposal stated that they’re drilling would take place over the next 20 years, provide $2.5 million dollars to the economy, 950 jobs as long as 95% of the public land be opened up for drilling.

Trying to cover up the harm that they would cause by manipulating people to go against their community for the need of fiscal stability. The farmers have since been left feeling helpless for the future of their homes and farms. But they have not given up their fight.

A date was set last October to decide an outcome for the North Fork Alternative Plan but it has since been ignored. So in August, the Citizens of A Healthy Community sued the Trump Administration for not taking into consideration the gas, oil, and coal development that would harm the organic agriculture, wildlife, and the already warming climate on the Western Slope of Colorado.

The BLM has sided with fracking industries to exploit this precious land. Even after 53,000 comments from the community against these thoughtless actions. Which will harm not only the future generations of North Fork Valley but of all of Colorado.

What can we do to help? Continue following this fight and sharing their message. The awareness of this issue in Colorado is almost non-existent. It is time we stand up and fight against the destruction of our land so we can have a future for the next generations. If we lose the organic valley of Colorado, we will be more dependent on a corrupt food system that is making us sick. Join the fight and spread the message. The North Fork Valley can no longer fight this issue alone.

Learn more about local farms in Colorado on these blog posts.