By Caitlin Switzer
MONTROSE—(November 6, 2013) Long ago, a farmer named Jacob Schuessler planted one of the very first pioneer gardens in the adobe soil of the Uncompahgre Valley. According to “Where Apple Was King, Montrose Colorado,” a reprint of a souvenir booklet created in 1905, Schuessler’s attempt was less than successful—he spoke of “Spending $200 for water and getting not one cabbage.” According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, fewer than 30,000 acres had been cultivated in the valley by 1890, due to consistent water shortages.
The story changed completely in 1909, when President Taft and a host of dignitaries celebrated the opening of the Gunnison Tunnel, a 5.9 miles tunnel through sheer rock—the longest irrigation tunnel in the world at that time–which brought water to the valley from the Upper Gunnison. Since then, agriculture has become a mainstay of the region, putting more than $7 million in local pockets every quarter according to statistics compiled by the Montrose Economic Development Corporation (MEDC).
Even in 2013, a strange year for weather and crops, many local farmers saw excellent returns. For the Montrose Farmers Market, now in its 35th season, those who turned out for the Garlic Festival and 35-year Anniversary Celebration on Sept. 7 were a strong indication of the ongoing importance of agriculture to the region.
Among those who appreciate the local legacy of agriculture is Market Manager Abbie Brewer. Despite a difficult weather year that damaged fruit crops—2013 began with drought, and ended up awash in precipitation—the Market had one of its best years for participation and community support.
“We had close to a thousand people at our garlic festival,” Brewer said. “Skeeter Chamberlain, who has been a vendor at the Market for 35 years, was honored—her son Todd came to the festival, and we acknowledged him for serving as president of board when he was just 14. By selling at the market when he was young, he raised money for college. We also want to honor Jeanne Austin, who put 22 years into the market and served as chair.
“Montrose Mayor Judy Ann Files came down to the festival, and presented, which I was very, very happy about,” Brewer said. ““The dedication is amazing to me; that piece made it all worthwhile.”
To continue its success, four new board members are needed, as well as sponsors for 2014, she said.
“I need three major sponsors, and three media sponsors,” Brewer said. “We are a community organization; we cannot sustain ourselves by ourselves. If the community wants a vibrant farm market, we have to help facilitate this. We have a very organized group of farmers who want to grow, come down, and sell—that is their role.”
Among the exciting recent developments are the opening of the Straw Hat Farm Market Store at 514 South First Street. Store owners Chet and Karen Byler are longtime market vendors, and the synergy is excellent, Brewer noted.
“The energy is so positive,” she said.
This year, the Montrose Winter Farmers Market, scheduled for the first and third Saturdays of each month from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., will be located in a space behind the Straw Hat store, she added.
“Macario Suarez will be roasting green chiles,” she said. “Let’s keep the momentum going, and ensure the success of the market and the store.
“We want to make it good for us all!”