Denver youngster behind peach push
DENVER— Nick Babiak is getting a real lesson in how a bill becomes a law.
Nick is the Denver fourth-grader who is the real force behind a seemingly innocuous measure to make the Palisade peach the state’s official fruit.
Even though he’s only 10 years old, Nick has thoroughly impressed just about everyone he’s met at the Colorado Capitol Building.
But the young man doesn’t fully understand why’s he running into the opposition he’s getting on his idea.
For some reason, his idea has gained wide opposition in the statehouse and may not pass as a result.
Seems that farmers in other parts of the state don’t like the idea of singling out the succulent Western Slope fruit, and are questioning why their own produce isn’t being so honored.
Opposition first arose from Rocky Ford, where farmers there questioned why the peach should reign over their cantaloupe.
A ridiculous suggestion, Nick says as he points to his own research.
“The cantaloupe isn’t a fruit,” he says, pointing to state and federal agriculture reports that back up his argument. “It’s a vegetable. I don’t want to be rude, I feel like they’re ignoring the facts. They know it’s a vegetable, but they don’t want to bring that up.”
He suggested they “should just get off their hiney” and introduce their own measure to be the state melon and leave his peach bill alone.
Nick dazzled a House committee last month when he offered salient arguments for why the Palisade peach should be the state fruit, presenting factual data that shows the produce far outsells any other in the state, generates thousands of jobs and is known throughout the nation.
But because of the growing opposition, he’s having to go door to door to lawmakers’ offices inside the Capitol to persuade legislators that the cantaloupe shouldn’t even be part of the argument.
He points to U.S. Department of Agriculture and Colorado Department of Agriculture reports that both list cantaloupe as a vegetable because it is part of the squash family.
Even the Colorado State University Extension service lists it alongside other produce of its genre that include such things as cucumbers, pumpkins, squash and melons.
Diane Mulligan, spokeswoman for the Rocky Ford Growers Association, said the issue isn’t simply a matter of pitting Palisade’s peaches against her members’ cantaloupes.
It’s a question of promoting one Colorado produce above all others.
“There is no official Colorado commodity on anything,” Mulligan said. “We all think Palisade peaches are outstanding. We can’t wait for them to come out every year, just like we like our Pueblo peppers, San Luis potatoes, Olathe sweet corn or Rocky Ford melons.”
The state’s current symbols include such things as the columbine as the state flower, the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep as the state animal and the western painted turtle as the state reptile.
But it also includes some things that are sold, such as the yule marble as the official state rock, skiing and snowboarding as the state sport, and singer John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” as one of two state songs.
Still, realizing that he doesn’t want to pit farmers against farmers, Nick is trying to offer an amendment to the bill to call the Palisade peach the state’s official stone-fruit, leaving open the door to other fruits and vegetables to promote their own measures in the Legislature.
Mulligan, however, said that won’t work either. The issue isn’t that the peach should be highlighted over the cantaloupe or other produce, but that all fruits and vegetables in Colorado should be promoted.
“We all have amazing produce,” she said. “It’s not an issue of one over the other.”
The House sponsor of the bill, Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver, said she plans to offer Nick’s amendment possibly as early as today, but can’t say for sure if it will be accepted by others in the Colorado House.
Meanwhile, Sen. Steve King, who’s sponsoring the bill in the Senate, is rolling his eyes over what is quietly becoming known under the golden dome as the great fruit wars.
The Grand Junction Republican said he doesn’t accept the argument that it’s somehow wrong to promote a Colorado product, and understands why the Rocky Ford farms want some love. Their product’s sales were hit hard in 2013 when 33 people died of listeria from “sweet Rocky Fords,” melons grown in nearby Holly by Jensen Farms.
But King mostly is sad that Nick is getting something he didn’t count on: a real lesson in politics. “He’s learning that sometimes politics isn’t fair, sometimes many things happen that make it complicated, and sometimes it doesn’t make sense,” King said. “Sometimes it’s just someone saying, ‘I don’t feel like I want to vote for that.’ It’s a hard lesson to learn at his age, but welcome to the big time when it comes to politics.”