Last crop bittersweet for Miller family
When the Millers look out across their five acre Orchard at the base of the Colorado National Monument, they can still see the faces of their children, dappled with sunshine and smiling, as they played and worked in the cherry-laden branches.
“Our son Fred was just like a squirrel. Cherries were going in one side of his mouth and the pits were coming out the other,” Jim Miller said, rather misty-eyed, as he began the final harvest at Miller Orchard Friday morning.
Jim and his wife Sarah have owned the well-known orchard at 1945 Star Canyon Drive on the Redlands for 41 years.
Their children are adults now. Some of the trees have come to the end of their yield. And many of their loyal customers are starting to pass away.
“It’s just not fun anymore,” Jim said as he explained the most important of many reasons for selling the farm.
The Miller’s purchased the orchard in 1971 from Jim’s uncle. The orchard, filled with cherry, apricot, plum, peaches, pears, prunes, apples and grapes, has been in the Miller family since the early 1940s.
They bought the orchard on a Friday in 1971 and the fruit froze on Saturday night. That was their first lesson in stone fruit farming, Jim remembered.
Their daughter was only a baby and the Miller’s thought the orchard would provide a nice supplement to their income as their family grew. Jim worked as a district wildlife manager on the Grand Mesa for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. It required him to live in Palisade and commute to the orchard on the Redlands, 46-miles round trip.
Sarah worked as a primary assistant at Taylor Elementary. Her seasonal schedule allowed her to spend the summer working in the orchard.
“We didn’t have any daycare — our children had to work here with us,” she said.
Their children, Melody, Fred and Shawn, grew-up picking fruit, lighting smudge pots, and selling fresh produce from the fruit shed.
“It ended up giving them a really good work ethic,” Sarah said.
Rising insecticide prices, lack of labor, and long midnight drives to the Redlands are taking their toll on Jim, 74, and Sarah, 71.
They plan on selling the farm to a neighbor this fall.
There is a lot they will miss about their orchard and the memories flood back as their adept fingers gently picked cherries for the final harvest.
Miller Orchard opens today. The cherries are spectacular.
Jim and Sarah are hoping all of their customers come to say goodbye before they pick the last apple in October.