Pick-your-own fruit farm a fresh experience
With less than a handful of pick-your-own fruit farms in Colorado, Uncle Johnny’s Farm in Cedaredge is filling an experiential niche on the Western Slope.
Johnny Bell, 60, started planning his you-pick farm more than 15-years-ago while working for the Department of Corrections in hopes of steady retirement income in the future.
He started planting hundreds of raspberry and European currant vines, plums, seedless grapes, elderberries, blueberries and josta berries.
He started grafting varieties of apples onto the trees in his 10-acre apple orchard.
“When I got here I just wanted to live more off the land and I didn’t know a thing about apples,” Bell said as he strolled through the grassy farm at the base of Grand Mesa, pausing to pick and taste a few ripening berries along the way.
His wife Shirley requested a few cherries, so Bell planted 70 trees. He also added 20 peach trees and 300 thornless blackberries bushes.
“I tried to plant things that nobody else had,” Bell said.
Bell was also interested in learning to grow in “the most natural way possible,” he said.
A fence surrounds the property which keeps most the abundant deer and other wildlife out. He only uses fish emulsion or organic fertilizer and never sprays the produce with chemical insecticides.
“We’re not official, (organic) but we can grow in a pretty natural way,” he said.
His biggest farming challenge so far has been keeping the birds away from the ripening cherries.
Bell retired last year and is enjoying his first-year as a full-time farmer.
He began offering customers the opportunity to pick-your-own fruit this spring starting with two apricot trees in his front yard.
While most apricot trees didn’t fruit well this year, Bell’s trees produced a whopping 400 pounds of perfectly-sweet apricots.
Miriam Vogelfanger-Coca of Eckert was one of Bell’s first apricot customers. “Once you taste one right off the tree you’ll never go back to one bought at the store,” she said.
Vogelfanger-Coca loves the idea of picking her fruit in the morning and turning it into fresh jam by mid-afternoon.
But, it’s the overall experience that has brought her back to the farm three times so far this summer.
“It’s just a beautiful set-up and Johnny is so personable,” she said, “He spent hours with us eating and walking through the orchard.”
Bell guesses that more farms don’t allow customers to pick their own produce because of the insurance liabilities.
He would prefer that customers keep one foot on the ground at all times and insists on a signed liability waiver if using a ladder.
But, the advantage of this type of business is the elimination of the pickers and distributors which Bell is able to pass on in lower prices for customers.
Much of his produce is offered at less than $1 a pound.
Bell suggests customers bring the whole family and remember to take boxes, sunscreen, and water.
Fruit will be available as it ripens throughout the fall.
The farm is located at 18561 Surface Creek Road in Cedaredge and appointments are necessary by calling 250-5829.