When you walk toward the gallery of old trucks and trailers at the Cross Orchards outdoor museum, you’re thrown back into the past. Back to the last Roosevelt administration, to the Great Depression — times when Cross Orchards was bustling with hungry shoppers.
But turn around and you’ll be reminded of reality. A farmers market operating at a fraction of its capacity with folks trying to keep the place running in the midst of a global pandemic.
“As an outdoor venue, we’re in a better place than other museums. But we used to hold lots of rentals. Parties, rentals, social gatherings, other stuff and almost all of them have been canceled. The farmers market is exempt from restrictions, but we’re still taking precautions with limited parking and only leave a few buildings open,” said Matt Darling, curator of Cross Orchards. “Our finances have been hit pretty hard, to be honest. Weddings are our largest source of revenue and those are gone. We do a lot of school tours and the district canceled all field trips.”
Cross Orchards is a farm-turned-outdoor museum nestled on the side of Patterson Road just west of the intersection with 30 Road. It is one of four places associated with the Museums of Western Colorado network, including Dinosaur Journey in Fruita.
Crossroad Orchard’s farmers market is every Saturday but has been hit by the pandemic just like the year-round attractions.
“We miss having the events and people coming out,” Volunteer Stephanie Hudson said. “It hurts when you invest so much time and energy into the orchard and not have people be able to come out and enjoy it.”
Demand has been slashed during the pandemic. Many of the buildings showcasing relics of Grand Junction’s past have been closed off from the public because of the 50% occupancy requirement, Darling said.
Among the cut attractions is the Art in the Barn. The intention was to showcase local artists on the last Saturday of the month but only two artists were on-board. In order to “make it worth people’s time,” Darling said, they would need at least five.
Meanwhile, the vendors at the farmers market are offering limited selections because of the spring crop freeze.
Heather Hawkins, whose boyfriend’s family runs Vista Orchard, said the orchard lost all of its peaches. Usually posting two tents and a large selection of produce, Vista had just one tent on Saturday.
“This is one of the oldest markets in town. We love coming here, it’s a beautiful venue to sell our produce,” Hawkins said. “We have a lot less vendors and a lot less people coming out. It’s odd and it feels different.”
Despite less to offer, the staff and volunteers at Cross Orchards are trying to make the most out of what they have.
The gallery of trucks past the dirt parking lot offer glimpses into how orchards used to operate. There’s a customized 1937 Chevrolet truck with a wooden bed in lieu of seats and shell coverings. Orchard Hoopies, named for kids hooping and hollering on them, were customized like that to expedite picking the orchard trees without damaging branches. On Occasion, Darling will even break out a 1917 Ford Model T.
The love for history and community is what keeps drawing the volunteers back to Cross Orchards even in uncertain times.
“When I retired, I couldn’t find any volunteering out in Glenwood so I moved to Fruita. Dinosaur Journey didn’t really need me at that time so they said to come out here and started splitting my time here,” said Volunteer Gary Verdieck. “I love it here.”
The importance of preserving places like Cross Orchards, Darling said, is also that it offers the priceless knowledge of history.
“We hear so much about parallels with the 1918 flu pandemic and today. About how governments were afraid to enforce anything or how people didn’t want to wear masks,” Darling said. “There’s an old saying that goes, ‘Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’ And those who learn from it are doomed to watch everyone else repeat it.”