Western Slope AgricultureMap of Delta County showing historical and geographical highlights
According to an 1888 U.S. Department of Agriculture report, western Colorado's thin soils, high altitude, and lack of rainfall rendered the region totally unfit for cultivation. The document's author apparently failed to notice the fruit orchards already proliferating in the valleys of the Gunnison and Colorado Rivers. Here, warm days and cool nights ripened sweet produce to perfection, and the mining towns south and east provided ready markets. Between 1890 and 1902 Delta County fruit took first place honors at every state fair except one, adding gold medals at the 1893 and 1898 world's fairs. Ever since, Delta County has been a leading producer of Colorado apples, cherries, peaches, and pears.
Before the advent of rail service, Western Slope farmers had to hustle to get their harvests to market before the rot set in. But the 1882 arrival of the Denver & Rio Grande gave local planters easy access to Denver and Salt Lake City consumers, and the subsequent introduction of refrigerated railroad cars and warehouses placed both coasts within reach. Throughout the twentieth century local agriculture became increasingly mechanized, enabling farmers to raise larger crops, and Delta sprouted a phalanx of canneries, packing houses, and food processing plants, driving the
demand for homegrown produce to new heights. Today western Colorado's farms, sugar beet fields, and fruit orchards nourish a thriving regional economy.
Top left: Wagons at the Delta beet dump, c. 1920
Bottom left: Tomato juice machine, Delta Canning Factory, 1939
Top right: Mexican sugar beet workers, Delta, Colorado, c. 1920
Bottom right: Delta County apple harvest, c. 1920