Mesa Land Trust conserves family-run Ruckman Peach Farm
For Palisade resident, Al Ruckman, it’s more than just conserving his property, it’s conserving the ability for his family to continue working the peach orchard for generations to come.
“My oldest son and his son want to continue farming and I think that’s a great idea,” Ruckman said. “We need to maintain a certain size in the industry to keep it viable so if we can get ground into easement, we can get a start at maintaining the industry.”
Mesa Land Trust has recently assisted Ruckman in conserving 17 acres of his orchard under the Fruitlands Forever initiative, which was established five years ago. The initiative is a way to conserve a sustainable mass of productive fruit farms in Colorado’s Grand Valley for continued agricultural use.
Ilana Moir, Mesa Land Trust’s land protection specialist, explained the land in East Orchard Mesa and Palisade is prime fruit-producing land. Colorado is the fifth largest peach producer in the United States, she added, which provides a great reason for protecting the land from non-agricultural development. The land is prepped with infrastructure like packing sheds, worker homes, and is a big economic driver to the community.
“At Mesa Land Trust we look at our work in the Palisade area as a push towards sustaining an agricultural land base that will help preserve the important peach, and wine, industries for the long-term,” Moir said. “Because of this we developed the Fruitlands Forever Initiative.
“In addition, it keeps the Fruit and Wine byway’s landscape rural and bucolic. It helps keep it alive and vibrant so everyone can enjoy it.”
The initiative hopes to conserve more than 1,000 acres, which is the number farmers came up with when asked what farmers would feel comfortable to create sustainable agricultural living. Land conserved under the Fruitlands Forever initiative means the farms will continue to be farmland.
Overall, Mesa Land Trust has conserved more than 65,000 acres of land in and around Mesa County. The land includes peach orchards, vineyards, family farms, sweeping ranches, wildlife habitat and riparian habitat.
To date, more than 47 family farms have been conserved with a total of 770 acres, including Ruckman’s.
“We hope to use the money we get from the easement to purchase more land to become more easement property,” Ruckman said.
According to a press release, Mesa Land Trust raised more than $369,000 for acquisitions for the Ruckman property, with lottery-funded Great Outdoors Colorado providing $84,688, the Farm Bill’s conservation incentives awarding $205,452, and the local Community Separator Partners (Mesa County, Fruita and Palisade) added $68,800. The landowners donated a total of over $160,000 of property value, while the Gates Family Foundation provided a $10,000 challenge grant.
Moir explained to reach the 1,000 acre goal may take a few more years, as conservation easements come at 10-20 acres at a time, but is hopeful to reach the number.
“It helps preserve the character of the valley and to have orchards,” Ruckman added. “It’s necessary to preserve it and a desire to preserve it.”
To learn more, visit http://www.mesalandtrust.org.
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