By Nancy Lofholm/The Colorado Sun
The peach trees lined up in tidy rows behind Dennis Clark are fringed with pretty pink blossoms three days after a Canadian front bore down on Palisade’s orchards and delivered an overnight blast of freezing air. But, like the invisible danger of the COVID-19 spread, these seemingly healthy blossoms are done for.
Though the Clarks and other growers made desperate efforts to blanket the trees with warm air from wind machines and smudge pots, most of the peach nubbins froze. They will shrivel and drop off over the next few days. A sizable portion of this year’s peach crop will soon be nothing but debris in the grass under Clark’s muddy work boots.
This will be the 40th or 50th major crop loss that Clark Family Orchards has sustained since James and Phoebe Clark broke ground with horse-drawn plows in 1897 and planted the first fruit trees in the Palisade area.
Dennis Clark has that span of up-and-down history in the back of his mind as he surveys his family’s orchards on a morning when rain has forced him to set aside work on irrigation pipes.
Clark is devoting much of this soggy day to penciled calculations – figures based on both the freeze and the pandemic. In a good year, he has a million pounds of peaches to sell at his roadside stand and to supermarkets.
Will there be customers in this double-whammy virus-and-freeze season? How much should he reduce his box order? How many Mexican visa workers can he keep busy? (Today, they are huddled in their living quarters watching food-handling safety videos.)
What will happen to the fancy barn-like wedding venue his family opened a year ago? Will many – any — of this summer’s 40 scheduled ‘I-do’ celebrations happen in a time of social distancing?
The questions loom as large as the Buzzard’s Roost ridge that juts over the Clarks’ 120 acres.
“This has been hard on all of us farmers,” Clark says as cold raindrops spatter his well-worn canvas jacket and the dead blossoms he holds in one hand. “But the sun will come up again and we will keep on farming.”
This story is powered by COLab, the Colorado News Collaborative. Ark Valley Voice joined this historic collaboration with more than 20 other newsrooms across Colorado to better serve the public. Together, they documented a single day, April 16, during the COVID-19 pandemic. As it turns out; April 16 was the single deadliest day in Colorado to date, during the pandemic,