Dear Editor,

Recently, Tony Madone Jr., founder of Colorado Farm To Table retired after 23 years on the tractor, working the soil to help feed those in need. In his typical way, Tony once again thought not of himself, but rather to reach out publicly, thanking all the donors and volunteers who helped plant, weed and bring in the produce each year.

Tony Madone Jr. – Photo courtesy Colorado Farm To Table

Now it’s our turn to express gratitude to an inspirational community leader, with a vision created at his kitchen table more than two decades ago. This vision grew in acreage over the years and in numbers of volunteers of all ages, who made it possible.  I had the pleasure of serving with Tony for multiple seasons.  While I traveled full time, I worked with Tony remotely, from my hotel room, at the end of a long day for both of us.

Together, we wrote numerous grant applications and were fortunate to obtain irrigation, fencing, a greenhouse and other necessities to create a “real” working farm. You couldn’t help but want to do everything you could for someone whose faith in humanity, quiet optimism and dogged determinism would overcome any challenge.  Twenty three seasons is an Olympic-size run in any operation, especially in farming.

From sunrise to well past sundown, seven days a week, Tony was in the fields, atop his beloved (and babied) vintage tractors as well as working the land with his bare hands. Early mornings and late nights were spent raising funds, while winters meant time to repair equipment. My best memories are the rare times when I could catch Tony at Patio Pancakes for a quick breakfast meeting. Every season brought challenges with weather and hopes that nine months of hard labor would result in a good crop and not heartbreak.  People across Colorado, with often little at all to eat, knew that come summer, the treat of fresh produce would brighten their tables, every bit of it at no cost to them.

Our valley is so fortunate to have Tony and his family among us. Their combined sacrifices made a big difference to so many; most were people whom he never met. Putting food on each of our own tables is hard enough – having to grow 20 acres worth then turn around and give nearly 2,500,000 pounds of it away requires optimism and dedication beyond my comprehension.

With the arrival of spring just a few days ago, we eagerly await the return of good weather, warm sun and new growth.  It’s a time of renewal, bringing hope that the hardships we are all facing these days will also pass in time.

Here’s a wish for good health for you Tony, time spent with family and grandchildren and the chance to pursue those things you may have always dreamed of, but haven’t had the chance to do yet. You should be proud of all you have accomplished and know that much of southern Colorado has benefited from your devotion and hard work.  You are a standout in our community and a large part of what makes Chaffee County the special place that we love.

At this time, when all of us are dependent on each other more than ever before, the example Tony has set is what will keep us all well. Farmers are our unsung heroes and we are in debt to Tony Madone – one of the best.

Merrell Bergin