Colorado’s ranchers, farmers and vineyards have learned what states like California and New York discovered a long time ago: people will pay to pick, plow or package food products at their source. Agritourism in Colorado is booming.
Nostalgia and an invigorated green movement seem to have combined to send groups of friends and families off to find the source of their food and make it more real than the plastic-wrapped, powerfully preserved offerings of the supermarket.
Colorado State University researchers call it a $2.2 billion industry with more than 13 million people participating in some farm-related activity in the state last year. They’re going to the wineries around Palisade to pick grapes and taste the fruits of past pickings. They watch birds in Eastern Colorado’s vast ranches, spin the wool of freshly shorn sheep in the southern part of the state, pick their own produce in fields on the fringes of the Denver metropolitan area and spend $2,000 a week to work as hard and get as dirty as a real ranch hand in the northern mountains.
I’ve done my share of winery tours (several more than once), picked my own strawberries, grown my own tomatoes and visited several guest ranches around the west, but I was surprised to see the depth and breadth of agritourism opportunities around Colorado, as compiled by the state’s Department of Agriculture.
My vote for best-named operation goes to Astraddle a Saddle, Inc., a ranch in Pagosa Springs that offers horseback rides, ranch tours and hunting trips.
Berry Patch Farms in Brighton, a farming community now turning into a suburb of Denver, provides the full farm experience with tours, pick-your-own fields of berries and vegetables, hay rides and slow-food cooking classes, all with a nod to farming’s heritage. Haystack Mountain Farms near Boulder offers tours to cover all that goes into making spectacular goat cheese. Our Side of the Divide Ranch near Delta includes a B&B, winery and fruit farm as well as a farm-related museum.
Buffalo Groves in Kiowa lets you get up close and personal with the big hairy beasts while East Pines Trails in Cortez lets you breed, raise and process your own beef. If you don’t want to know your top sirloin quite that personally, the Diamond-D-Bar Ranch in Del Norte lets guests participate in cattle drives where there is more bovine anonymity. You can treat your flowers to some great composted manure by picking it up at the Many Ponies Outfit in Norwood.
The Craig Ranch near Limon has a B&B for people and a Horse Motel for equine vistors. Ewe Bet Ranch in Loveland lets you adopt a sheep and care for it at the ranch.
That’s all in addition to the many winery tours, tasting rooms, farmer’s markets and produce stands around the state. So the next time you’re in or driving through Colorado, make a detour to get in touch with your dinner’s roots.
For information on and a directory of Colorado’s agritourism, go to www.coloradoagriculture.com and click on the MARKETS heading on the left side of the page.