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July 14, 2021

A Legacy of Peaches on the Western Slope…and Much More

Bruce Talbott, Talbott’s Mountain Gold, Palisade, CO
Colorado Member Profile
Member since February 24, 2014

A Family Migrates: In the first several decades of the 20th century, the state of Colorado tried to entice residents of Iowa to relocate to the Rocky Mountain State claiming that it had an abundance of “good air and good water.” Bruce Talbott’s great-great grandfather, Joseph Evan Yeager, took the bait and moved west in 1907, and began the family history of growing peaches on the Western Slope near Palisade. Harry Augustus Talbott, a farmer from Kentucky and Bruce Talbott’s grandfather, married into the Yaeger family and began what is now Talbott Farms.

The Early Years of Talbott Farms: Granddad Talbott started the business at its current location in 1945 and ran it relatively independently, though he had some summer help from his four sons with one eventually managing a set of satellite orchards. “My granddad was an autocrat who kept tight control over the organization. Dad taught school and though he planted an apple orchard in the early ‘70s and bought a peach orchard a few years later, most of his farming efforts were marketed through the local peach co-op,” said Bruce Talbott.

When the elder Talbott retired in 1985, the organization was 90% apples, 5% peaches and 5% pears. After he retired, Bruce and two of his brothers—Charlie and Nathan—along with his dad took over the operation and have since greatly expanded it. “Dad was the exact opposite of my granddad. He had no desire to be a controller. In the early years, he was happy to let us do what we believed was necessary to stay viable.” A fourth brother went into medicine and became a doctor. He does own orchards with the production being part of Talbott Farms.

Talbott Farm’s Evolution: Today’s farm is 65% peaches and 30% wine grapes. They have some conventional and organic cherries and also produce sweet cider, hard cider and wine. Bruce said that the 1990s were a period of transition. They had some problems with peaches in the 1990s and started eliminating the apples in 1999, shipping their last apple crop in 2005. Wine grapes came into their vision in 2000. Though they were gun shy about peaches, they remained an important crop and today, Bruce Talbott raves about Colorado’s Palisade Peaches, the family’s signature crop, which he believes rivals any peach out there for great taste. The Talbotts market that peach “anywhere but California,” Bruce quips, adding that sales to several Midwestern states form the heart of their deal. Palisade Peaches are marketed from mid-July to mid-September, with the cooperation of Mother Nature. Talbott Farms grows about three dozen varieties within that time frame with each having a 10-14 day harvesting window. “We get a premium for our fruit in our market,” Bruce said.

The three brothers have divided the task of running the operation into three well-defined compartments. Bruce oversees farming, Charlie runs the business end of the operation, and Nathan is in charge of packing and processing. That includes the cider business, which was launched in 1983 and “has become a significant part of what do.” The hard cider business, and later the wine business, was started six years ago and Bruce commented that his teetotaling mother has never quite been comfortable with the wine grape and hard cider businesses.

Bruce Talbott’s Journey: Bruce was born in 1959 and grew up around the family business. He began driving a tractor and working on the farm at a very young age, which convinced him that he was going to grow up and be farmer. He worked on the family farm during summers and knew that would be his career. He took a slight detour after college and went on an eight-month worldwide tour with his younger brother. They worked along the way, picking apples in England, grapes in France, oranges in Greece and grapefruit in Israel, basically being international fruit hobos. They attempted to pick tea leaves in Malaysia but weren’t given the job. Bruce returned to Colorado to continue managing orchards for a couple neighbors. “An attempt to work for my granddad proved to be unsuccessful at which point he decided to retire,” Bruce said.

Diversification: Though the Palisade peach is their top crop, Talbott Farms has been built to last with diversification being a key component of that strategy. The operation now includes a taproom with wine and cider on tap. Bruce said the area is well known as a destination with bike riders often stopping by for a sip of one beverage or another. “We are only two miles off of I-70. It’s a very easy place to get to and a lot of tourists come by looking for fruit and wine.”

The brothers have separated the operation into multiple entities with the alcoholic beverage portion being under a separate business structure from the fruit side. A new dry storage facility was built last year for paper, aluminum cans, etc. to free up cooler space. The taproom, which was the original sweet cider building, has also seen a number of upgrades including recently adding a new stage for events.

The Next Generation: Bruce (who was born Harry Bruce Talbott) is not certain how the transition to the next generation will occur. Three of his four kids are currently involved in the alcohol and retail side of the business though “Harry” Charles Talbott would prefer to brew beer over making hard cider and wine. There are additional nieces and nephews that will hopefully return but at the moment there is no heir apparent for the farming side of the venture. Bruce said he and his brothers were never forced into the family business and he is giving his kids that same latitude. “I think a family member should spend 10 years elsewhere before coming back to work here,” he quipped.

Industry Involvement: Bruce has always been the brother involved in the farming organizations including the local Farm Bureau, Western Colorado Horticultural Society, Colorado Association of Viticulturalists and Enologists, Child and Migrant Services, Western Growers, and the Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Association. When longtime CFVGA President Robert Sakata stepped down to accept a position on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Talbott was elected president. “I’ve always felt it was important to be a part of these organizations whether it was out of passion for agriculture or out of a sense of self preservation.”

Colorado’s Regulatory Drift Toward California: Bruce Talbott has nothing against his agricultural colleagues in California, but he is a bit perturbed about his state following California’s lead in several thorny areas including a change in overtime pay regulations, other labor laws, water priorities and urban sprawl. He said Colorado has always had good right to farm laws but population growth, urban encroachment and demographic shifts are bringing new voices to the table that have the potential of drowning out the farm community. The urban-rural divide has never been greater, affecting political attitudes and voting patterns.