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Policyholder Spotlight: Talbott Farms

October 23, 2023
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Owners: Bruce, Charlie and Nathan Talbott

Company type: Peach grower

Headquarters: Palisade

Employees: 125 during harvest season

Started: 1917

Beyond the Orchard: How Talbott Farms Preserves Palisade Peach Farming

The Palisade peach is one of the most iconic symbols of Colorado’s rich agricultural regions, and a source of pride on the West Slope and beyond. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a Coloradan who prefers a famous Georgia peach over a Palisade variety. 

But that prestige was hard earned. 

In fact, the Grand Valley’s peach growers have experience periods of bitter rivalry, with simmering grudges that no one seemed to remember the reason for. This infighting had a Wild West flavor to it, and it held the industry back.. 

“I remember feeling that if my neighbor made a bad delivery, I may get the next phone call,” said Charlie Talbott, one of the three brothers who run Talbott Farms. “But after I made a bad delivery once, a large grocery chain determined that the quality of all Colorado peaches was no longer suitable for their stores.

I realized that, for better or worse, Palisade Peaches have a shared reputation.”

Understanding that a rising tide of demand would lift all Palisade growers, the Talbott’s embraced a vision of solidarity. 

“I don't think there's a neighbor we haven't helped handle some fruit at some time or another. Our culture of growers today is one of mutual support and cohesiveness.”

That unified front has been critical as the region has evolved over the decades. 

Stewardship of the land

During the 1970s oil shale boom, many thought the oil and gas industry would take over the Grand Valley and development would swallow up the agricultural land. Land prices skyrocketed, increasing costs and putting pressure on farmers.  

Charlie’s parents, Bonnie and Harry, believed strongly that the Grand Valley agricultural industry was a critical element to the local economy and worthy of preservation.

The Talbott’s spent years working to preserve viable farm ground. They were among the founding members of what is now the Colorado West Land Trust, giving farmers access to conservation easements to harvest some of the development value of the land while ensuring it remained agricultural.

The Palisade peach growers are now viewed with affection and recognized not only as a meaningful lifestyle, but an economic resource for the community. The Talbott family takes great pride in this legacy. 

Family roots, modern fruits

The Talbott story started when a Delta County-rancher met a Palisade peach grower’s daughter. Now, multiple generations are contributing to a thriving family business.

For the young adult Talbotts, it can feel like a Business 101 course. They’re introducing new products, like hard cider and wine, ramping up their social media presence, and making the farm a destination with Comedy Night and Taco Tuesdays.

It's a learning curve for every generation. 

“Some of the things you think they would intuitively know, they don't,” Charlie said of the 5th generation. “Yet they bring valuable perspectives and ideas.”

Anyone who runs a family business knows it can put a strain on family relationships. 

“My mother said her sons would be friends with each other or she’d die trying,” Charlie said. “We’ve had tough years, but we’ve shared a dream and embraced complimentary roles. I count my brothers among my best friends.” 

Not everyone who works on the farm shares the Talbott name, but family culture extends to all employees. 

“We have several employees that have raised their families while here,” Charlie said. “They say that because we value our family, we value their family. They didn't have to try to wiggle in having a family while working here.”

Peach growing: Not always warm and fuzzy

The challenges of farming are daunting, with weather topping the list since the beginning of agriculture. Any anomaly in weather has the potential for a negative result. That’s nothing new. 

Labor's always been a puzzle as well, but it’s a particularly fluid situation. While many industries have found ways to automate and mechanize, growing and harvesting peaches remains a stubbornly manual process.

Peaches must be manually pruned and thinned. And all the peaches on a tree don’t ripen at the same time, so they go into every orchard up to seven times, harvesting only what's ready that day. 

Then you have the packing line. A lot of it has been automated, like blemish sorting with a computer that has iterative learning. As they feed it more data about what's good and what's not, they can semi-automate the sorting process. But they're still putting every peach in every tray by hand - all season long. 

At peak season, Talbott Farms employees around 125 people - most of which are seasonal H2A workers. They work in the orchards and vineyards. 

The vast majority are repeat workers, so the farm ends up with an incredible crew of hardworking individuals who are cohesive and compatible working as a team.

Using their voice

With more than 100 years in the business, the Talbott’s opinion carries weight in the Grand Valley and beyond. They serve as leadership in local industry organizations and push their peers and community to have tough conversations. 

They also have become willing to tell “the ag story” to the broader public, with the goal to strengthen ties between the agricultural community and its neighbors. The effort is paying off: Talbott’s and the industry are held with affection by the Grand Valley.

Even more important, they’re leaving a legacy that will preserve their unique industry while embracing new ideas to help the farm thrive in the years to come.  

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