Colorado Agriculture Past, Present, and Future

Local farms have sustained communities at the headwaters of the South Platte, Arkansas, Rio Grande, and Colorado rivers for centuries.

In pre-historic times, the ancestral Puebloans were cultivating corn, beans and squash along riverbanks and mesatops that were irrigated with canals and terraces or ‘trincheras.’ [1] Farmers in the colonial province of Santa Fe de Nuevo México continued to grow the ‘three sisters’ while adding new crops like fruit trees, grapes, chiles, and melons. [2] Beginning in 1852, farmers at the headwaters of the Rio Grande, the so-called Rio Arriba, began developing a network of canals and ditches that irrigate farms in the San Luis Valley to this day. [3] In the late 1800s the invention of the Rotary Canal Builder and Railroad Excavator made it possible to an extensive irrigation network along the Rio Grande, Colorado, Arkansas, and South Platte Rivers.

Homeland of the Ancestral Puebloan civilization, circa 1380 CE. Map by Yuchitown - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
The rock walls of trincheras are visible in this photo taken at the Cerro de Trincheras near Trincheras, Sonora. Agriculture at this site dates from 1300 to 1500 CE. Photo Credit: Artotem from Here, There, and... - Cerro De Trincheras
Acequia (irrigation ditch) San Juan Pueblo, New Mexico (circa 1880s)
Pueblo farmers watching their crops,
The harvest dance of the Pueblo indians of New Mexico,
Nicolas Sanson’s map of Spanish and French colonial territories in North America. At the time, California was thought to be an island. (1656)
Rotary Canal Builder and Railroad Excavator at construction site in Denver, Colorado. (circa 1906) Denver Public Library
An irrigation ditch with wooden-stave water conduits, along Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, near Denver, Colorado; probably construction project for Denver Water Department.
View of High line Canal wood frame viaduct and Denver, South Park and Pacific railroad tracks on opposite sides of South Platte River, Douglas County, Colorado. (between 1882 & 1890)
Dry land irrigation, Colorado (1900-1910)

By 1904, Colorado fruit growers were winning gold metals at the St. Louis World’s Fair. [4] Bio-intensive farming along the tributaries of the South Platte sustained a significant amount of demand for farm products in Denver and the railroad gave these products a national market. By 1917, there were 233 orchards and 238,643 fruit trees in the counties surrounding Denver. [5] At the peak of Colorado’s flower industry, the state had than 7.6 million square feet planted with carnations. [6]

North Fork Fruit Growers Association Warehouse No. 2 in Paonia (Delta County), Colorado. A boxcar is behind the building on the tracks of the Denver & Rio Grande Western railroad. October 13, 1908.
Orchard Survey of Fremont County, 1920.
Apple Picking between 1900 and 1920 with a Stanley Steamer in the background.
View of Golden Colorado from the North along Clear Creek between 1890 and 1910 -
Intensive farming along Clear Creek at 44th Avenue in Wheat Ridge 1937 -
K. Itow clears soil from an irrigation ditch amid rows of young lettuce on the project farm, Granada Relocation Center, Camp Amache, Prowers County, southeastern Colorado. He wears a straw hat and has gloves in his back pocket. Other Japanese internees work in the distance.
Dry-land Irrigation, Costilla County Colorado 1970s
View of the Daniels and Fisher greenhouse near Denver, Colorado. (circa 1902)
Interior view of a Daniels and Fisher Stores greenhouse in Denver, Colorado; shows roses. (circa 1902)
Daniels and Fisher Stores Co. Greenhouse Dept. exhibit at the Denver Municipal Auditorium during a flower show (1926)
Census Taking at Standing Rock Agency -
Sitting Bull's camp, near Standing Rock Agency, many tepees, Missouri River in background
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