The San Luis Valley being the highest Alpine Valley on earth capable of agriculture and produces some amazingly high quality food for our enjoyment. The arid warm days and cool nights are the perfect growing environment for many vegetables especially the potato. The San Luis Valley potatoes are the first choice of many well known chefs in some of the world’s most exclusive restaurants. We feel especially close to the San Luis potatoes as many of the specialty seed potatoes are grown less than a mile from our ranch in the Powderhorn Valley of Colorado. The seed potatoes are then transferred to the San Luis valley for growing.
The first potato crops were grown in 1882 and the ability of the valley soil to grow quality potatoes has never been questioned since. Ninety percent Colorado’s potatoes are grown in the valley. It is the fourth largest potato producing area in the U.S.A. The Russet potato has many varieties most of which are grown here. The Russet is what you are very likely to have next to your favorite steak in your favorite restaurant.
Planting of the potatoes starts in early May and the harvest will begin in September and continue thru October. The harvest is very labor intensive and the valley highways are filled with trucks transporting the crop to local warehouses. The potatoes are washed and sorted in the warehouse and made ready to be shipped to your local grocery store or restaurant where you can enjoy one of the finest products of the San Luis Valley.
Hay is the second most dollar producing crop of the valley and is very close to the potato in income. The same arid warm days and cool night environment produces high quality nutritious alfalfa hay that is highly sought after by the many dairies in the Southwest. In the summer and into the fall travel along highway 285 is hampered by the hundreds of trucks hauling this highly sought after quality hay to Texas and New Mexico.
The first crop of Alfalfa Hay is ready by mid June with the second cutting in late July and the third in September. The first and third cuttings are higher in quality and most desirable for dairy cattle. The July cutting is often a lesser quality due to the Monsoon rains that time of year. The July cutting is normally fed to beef cattle in the area.
Barley, wheat and some quinoa are all important crops in the valley and are rotated with the potato every two years. This rotation is done to control weeds and reduce the chance of disease in the potato fields.
Malt barley Moravian 14 is grown specifically for Coors Brewing Company. Moravian 14 is planted with only certified seed and before being purchased by Coors Brewing Company it must go thru a gamut of test. Coors will only buy the very highest quality barley because the brewing process is very complicated and only the specialty barley will produce the quality beer they are famous for. Barley must be planted early to be harvested before the Monsoon season hits the valley.
Lettuce is still another important crop grown in considerable quantity in the valley. Head and Romaine lettuce is planted by machinery in early May and then the migrant workers must weed, thin, and harvest the crops. Lettuce is harvested from mid July thru October. Assembly lines are set up in the fields and the lettuce is cut and packed into crates and shipped immediately to coolers. The lettuce is kept cool and quickly shipped to grocery stores and restaurants throughout the southern United States.
Cattle empires were abundant in the late 1800’s but the large ranches are no longer with us. Cattle are still raised in the valley but primarily on smaller ranches and farms.
The same Alpine Valley environment produces another extremely high quality product, HONEY. Haefeli’s Mountain Bloom labels have over 4000 bee hives in the valley and they produce over 350 barrels of pure Colorado honey each year. In the winter the bees are moved to Presido, Texas right on the Rio Grande River where they produce another 200 barrels of quality honey.
In 1907 Edward Haefeli, whose father was a bee keeper in Switzerland, arrived in the San Luis Valley. He opened a bee keeping operation in Monte Vista. From that beginning five generations of Haefelis have continued the honey production in the valley and have given us some of the best and sweetest honey to be found anywhere.
The Sam Luis Valley is a marvelous high Alpine Valley that provides us with exceptional food and honey due to the high altitude environment it enjoys.