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We love Palisade peaches, but should they beat out cantaloupes as the official state fruit?

Categories: Politics

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We have nothing bad to say about fruits or vegetables. They are beautiful and amazing parts of this world, upstanding members of the ecosystem and, according to many sources, apparently healthy to eat. And even if we did have something bad to say about them -- cauliflower, in particular -- we wouldn't. Because in Colorado, it's illegal to disparage a fruit or vegetable. Here's part of the actual state statute (amended), passed years ago when some bad apple was maligning a Colorado product:

"It is unlawful for any person, firm, partnership, association or corporation or any servant, agent, employee, or officer thereof to...make any materially false statement, for the purpose of maintaining prices or establishing higher prices for the same, or for the purpose of limiting or diminishing the quantity thereof available for market...any fruits, vegetables, grain, meats, or other articles or products ordinarily grown, raised, produced or used in any manner or to any extent as food for human beings or domestic animals."

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So, once again, we love fruit and vegetables.

But melon growers in southeastern Colorado -- growers who have faced a few fruit-libel concerns -- may have a few juicy remarks to make regarding Western Slope peaches these days. Especially if lawmakers pass a bill -- now under consideration -- that would designate the Palisade peach as the official state fruit. Here's part of that proposal:

"The prunus persica (L.) batsch, more commonly known as the peach, has been grown in and around Palisade, Colorado, since the 1880s; Colorado ranks sixth nationwide in peach production with over five hundred twenty thousand peach trees in cultivation; in 2012, peach cultivation yielded receipts of over twenty-five million dollars; peach cultivation accounts for seventy-five percent of all fruit production in Colorado, and seventy-five percent of all peach orchards in Colorado are located in and around Palisade; Palisade is home to the Palisade peach festival, which hosted fourteen thousand visitors in 2013."

For years, however, cantaloupes were considered to be Colorado's marquee fruit -- specifically the ones grown around Rocky Ford. But drought, water-rights sales, development and other factors have severely impacted the industry. And then in 2011, a batch of cantaloupes grown way out in Holly (a hundred miles from Rocky Ford) were blamed for a listeria outbreak that killed 33 people and sickened hundreds of others nationwide.

Jensen Farms went bankrupt, and the two brothers who owned the facility were charged criminally in connection with the outbreak, ultimately pleading guilty to misdemeanors in a deal that carried no jail time. But Rocky Ford farmers feel like they were punished, too, since their cantaloupes got slimed when consumers across the country became geographically confused and lumped all Colorado-grown cantaloupes together -- something that could have resulted in fruit libel.

Instead, it prompted a major public-image campaign pushed by both the growers and the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

But now this! The bill, sponsored by Grand Junction state senator Steve King, will be heard in the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee next Monday, March 31, at 1:30 p.m.

If it is ultimately signed into law, the peach will join the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep (state animal), the blue spruce (state tree), the lark bunting (state bird), the aquamarine (state gemstone), the square dance (state dance) and the stegosaurus (state fossil) among many, many other officially designated Colorado symbols.

More from our Politics archive: "Cell-phone use while driving would be illegal unless device is hands-free under new bill."


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