By Kendall Brunette
For Bob Condon, who owns Cottonwood Farm east of downtown Boulder, Colo., the September routine is usually just that — routine.
Condon and his wife, Amy, along with a small staff of family and friends, grow pumpkins and squash on nearly 30 acres of their 17-year-old farm. Every September, Condon fills the back of his old pick-up truck with pumpkins of all shapes and sizes, cuts a path through his corn maze and sets out a sandwich board sign on the corner of Arapahoe Avenue and 75th Street welcoming visitors to his farm.
This year, however, Condon began harvest season just a little bit differently. As early September’s floods roared through Boulder, Condon waited anxiously for the floodwater to make its way east. He watched his fields take on nearly 18 inches of water over just two days’ time. Though his pumpkins seemed to practically float up and out of the ground from excessive rain, Condon avoided the devastating impact of floodwater contamination. Many of his neighbors fared less well.
According to Farm Journal’s Ag Web, Colorado floodwaters caused an estimated $8.5 million damage to agricultural lands.
Condon worries about his harvest numbers this year because of the flooding.
“The pumpkins got very wet — they took on a lot of water, probably more than they should have, so we’re having a higher spoilage rate this year than we usually have,” Condon said.
In a normal season, Condon harvests several thousand pumpkins. This year, he fears the numbers will be lower because of excessive moisture.
Condon noted that for some people, it will be a long time before life returns to post-flood “normal.” He hopes his farm will serve as a welcomed distraction from the flood devastation. Visitors of Cottonwood Farm enjoy a variety of fall festivities. In addition to pumpkins, Condon’s farm offers a corn maze, tractor rides and farm animals for people of all ages to experience.
The young girls gravitate toward the kittens, while Grandpa and Dad engulf themselves in the tractors and farm machinery, Condon said.
Lynsey Yokum is the mother of two children, ages 3 and 4. During their second visit to Condon’s farm, her children ran through rows of pumpkins and laughed alongside the goats.
Yokum’s children love coming to Condon’s farm to play with the farm animals every fall.
After the floods receded, Condon noticed the number of visitors began to slowly return to normal. Boulder families flocked to Cottonwood Farm in search of festive fall fun and distraction from the flooding doldrums.
“For a lot of families, they, they’re saying they’d like to get out and do something they usually do,” Condon said.
Condon opens the rickety gates of his farm every day, free of admission, in the hopes that he can give Boulder residents something entertaining to do in the midst of flood recovery. While he and the staff watched the torrential rains destroy some of his produce, he is not disheartened by the impacts. Condon finds a healthy perspective on the situation and realizes that he was actually lucky to be spared some of the more serious damage and economic consequences of the flooding.
As he listens to the sound of children laughing from his small office, Condon feels a sense of fulfillment, knowing his farm offers reprieve from flood blues. After all, how can one feel blue in this sea of orange?
Dean DeLille works as the pumpkin salesman in his fifth season at Condon’s farm. On this day, DeLille noticed an odd-shaped pumpkin with a large bulbous outgrowth – the result of excessive water uptake during the flood.
“We had a lot of water here, but no water in any of the buildings, and it is yet to be seen what impact that has on the pumpkins long-term,” De Lille said.
DeLille said several families return to Cottonwood Farm time and time again. One family visited the farm nearly 10 times just this year. He said people come to the farm to simply to “get their mind off of things.”
One woman visits the farm on a regular basis, staying for one or two hours each time. She is a World War II survivor who escaped Hitler. DeLille says she loves to come and just sit, watching the animals and looking out on the pumpkins — a type of therapy.
It is these types of personal connections that bring a smile to Condon’s face. Despite the hard work and time required for a productive fall harvest, Condon finds joy and reward in his hard work. His favorite time of year is not the fall after all the hard work is done, but instead, he enjoys the springtime tillage and planting. For Condon, it is “a time of promise” — promise of a plentiful harvest, promise of laughing children and promise of festive tradition for many people seeking solace and peace despite the obstacles life throws at us.