Peaches & Politics: A Week on the Western Slope
A Campaign Staffer Reflects on the Trail with Phil

During our trip to the Western Slope, we ate fifteen peach-related foods. I counted. There was the peach cream cheese at Main Street Bagels (our home away from home in Grand Junction), peach sushi down the street, and peach cider at Talbot Farm’s new distillery. There were dried peaches and fresh peaches, peach maple syrup and peach beer. You’d think we’d get sick of it, but we never did.

On our third road trip of the summer, we head West via Montrose, a county where only 4000 of its 27,000 people are Democrats (that’s 15%). In an evening doubleheader (that is, two events), over 100 Democrats come out to hear Phil speak about his hopes for democracy and his commitment to showing up across the state. In the twilight — over plates of the best peach cobbler any of us have ever eaten — the enthusiasm for his story and hopes for Colorado is tangible.

Grand Junction, the largest city in Western CO, sits nestled beneath a sloping Mesa, only 30 miles from the Utah border. Due to a unique combination of soil and climate in the area, Grand Junction is Colorado’s wine country and a center of Colorado agriculture. On our first day in Grand Junction, we stroll through the farmer’s market, stopping to talk to maple syrup vendors and lavender farmers up and down the bustling street. Phil chats with Lexi for a while, a local whose first election is coming up in November. She’s never voted before, but will this time — I’m forever impressed by the power of individual connections to inspire voter engagement, especially for young people who respond to those running for office looking them in the eye and saying “your vote matters.”

Down the road in Palisade, we meet Bruce. He’s a fifth-generation peach farmer in in the area: his family’s been farming in this area since 1907, and on this exact spot of land — peach orchards in all directions, lined up beneath the mesa —since the 40s. Peaches and grapes are particularly prevalent in this area because of the “Million Dollar Breeze,” which brings a more temperate climate — and the promise of agriculture — from over the slope. Wandering through the orchards, occasionally checking peaches for days until ripeness, Bruce tells us about his involvement in Child & Migrant Services, Inc. and the necessity of treating immigrants fairly. If we fail to treat immigrants fairly and they don’t come here, “we don’t get to farm here anymore,” he says.

In Garfield County, we attend the county parade in Rifle, where we walk with the Garfield County Democrats. What they lack in numbers, they more than make up for in spirit, and we’re welcomed with open arms, signage, and enthusiastic cheers. Horses trot through the parade route, cowboys spiraling their lassoes ahead of us; the local high school’s football and cheerleading teams float through the crowd, treated as local celebrities; Phil rushes through the rope line, sharing literature and handshakes with locals. Despite people’s political leaning, people are open to what Phil has to say, and are impressed that he showed up. There’s no substitute for that simple action: showing up.

In Craig, Colorado — a rural town in Moffat County whose economy relies heavily on local mines and a coal processing facility — we sip lemonade and devour homemade cookies in the park while discussing broadband access. Craig’s hospital does not have reliable broadband–it has a single fiber connection that, when cut, takes down internet access. Craig’s residents are fired up about securing a viable, economic future for the county — one rooted in reliable tourism and entrepreneurship, not coal busts and booms — and they need an Attorney General who can support them in that development.

While in Craig, we hop in the back of Terry, the former mayor’s, pickup truck and head down the road towards the old Trapper Mine. Towers of the coal processing facility spiral above the open swaths of farmland. Terry’s current solar field is modeled after a CoOp system; individuals in the county can buy panels and shares of energy, making it economically viable. The panels are sandwiched between the sewage processing facility and in the shadow of the coal processing facility, but as the wind whips by us, Terry’s easy way of conversation shows us the future.

The Western Slope represents everything that makes Colorado great — an entrepreneurial spirit, fierce independence, commitment to finding innovative and empathetic solutions to difficult issues, beautiful vistas, and kind people. Our conversations in the area proved once more that there’s no substitute for being present across our incredible state.