Proctor family farm near Rocky Ford is a true family operation | TheFencePost.com

Proctor family farm near Rocky Ford is a true family operation

by Marty Metzger for the fence post

Time had marched on far faster than that his father's horse could travel, so Vernon's Rocky Ford, Colo., operation enlisted in progress' ranks, using an old farm truck to comfortably complete his 180-mile day-runs to the city. Vernon's inventory consisted of fresh fruits and vegetables of impeccable quality, and he conducted business deals with no more than a simple but sincere handshake.

Vernon's wife, Joan, played an integral part on the farm. Particularly, she prepared lunches for family and outside farm workers who toiled in the fields. Many business strategies were discussed and challenges resolved around her table. All five of her children own and operate their own farms and Joan resides with one of them, son Matthew, and his family.

The third and fourth generations strive to carry on conscientious Proctor traditions. Matthew Proctor, his wife Brooke, and their four children operate a true family farm on their 500-acres of cantaloupes, watermelons, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, pumpkins, hay, wheat and corn. Firm handshakes with customers and fervent stewardship of their fertile land's bounty bind the Proctors to their ag ancestors by more than genetics.

Owner/operator Matthew Proctor, with more than 30 years farming experience, shares that expertise with his youngsters, who he said each play an important role on the farm. Alexander, 17, efficiently drives tractors and trucks loaded with produce to the packing shed. The multi-skilled teen also plants, irrigates, cultivates and assists with the harvest. Daughter Isabella, 15, helps disc/plant fields and drives tractors during harvests.

At 13, Gabriel is not quite old enough yet to drive but participates in other ways with field prep, planting and harvesting. Youngest member of the Proctor family, 9-year-old Harrison, is a bright, outgoing, animated boy who enjoys educating potential customers at farmer's markets about the advantages of purchasing Proctor produce. His father declared that Harrison is best-known for keeping everyone giggling while he puts stickers on watermelons and pumpkins. He also keeps a keen, watchful eye on his siblings when in the field, diligently reporting any "improprieties" to Dad, who really has nothing much to worry about when it comes to his kids' behavior.

"I really appreciate my kids' willingness to help on the farm. Life on a farm or in a small community is a good way to grow up," Proctor said.

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Brooke shared about Harrison's suddenly heightened self-motivation. As do most farm children, he had always helped out here and there since very young. Then his parents went to Breckenridge, Colo., for a weekend getaway right after their older children had gotten paid for their summer 6 a.m.-noon field work. When Harrison connected the awesome baubles and trinkets their wages bought with the extra work they did, he was hooked. From then on, he worked alongside them and sought to learn all he could about produce and farming.

All four children participate in 4-H, with projects ranging from shooting sports to dog obedience to canning and baking. Alexander and Isabella are active in Future Farmers of America (FFA), in which Alexander holds an executive office. He intends to continue in the family profession, with definite plans to pursue a career in farming after attending Colorado State Univesity (CSU).

Could that college venue be more than a well thought-out educational choice? After all, in an old song a young man declares that he wants to marry a gal just like the gal who married his dear old Dad. Alexander's parents met on a blind date at CSU, where Matthew majored in civil engineering and Brooke pursued a degree in speech communications.

When Brooke married into the Proctor farm family, she had to adapt to a lifestyle that must have appeared alien to her suburban Chicago upbringing. In fact, until she and Matthew met in 1992, the Illinois-bred and born city gal had never sat on a tractor. More amazingly, she hadn't even ridden in a pickup! Now she is adept at driving those (and larger) trucks, transporting workers from field to field, hand-picking onions and melons, and helping with the farm operation's book work.

Proctor Farms' cantaloupe farming tradition goes back to 1887. Its stauch reputation continued unblemished for more than a century. Then came the infamous listeria outbreak, which was initially but mistakenly attributed to the general area's melon crop.

Since there had never been a safety issue with any of their cantaloupe crops, eight farming families came together in 2011 to form the Rocky Ford Growers Association. After establishing geographical boundaries, the group trademarked the name Rocky Ford Cantaloupe. Their reknowned melons are now packed and shipped at Hirakata Farms.

Advised Matthew Proctor, "Hirakata built a state-of-the-art packing facility to ensure that our customers are getting the best and safest cantaloupe on the market."

More information about the association and its goals can be found online at http://www.RockyFordGrowersAssociation.com.

Besides hand-picked melons and pumpkins distributed through Hirakata Farms to major grocery chains including King Soopers, Safeway and Whole Foods, the Proctor family personally sells some of their fresh produce at farmer's markets. In 2014, they set up at a Lamar market, and in 2015 they traveled several times to Fort Collins' Jessup Farm Artisan Market. A college friend, Gino Campana is owner of Jessup Farm Development off Timberline Road at Prospect. An old, red brick farmhouse has been converted into a restaurant and outbuildings now house diverse small businesses such as a coffee bar. In 2016, adjacent acreage will grow much of the produce used in the restaurant's meals. Brooke Proctor echoes her husband's desire to return to that market.

"We hope to be back up to Fort Collins next year because we enjoy bringing fresh produce directly to people's tables," she said.

Good agricultural practices coupled with a strong work ethic assure that future Proctor Farm generations, as well as the nutritious crops they produce, will long-remain assets to their broader Rocky Ford ag community and to consumers. ❖

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