Western Slope family raises, passes on love of winter sqush, farming
Located at 60542 Gunnison Road in Olathe, Colo., about halfway between mile markers 85 and 86 on Hwy 50. Call (970) 323-6559 for information about what’s in stock.
For lovers of winter squash, now is the prime time for stocking up. DeVries Produce in Olathe, Colo., where Richard Friend raises many acres of vegetables, is one stop anyone can take.
The DeVries family offers a vast variety of vegetables as well as fruit, right now selling the squash and harvesting field corn is priority. Winter squash varieties come in an array of flavors, colors and textures, and DeVries Produce offers eight different types: Banana, Spaghetti, Turk’s turban, Acorn, Carnival Acorn, Butternut, Buttercup and Delicata.
The names often reflect the shapes of these vegetables.
Piled into huge boxes around the main store’s parking lot, squash at DeVries Produce presents an explosion of colors. Some, like the Delicata and the Carnival Acorn, even have stripes.
“Our best seller is the Butternut,” said Pamela Friend, whose parents started the truck gardening business in 1943. “People buy bushels and bushels of it.”
Spaghetti squash is another big-seller since it can be used by people with gluten allergies.
Pam and Rich’s personal favorite is the Buttercup, because “it is sweeter, easier to cut and has more meat to it. But we also like Banana. It’s a toss-up between the two.”
The third of five farming generations, Pam was five when she started to work in produce. Her grandfather, William DeVries, raised potatoes and trucked them to Chicago in a Model T pickup. Her son, Randy, farms close to 2,000 acres with the help of her grandson, 19-year-old Christopher.
“Our 10-year-old grandson, Jack, can take you around to all the equipment on the farm and tell you what each is called, what it’s used for, and what order they’re used in. He is so farm-oriented,” Pam said with pride. “We’ve been in business in this area for 73 years now, so everyone knows us.”
She’s trained hundreds of local teens how to work in both the store and at the Star Drive-In, which was built by her parents in a Montrose field. Under Pamela’s practical, country-born thumb, “the kids learn how to be respectful and work hard. They learn how to think, too. We don’t use calculators in either place. They do math with paper and pencil, plus count change back to customers.”
A mature winter squash can weigh anywhere from 30 to 75 pounds. That’s a lot to set on the table. Once fully ripened on the vine, they will store up to five months. Just make sure the stems are unbroken, and do not wash the squash beforehand. Simply wrap each one in newspapers and set in a dark, cool and dry area.
Pam said there isn’t a big problem with bugs harming the crop, but when there is, the Olathe Spray Service, owned by Leonard Felix and sons, is who the DeVries call. Those on the Western Slope have come to recognize the spray company by the bright yellow airplanes and trucks.
Rainy seasons can be a problem, because mildew forms on the squash leaves, but this year the family didn’t worry since it was a dry year.
Since DeVries Produce has so many things growing throughout the year, they hire John Sheridan of “Bees in the Trees” to pollinate the land. As needed, he will load up hives and haul them wherever they are needed.
“John has done bee-keeping for many years and is great at it. It takes lots of them to pollinate a truck garden to get the good crop. They increase our production dramatically.”
When not working at the store, Pam constantly on the run. She does the banking, runs the projector at the drive-in, grocery shops both for her family and theater patrons, and on weekends takes her grandkids to the movies.
The Star Drive-in is one of the oldest family-owned business of its kind in the United States. Four years ago Rich and Pam took out a loan to go digital, and “it’s almost paid off.”
Pam said the drive-in mainly sticks to family-oriented movies. There’s a restaurant and snack bar inside, and children age 11 and younger still get into the drive-in for free.
But with all she does, sometimes she’s questioned with how much work she has to do.
“People tell me all the time I need to retire. Two businesses are too much,” Pam said.
But if she had to choose between them, Pam knows which she’d prefer.
“I’d keep the drive-in. Even though it took me a year to get good with the digital system, and I hate it, if you have digital problems they can be fixed. Farming is different. When a hailstorm comes through, for example, and destroys your tomatoes, you can’t fix it. An entire crop can be wiped out by a hailstorm in ten minutes. It will literally strip everything.”
It happened early this year, but “Thank goodness we had a late season so we were able to replant.”
Thankfully, she won’t have to choose. Two more generations are already following in her footsteps, and no doubt more will follow.❖