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Having established our first orchards in 1907, our family has grown fruit in western Colorado since it was first cultivated in the region.


We grow over 55 varieties of organic tree fruits—cherries, peaches, pears, apples, plums, plus organic grapes and multiple varieties of organic heirloom tomatoes.
Our pride and delight is letting the fruit ripen in the field, so the fruits we bring to you are notably juicy, complex, and richly flavorful.

Our business is built on flavor, environmental stewardship, quality, local food we can all believe in, and building relationships.

Today, we are a 4TH generation, certified organic family farm. The land has been conserved in perpetuity and will remain agricultural, open green space.

We only sell what we grow—from fresh fruit to artisanal organic jams, jellies, fruit butters, sauces, dried fruits, and cider.

We have developed an educated clientele at farmers markets (you!) which buys not only market-grade firsts but also buys the canning-grade imperfect fruit. Any fruit damaged further than that we use in our own commercial kitchen and even those scraps go to a pig farmer up the road. Nothing we harvest is wasted.
Our use of off-farm inputs (to nourish the trees) is minimal. We grow cover crops in between the tree rows which adds nutrients to the soil, helps create stability for complex soil ecosystems, and improves water retention in the soil
We supply about 80% of our electricity from our own PV solar panels – the maximum our local utility will allow us to install. And our commercial kitchen’s heat is largely supplied by hot-water solar panels mounted on its roof
Our irrigation system is the most water-conserving possible (entirely drip and micro-sprinkler) while also being almost entirely gravity-powered
A leading climate researcher has used our farm as a case study and found us to be at or very close to carbon-neutral
We are very involved in community development from local-scale mentoring to serving on state and national boards pertaining to organics, research, and health

Steve Ela

Fourth Generation

Steve is the operations manager and a partner of Ela Family Farms. Steve oversees the day to day goings-on of the farm and getting fruit directly to the folks who’d like to eat it. On any given day this may include planting new fruit trees, changing tractor tires, putting together gift baskets, doing office work, or meeting our customers face to face at markets.

Steve is very involved in organics, in research, and in promoting the Colorado fruit industry.

Currently serving on the National Organic Standards Board, Steve brings his experiential and soil science background to represent organics as a family farmer, helping set organic policy for our nation. He is on the board and past president of the Valley Organic Growers Association. In the past he also served as President of the Western Colorado Horticultural Society, served on the Colorado Agriculture Commission, served on the board and was President of the Organic Farming Research Foundation, was on the Advisory Boards of the Western Integrated Pest Management Center and the Colorado Specialty Crops Program, was Chair of the Orchard and Pest Disease Management Conference, and serves on numerous local boards and organizations. Steve is active in organic tree fruit research and has helped to organize two major national organic tree fruit research symposiums. Additionally, Colorado State University has conducted numerous organic research and insect research projects on our farm. His two children, Will and Adair, are growing up on the farm and can be found helping at farmers markets, in the packing shed, with gift packs, and other farm jobs.

Regan Choi

Assistant Manager & Food Safety

Regan Choi was born and raised in Colorado. Having studied biology in college, taught outdoor education plus science and natural history for 14 years, owned and managed businesses throughout her career, and worked with curriculum development, she was delighted to find a fit for her passions at Ela Family Farms. Building community and inspiring curiosity through the beauty of complex ecosystems is an inherent part of what Ela Family Farms does. Together she and Steve Ela are weaving their families and lives into an even more robust growing environment.

Jeni Nagle

Front Range Manager

Jeni is the Front Range representative for Ela Family Farms. Her title shifts depending on the day and season, but as Steve says, “she keeps me sane.” Jeni started direct marketing for Ela Family Farms in 2000. Since then the orchard went from selling mainly into the large food system to direct marketing everything we grow. She juggles farmer’s market management, wholesale distribution, CSA coordination and sales logistics. Jeni has served on and been President of the Boulder County Farmers Market board and is involved in marketing and farm to school programs. Jeni is just as happy selling a single peach to a farmer’s market customer as she is delivering pallets of fruit to a Farm to School program.

Jen grew up in a small town in Iowa surrounded by cornfields and small family farms. She earned a Biology degree from theUniversity of Colorado Boulder and lived out her dream of being a market farmer in Paonia, CO where she met the Ela family. Her dream of working in environmental business is fulfilled working for Ela Family Farms. Her work feeds her passion for preserving the small family farm, sustainable agriculture, plant life and business. With over 18 years of retail management experience, her position with Ela is an organic fit.

Bill & Shirley Ela

Third Generation

Shirley likely bonded with fruit trees when, while very young, she was put out in the orchard in a fruit box under the watchful eye of a caring hired man. She grew up involved in the fruit farm with her father and brother, but left the farm for college. After graduating from the University of Colorado she worked for Harvard University while her new husband attended law school. After he graduated, they returned to Grand Junction and she became more involved in the family operation as time permitted and their family grew. She has been active in local and state boards and commissions, but is happiest when being out in the fruit trees, spending time with her grandchildren, or looking out her window at the trees and a sunset.

The son of a banker who grew up in the town of Grand Junction, Bill spent some of his early working years with fruit in Palisade. He did both orchard work (some even on stilts) and packing shed labor. During World War II he served as a navigator in the Navy, thus his love of stargazing on those clear, dark nights on the farm. After graduating from Harvard with his law degree, Bill returned to Grand Junction to practice. Every modern farm seems to need some family member making an outside income. Bill filled that role through his law work and then by serving as a Colorado District Court Judge. After retirement, he worked as a professional arbitrator and mediator. Bill believed in working to better the community and was instrumental in helping establish community corrections programs and in developing river front trails along the Colorado River through Grand Junction. At home, he volunteers as a helping hand and has helped dig, plant, pack and pick fruit. He knew all too well which end of a shovel is up and could be seen practicing that art any time of year. Bill passed away on September 1, 2016.

Lois "Pattie" Burns Phillips & Nelson "Nellie" Phillips

2nd Generation

"Pattie" (Lois) and "Nellie" (Nelson) were wed in 1918 when they eloped to California. Nellie was in the Navy during the First World War at the time. Two years later they were able to settle in to domestic life buying a 15 acre orchard in Clifton, near Grand Junction Colorado. There they raised their 4 children and literally tons of fruit. By this time, fruit growing was well established in the Grand Junction area. Nelson was known for his hard work and innovation. Some of the equipment he manufactured is still used on our farm today.

By the 1930’s Nelson and his brother-in-law Earl were making weekly trips to Denver to market their fruit. They would work with their crew picking fruit all day, load up the truck and drive to Denver during the night. They would drop off their load, turn around and get home in time to pick more fruit and make more deliveries.

The trip to Denver was not easy. There was no road between the Vail area and Frisco, nor was Loveland Pass a main road. There were two choices when driving to Denver; one was to take Tennessee Pass to Leadville and Fairplay and then drive over Kenosha Pass into Denver. The second choice was to drive to Kremling and take Berthoud Pass and Clear Creek Canyon into Denver. Either choice meant gravel roads and slow going. Nelson’s daughter Shirley (my mother), who accompanied her dad on these trips, remembers waking up to have breakfast in Fairplay. She also remembers the men throwing rocks behind the wheel of the truck on steep grades to make sure it didn’t roll back down the hill!

Until 1936, much of the labor of fruit growing was done with a team of horses. This included spraying with hand hoses and digging irrigation furrows. The team was trained to obey voice commands, so the person spraying could vocally tell the team to move forward, turn or stop without having to stop spraying. My mother remembers a very sad day when her dad’s team had to be sold to help pay bills.

Worms were a constant battle in the fruit. Apples were often sorted as clean, one worm and two worm apples. Nelson used to guarantee his fruit – he would jokingly tell people that if they bought a one worm apple and it didn’t have a worm to bring it back and he would exchange it for an apple with a worm. Arsenate of lead was the only spray available to help control the worms. This was applied with a hand held hose and the growers, equipment and horses would be covered with it. While only marginally effective, it was the only choice at that time. Ironically, the spray would stick to the fruit so much that at harvest, the apples would have to be run through a sulfuric acid bath to get the arsenate of lead off before they were washed and packed.

There were difficult years and good years in the fruit business. Nelson survived near bankruptcy by working off the farm as well as selling his fruit in many venues. He mined uranium for many years to help pay off debts. Uranium from the area he mined eventually made its way into the Manhattan Project. Nelson and Lois had four children and through his hard work, Nelson was able to support his family and provide enough for Lois to live on long after his death in 1964. His love of kids and close-knit family led their two surviving children to move near them.

Frank & Maggie Burns, Joseph & Elizabeth Phillips

1st Generation

In 1906, Frank Burns made a trip from Winterset, Iowa, to the Grand Junction, Colorado area to investigate the possibility of moving his family and farm. By 1907, they had sold their Iowa land, loaded all their belongings and animals in a railroad car and made the move to Grand Junction. They planted peaches on two pieces of land. My grandmother remembered that not a sprig of grass was on the land when her parents planted trees. Conscientious about the soil, my great grandparents made wooden boxes to put in irrigation ditches directing water to their trees, and to prevent erosion. They had four children. Their daughter Lois, aka "Patty" became the fastest box maker in the packing shed. Back then, the boxes were wooden slats assembled by hand.

While the trees bore well, spring seasons of cold temperatures and frost were a concern. One particularly bad year saw fruit crops in the whole valley wiped out–including my great grandparents. To make ends meet, Frank worked hauling gravel and lumber with his horse and team.

During good fruit years, not a piece of fruit went to waste. Fruit left unsold was dried on the roof of the house for winter use. Each year, my great grandfather’s mother would come from Iowa, staying two to three months to help with harvest and to dry fruit. After harvest, she would return to Iowa by train accompanied by a large trunk containing cotton sacks of dried fruit.

A Burns daughter, Lois, grew up in the fruit business and married Nelson Newton Phillips. Nelson's family, the Phillipses, were from Boulder Colorado and had also grown fruit there. While my great grandfather was the one who first planted fruit trees in western Colorado, it was Lois and Nelson Phillips who ushered in fruit growing as our family knows it today. These first generations also started the family tradition of working together in business which continues today. Their first business was called Triangle Fruit.



Steve Ela serves on the National Organic Standards Board, serving as chair for 2 years and helping set national policy for Organic production.


Grafting rescued historic apple trees from Denver and Boulder in partnership with Haykin Family Cider, onto the farm, conserving historic varieties which would likely otherwise be lost.

VOGA (Valley Organic Growers)

Members since 2000s

  • 2014 – 19 Board member
  • 2015 Vice President
  • 2016-2017 President


Regan Choi – Colorado State Member Experience Advisory Council Member


Triangle Fruit is revived as part of the business.


Community Growth in Food Safety – Regan Choi partners with La Montanita Coop to create collaborative farm food safety education and cooperation throughout the 4 Corners region


We doubled our PV solar panel installation, producing enough electricity to power about 80% of our commercial electrical use.


We are the first farm to be named a Colorado State Environmental Leader, awarded Gold Status for our robust approach to sustainability.


Ela Family Farms awarded Supplier of the Year by Whole Foods and gained FSMA compliance


Regan Choi joins the family and the farm bringing added management, marketing, and engagement in food safety & education.


Steve serves on the Board of the North Fork Valley Creative Coalition


New Packing shed is built


Sierra Club gives Ela Family Farms the Community Service Award for our ongoing commitment to sustainable agriculture and organic practices


Bill Ela’s 85th birthday summit hike, summiting a Colorado fourteener

2000 - 2007

Steve Ela helps start the Colorado Organic Crop Management Association to continue and expand the CAMP program and fund other organic research projects including apple thinning, other insect management, weed control, and fertility projects.


Steve Ela appointed to the Colorado State Agricultural Commission


Ela Family Farms becomes the first 100% Certified Organic 4th generation farm in Colorado.

2001 - 2011

Steve Ela served on the Board and was president of the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF)  for 5 years.


Jeni Nagle joins Ela Family Farms and we return to the tradition of weekly trecks to the Denver, contributing to the growth of farmers’ markets and marketing to small stores on the Front Range, connecting food directly to people, and gradually unplugging from the big food system


Coolers to house our own fruit are built on farm.

Ela Family Farms was conserved in two separate parcels, and east and a west, with a couple years’ gap in between the two.
It is a uniquely conserved property in having left a pocket of non-conserved land for expansion of our business fruit packing needs.


Bill and Shirley Ela are awarded the Sustainable Settings local Organic Farmer of the Year award


First PV solar panels are installed at Ela Family Farms providing over a third of the farm’s electricity.


Steve serves on the Board of CO Specialty Crops Advisory Council to the Dept. of Agriculture


Regan Choi serves on District and school Accountability Committees as member, secretary, and president


Shirley Ela is given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Western Colorado Horticultural Society

2001 - 2012

Steve Ela helps organize the two first ever National Organic Tree Fruit Research Symposiums, and then to continue the biennial tradition.

Jeni was the insect scout for all of Rogers Mesa, on all the orchards, on a federal pilot program codling moth mating disruption, an organic insect control mechanism Ela Family Farms still utilizes with great success.


Global markets collapse of the commercial commodity market (Asian currency crisis) and need to return to a more personal model


Steve Ela & Larry Trauble apply for, administer and manage area-wide management Codling Moth Area-Wide Management Project (CAMP) grant. So much value is found that growers self fund continuation for eight years after that as the Colorado Organic Crop Management Association


Jeni Nagle and Steve Ela first work together when she is hired by the CAMP program as an insect scout.


Began transitioning the orchards to Certified Organic growing practices
Packing and sales shift from on-farm packing and distribution to using the commercial commodity system utilizing a 3rd party packing house and selling Gerber & Rogers Mesa Packing Shed


Steve Ela serves on the Colorado Apple Administrative Committee

1992 to present

Steve Ela served variously on domestic water board, reservoir company, and multiple ditch boards as member, vice president, and president.


Steve Ela serves on the Board of the Western Colorado Horticultural Society

1990 Microsprinklers & drip system installation.


Nelson Phillips is recognized by the Upper Grand Valley for outstanding work in soil conservation



Some of the first orchards in western Colorado were established by Frank & Maggie Burns – pears and apples shipping even as far as England. Joseph & Elizabeth Phillips establish small orchards in Boulder but it’s not their main endeavor.


Lois Burns & Nelson Phillips marry


Nelson returns from WWI and a new 15 ac orchard is acquired in Clifton, stays in the family until 1995 when overrun by urban development


Triangle Fruit was started as the first joint family fruit shipping venture but was quickly driven out of business by bigger players. The company’s debt was paid off over the next 20 years by Nelson’s unremitting hard work, and the family was able to avoid bankruptcy – keeping their orchards.
1920 – Nelson returns from WWI and a new 15 ac orchard is acquired in Clifton, stays in the family until 1995 when overrun by urban development

1920s - 1940s

Railroad shipping of fruit – iced freight cars would be collected over the course of weeks for a massive harvest push distributing peaches, pears, and apples around the country, there used to be huge packing sheds on railroad sidings in Clifton, Palisade, and GJ.
Nelson goes into uranium mining in Utah around Yellowcat and Calamity Mesa to pay off debts


Nelson & his brother Earl made weekly trips to Denver to sell fruit – had a big Samson truck – before Eisenhower tunnel


WWII gas rationing, no more driving to Denver

2nd generation establishing Audubon Society in Grand Junction

Grandma Lucy lifetime member was very active in the local birding scene and traveled for birding, some land on the riverfront system is named after her for her contributions

early 1950s Family Cabin

Built as a joint family effort on a forest service inholding on Island Lake, it is on Grand Mesa between Grand Junction and Hotchkiss. This very rustic little cabin is still held and used jointly for outdoors time by extended family, tying the Ela clan together five generations down the line.


Dean buys more adjoining orchard land and the extended family works it together, family total is 80 acres


Neighboring 25 acres orchard is acquired by Bill and Shirley


Dean buys 30 acres of fruit growing land outside of Hotchkiss on Roger’s Mesa

1985 Expertise

Steve receives a B.S. degrees in biology and environmental geology from Beloit College


The extended Phillips / Ela family form Silver Spruce Partners and Steve Ela returns to the family business after getting his master’s degree in soil science. Ela Family Farms in Hotchkiss is acquired.

1990 Grand Mesa Nordic Council cross country ski trails

Steve’s brother Tom Ela & a group of friends establish the Grand Mesa Nordic Council which, working in good faith with the Forest Service, has cleared and maintained cross country ski trails. They have become a hub of community winter activity accessible to casual and competitive skiers throughout the region. Steve serves on the Board.

1990 Expertise

Steve receives a M.S. in Soil Science and a minor in Water Resources from the University of Minnesota


Bill Ela was co-chair of the Grand Junction Riverfront Commission helping to work with riverfront landowners acquiring land and to develop the original trail system. An outstanding accomplishment of community building and access to the natural beauty of the area, trails now run for miles along the Colorado River.

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