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The Story Behind Big B’s Orchards and Campgrounds in Hotchkiss, CO on Koolers Lifestyle Podcast #43

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00:00:00 Jeffrey Schwartz
Location on the highway was when an upgrade from being three blocks off the road on the train tracks. And here we are at Coke’s Fruit Ranch, which we named delicious orchards from a lovely traditional New Jersey fruit stand where my dad grew up. We just kind of took that inspiration and. Evolved it now to make these delicious orchards.

00:00:31 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Welcome to the Kooler Lifestyle Podcast. I’m your host, Matt Kuehlhorn, and I’m excited to have you join me as I interview community members and business leaders from the communities in which I live, work and serve through my business Kooler Garage Doors. We’re going to bring you highlights on characters in our communities. Why? Because community matters, and I want to know more about who is behind our business and leadership in order to understand and support the community fabric that our relationships make up. And collectively, we can build stronger communities that support our lifestyles, our youth and our health. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Kooler Lifestyle Podcast. I’m your host, Matt Kuehlhorn. Today, I’m sitting down with Jeff Schwartz, who’s beaming in from Peonia, Colorado at the Big B’s fruit company, Orchards. He’s the Director of Agriculture Operations. Jeff, good morning. How are you?

00:01:28 Jeffrey Schwartz
I’m well, Matt. Good morning to you. Yeah. Thank you for having. Thank you for inviting me to have a conversation with you.

00:01:35 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Absolutely. You know, I can only imagine the view that you have right now. I’ve been out to Big B’s. Your orchards are gorgeous. It’s just such a cool zone. I appreciate your time today.

00:01:47 Jeffrey Schwartz
Yeah, thanks man. I was going to put me in front of the orchard, but I decided to sit in my rocking chair without the sun glaring at us, so.

00:01:56 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, yeah. I love it, Jeff.

00:01:58 Jeffrey Schwartz
It is a beautiful day here. Finally we have a the sun is shining. It’s still cold 23 degrees, but it’s nice to see sun we’ve had really just an incredible winter. Like like a lot of the West, just ton of snow and a ton of cold is even for us, so.

00:02:17 Matthew Kuehlhorn

00:02:18 Jeffrey Schwartz
Beautiful day here.

00:02:19 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah. Well, we’ll probably get into some of the agriculture components of what that might present for growing season. But let’s start off Jeff, where did you grow up?

00:02:30 Jeffrey Schwartz
I grew up in New Jersey, West Orange, NJ and moved to Short Hills, NJ. My whole family is from New Jersey. We Yeah, really. And a real important part of my background is my all my grandparents came from the Ukraine area as chief of Ukrainian Ashkenazi Jews. And in the in the early 1900s they all kind of came over. Through Ellis Island and they settled in in New Jersey. They never left and they were chicken farmers and small dairy farmers and and subsistence growers and my mom and dad were from that area. Asbury Park NJ and and and Trenton behold area right where Bruce Springsteen is from. My dad with the high school with Bruce Springsteen.

00:03:35 Matthew Kuehlhorn
No kidding.

00:03:37 Jeffrey Schwartz
I’ve always loved that and and we just stayed right outside of New York City. So we had this, this New Jersey, the Guardian State side of it, Southern side and the Shore side. And then the suburb that I grew up in was right outside of New York City. So I was at subway train ride away from downtown New York. And now is a big part of our growing up too. You know my brother Seth, who’s a major part of this whole big bees and partner of mine from the beginning life. We’re fortunate enough to be still working together. He lives in Florida.

00:04:19 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Right on.

00:04:20 Jeffrey Schwartz
So, yeah, so we’re back. We’re from back east and there’s just so much to that that’s shaped who we are and and how we’re here at Paonia.

00:04:31 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, I can imagine. Was it? Was growing up like, was that city based or were you already into agriculture as you were growing up?

00:04:39 Jeffrey Schwartz
Super suburban right out soup very suburban high school experience. I say New York just because we would try we would go to New York and that’s kind of where we cut our teeth as as as as young as children you know and where we I where I you know first saw what. You know, freedom and and independence was in that real deep New York City environment. You know, as a 1516 year old kid checking that out, only later did I I always had an inkling, but always only a little bit later when I was a, you know, right late in high school did I find nature in the woods and all that, you know and so New York City. Growing up and then starting to find Boulder, Co that’s where I went to school and that’s where I just, that’s where I kind of took the path of living a life. Outside is really what I think I’ve done for the last I’m turning 50 this week, so for the last 32 years.

00:06:01 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Cool. So the concise story what is it from East Coast? You had mentioned Boulder. How’d Boulder find you? And then how did you end up in the middle of the state, Paonia?

00:06:12 Jeffrey Schwartz
Yeah, yeah. I’ll give you the quick succession, right. Millburn High School and I wanted to go to Boulder to ski, just be in Colorado. I’ve I’ve been here to to ski a couple times before as a kid and. Right when I landed in Boulder I pretty much within the first couple days I discovered the the Flatiron Mountains and and hiking and climbing and and exploring the mountains that way. And at this very simultaneous within a month or two of landing in Boulder I discovered the world of of wilderness. Activism and education through Mission Wolf and Synapu and and and and very early on in my tenure at See You at See You Boulder got very passionate and deep into environmental act and social activism with a will and always holding the wilderness. As for me the most. Peaceful and sacred place to be. So see you bolder. And then I actually learning activism and at organizing. Spent a lot of time at the Mission Wolf Education Center. Refuge Gardner outside of Gardner Westcliff, Colorado, and Ken Weber and Tracy Brooks and all those guys. They really brought me in as their family and I was able to feel very comfortable living way up in the mountains and learning all the really the requisite and amazing skills just to just to live kind of a independent and self-sustaining lifestyle. And I just say this long windedly, but I think it’s important because. You know, I was thinking about this. It wasn’t about that independence, that independence of doing it for yourself and and learning how to live was important. But the collaborate. The other side of that was the collaboration. I think where we really were strong was it that I was able to collaborate with so many people and connect and make these deep familial connections and and. And that came from my family, which was very tight knit but very familial and very close. You know, my hand like all my grandparents and obviously, like I said, all my hands and all that. And so when you move away, I was really the first person to really leave the East Coast from our entire family, my grandparents. Moved from Russia like I said and then and they we live together, but I was really the first one to leave the nest and the color out. So that’s kind of the story really of getting to Colorado and getting beyond. See you Boulder, I’ll just kind of get to Payonia and then Tracy. Silverman, Tracy Schwartz and I, my partner and in this business along with my brother and the mother of my two kids, we met. We were I was doing work on the Navajo Indian Reservation, Dine Reservation, Big Mountain area. They were and Tracy came from San Francisco to write a story and we met and we ended up having. A family Dagan and Aya together, which was the most important, the most impactful part of the entire story was Dagan and Aya Patton And we wait our we made our way around looking for the farm back to the land life. We knew what we wanted. We had a vision really clear really based on all of our experiences from environmental education to to deep. Deep ecology activism you know I say education like inspirational education and just and and also like just living a a a life that was true to us you know fun and while it was all serious off a lot of the time you know when you’re an activist and you’re you always think you’re fighting for the survival of. Of everything. So it’s it’s serious, but we always kept a lot of fun in it and music in it. You know, I I didn’t mention but the Grateful Dead and that whole music scene was a big part of again, my growing up and seeing independence and seeing a way of life and through Flagstaff and through there and there we ended up, you know real blessing. We just rolled through the North Fork Valley Hotchkiss through Aonia and. The first glance, I was just taking it back and I was like oh, that’s and we’re honored and blessed enough to be have been here now over 20 years and it’s amazing and my children are both from here and born here and so here we are.

00:12:05 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, that’s amazing. When I go to the Big B’s website, there is a story here. What’s the What’s the history of the orchard?

00:12:14 Jeffrey Schwartz
So I. Tracy and I settled in the in the valley and sitting there after, I met Bernie and Adriana Heideman, Big B had a dear friends of our wedding in the valley and we talked for a long time. We just sat and talked and a couple days later Adriana called me on the phone and asked if I would come help burning, you know, run the juice, the cider mill. That fall that September and I was stoked. Yeah, I was like, Yup, I’d love to come have a job. We were actually. That was right before Degan was born and can we actually were renting a little condo in Crested Butte because we wanted to ski as well and Tracy was teaching skiing up there. I go back and forth Crested Butte. Big B used to work kind of a place we had and. A couple years, in a couple seasons, we only worked a couple days a week for a few months of the year, and the following season Bernie asked if I would like to buy baked bees for them. And I had learned it pretty well enough. And I went to my brother Seth and my dad, Mom and said Tracy and said well. Let’s do this. She owes a great deal as a small business at the time and he was fully in. But you know, control and I understood it well and price was carried the note for it and it was all just very tuitous and easy to do, you know. And he just said, Bernie said he’d been doing it since 1973, so he’d already been in it for 30 years, you know. And he always knew he needed someone he could hand it off to. And he said he just wanted to share it. And I see Bernie often. He comes from music here at the orchard. So then we run the juice company Barry to Bernie specs for a couple seasons because we were nervous. And then all of a sudden we know we just started developing and growing it. And just really having fun with it and Seth got very involved in it very early on and just started growing, but very organic.

00:14:42 Luke
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00:15:22 Jeffrey Schwartz
And that that was fun. And that if in about night in about 2006 a friend who was working with us asked if I would come look at this coax front ranch which was a 16 acre orchard on the highway that I had been to only a couple times. And I knew Bob and Maxine coach very well from selling them goose and just being a part of the. And I went and we looked, I looked at this orchard and I was like, oh, and we had already started some retail in Hotchkiss because we got involved with some spirits and some one. So back at our cider mill, which is 2-3 blocks off of the main highway, the kind of we did, we opened up our little dairy section and cheese and wine and spirits. We’re making Brandy at the time, some very simple cider huses, obviously apples. We had fun, you know, Nobody came, nobody showed up. Maybe a couple people on the weekends, literally. But when we saw this orchard, not only did I know that it was one of the most special places I’d ever seen agriculturally soil its location, but this location on the highway was. When an upgrade from being three blocks off the road on the train tracks. And here we are at Coke’s Fruit Ranch, which we named delicious orchards from a lovely traditional New Jersey fruit stand where my dad grew up. We just kind of took that inspiration and evolved it now to make me’s delicious orchards.

00:17:14 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, it’s beautiful. I love the story, Jeff. I love the continuity. So you know, if I can reflect for a moment, what I’m hearing is independence. I’m hearing familial and family connections. I’m hearing collaboration. Like those three are are jumping out and there’s certainly a lot of study that you’ve undergone to understand soil nutrients, how to grow and you’re in a beautiful environment to do that and I love. How? This story just opens up and evolves. And you know, my entrepreneurial journey, I feel like I’ve almost forced things. But this is so organic. And that’s like the word of how it just kind of flows, if you will. Has it been like, do I have that right as it been just like opening up and evolving and kind of transpiring like?

00:18:10 Jeffrey Schwartz

00:18:11 Matthew Kuehlhorn
It’s amazing. It has.

00:18:12 Jeffrey Schwartz
It’s been. It’s it’s at every at every juncture of this journey for for me. I I’m speaking obviously. For me, my I just want to reiterate there’s so many people a part of the story SAT and the kids and my folks and so many people here. There’s 30 people here. I’ve been working with some people since the day one that liking all these people. So I would. So it has continued just to evolve very slowly in a lot of ways and just very some would look at it and we used to look at it like it was almost clunky. You know we we always thought oh we should have raised that juice company right away and really got to a certain point instead of like you know just battling out the efficiencies for we’re in it for 20, we’ve owned it for 20 years now. This past February was 20 years that we took over. But yes, you’re completely correct. It’s just, it’s just transpired very easily. Like, like a breath, really like it was meant to be, you know? And I would like to say though one other main facet, one other theme that is important has been is the educational piece, that inspirational educational piece. You know, we never set out to really teach directly because sometimes for me that’s I never set out to teach directly because sometimes for me that’s hard to do. But I think through, you know, through actions and through living and through conversation, I think I’ve tried to be educated myself and learn as much as possible, and I think we’ve been able to do some education that way. And I call this place now what do I call it experiential retail. That’s kind of the culmination of where we got into right. Everything is very value added and you know what do we call it that the vertical integration of our entrepreneurial pursuit is very, very strong from compost. All the way through, all the way up and around, you know, through the compost to the tomatoes or the apples to the apple juice to the to the salsa, to the to the restaurant service of that, you know. So it’s very obvious and obvious and strong vertical integration. The highest point of that in some ways is this experiential retail where people can actually. Pick Pick the Fruit themselves, camp here. And now that we’re really developing this, this venue concept, music and camping and food and experience, you know, it’s really, it’s not culminating because it’s not ending, but it’s really evolving into this where people can create their own experience and inspiration. And we’re just kind of creating a platform and in a lot of ways step ideally we we’re stepping back.

00:21:40 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yes, there’s that’s a beautiful segue because in this next question it starts going towards the experience for folks. So as a patron like I bring my family over, we’ve had low key birthday parties over there. We’ve brought in our family multiple times to camp and there is a certain feeling. And I’m curious to know if you have intention, if you talk about this with your team or you know have any kind of plan if you will, to provide this experience and this feeling for folks when they come to delicious orchards. Like if you wanted them to leave with a feeling, is there one?

00:22:27 Jeffrey Schwartz
You know, yeah, I think. The feeling that is the strongest what you’re what you’re describing is I think we haven’t tried to impose our, you know, feeling on it. You know, I think our feeling, our vibe, our energy, our just personality is strong in its, in its. And it’s what is it just to describe it, it’s it’s it’s it’s it’s proper, it’s clean, you know, it’s orderly, but it’s loose. It’s pretty. It’s, it’s it takes a lot of inspiration from its natural surroundings and the natural energy. It really does. And I know that it can sound like, what are you talking about, but. So, no, there hasn’t been any directive. All right everyone, we want this place to be homey and feel yet everyone, you know, sometimes it can get as you see that you’ve been here, you know, sometimes the energy of the of of of some of the people, myself included, can be a little bit high, strong and a little bit abrupt. I’ve I’ve seen some of the time at the bar, our clerks, you know, myself because. I think the highest value personality that we can offer is the reality is realism and so I don’t. I’ve never asked any people who work here for us in general to be any other than themselves and their personalities do shine through and it’s 99% the positive side of ourselves come through.

00:24:20 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, I love that. To me, that just kind of goes back to this. A little bit of a concept related to that independence, like to be confident enough to express your independence, like your personality, your expression and whenever I’ve come to delicious orchards like that is part of the feeling and the experience that I get is a space and a venue that is freeing me to be me And and there is this familial piece where you have a lot of your your orchard open. And almost, I mean even your backyard, I mean it is your backyard, right. And and so there is this familial connection piece and it’s, I don’t know, I it’s a beautiful spot, man. And so just kudos to you and your team for what you’ve done and the venue that you’ve created there.

00:25:12 Jeffrey Schwartz
I I really do appreciate that. That’s the most important thing, that’s the most meaningful thing, is to really hear that from so many people. And it keeps us going. It keeps us. Developing we’ve got a new work we’re we’re we’re really developing an entire new campground experience and venue and and place for comfortably couple 1000 people to hang out for the weekend around the body of water and and music as our coming together. In a lot of ways a festival energy has been created and I think some of the things, you know, we we raised our kids trying to go to festivals as much as possible or Telluride or Carbondale or whoever having money. And there is that feeling you get to and like camping river, you know, being on the river, hot trips, this kind of stuff, you get to create your own. Adventure.

00:26:26 Matthew Kuehlhorn

00:26:26 Jeffrey Schwartz
While you’re out there, it’s a big B’s Delicious Orchards is a fun, safe place for all these families and all these people to create their own adventure throughout this 30 acre property. And and you know, and then I’ll come together in a central place to eat and drink and see music. When it’s music, so it’s. It really has it has evolved into this really precious and special concept in place and and I think he was like again, you know just to it was such a collaborative collaborative effort and so many inputs and so many thoughts and I’m so happy that it came came out like it’s it’s coming out like it is.

00:27:13 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, well, you’ll.

00:27:14 Jeffrey Schwartz
Live. I’ll stop talking after this. Because Matt. So many more people get to experience this special, special place than just our family. And that, to me is really important. You have such a special place to share, yeah.

00:27:32 Matthew Kuehlhorn
This opportunity is all that keep you talking man. So it no problem there you alluded to this little bit so 30 acre you got some more development going on for for camping experience what what are we excited for looking ahead?

00:27:49 Jeffrey Schwartz
I think I’m most excited for the maturity of being our team, being at the helm of this for 20 years. Seth and I, my brother and I are really settling into a nice. We looked, we’re two brothers we could get after. You could ask a lot of our people, you know, I mean, and we have different personalities, but much respect. Seth is brilliant. God, he’s in West Palm Beach, FL. Looking at this thing from above and within and without the craziness of being here every day. It’s it’s a brilliant partnership. It really is. And like I said, my folks are, I’ve been mom and dad, Judy and Steve have been such a big part as consultants and bisers and bastards and really deep. So what? What? And. And. You know, I’m looking forward to these new new relations and but again on a personal level, I think the maturity of and the efficiency is just wonderful. It’s very peaceful, it’s settling. On the other hand, we’re, you know we’re going into a massive development project right now where we’re putting in a new highway access. To make it much safer to be able to kind of continue to to develop this and grow this thing appropriately. Did really developing the, I think the camping, the music, we’re just we’re really starting to understand the beginning aspects of how to bring really high quality music. You know, Rob Miller’s just doing such a fabulous job and hiring. Amazing musicians and it’s cool. So yeah, that’s what we’re looking forward.

00:29:43 Matthew Kuehlhorn
To It’s awesome and seasons upon us camping season is just right around the corner.

00:29:48 Jeffrey Schwartz
We opened up on Saturday, April first. Our season now is April 1st to the last day of November, every day, seven days a week, like 9:10 AM to eight 9:10 PM. So here we are, we’re open. It’s a nice, it’s been a nice soft open because the weather’s been cold and spring like, but fruit looks good, the trees look wonderful, everything is very tight, tighter than I’ve ever seen it, meaning we don’t have these buds. You’re barely swelling and even on apricots and cherries. So in a lot of ways that’s, excuse me, that’s great because everything is nice and tucked in still and safe for these. Potential cold weeks ahead in April. Typical. Yep. Could be great. Obviously a great water season, plenty of snowpack. It’s been a fabulous ski season. That’s how we spent a lot of the winter. Cross country skiing here is should talk about that next week.

00:30:52 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, that’s awesome. Awesome.

00:30:54 Jeffrey Schwartz
Yeah, and then big, you know, down at Big B’s that season, that. At our cider mill and production where we’re making all this juice and cider and products that’s got its own rhythm and its own season. It’s in a nice it’s off season is right now so you know to everything there is a season has always been a model that hangs on our wall here in the Dome and it had the other part of this that’s been very fluid and and. Like you said organic is the seasonality of it and when the cider mill is, is is busy you know in October and we’re starting to slow down here. And so we’re we’ve been able to really in a healthy way manage both the manufacturing and the retail of this thing.

00:31:51 Matthew Kuehlhorn
And it’s beautiful. How can listeners learn more? Where do you play on social website? Location How do we get in touch with you?

00:32:01 Jeffrey Schwartz
All of that.

00:32:02 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Right on.

00:32:03 Jeffrey Schwartz
All the socials and big bees. and just come visit us. Come get online and and see where we’re at. We’re in we’re we’re a couple miles outside of Paonia on the highway West. Our address is Hotchkiss. So we’re we’re right here in the heart of the North Fork Valley and just come visit, come camp out, come have a bite, come from wherever you are. And we would just love to welcome you as as friends and family and make yourself at home, as I like to say.

00:32:37 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, yeah, I love it will include website and and some social handles into our our show notes Jeff. So folks can find it easily and you know. I would definitely encourage listeners, if you have not been up into the North Fork Valley, get up there, check out Big Bees. It’s absolutely beautiful and just really, really special zone.

00:32:58 Jeffrey Schwartz
And you know, Matt, real quick, you could find our juices, our products on the shelves pretty much wherever you are, our juices, apple juices, lemonades and then all of our website and it information is on our products. We have hard cider out there throughout Colorado, so. If you can find our products, check this out. I hope you enjoy them. Then come visit. Can’t find our products? Contact us and we can help that as well.

00:33:26 Matthew Kuehlhorn
I love it. I love it. Jeff, thank you so much for sharing the story of Big B’s, the story of yours. You really do have a beautiful zone out there. Delicious orchards. I’m excited to get back there with my family and and happy birthday to you.

00:33:42 Jeffrey Schwartz
Thanks, Matt. I really do truly appreciate you including us. It’s a, it’s a great concept what you’re doing this conversations are important and everyone can TuneIn and get turned on to different interests. And so I really do appreciate the work of you and the podcasting journalism. So I look forward to seeing you soon.

00:34:07 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Absolutely. Enjoy the day. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to the Kooler Lifestyle Podcast. We count on your subscriptions, your likes, your shares, and I encourage you to do that. Now, if you’re watching on YouTube, go ahead and subscribe lower right hand button. If you’re on audio, download this, share it, and we look forward to having you on the next one.