President Butte Mill Ditch, Vice President Jones & Donnelly Ditch
John Ellis has farmed the entire 53 years he has lived in Boulder County. The first ten years were spent following around, learning and helping his neighbor farmers. His father, Martin, was a machinist at Rocky Flats and moved the family here from Ohio when John was 7. His parents grew sweet corn and pumpkins along with blue spruce trees at their Evergreen Acres Farm, now Cure Organic Farm. John owns a 76-acre hay, grain and vegetable farm west of Niwot, a 6 acre peach orchard near Palisade on the western slope, and the land which Anne and Paul Cure farm on Valmont at 75th. He also rents two hay farms on Jay Road. He sells his produce at both the Boulder and the Longmont Farmers' Markets.
Between all these properties, John uses 5 different ditches: Butte Mill, Jones & Donnelly, North Boulder Farmers, Lefthand/Williamson Ditch, and the Grand Canal in Palisade. "I consider ditches to be the lifeblood of the community," says John. "Without ditches there would be no agriculture, and without agriculture there would be no community." John has served on the boards of the Butte Mill Ditch and the Jones and Donnelly Ditch for 20 years. He has been president of the Butte Mill and vice president of the Jones Donnelly ditches for the last ten years. In this capacity, he has ended up as the assistant ditch rider when needed. "I have a backhoe, and when things need to be done, I just do it. It saves time and money," says John.
The most challenging part of his job is dealing with disputes between ditch users. Educating newcomers is also a constant challenge. "Newcomers want to fill in the ditch because they think it is messy and breeds mosquitoes. Or perhaps they want to pump out of it when they don't have rights to use it. Folks need constant education to be aware that ditches are still important and that you must own water rights to use ditch water."