Fresh and Local
Valley farmers’ markets offer the best foods of summer
by Noah Buhayar
Two decades ago, serving up what was grown or ranched nearby might not have been an easy feat. American farmers had precious few outlets to sell their produce, meat, and other goods to neighbors. Consumer demand for fresh, local food was low. And the concept of “food miles” had barely been considered.
Fortunately, times are changing. A growing number of people want to eat locally and are seeking out opportunities to support area farmers. One of the most startling examples of this trend, notes bestselling author Bill McKibben, are farmers’ markets. In 1970, there were just 340 in the United States. By 1994, he says, the number had swelled to 1,700. A decade later, in 2004, that figure had more than doubled to 3,700.
From the Greenmarket in New York City’s Union Square to Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market on San Francisco’s Embarcadero, the effects of these markets are being felt in myriad ways. For starters, they make our food system more transparent, reinstating a system of trust that relies more on personal relationships than USDA certification. One recent sociological study found that the average shopper has 10 times as many conversations at a farmers’ market than at a supermarket.
A stroll through any green market also reminds us that farming is a seasonal business. We learn that waiting for the peach crop can make the peaches taste even sweeter. Better yet, by shopping for what’s in season, we’re living a little more lightly on the planet, precluding our next meal from being shipped across the country—or world. Lastly, the markets keep money in local communities. In many cases, the dollars spent on fresh, local produce, meat and dairy allow farmers to stay in business and keep the outskirts of our towns productive and vital. As McKibben notes, nearly all the money spent at a farmers’ market goes into the hands of the producers, “not the eight or 10 percent they’d take in by selling through the industrialized food system.” The growing season in the Roaring Fork Valley and surrounds may be short, but the harvest is plentiful. Here’s what you can look forward to this summer and fall at three of our community’s farmers’ markets:
Aspen Saturday Market
Dates: June 14 – October 18
When: Saturdays, 8 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Where: Hunter & Hopkins streets
Now entering its 11th season, the Aspen Saturday Market boasts more than 20 food vendors and a number of artisans selling crafts. On any given Saturday, 10,000 to 14,000 people throng to Hunter and Hopkins streets, spilling over into cafes and restaurants.
The food at the market truly represents what can be grown in our surrounds. There are vendors from Woody Creek, Carbondale, Paonia, Hotchkiss, Delta, Palisade and Grand Junction. “You have to bring what you grow,” says Dave Whittlesey, head of the Aspen Saturday Market produce section. At least 90 percent of what growers sell at the market must be produced on their own land. That keeps the consumer-producer bond tight, but it also allows some of the growers to bring in specialty items from other producers who may not have the time or quantity of goods to justify selling at the market. Whittlesey’s High Wire Ranch, which specializes in elk and bison meat, will occasionally sell salmon, for instance.
The market’s produce vendors bring a veritable cornucopia of fruits and vegetables—from tomatoes to plums, peas to cabbage, carrots, peaches, apples, cherries, apricots, melons, pumpkins, beets, peppers, corn and squash (to name only a few available items). “If you can grow it in this area,” Whittlesey says of the produce vendors, “they grow it.” Meat and dairy is also well represented at the market. In addition to Whittlesey’s buffalo and elk, you’ll find lamb, chicken and pork out of Paonia, as well as goat cheese from the award-winning Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy. This year, the market will also welcome a new vendor from Craig that produces sheep cheese.
When Whittlesey thinks back to a time before the market, he says, “I had no idea this kind of food existed.” Nowadays, he and wife Sue save their weekly shopping in the summer for the market: “We go home every Saturday and we eat like kings for the week.”
Carbondale Farmers’ Market
Dates: June 11 – October 1
When: Wednesdays, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Where: 4th & Main streets
What the Aspen Saturday Market has in scale, the Carbondale Farmers’ Market makes up for in intimacy. Now entering its seventh season, the market features three produce vendors— Borden Farms, Okagawa Farms and Ranch Durazno—and one meat vendor, Dave and Sue Whittlesey’s High Wire Ranch. Gates of Heaven Honey and Jeffreezz Aspen Sorbetto provide locally made treats to satisfy anyone’s sweet tooth. Baked goods from Cloud Nine Brownies, Louis Swiss Pastry and Hungry Mother Organic Bakery, as well as wine from Woody Creek Cellars, round out the mix.
Steve Nieslanik of Okagawa Farms says customers should look out for local cherries, apricots, zucchini, peas, green beans, and beets right as the market gets going. Sweet corn will hit around the Fourth of July and tomatoes shortly after that.
It’s the peaches, though, that get Nieslanik excited. “There’s going to be a different variety of peach every week from the first of July to the tenth of September,” he says. During peak peach season (from Aug. 10 to 24, approximately), Nieslanik says to watch out for suncrest, cresthaven and red globes—his favorite varieties.
When asked what he likes best about the Carbondale Farmers’ Market, Nieslanik says, “It’s compact. The vendors are very friendly. It’s more of a quaint kind of farmers’ market.”
Glenwood Springs Farmers’ Market
Dates: June 21 – early November
When: Saturdays, 8 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Where: 1400 block of Grand Avenue
The rise of farmers’ markets in the last few decades could be encapsulated in the history of the Glenwood Springs Farmers’ Market. What started 23 years ago as a small group of growers banding together every summer to sell their goods in the parking lot of a TrueValue Hardware store has turned into a community tradition, says Ken Kuhns, one of the market’s founders and owner of Peach Valley CSA. The market is still relatively small, but it has a dedicated following. Each Saturday, patrons can count on some of the freshest produce around from Peach Valley, Forte Farms, DeVries Farm, Mesa Forge and Farm, as well as meat from the Colorado Homestead Ranches (a collective of six ranches “raising beef the old fashioned way”) and bread from Hungry Mother Bakery out of Breckenridge.
Kuhns says to look out for beets, cabbages, peas, early lettuces, greens, small early root crops, onions, early squash and early tomatoes as the market gets going this June. Later on, customers can count on beans, cucumbers, cherries, peaches, apricots, plums, pears and apples. Reflecting back on the past 22 years, Kuhns says that he and his fellow producers are “filling a community food role.” There’s not much entertainment at the market, but people still come to do their weekly shopping.
Invariably, they see familiar faces and strike up conversation. “These markets definitely have the power to create community,” Kuhns says, “and enhance community if the community is already there.” •
Noah Buhayar is a freelance journalist living in Snowmass. He has reported for The News- Hour with Jim Lehrer, Yahoo! Green, and KAJX-Aspen Public Radio.