Those who grumble that farmers' market produce costs too much (often while cradling an expensive sparkling drink that consists of nothing but a few pennies' worth of water and chemical flavoring) fail to consider the labor an organic farmer puts into his products — not to mention the huge difference in taste. Sue says that she and Mark work far harder than they ever did at IBM, for 10 percent of the salary: "You have to do it because you love it. There's a difference between the big grower in California who never gets closer to his crop than the top of the tractor, and those of us who are down on our knees planting every little onion plant."

Wind-whipped farmers stand smiling behind their tables. Amy Tisdale and Wyatt Barnes of Red Wagon Farm display bags of fresh spinach and bear-shaped jars of honey. Further down, Mao Xiong has dried hot peppers and Jerusalem artichokes. At the Ela Family Farms table, customers spread jam on crackers and nibble on dried apples, fantasizing about the baskets filled with so many kinds of apples that will crowd the stand in fall. John Ellis, who's wanted to be a farmer since he was seven and cadging rides on neighbors' tractors, is one of the market's founding fathers. Ask him anything about its history and goals, and he'll have an answer. Today he's brought bags of hand-ground flour, along with an addictively delicious sweet-tart plum jam.

Gayle Harbison, whose Gayle Grows It specializes in xeriscape plants and small fruits, hands out a flier advertising the raspberry, blackberry, grape and rhubarb plants she will bring later in the season. This year — after intense e-mail consultation with a nurseryman in Delaware — Gayle has found a source for Mara des Bois strawberries, a domestic variety with the intense perfume of its wild cousins that's hugely popular in France but very hard to find here. Regan Waddle of Two R's Farm weighs out greenhouse tomatoes, bright and perfectly shaped, warm in the cup of your palm. Abbondanza displays a rack of seeds harvested from last year's crop.

The Boulder Farmers' Market kicked off Colorado's market season on Saturday.
The Boulder Farmers' Market kicked off Colorado's market season on Saturday.
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The Pachamama table is piled with last fall's root-cellar-stored onions and potatoes. Lauren Culbertson and her husband, Ewell, left the security of his full-time job and a middle-class Boulder life fourteen years ago, moving to forty acres near Longmont, where they created a field and irrigation system from scratch, and farm intensively on twelve acres. Between the farm and the market, the Culbertsons employ roughly a dozen people, not all of them full-time. Though they sell to some restaurants, particularly Potager in Denver, their livelihood comes primarily from a devoted cadre of Community Supported Agriculture members and their regular market buyers.

As year follows year, the range of offerings at the market expands. In the early days, there was only produce and some cut flowers. Now you can do almost all your grocery shopping on this crammed and bustling block, finding live crayfish and smoked salmon, several kinds of cheese, bread and flour, condiments, chocolate, Colorado wines and meat: lamb, beef, chicken. Jay Wisdom, who comes almost every Saturday with his wife, Cindy, sells eggs, whole chickens, cut parts both boneless and bone-in, and backs and feet for stock, along with the occasional molted peacock feather. He is the son and grandson of Haxtun farmers and has two daughters whom he always hoped to raise on the farm. But the agricultural convulsions of the 1990s hit the Wisdoms hard, and they had to sell most of their land. Once they'd decided to raise chickens, the state's farmers' markets, and particularly the market in Boulder, became their salvation. Chefs — a hugely important part of the agricultural economy — began noticing their stand, and word spread. Now Wisdom poultry graces a lot of local menus. The Wisdoms also sell a couple thousand turkeys during the holiday season.

Naturally, Boulder being Boulder, the couple is questioned often about their husbandry practices. The birds are fed a custom blend of all local products, with no antibiotics, hormones, preservatives or animal products, and during the day, they have access to the outside. Getting to Boulder every Saturday is hard: The family has to wake up at 3 a.m. to complete their chores before hitting the road. But Jay enjoys meeting his customers and is delighted that people have begun connecting more with their food.

You can hear the affection in Frank Silva's voice when he talks about the Highland cattle he both shows and raises for meat. This is a Scottish breed that has persisted virtually unchanged for the last 200 years, "the only bovine that has a heavy hide, long hair like an elk and buffalo," he says. As for their temperament, "they're just different in a lot of ways. They're smarter. You can hardly herd a Highland; you're better off calling or luring them." All the cows in his registered herd have names.

Frank was born on a dairy farm and has been a rancher all his life, but his business dropped off so drastically after 9/11 that he had trouble paying for feed. Four years ago he got into the Boulder market, and the change was dramatic. He was meeting more and more people, getting more and more orders, and — though he still works as a hoof trimmer three days a week to get by — making enough to pay the feed bill and take care of his cows.

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