When the Boulder County Farmers' Market -- just named Best Farmers' Market in the Best of Denver 2014 -- opens for the season tomorrow, customers will find that many things remain the same: the jubilation with which vendors and visitors greet each other on the first day, celebrating the coming of spring and the new growing season; stands boasting leafy greens -- more of them this year, because many farmers have installed hoop houses -- as well as potatoes, onions and overwintered carrots.
But there will be changes too.
The farmers' market board hired Brian Coppom as executive director in November, the third executive director for the Boulder and Longmont markets in two years, and there has been a lot speculation since then about his goals and the overall direction of the market.
Even before the end of last season, a couple of small but telling changes crept in: Heaters were installed along the street in on cold November days, e-newsletters became better organized and more informative.
Coppom's background is as a businessman and entrepreneur; his wife runs a bakery called The Inglorious Monk in Longmont that makes gluten and dairy-free treats. Coppom took on this new career because he's evangelical about local agriculture -- and when Coppom says local agriculture, he means small farmers. "I don't think the industrial food system can provide what we need," he tells me. "Small farms are real farms."
We'll see fewer packaged and prepared foods at the market this year, he says, and more local farmers -- though "variety is important," he notes. "Boulder is a mecca of food innovation, an incubator. It would be a shame to be left out of that. What's necessary is striking the right balance."
The sibling Longmont market will also welcome new farmers and the booth space available to farmers has been increased in both places, so that vendors can bring in more produce at the height of the season.
Many Boulder County farmers owe the survival of their farms to the market, and some stay with it for decades. Others eventually begin making a living through CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) and wholesale outlets. "We're here to support local agriculture," says Coppom. "If they can expand and move on, it's to the credit of both the market and the farmers."
Other innovations? Breakfast will be served at the Boulder Farmers' Market from 8 to 10 a.m. Saturdays at the south and less heavily trafficked end of the street, and a new seating area has been set up on a triangle of grass. Local nonprofits will serve and cook, using locally sourced foods, and will get to keep the profits. Chef Ann Cooper, the renegade lunch lady known for revolutionizing the Boulder Valley School District's lunch program, now has a food truck, according to Coppom, and she will be serving at the market on the occasional Saturday.
"It's all about connecting the people who share these values," says Coppom. "Farmers are an important part of the fabric of our community. It's a good message."
He is also interested in attracting ethnic and low-income populations to both markets. There are sponsors in place for a Double SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program): These sponsors will double the amount of market bucks purchased with a SNAP card up to a certain level. Classes on how to shop at the markets are also planned.
"Food equality is a big issue," says Coppom. "We don't see an abundance of Hispanic and Asian shoppers. These are people from cooking cultures who are used to shopping at farmers' markets, but they don't see these particular markets as a good cultural fit."
Market staff are exploring the idea of setting up a Wednesday market in downtown Longmont (currently the Longmont market is confined to Saturdays, and held at the Boulder County Fairgrounds) and also trying to find bilingual volunteers.
"What I love about the market and the food movement is that farmers are a conduit to the ground," says Coppom. "Knowing their names, talking to them, that's a way to become more grounded as a culture. And I think it should be available to everybody."
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The Boulder Farmers' Market will be back in business from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays from April 5 to November 29, and from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays May 7 to October 1; it's located at 13th Street between Arapahoe and Canyon avenues in Boulder. The Longmont market, at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Avenue in Longmont, runs from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays, April 5 through November 1. Find more information at boulderfarmers.org