Since Brian Coppom took over as director of the Boulder County Farmers’ Market toward the end of last year, he has put a lot of thought into ways of empowering local farmers and increasing the overall viability of the market. His influence was evident almost from the moment he took over. Customers shopping last fall’s chilly Boulder markets noticed heated lamps installed along 13th Street. Seeds Cafe opened in the downtown Boulder Public Library in April, sourcing local food; weekly updates from publicist Katie Lazor appeared on Facebook and in the Daily Camera and Boulderites’ e-mail boxes. And in June, a small new farmers’ market opened on Wednesday afternoons in downtown Longmont, adding to Longmont and Boulder’s Saturday morning markets and a longstanding Wednesday afternoon market in Boulder.
But the Longmont afternoon market, which was supposed to continue through September, will close after this Wednesday. To a large extent, the culprit is the long, wet spring, which cut down on the amount and kind of produce farmers were able to sell and kept many potential customers indoors. This summer, rainstorms have seemed almost timed for Wednesdays and while in the past afternoon thunderstorms tended to be severe but brief, Coppom observes that this year’s rains often persisted for hours. Last month the Longmont Wednesday afternoon market only drew about a quarter of the crowd needed to succeed. Meanwhile the other three markets thrived, drawing 2,000 to 4,000 people a week.
Coppom is thinking through his future approach. “Having a small market like that to function as a showcase for new or smaller growers does work,” he said. “Smaller growers don’t have that much opportunity, and the Longmont market’s shortened season makes it attractive: They can be there in the swing of harvesting. Newer markets are going to start slower than older ones, and small farmers’ expectations of sales are more appropriate there.
“That part did work nicely. But small growers can be affected more severely by events: Hail can wipe out a crop; there are delays with wet weather. The other is that CSAs play such a big role—that’s a contractual agreement to deliver produce. If there’s a limited harvest, most of it’s going to the CSAs.
“We’ve got to offer growers a way to meet minimum sales, to walk away with $250 in their pockets. That’s something I’m working on understanding how to do—how to make sure it’s always worth their time to be there.
“One of the vital aspects was about community support. Our understanding was that this would be an appealing event for downtown business. Some towns beg for farmers’ markets to revitablize the area. But we found that most of the businesses focused on the parking lost rather than what the event brought to downtown Longmont. If a thousand people had shown up, they might have felt it was worth it. With the low numbers, they felt it was costing them needlessly. Without that collective support, there’s no way a market can win.
“Those were a few of the lessons we took away from the whole experience. I still believe in the value of it, so I am looking at a potential other location for some time in the future, somewhere where we’re not closing down a street.
The other markets, Coppom added, have existed for twenty-eight years, and “are part of people’s mental landscapes.”
Among this year’s successes, Coppom said, is the added focus on Boulder’s Wednesday afternoon market, which now functions more as a beer hall and family expedition. More money was spent on bands, which increased attendance. “An evening out with the family is precious time,” he said. “We wanted to make sure that if people were coming, the kids would have fun, the parents would have something to engage them. It’s useful for evening markets to have a different feel. That’s the right approach, and I would want to repeat that.”
This year’s opening day at the Boulder market saw a fifty percent increase in attendance over last year’s, and although he doesn’t yet have the figures, Coppom believes more people visited this June than last. In addition, “The farmers are getting savvy to these weather patterns and how to still offer the best they have. The last three years have been pretty wet, and the farmers are learning to plant as early as they can, and varying the crops a bit to make sure they always have something available. More of them now have hoop houses. I’m excited to see how much the farmers are bringing. Peaches are really early this year, and the apricots are wonderful.
“We’ve got a microcosm of the local food system at the markets: farmers, customers, people who prepare food. The challenge is making that cycle work and figuring out how we can we facilitiate it.”
The mid-week market in Longmont, on Fifth Avenue between Main and Kimbark streets, will close after its 4 to 8 p.m. session on July 22.
The Saturday markets in Longmont, at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, and in Boulder, on 13th Street just off Central Park, will continue through Nov. 21. Boulder's Wednesday market, at the same location as the Saturday market, is scheduled to run through Oct. 7.