Boulder County Farmers' Market
Juliet Wittman

"No Farms, No Food" is a bumpersticker cliche that happens to be true. The people who run the Boulder County Farmers' Market (and its Longmont sibling) know that farming's a hard and uncertain job and that farmers need customers and support. They also recognize that the fresher and more local the food, the more delicious it is. That's why the produce sold at these markets is locally grown, much of it in the county, though the fruit can come from as far away as the Western Slope. The beef, goat and chicken come from Colorado-raised animals, too. While you can get delicious baked treats and some packaged and prepared items at the Boulder County Farmers' Market, the primary focus is on food you'll take home and cook. And if you need to know how to prepare that artichoke, what to do with pork fat or how to grow your own garlic, the farmer's right there to tell you.

For a growing gardener, Sunflower Farm is Colorado's version of Disneyland. This non-commercial, 55-acre working farm began as an experiment in customizing a farm around the interests of children. Over the past twelve years, it's become a local treasure. Century-old shade trees are festooned with tire swings and a series of connecting treehouses; while their parents look at lovely views of alfalfa fields, kids can gaze at pigs, baby calves and roaming peacocks or play in the sandbox. There are also pony and tractor rides and a zipline for those seeking bigger thrills.

UCF gardens are more than community gardens: They infill neighborhood spaces with growing things instead of condos; they create a learning environment for children; and they provide fresh produce for Denver's food-desert neighborhoods as well as for social-service nonprofits like Warren Village. Currently, UCF runs four garden farmstands, where folks pay what they can for food grown with love by gardeners of all ages: Gabrielle's Garden, at 832 Kalamath Street; Celebration Community Urban Garden, at Iowa Avenue and Birch Street; Chaffee Park Community Urban Farm, east of Federal Boulevard on 52nd Avenue; and Columbian Elementary School, at West 40th Avenue and Federal. This is one concept we'd love to see keep going — and growing.

Bistro Vendome
Bistro Vendome

Although the metro area is blooming with good farmers' markets, few evoke the charm of a European market — the kind you'd find nestled along a brick lane, overflowing with perfect baguettes, heady cheeses, rare heirloom tomatoes and other gourmet fixings. Behold Le Jardin Secret, which entered the market last summer. Tucked away in Larimer Square's Bistro Vendôme courtyard, it has just the right vibe, right down to the mimosas you can drink as you browse (Vendôme's liquor license extends into the courtyard). Brought to life by chef Jorel Pierce (who was then at Euclid Hall and now oversees sibling Stoic & Genuine), this secret garden — which rolls out on Saturdays from June through August — yields goodies from such Denver foodie landmarks as the Truffle Cheese Shop, Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe, Sugarmill and more.

Aspiring foodies will adore Sticky Fingers Cooking, a mobile school that teaches children ages two and up gourmet scratch-cooking techniques, instructing them on the preparation of global concoctions (think dragon noodles and lemon-ricotta pancakes) using child-safe knives and organic produce. The organization's main offering is after-school cooking classes, which are taught weekly at 130 Colorado schools. But Sticky Fingers also cooks up delectable small-group summer and spring-break camps, which are open to the public and held at Stir Cooking School. Additionally, the Sticky Fingers staff offers in-home instruction — cleanup included — and parties at Stir, with prices starting at $150 for private groups of up to a dozen kiddos.

It's Sugar

If you noticed a rise in manic behavior on the 16th Street Mall in the past year, the fault might lie with It'Sugar at the Denver Pavilions, Colorado's first link in a gargantuan national chain of candy stores that claim to do everything sweet and bad for you, bigger and badder than anyplace else. The proof is in the packaging: At It'Sugar, you can walk out of the store with a five-pound keg of gummy bears or the "world's largest box" of any of several popular candies, from SweeTarts to Nerds, or a one-pound Snickers bar. Sweet!

Imaginations run wild at this magical — and delectable! — gem bursting with confections, nostalgia and lots and lots of gnomes, most hiding among woodland creatures and offbeat fairy decor. All eighty varieties of chocolates and candies are handmade with quality ingredients in Gnome's Nook workshops in Littleton and Boulder, and the gnomes are locally manufactured, too. Big kids can rent the venue and its attached patio for charming, unique events catered by nearby restaurants.

Cousin Ebo, a four-year-old Weimaraner, is the perfect host at Djuna, greeting customers like a sleek, silvery maître d'; he's a particular hit with the ladies. His warm, quiet welcome fits in perfectly with the restrained elegance of Djuna's offerings, which run from fine art and linens to antiques and architectural salvage. The attentive (but far from pushy) employees are part of the charm of this place, and Cousin Ebo lets you know that he, too, appreciates your patronage — or even just your presence.

Colorado Animal Welfare League's Lisa Petri cares about the welfare of animals not just in Colorado, but also around the world. Petri accepts abandoned animals from across the country, and also frequently travels to other countries, like Grand Bahama, to spay and neuter stray dogs — in some cases, bringing them back to Colorado for adoption. With a growing network of foster homes, CAWL works to ensure that displaced dogs and cats are taken off the street and placed in safe and caring environments before finding forever homes. Becoming a foster parent can be the best way to make sure that owning a dog is right for you, and this organization is the best place to find a lifelong pal.

There's a sense of fun in Ken Carrick's Parker-based online doggie boutique, what with all the over-the-top pajamas, hound snoods, robes and bling available to accessorize your four-legged fashion plate with. But that's no reason to turn up your nose at the handcrafted blankets, bandannas, pillows, beds and more that the site has to offer, all designed with your pet's comfort in mind. Barking Bitches even has a couple of items that might appeal to cats — and as any cat lover knows, appeasing Kitty is no walk in the park.

Best Of Denver®

Best Of