For the first time since 2019, April feels full of hope — and fresh produce. Unlike last year, at the start of the pandemic, the Boulder County Farmers' Markets in Boulder and Longmont opened on time on Saturday, April 3. From a shopper's perspective, everything at the Boulder location went off without a hitch: The weather was beautiful, the guests masked, there were enough vendors to make it worth browsing, and the overall energy of the place buzzed with spring fever.
"It feels wonderful to be able to open on our normal schedule," says Brian Coppom, executive director of the BCFM. "Not only does the market opening signal that winter is behind us, but we are so very ready for fresh field greens and the first of the spring crops."
There's not too much popping up at local farms yet, but Aspen Moon Farm, Black Cat Organic Farm, Rocky Mountain Fresh, Miller Farms and Monroe Organic Farms showcased root vegetables and different varieties of spring lettuces. Many growers also sold plant seedlings, flower boxes, mini herb gardens and other pots of living plants for the home gardener. There were also two mushroom stands: familiar favorite Hazel Dell Mushrooms and newcomer MycoCosm Mushroom Company.
"We are super grateful to be here and to be the second mushroom farm this market has seen," says Jess Leblanc, who worked the Saturday stand with Justin Killing, founder of MycoCosm. "We are also happy to be outside working with friendly people," Killing adds.
While last year the market was smaller, started later and hosted fewer vendors (not to mention fewer visitors), this year guests can expect some elements of the market to return to normal business. Still, there are COVID restrictions in place, Coppom notes, such as mandated masks and social distancing. There will also be less seating available for the prepared-food stalls; no live music will be offered and no pets allowed. Guests can make reservations through Eventbrite, but unlike last year, it's not as important, especially if you come after 8:30 a.m., since the first half-hour slot is reserved for more vulnerable members of the community, such as those over the age of 65 and people with compromised immune systems.
You can expect many familiar faces and companies from previous years, including Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy, Mountain Girl Pickles, Breadworks, Chiporro Sauce Co., Happy Leaf Kombucha, La Esmeralda, Wisdom Natural Poultry and more, for a total of 62 vendors, according to the BCFM. Still, some have decided not to return, including longtime market vendors Cure Organic Farm and Ollin Farms.
While glad to be back for the 2021 season, some vendors, like Highland Honey's owner Tim Brod, weren't satisfied with how management handled the 2020 markets.
"Last year was godawful, and while public health and public safety are critical, we don't need to be crazy and should have been more inviting," says Brod, referring mainly to the strict reservation policies. "I've been a member for over a decade and my community is important, but last year it didn't feel like the organization was treating the vendors and customers as equals."
Brod has hopes that this year there will be a return to normalcy, and he says that the Boulder market already seems more inviting. But along with many other vendors, he'd like to be able to hand out samples again. Currently, the no-sample rule is still in effect, and that probably won't change until masks are no longer required.
One major change last year that proved successful was the addition of an online market and curbside pick-up, which ran through the winter and will continue into the new season. "It did well, and our numbers continue to grow every week as people want to be connected to local agriculture," says Coppom. "In 2020 alone, we had more than 10,000 online orders. Our farmers sold an estimated 81,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables and 15,300 pounds of meats, grains and dairy."
Currently, you can order online for pick-up at five separate locations at various times and days. But if you're ready to get out and get some sun and fresh air, in-person shopping lets you connect with the farmers and see what you're buying firsthand. The Boulder and Longmont operations are open at 8 a.m. every Saturday until November 20. Boulder's runs until 2 p.m., and Longmont closes at 1 p.m. Beginning May 5, Boulder will host Wednesday night markets from 5 to 8 p.m. until October 6. The Denver Union Station Market launches May 8 and continues until October 23, with hours from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m each Saturday. Dates and times for the Lafayette market have not yet been released.
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