Boulder Farmers' Market shows that life, and farming, goes on

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I remember standing in front of a pyramid of potatoes at the supermarket many years ago in my hippie days, tripping on mescalin and trying to select a few spuds for dinner. It was taking a long time because every potato in that pile had its own unique and mesmerizing characteristics, and every single one was calling to me: Pick me up. Examine me closely. Note my contours and coloration. See this fascinating indentation? What do you think it means? Take me home.

I was stone cold sober at the Boulder Farmers' Market Saturday, but Peter Volz's carrots at the Oxford Gardens stand were having somewhat the same effect on me. Piled in generously effusive piles, glistening in shades of gold and orange, they coruscated with freshness and energy. I knew the recent flood had caused a fair amount of damage for Volz, but these carrots represented a silent affirmation that life -- and farming -- goes on. See also: Boulder Farmers' Market opens for the season

The big news this week is that the market has hired a new executive director -- the third in two years. Brian Coppom has been the CEO of MyROW, International, which, according to its website, provides "intelligent program management and engineering for the telecommunication industry."

The succulent summer produce is slowly fading away, though several stands still carry eggplants and a few tomatoes and Aspen Moon has raspberries. "They keep coming," says the farmer manning Aspen Moon. "We think every week is the last, but they keep coming. If there isn't a hard frost this week, there may even be some at next Saturday's market."

The fruits of autumn are now here full force, however: hard-shelled squashes, cabbages, late spinach, leeks and onions. I bag a few of Volz's carrots (before the market's over, I'll buy a ten-pound bag from him to provide soups and stews through the winter) and mosey on to Cure Farms, where the potatoes -- just the regular Yukon Golds -- smell so sweetly of rain and damp earth that you want to bite into them raw. In addition to these golds and some reds, Cure has La Ratte Fingerlings, French Fingerlings and Rosa Applefinn -- all of which I mean to try before the season is over.

The writing class I teach at the University of Colorado is currently reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, which talks a great deal about the lack of diversity in industrial agriculture. The monocropping that large farms rely on means that a virus, bacteria or marauding insect can wipe out an entire region's food supply -- as happened in Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century, when blight destroyed fields of potatoes and caused widespread famine. Something like this may be happening in Florida right now, as citrus greening ravages the orange crop. It's the work of farmers like these at the market that represents possible salvation. Many of them -- like Aaron Dew of Dew Farms -- experiment extensively with seeds, and almost every one grows several varieties of the same crop.

Pulled toward the scent of roasting peppers, I discover a stand with a sign reading: "Poblanos (Medium Hot). Big Jims. Anaheims. Mirasol (Yipe Hot)." At the Ela Farms stand they're selling two heirloom apples: Cox's Orange Pippin (a variety that originated in England and is rarely grown commercially in this country) and Esopus Spitzenburg (believed to be Thomas Jefferson's favorite), as well as Swiss Gourmet, Jonagold, Empire and Golden Delicious.

The market is about more than just shopping, though. And it's about more than just food -- even food that's utterly fresh and heavenly tasting, and connects you to the seasons and the place where you live in a deeper way than words can express. It forms a web of connection to both your own town and the wider world, as Matt Abboussie provides updates on the Pebble Mine, which threatens wild salmon in Bristol Bay, Alaska, and Bryce Licht of Fior Di Latte describes the Kickstarter campaign he and his wife, Giulia De Meo Licht, have started for a downtown cafe where they can sell their beautiful gelato.

The one-block market itself carries so much history. Randy and Regan Waddle of the 2 R's Farm have been selling here for 25 years, but today they're not at their usual spot. It turns out this summer was the last for their early, greenhouse tomatoes; crisp, thin-skinned cucumbers; colorful peppers; honey and rose-scented soaps. Their current plans are to open a brewery in Greeley.

The Parsons, who were part of the market's founding, will return next year with their usual tomato plants, sweet onions and ropes of shallots, but on a severely curtailed schedule.

And this is the last week of the year -- and perhaps the last week ever -- for Street Fare, the miniature cupcake business founded by artist, philosopher, businesswoman and dedicated do-gooder Sarah Haas as an enterpreneurial enterprise to help support the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless. Haas will leave her job as the shelter's kitchen manager in two weeks, and the future of this popular outreach venture -- which always attracted dozens of shoppers and their children -- is in doubt. Behind the counter Bill McNamara, a shelter client who's been working with Haas since Street Fare began two years ago, is trying to smile.

Many farmers' markets operate more like flea markets, offering all kinds of crafts, artifacts, canned stuff and packaged products. The Boulder Farmers' Market is a particular gem because it has always been run by farmers and with a focus on life-sustaining agriculture. You can see this by the shoppers the market attracts: college kids newly out on their own and asking farmers how to cook asparagus; foreigners used to fresher food than you can find in regular stores; rural people who have been canning forever and young urban mothers and fathers just learning how to put things up, all of them lugging boxes of fruits and vegetables to the parking lot and smiling like Cheshire cats.

For me, the market has been a bright thread stitching my weeks together for years. And in this autumnal season, I can't help wondering what the future will bring.

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