Farmers' Markets

Boulder Farmers' Market: The threat of snow, an abundance of asparagus -- with recipes!

I can't stop buying asparagus. It's there in abundance at the Boulder Farmers' Market when I visit Saturday. The season is so short, and you really can't get that sweet, crisp, grassy kick at any other time of year: Asparagus doesn't freeze well, and the imported-from-somewhere-else bundles you get in the supermarket have no taste at all.

It's a beautiful morning as I stroll from stall to stall, but there's a heaviness in the air, a kind of uncertainty. Everyone knows a big storm is on the way, frost and several inches of snow. While most of us feel put out by winter weather this far into May, the consequences are far more dire for farmers.

See also: For vendors, the Boulder Farmers' Market is a family affair

[jump] Frost sounds a death knell for early tree fruits like apricots and possibly cherries. There go the early strawberries, says a grower at Aspen Moon Farms, who'd hoped to have fruit at the market for us within the next couple of weeks. Alaina Monroe tells me that Monroe Farms' first planting of beans will be destroyed; they'll be bringing the second to market later in spring.

And manager Jeni Nagle at Ela Family Farms -- who's also a little worried about the peach crop -- explains that Colorado's crazy weather can make those peaches that survive especially sweet because low temperatures increase the fruits' sugar storage. I taste her jams and we agree that Colorado peaches are the best in the country -- no matter what people in Georgia believe.

The folks at Toohey and Sons have gorgeous heads of tender lettuce, which store much better than the equally delicious but more perishable bags of leaves; Plowshares Pork is selling bok choy; Easter egg and sparkler radishes provide little circles of color all up and down the street; and on the Honeyacre Farms table the first greenhouse-grown, firm-fleshed, brilliant red and yellow peppers are on display.

"Nothing says 'I love you mom' like a bag of compost," reads a roguish sign beside Farmer John's huge bags of the stuff -- and you know that has to be true because a lot of the mothers strolling Thirteenth Street are carrying cartons of seedlings -- peppers and tomatoes, cabbage and kale, herbs of various kinds. Though no one's about to put anything tender and new into the earth until the storm has passed: Instead, they'll be desperately trying to cover the plants they've already set out.

I'm happy to see a table staffed by volunteer Steven Hoffman of Right to Know GMO Colorado. He's gathering signatures for Initiative #48, which will mandate that almost all food containing genetically modified organisms (which is almost every processed item you can buy) be labeled in Colorado by June, 2016. I've been reading research on GMOs for years and noting the ever-shifting arguments put forward by the industry. The latest -- and it's ubiquitous -- is that dozens of scientific studies have shown no damaging effects at all from GMOs (not true and also, since the industry actively suppresses critical research, entirely disingenuous). Therefore, proponents continue, labeling would unfairly hobble sales because the public (poor saps that we are), misled by anti-GMO propaganda, will shun labeled foods. To which the only reasonable response is, so what? Whether our perceptions are right or wrong, we have a right to know what we're putting in our mouths. As I sign the petition, Steve tells me Right to Know CO needs 86,105 signatures by August, and has around 15,000 at the moment. You can read the text of the initiative here: I leave with my baskets full of produce, and my head full of asparagus recipes. Keep reading for asparagus recipes.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman