The entire street smells of fresh dill, and there are all kinds of new and enticing things at the Boulder Farmers' Market Saturday: glowing red and yellow beets, carrots, little new potatoes (just wash well, boil and then roll them around in melted butter with shreds of mint. Conventional, but who cares?). Also kohlrabi and the year's first zucchini and summer squash. Sheila at Far-Out Gardens is giving away lily flowers, fleshy and slightly sweet to scatter on omelettes, yogurt or salads. And in addition to the usual small-fruit plants for setting out, Gayle Grows It boasts waving grapevines bursting with green health. But having lost the year's entire crop of apricots and plums to spring frosts, everyone's jonesing for cherries -- and though we've heard rumors of cherries at today's market, there are none to be seen.
No one is stressing more about this than Potager chef and owner Teri Rippeto, who had planned the week's restaurant menu around cherries: cherries on pizza, cherries garnishing souffles. Now she walks from stall to stall, seeing what's available, mulling new ideas.
Just about every chef in the area advertises local, organic, farm-to-table food, but Rippeto's different. She's at the market herself almost every single week: Her customers can be sure of getting the freshest, best food available and she helps many local farmers stay afloat. And if you're a shopper wondering about the best way to can tomatoes or cook artichokes, she's always willing to give advice.
"She's the most dedicated, reliable, consistent, dependable chef owner in Colorado," says Paul Cure of Cure Organic Farm. "It's always farmer first in her menu and in her ethic. Never could a farmer be better represented than at Potager, in terms of service, flavor and environment."
"She walks the walk," Mo McKenna of Plowshares Community Farm says simply.
Rippeto has been coming to the market regularly for sixteen years because she knows only growers are allowed to sell here. She's noticed a lot more farmers becoming involved over the years. "They've figured out how to extend the season a little bit," she says. "Once no one went to the market before the end of May. And it goes on later into the fall, too."
Why does the owner of Potager make a point of buying the produce herself? "I have the relationships and I like to go," she says. "That's how I stay plugged in with what's coming up; I know exactly the dates that people have certain things so I can plan menus around that." Given the prevalence of big commercial organic companies, it's easy for restaurants to serve organic food, or they can just buy a few things from local farmers here and there, but "their whole menu isn't sourced that way," she notes. "I know that we spend more money than anybody else with local farmers and the farmers' market. And it is a lot more work. But I just think that's how you get the best food. The longer sugar snap peas are off the vines, for example, the less sweet they are. There's a big difference between just picked and five days picked.
"I had a couple of friends in chef school in San Francisco thirty years ago who worked on local farms, and there's nothing more beautiful than picking an apricot right off the tree," she continues. "You don't have to do anything to it. It's perfect. That's how food should be and how our bodies are made to eat, and the farther we get from that, the sicker our culture gets."
Because she knows cooking meals is hard for many people, Rippeto has started putting on thirty-minute demos on Tuesday nights at Potager: "My point is to show how many things you can cook in thirty minutes. I don't prep anything ahead of time. People say, 'She just has an electric hot top on the patio; I think I can do that. Oh, you can cook that many things in thirty minutes; we can go home and make food for people and not spend all day doing it.'"
Among the farms with which she regularly does business are Red Wagon, Cure, Aspen Moon, Morton's Orchards and Ela Family Farms. "When I started," Rippeto recalls, "I didn't tell anybody who I was for probably three years, just went to the market with my wagon and bought stuff. I wasn't looking for a deal. Now I do get a cut in price but I don't ask for it. I want them to charge whatever they need to charge."
As for the cherry dilemma, given the wealth of produce at the market -- the bunches of slender carrots, the elegant asparagus stems, the boxes of scarlet strawberries -- not to mention her own dedication, Teri Rippeto's sure to solve it deliciously. "I'll go to the Wednesday market and hope for the best," she says. "Some call it blind faith."
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