I have a lot of high-minded reasons for doing almost all my summer shopping at the Boulder Farmers' Market. I worry about climate change, soil erosion, bee die-off, genetically modified foods and the flood of pesticides contaminating soil, sea, air and our bodies. I know small farmers must be supported if we want a reliable food supply because variety, ubiquity and ingenuity produce a robust system while big agriculture is so swollen, profit-hungry and conscienceless it's bound to topple. The food big ag produces barely nourishes. Financial shenanigans I only half understand periodically take staples off the shelves or make them unaffordable -- as when the government decides to utilize its mountains of subsidized corn for fuel instead of food and prices spike; or we flood other countries with corn so cheap it destroys their farmers. Large-scale monocropping means a single pest or virus can decimate acres of field or orchard. Animals are horribly abused and the resultant meat is often contaminated. As for waste and fuel expenditure: We send shrimp to China to be shelled, de-veined and returned to U.S. tables. How sustainable is that?
But on this mild, cloudy Saturday morning, I'm thinking more about the small personal reasons I come to the Boulder Farmers' Market. I hear Eric Skokan of Black Cat farm and restaurant telling a customer that this is a planter's spring, with wet and dry spells alternating beautifully. "Every single plant germinated," he says. "Now my problem is I have to thin them out."
Things are different with Karen Beeman of WeeBee Farms, standing at the next stall. She's just lost a thousand dollars worth of pepper plants set out on basement heat mats to a hungry mouse, which not only decimated the tops, but dug out the seeds as well. "I've done this for sixteen years and I've had a nibble or two before, but this is the first time I've lost the whole crop," she says. "In a couple of weeks all these people will be here looking for my peppers. I had lots of varieties. It really is heart breaking."
On the other hand, the garlic for which WeeBee is famous -- Beeman sells around thirty varieties in summer -- is doing well.
Here are fifteen reasons to shop at the Boulder Farmers' Market:
1) Meeting interesting, inspiring people like Eric and Karen, finding others as obsessed with food as yourself, keeping up to date on local food happenings.
2) Knowing the person who hands you that bag of spinach actually grew it. Organic produce in a supermarket may contain or be processed with inorganic ingredients. Organic store chickens still live the same miserable constricted lives their non-organic cousins do. While not everything sold at the market is organic, the selling process is always transparent: The growers are willing to explain their methods, and you know exactly what you're getting.
3) Eating (relatively) guilt-free meat. Just listen to Frank Silva of Natural Homestead Beef talking about how intelligent his highland cattle are or Aaron Rice of Jodar Farms chuckling about the way his entire flock of chickens descended on him en masse as he was turning his compost pile. He was puzzled for a moment, then realized they were happily pecking out maggots. You know all these are happy creatures -- at least until their last day.
Keep reading for more reasons to shop the Boulder Farmers Market.
4) Finding new foods to taste and experiment with: dozens of kinds of tomato, eggplant, cucumber, apple. This Saturday El Regalo Ranch is serving a deep, savory goat braise that I know I have to try at home -- even though I've never cooked goat before.
5) Cooking demonstrations hosted by Boulder's Escoffier School of culinary arts, Boulder Valley School District lunch people or various chefs around town.
6) Free samples of everything from pork sausage to dried apples to snap peas to honey.
7) Choosing breakfast or lunch from the variety of foods in the food court. There's nothing like eating outside, listening to whichever musical group happens to be playing that day, and people watching.
8) Pouncing on the season's first strawberries or apricots. No fruit yet this Saturday, but I see the year's earliest asparagus on the Miller Farms counter. The stalks are a bit stubby, but so intensely, overwhelmingly delicious later, sauteed with mushrooms in olive oil and butter and finished with a touch of lemon juice.
9) Getting recipes and cooking advice from vendors.
10) Getting growing advice from vendors, and purchasing bedding plants that are farmer-tested, and specifically adapted to local soils and weather. I've discovered new varieties of heirloom tomato here, or sweet-acid kinds of strawberry I never knew existed. Keep reading for more reasons to shop the Boulder Farmers' Market. 11) Transforming the shopping experience from a dreary trudge through a big-box store into an open-air stroll through the heart of your community.
12) If you own a dog or cat, you may have worried lately about whether the pet food you buy was made in China and could poison your pet. Not to mention the price. At the market you can buy offal pretty cheaply and use it to make your own. Our dogs are crazy for beef heart and pig liver.
13) Location: 13th Street between Arapahoe and Canyon is in the heart of Boulder. After shopping, you can drop into the Dushanbe Teahouse for breakfast or lunch, or walk a couple of blocks to the Pearl Street Mall to stroll, shop and check out the street entertainers.
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14) Taste. Taste. Taste. This is the big one. You're shopping here for all kinds of good ecological reasons, but the truth is, your taste buds have been captured. Once you've eaten, say, an ear of corn picked from the stalk that very morning, or a peach that's traveled to Boulder pretty much straight from the tree, the commercial stuff tastes like the palest ghost of food.