Local customers relish farmers market fare on Wednesdays, Fridays | CraigDailyPress.com

Local customers relish farmers market fare on Wednesdays, Fridays

State expert: Farmers markets have flourished over the past decade

Michael Neary

— Tanya Vasquez, from Colorado Springs, was driving through Craig when she spotted the stand set up by De Vries Farm Market near the old Safeway sign off of U.S. Highway 40. Before long, she was picking up squash and peppers at the market.

"It seems like they're more fresh from a farmers market,” she said. “And I like to buy locally."

De Vries Farm Market, in Grand Junction, has been coming to Craig for more than 40 years, selling food and some plants from 7 a.m. to about 3:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. It's one of two markets that serve the area. Vendors for the Craig Farmers Market bring their wares to Alice Pleasant Park from 12 to 6 p.m. on Fridays.

In the past decade, experts say, farmers markets have played increasingly large roles in people's lives throughout the state. Markets have grown in number, and they've also expanded the ways they've reached out to communities. The concept of the market has also entered the realm of cyberspace.

At the De Vries Farm Market stand, an assortment of zucchini, potatoes, onions, beets, peas and other produce are part of the growing supply of produce.

"I've sold out of rhubarb already this morning," said Shauna De Vries on a recent Wednesday. "I knew I should have packed more."

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Shauna's father, Bill De Vries, said the crops seem promising this year, even if field crops might be late due to the spring rains. De Vries said he's heard glowing reports about fruit.

"People tell me they think this will be the best fruit crop there has been in quite a few years," he said.

De Vries grows much of the produce on his own farm, and he taps local fruit growers to augment his offerings. He mentioned tomatoes, peppers and sweet corn as among the most plentiful items coming from his farm.

Past decade's growth

Gailmarie Kimmel, executive director of the Colorado Farmers Market Association, noted a steady increase in farmers markets in the state over the last decade or so, with a particular influx of young farmers. The direct-sell model of a farmers market has worked well for young farmers, she explained.

"They needed that direct marketing model," Kimmel said, noting that selling directly to consumers saved has them overhead costs.

Kimmel observed a "plateauing" of markets over the last two years or so, noting that supply and demand may have reached saturation points. She mentioned another factor, as well.

"Rather than seeing an increase in the number of markets, we're seeing an increase in the roles they're playing," she said. "The role is changing and deepening in terms of its value in the community."

She noted a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant that soon will add to the amount of fresh foods participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program can receive at some farmers markets participating in the SNAP program. The organization LiveWell Colorado is collaborating with the Colorado Farmers Market Association and other groups on the project.

In Hayden, Tammie Delaney, owner of Wild Goose Coffee at the Granary, has also noticed a growing wave of attention to locally produced foods. Delaney said her coffee shop has hosted farmers markets in the past, and she's grown green vegetables and other produce in past years. And, she explained, the solid grounds of farming and ranching have also developed contact points with cyberspace.

She pointed to the Community Agriculture Alliance as an effective network for producers and consumers, with an online marketplace at Caamarket.org. That online component, she said, can come in handy for growers who don't want to lose a day in the fields by coming to a physical market.

"I think the challenge for a (physical) farmers market, as a grower and as a producer, is that it's time away from being in the garden," she said. "There's a little less connection through the online market, but the convenience is great."

Michele Meyer, program coordinator for Community Agriculture Alliance, said the website has been up for three years, providing another portal for people who want to buy, and sell, fresh food. She said about five producers from Moffat County participate.

“The idea is that it’s a virtual farmers market,” she said, but she added that it was not designed to replace physical markets.

“We’re not assuming that this online market will take the place of a farmers market or food stand,” she said. “It’s another option, and it’s tapping into a little different market.”

Relished options on Fridays

Customers at the Craig Farmers Market in Alice Pleasant Park also seem to relish the allure of freshly grown, or freshly prepared, food.

"My husband and I own Cramer Flooring, and we used to be in that store right there," said Jessie Cramer, pointing to a spot across from Alice Pleasant Park. "We love local, and we love fresh. I got addicted and kept coming. I've always got to get my jelly and my fresh bread and fruit."

Cramer said she grows her own food, as well, including strawberries, beats, spinach, peppers, tomatoes — "just some basic stuff to try out," she explained.

"I just think there's a whole lot better nutritional value to anything that's homegrown," she added. "You know where it comes from; (there are) less chemicals, pesticides, hormones."

During the Craig Farmers Market on a recent Friday, people seeking food found some cherished options.

Guadalupe Quezada and her son, Emanuel Quezada, were selling homemade tamales, burritos, tortillas, Mexican candies, fruit cups and other foods.

"All you see are kind faces," said Guadalupe Quezada, looking out at the crowd.

A new vendor was Don Hix, working at the Farmers Market for Anita's Pantry & Produce, based in Palisade. Hix is the brother of Anita Hix, who owns the store. He was there with a supply of tomatoes, apricots, plums, cherries and other foods.

He said he expected to have rhubarb, onions, potatoes and other items later in the summer.

"Most of it is local," Don Hix said, noting that much of it comes from Orchard Mesa. He also shared the upbeat mood of a sun-drenched Friday afternoon downtown.

"This is the very first time I've done this," he said. "It's new to me. Today I really don't think it was work; it was fun."

Kimmel, with the CFMA, noted the way farmers markets — even when they don't yet offer a deep selection of fresh produce — can nourish the community.

"They're great community builders," she said. "They get people out."

Kimmel said the markets often spark connections among people who approach food from different angles, such as people who cook and people who sell produce. The farmers market, she said, also lets artistic residents unveil and market their crafts.

"It's helping families access fresher products, and it's also helping … to keep the money circulating in the local economy," she said.

Always seeking vendors

About 20 to 25 vendors are active in the Craig Farmers Market this summer, said Chrissy Winters, who's coordinating the market this year.

"We're always looking for more vendors," added Winters, who sells goat milk soap at the market, along with a variety of other items.

In the past Bob Grubb has organized the market, and a recent Friday he was tending a stand of freshly baked bread with his granddaughter Isabelle Herod.

A person meandering through the market on a Friday might find Rosalee Rohrer's stand with cookies, cinnamon rolls and bread — including, as she explained, "sourdough, raisin bread, 100 percent whole wheat, part-wheat bread and white bread." Joanne Roberson also minds a stand with 30 different kinds of jams and jellies, along with salsa. She said she seeks out local ingredients.

And residents who wander by Steven Smith's Yampa Gold Honey can learn about the 65 beehives that he harvests, scattered in various spots throughout the area.

Smith tends to the hives with Devin McIntosh, a Moffat County High School junior.

"Some of them have told me that they like the taste and the consistency (of the honey)," Smith said. "Some of the honeys in the stores have kind of a bitter aftertaste. They're thinner, and they don't sugar. That means there's something added to it to keep it from sugaring. We don't add anything."

Healthy supply this year

Back at the De Vries Farm Market stand, steady streams of customers have stopped on U.S. Route 40 to find a healthy supply of produce on Wednesdays. But Bill De Vries noted that more is to come.

"You wait till summer hits," he said during the first Wednesday of the market, on June 15.

Shauna De Vries — working at the stand with Angie Rosas — said the week of July 4 is when the summer crops, such as corn, really kick in. And the foods, she said, continue to grow and change throughout the summer.

"We actually roast chili here on site," she said, adding that the practice starts in August. "It's funny because when you have that smell of the chili roasting, wafting through the air, to me that really kicks off summer. For other people, August is the end of summer, but for me, that's when summer really starts."

Contact Michael Neary at 970-875-1794 or mneary@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @CDP_Education.