Cornering the Market

The Top 10 rules (and shopping hacks) for getting the most out of your Boulder Farmers Market visit

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Go the distance. That’s the prime directive. Walk through the whole Boulder Farmers Market first, before you buy anything, says manager Liz Thomas. “It’s easy to miss everything that’s available, especially from new vendors.”

As the market commenced its 2023 season, Thomas gave Boulder Weekly a guided tour of the market, pointing out a dozen new farmers, bakeries and guest vendors. She knows the territory well. On a typical Saturday, she says she averages more than 15,000 steps.

Before you get too far into the market’s season, we offer the following do’s and don’ts to being a good market shopper.

Kirsten Boyer Kirsten Boyer Photography

Rule No. 1: Leave your snake at home, Thomas says. That also goes for the cats, parrots, ferrets and, of course, dogs that customers have tried to bring into the market. “We all love dogs, but leave them at home. You have to think of this as an open-air grocery store where you also wouldn’t bring your pet,” she says. 

Rule No. 2: Visit often, Thomas says, because the parade of produce and flower varieties changes week to week and progresses through the season from early greens to end-of-season apples and winter squash.  

Rule No. 3: Go around the corner. Visit the booths along Canyon Boulevard, which include Masa Seed Foundation, the award-winning Harkin Cider, shaded seating, and a vegan ice cream truck.

Rule No. 4: Never ask for bananas. Or pineapples. Or peaches out of season. “Do expect to find only local produce and Colorado fruit,” Thomas says. Yes, the market’s food booths use produce and ingredients from other places but are encouraged to feature locally sourced items. There is coffee available because, well, we must have coffee … but it is always locally roasted.

Rule No. 5: Talk to the farmers and vendors — yes, interpersonal communications, Thomas advises. “Ask the farmers: ‘What’s the best you have today?’ Talk to them about how they grow their vegetables,” she says. Try a produce item, even if it’s unfamiliar, and ask for some prep and cooking tips. Most importantly, never turn down a free sample!

Kirsten Boyer Kirsten Boyer Photography

Rule No. 6: Always arrive early. “The selection of produce is always better first thing in the morning; it’s cooler, the crowds are smaller and the parking is easier. Some farmers bring small amounts of certain crops,” Thomas says. In other words, if you want the raspberries, be there at 8 a.m. Later in the season, consider coming back later in the day, in the last hour the market is open. Farmers are loathe to haul produce all the way back to the farm if they don’t have to. Make a deal for a box of fresh goodness.

Rule No. 7: Get over your passion for pretty fruits and vegetables. Learn to love produce with personality, not looks. Ask for farmers’ “seconds” — the less attractive tomatoes, potatoes, squash and rutabagas they keep in a box in the back of the booth. They are perfect for cooking and canning, Thomas says.

Rule No. 8: Don’t just buy fresh veggies and fruits to eat today, tonight or next week. Learn to preserve, pickle, ferment, dry, can and freeze these goodies for great meals in the months to come. Talk to the preserving experts at the Healthy by Design and Mountain Girl Pickles booths for tips.

Rule No. 9: If you drive, don’t think about trying to park close to the market. Consider walking or biking. Do your part for sustainability by bringing your own reusable bags. Thomas also asks market customers to bring their own coffee or tea mug, as she does, and your own utensils to cut down on stuff going to the landfill. Remember that Boulder’s composting rules no longer allow so-called compostable silverware or containers.  

Rule No. 10: Don’t whine about the prices. It is irrelevant that you can buy onions cheaper at Wal-Mart. “Everyone at this market is local. Your money stays local, it keeps farmers in business and helps local food security,” Thomas says. “You are truly supporting your neighbors.” 

One final strong suggestion: Gather your kitchen knives and get them sharpened at the Johnson’s Sharpening booth while you shop the market. You will need safely sharp utensils to turn all that produce into tasty summer feasts.

joni schrantz Chef Patrick Balcom of Farow

Local Food News: Celebrating Earth Day

Slow Food Boulder County and MASA Seed Foundation celebrate Earth Day Saturday afternoon at MASA Farm, 1367 N. 75th St. Festivities include a garden seed exchange, farm tours, tree planting and art projects. Vendors will offer local farm foods and Farow Chef Patrick Balcom will serve fresh Pie Dog Pizza.

Dickens Prime 300 has closed in Longmont. Broomfield-based Roots will open a second restaurant in the historic Main Street building. The Dickens Opera House upstairs will be available for events. 

The Bee Hugger, 12590 Ute Highway, Longmont, is open for the season with fresh honey, animal feeding, tractor climbing and kids’ pony rides.

Nibbles Index: We Eat in Chains

No matter what we think, we mostly don’t eat at local, independent eateries. According to Technomic’s Top 500 restaurant survey, the 10 biggest chains, including McDonald’s, Starbucks and Chick-fil-A, accounted for more than 25% of all U.S. restaurant sales last year. The 500 biggest U.S. restaurant chains produced nearly 60% of all sales. 

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Words to Chew On: Cranking Johnny Cash

“Every summer, he made peach ice cream on the lawn, with peaches from his own orchard. He hand-cranked the old-fashioned ice cream maker until his arm was surely aching and stiff. He set firecrackers off while we ate huge bowls of his homemade ice cream.” 

— Roseanne Cash, writing about her dad, Johnny Cash

John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles Thursdays on KGNU (88.5 FM, streaming at KGNU.org). Comments: Nibbles@BoulderWeekly.com