It’s one of those Boulder seasonal rituals, like lighting the star on Flagstaff Mountain.
Every autumn — when the Boulder County Farmers Market and local roadside farm stands close up shop, we traditionally forget about local food until the coming of spring.
After all, there’s nothing growing here in the middle of the winter, right?
For decades I’ve wished Boulder had a winter farmers market, a place for cooks to find regional ingredients during the frozen season. Under the radar and right under our noses, a strictly local farm store has been open and growing since 2020.
Out of dire necessity, the Boulder County Farmers Market birthed its online market at the beginning of the pandemic.
“Local farmers with crops already planted were suddenly without a way to sell their produce, meats and products. We made it possible for them to connect with consumers,” says Mackenzie Sehlke, the market’s executive director.
Since then, locals have been able to order year-round at bcfm.org with curbside pickup in Boulder, Longmont, Lafayette and Denver.
That’s how I found myself on an ice-slicked Lafayette side street late one gray weekday picking up my boxes. Granted, the excursion lacked the gregarious charm of the Wednesday and Saturday summer markets, but it was also minus the time commitment, lines, contagious crowds and parking challenges.
Obviously, the fresh local produce selection right now is limited compared to what it will be in August, but the dozens of items stocking the Boulder digital shelves right now really impressed me.
My winter online market selections have turned into various kinds of fine meals.
A box of Pastificio zucca dry pasta (Boulder) and some Il Porcellino cacciatore salami (Denver) combined with sliced onions and sweet peppers in a great one-pot supper.
I peeled and cut beta carotene-rich, deep purple carrots from Hoffman Farms in Greeley, tossed them with multi-color organic baby potatoes, olive oil spray and smoked salt and air fried them. Roasted, the carrots were like sweet carrot jerky, the little spuds a perfect mouthful. Dessert was air-fried, cinnamon-dusted wedges of First Fruits Organic Farms’ (Paonia, CO) organic Granny Smith apples.
Naturally, my Spark + Honey (Boulder) lightly toasted wild blueberry vanilla granola got enhanced by densely creamy Five Freedoms Dairy (Galeton, CO) Greek yogurt and a rare sweetness, Ela Farms (Hotchkiss, CO) pear jam. A brunch featured SkyPilot Farm’s (Longmont) excellent chorizo pork sausage.
I still have a package of frozen Buckner Ranch (Longmont)beef soup bones to transform into rich bone broth and truly local beef and vegetable stew.
Topping my online order was a rare commodity: a dozen natural large brown eggs from Wisdom’s Natural Poultry (Haxtun, CO), fresh and perfect for morning scrambles and hard-boiled egg salad.
“It’s a classic example of why investing in local farms year-round really pays off in times of scarcity. Supply chain shortages during the pandemic helped spark a surge in interest in supporting local sustainable agriculture,” Sehlke says.
“The farmers are driving their eggs to us from Haxtun (southeast of Boulder), not Wisconsin,” she adds.
The BCFM online market produce selection is also stocked now with locally grown daikon radishes, lettuce, squash, microgreens and mushrooms along with meats, grains and specialty food products like Colorado Sun tofu.
Best of all, the BCFM roster includes favorite ready-to-eat goodies such as tamales, pupusas, John Hinman’s pies (Arvada), gluten-free Havenly Baked Goods (Boulder) cupcakes, lemon ice cream and salted honey caramels plus coffee, chai and tea. The selection changes weekly.
According to Sehlke, roughly 10,000 individuals and families used the online market in 2022. Currently a few hundred families a week are taking advantage of the online market and pickup at the four locations.
In summer, the vegetable, fruit and flower offerings blossom as the list of farmers grows to more than 50. In August, cantaloupe, corn and peaches always hog the spotlight.
“I’m a big fan of the winter online market because there are certain special foods we have in Colorado that don’t always get prime billing, like dried heirloom beans. They are so delicious and they are a dry-land crop requiring less water to grow well here,” Sehlke says.
Anyone who shops at farmers markets and stands knows that the price tag there is generally higher than it is at mainstream markets. For some shoppers, the higher quality and great flavor make it worthwhile.
“It reflects the cost of keeping those farmers working in our community,” Sehlke says.
It’s worth it because it’s not anonymous food — it’s grown in the community by locals. Your money stays here and isn’t shipped off to the corporate home office in another state.
The market in all its forms makes it easier for local farmers to compete and the online store is a financial lifeline for farmers and culinary artisans during the offseason when they don’t have an affordable sales outlet.
Looking ahead, the in-person Boulder County Farmers Market in Boulder and Longmont will open on April 1 with some new young farmers and new, diverse food court offerings, Sehlke says.
Taste of the Week: M-M-Muffaletta
Louisville’s coffee culture received a boost with the opening of Lucca Coffee & Eatery, 765 E. South Boulder Road. The sunny European-style cafe features espresso drinks, chai, tea and a limited but tasty menu. On a recent visit we enjoyed a good muffaletta, a crispy bun loaded with ham, soppressata and fontina cheese with lots of olive salad, as well as house-baked artichoke focaccia loaded with mozzarella, garlic and pesto. For sweets, a densely satisfying buttery blondie bar with chocolate chips.
Local Food News: New Places to Eat
The Old Barrel Tea Company is open at 1647 Pearl St., Boulder.
Pupusas 2 is dishing Salvadoran fare at 2525 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder, former site of Yellowbelly Chicken.
Coming soon: Heaven Artisan Creamery, 2525 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder; Postino WineCafe, 1468 Pearl St., Boulder; Avant Garden Bistro, 1002 Walnut St., Boulder; and Shopey’s Pizza, 585 E. South Boulder Road, Louisville
Plan ahead: The inaugural Colorado Bock Festival, March 4, Paonia, paoniaunitedbrew.com
Words to Chew On: Guilt for Dinner
“In America, we feel guilty about eating. We call a cake ‘sinfully delicious.’ We’re so bombarded with processed foods we’ve gotten away from the pleasure of food.” —Patricia Wells
John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles Thursdays on KGNU, (88.5 FM, 1390 AM, 99.1 FM in Denver, and kgnu.org).