Farmers' Market season is beginning. What an exciting time! I am thrilled that the Boulder market has already opened, the Cherry Creek market is opening today, and the Highlands' market (where Heirloom Gardens will be selling) will be opening June 5th.
As a consumer and supporter of local foods, I have a particular reason to be excited about the 2010 market season. Colorado Fresh Markets (www.coloradofreshmarkets.com) is the largest organizer of markets in the Denver area. CFM runs the Cherry Creek, City Park, and Stapleton Farmers' Markets. While there are many wonderful things to say about their markets (for example, my mom LOVES the dumplings at the Cherry Creek market, and they have the nicest peach guy there) they also have a reputation for allowing their vendors to bring in lots of out-of-state, out-of-season produce. I'll never forget the day that I visited one of their farmstands and picked up a tomato, then noticed that it had a produce sticker on it. From Mexico.
This issue has never been about "business" for me. It's not about competition, or little farms vs. big farms. I see this as a consumer rights issue. There are thousands of people who visit farmers' markets each week in Denver with a sincere wish to support local food. They reasonably assume that the produce sold under a farm banner was grown on that farm. It seems dishonest to sell food that came off a truck that is headed to Safeway next; food that was grown in far-flung places; and food that likely is priced higher at the market than it is at Safeway.
I believe that Farmers' Market vendors have a responsibility to label any food that is grown out-of-state, and that the market organizer -- like Colorado Fresh Markets -- has a responsibility to enforce the labeling practice. Last summer I wrote to the owner of CFM to share my thoughts with him. The owner, Christopher Burke, responded by stating that all of their markets would require labeling of out-of-state produce in 2010. What wonderful news for Farmers' Market shoppers! Now they will have the information they need to truly buy locally, if they wish to do so.
However, I think that we can all help the markets support this new labeling practice. Please ask about the origins of the food when you shop at the Farmers' Market. Take a moment to click on the crop calendar below, and learn a little about when things come into season in Colorado. As a general rule (unless the grower has a super-extensive greenhouse setup) the following veggies are not in season until at least mid-July: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, summer & winter squash, cucumbers, and melons. If a farmer is selling something out of season, be sure to ask about it. If it's from out-of-state (and isn't labeled as such) please request that they do so.
Wishing everyone a lovely season of truly local eating!