Boulder Farmers' Market, week four: Strawberries, and seven things not to do
The big news at the Boulder Farmers' Market Saturday: Randy and Regan of 2 Rs Farm have strawberries. I restrain myself from doing a celebratory dance around their stand -- which is also heaped with cucumbers and luscious greenhouse-grown tomatoes -- and snatch up three little boxes. Within fifteen minutes, all the rest of the strawberries are gone. By next month there will be field-grown berries at several stands, but right now these sweet, juicy little gems offer glorious assurance that after a long, cold April -- an April that destroyed the apricot crop and may also have wiped out our cherries, along with half the peaches -- spring is finally here. There's time later for strawberry souffles, shortcakes and jams. For right now, I'll just brighten the fruit with a drop or two of lemon, a little sugar and perhaps a sprig of mint or tarragon.
- Boulder Farmers' Market, week three: spinach is in -- but no apricots, ever?
- Boulder Farmers' Market, week two: From duck eggs to salmon
- Boulder Farmers' Market is now open on Saturdays
A few stalls down, another long-awaited treat: the year's first asparagus at Miller Farms. These are particularly welcome since supermarket asparagus, no matter how organic or where it's grown, tastes like cardboard. Beyond that, asparagus doesn't freeze well, and the season for tasting the real stuff is far too short.
Walking along 13th Street between booths, I'm thinking about farmers' market etiquette. No question, the vendors love their customers. For many of them, this market and others around the state are the single mechanism that allows them to hold onto family farms and continue the work they feel born to do. They're grateful for the support and always happy to meet those who'll be eating their food. But they do have a few gripes. So if you want to be deeply welcome at the market, here are seven things not to do.
7. Pepper the farmer with intrusive or insulting questions
Farmers like giving growing advice and answering questions about how they themselves grow things. Ask during quiet moments and they'll be downright evangelical about their calling. But on a hot, crowded day, with people pressing in on every side, extended question-and-answer sessions get stressful. "If I had a dollar for every planting question I answered, I'd be rich," one of them tells me. "Of course, that's part of why I'm here. But sometimes answering those questions is all I get to do."
"We get quizzed," says another vendor. "They ask if the meat is GMO free, if the animals are happy and how they're slaughtered, whether everything's organic. We're always happy to tell them. Then they say, 'Thank you so much for what you're doing' and nod and go off to buy their food at Costco."
And another: "Some people who've read about this or that on the Internet think they know more about your work than you do. Somebody once asked me the difference between white and brown eggs. I said it depended on the breed of chicken. And he said, 'No. Brown eggs are better for you. They're more nutritious. They're organic and they come from better-fed, healthier birds ... ' and on and on."
A long-winded, self-righteous environmental lecture is also out of place when you're talking to someone who spends his or her entire life working to preserve the integrity of soil, worrying about water, avoiding chemical contamination and nurturing a plot of ground through daily blood and toil.
6. Impede sales
The Boulder market is a wonderful place to stroll, eat, meet friends, take your kids and generally spend a leisurely morning, but it's also important to be aware of what's happening around you. Because on this narrow crowded street, these activities can conflict with the basic business of the market: the coming together of farmers and their customers.
Pet peeves from farmers: "Standing in front of my stand and blocking it while talking on a cellphone" and "People congregating in a group in front of me with strollers and bikes so customers literally can't get to me."
5. Bring your dog
I love dogs and I was sorry when they were banned from the market. But then I heard stories about fights, dogs peeing up against food stands, and dogs actually licking bags of produce or meat. And some folks do still bring them.
4. Lack consideration
Most of the farmers get up in the wee small hours to prepare their goods, drive to Boulder or Longmont, and set up. By the end of the day they're fried. Which means they get a tad resentful when "Someone comes up when the market's over and I'm packing to go and asks, 'What's this?' 'How do you grow it?' and 'Why can't you unpack one of these and sell it to me?'"