Boulder Farmers' Market: For vendors, this is a family affair
On the fifth Saturday of the Boulder Farmers' Market, farmer John Ellis has rhubarb and there are all kinds of healthy, vibrant bedding plants. But the big news is that the first Wednesday market will open tomorrow from 4 to 8 p.m.
Farmer John Ellis with rhubarb.
For many -- maybe most -- of the vendors, the Boulder Farmers' Market is a family affair: This week, the young woman staffing the Miller Farms stand happily tells me she's pregnant; I remember seeing her older boy at the market last year. I also remember father-and-son team Aaron and Spencer Dew -- they haven't made an appearance yet, but may return later in the summer -- and the mutual respect they shared, the obvious pleasure they took in working together. As for Toohey and Sons, the name speaks for itself.
See also: Best Farmers' Market 2014 -- Boulder Farmers' Market
Julie is with her father, Frank Silva, at the Homestead Beef stall. She's building a new career as a fashion designer, but she still helps out at various farmers' markets, and her little boy Isaac gets to go out with grandfather Frank on his ranching rounds. I wander into the food court, and there's the beautiful new baby born to Bryce Licht and Giulia De Meo Licht of Fior di Latte during the winter hiatus. Giulia is leaning over his stroller, holding her mobile close to his face so that her mother in Italy can admire her grandchild on Skype. In the performance area, Giulia's brother, visiting from the home country, plays Beatles songs on his guitar.
Bryce and Giulia De Meo Licht with their new baby.
This is the first week for Monroe Farms, a market regular based in Kersey, and daughter Alaina Monroe is staffing the stand. I pause to chat and she shows me a beautiful ring. She became engaged last month. I seize the opportunity to ask what it was like growing up as a farm kid. The family has two farms, she says: her grandfather's, which is about 20 acres, and the 155-acre farm tended by her parents, herself and her brother.
Mark Parsons talks tomatoes.
"We were organic before the term was created," she says. "When my grandfather started it we didn't have enough money for chemicals. My father took over and decided he didn't want to use them, either."
The Monroes grow all kinds of vegetables and also raise livestock, growing the feed themselves. They sell to restaurants, through CSAs and at several farmers' markets. All of them work on the farm, and Alaina's brother Kyle hopes eventually to take it over. It's a risky business, she says: "We gamble every year, being farmers. Last year we planted early and there was a huge hailstorm and the plants died. If we have a couple of bad years in a row, we all have to take jobs in Greeley."
Alaina Monroe of Monroe Farms.
But still, she says, "The farm is incredible. I love that I get to see my family every day and do things with my brother. I love the community aspect, with members coming out to help on the farm and take home produce and be out in nature. It's really cool that we get to grow all this awesome stuff." She laughs. "We got to the point where we wouldn't eat anything but our own vegetables. My mom would put out green beans and we'd ask if they were from the farm and she'd say yes. Then we'd take one bite and say, 'This isn't from the farm. We won't eat it.'"
Alaina started working at farmers' markets when she was five. "I'd work out in the field and plant, turn on and off the water, harvest and just do a little bit of everything," she remembers. "When we were younger and got in trouble, our punishment was to hoe carrots. It's the worst. They're planted so close together and it's so hard to get all the weeds out. And they're fragile. It's so easy to accidentally uproot them."
I ask if rural living got lonely. "We learned to play with each other," she says. "There was a neighbor we played with all the time and another boy down the street who was my brother's best friend. We had a whole farm to play with -- building forts, playing in the ditch water."
Alaina was born with a heart problem called tetrallogy of fallot: "I had four things wrong with the heart. The right side was more muscular than the left. There was a hole in my heart between the two bottom chambers, a narrowing of the valve that goes to the lungs, and then my heart was turned into the middle of my chest." A surgeon repaired the problem and over the years she paid many visits to Children's Hospital in Denver, where she saw a pediatric cardiologist. It was largely because of him that she decided to enter the medical field and, having finished college, she has now been accepted into a technical school in South Dakota to study cardiac ultrasound. "He was fantastic in how he treated his patients," she says. "He made my life easier. He was really good at explaining things; he wouldn't rush on until I and my family really knew what was happening, and he was teasing and smiling, which made me happier."
Her condition still requires constant monitoring. "My folks were always worrying about my heart," she says. "But after surgery I started to do really well and act like a normal child, and they put me into sports and were very good about letting me do things -- though they always made sure I didn't overdo it."
She's convinced that Monroe Farms produce helps maintain her health. When she was eleven, she got poked in the eye when she and her brother were trying to coax feral kittens from under a shed. Her doctor didn't think she'd ever recover any vision in that eye, but her mother made all kinds of healing juice combinations for her and now, she says, her vision is 20/40.
When her cardiac ultrasound course is over, Alaina and her fiance will return to Colorado; they're hoping to marry in spring 2016.
But for the rest of this summer, she'll be in her customary place at the Boulder Farmers' Market and talking about good food. "I think the only time I feel saddened for our customers is when they don't take the time to learn where their food is coming from," she says. "There are so many bad things in our food now, and people need to know what they're ingesting.
"Some people don't understand the farming life and how much work it takes to pick a crop and bring it to market," she says. "How we're not a grocery store and it's okay that the food is different sizes, shapes and colors because that's how they grow. It's always hard when people try to get a lower price because picking cucumbers, strawberries and asparagus is so labor intensive -- it's really impossible to sell it dirt cheap."
But she's always happy when customers talk to her about how good their purchases taste and how much they're looking forward to whatever crop is coming next. "It's a nice relationship that's built at the markets," she says.
As for the farming life: "I'm sure I missed out on a few things, but growing up out there was just wonderful, so peaceful. It was nice to be able to run and scream and not have neighbors get upset that we were playing outside later at night. Our cooking at home is better than at most restaurants. I know where the food came from, and I can pick a tomato two minutes before we eat dinner."