A tidy little village of white pop-up tents has taken root in a parking lot below the Colorado Avenue bridge on Saturday mornings. Bordered by I-25 to the west, the bridge to the north, by Confluence Park and the old Gasworks Building (soon to be transformed into artists' studios) to the south, this is the Colorado Farm and Art Market -- a longtime dream of area farmers, artists and chefs that has finally come to fruition.
The market is set up as a cooperative, meaning that members -- both consumers and producers -- are joint owners of the market.
"It's a very unique model," said board member Sandy Vanderstoep, owner of Garden of the Gods Seasonings, a producer member of the co-op. "It's not what you see in many settings. We think the complementary interaction of artists, farmers, specialty food producers and conscientious consumers is going to help us set a new standard."
Producers (farmers, artists, specialty food artisans) can join at a level that guarantees them a space at CFAM's two weekly markets (the second market is in Manitou Springs on Wednesdays) and offers dividends when the market becomes profitable.
Those who choose to become consumer members (shoppers) pay an annual fee and receive discounts from producer members, get a cloth shopping bag, a vote on co-op matters and the satisfaction of supporting local farmers and artisans. Everyone is welcome to shop at the market, regardless of whether they become a member of the co-op or not.
The market plans to operate year'round, running outside through the fall and moving inside the Gasworks Building during winter months.
A Saturday stroll through the market is invigorating -- and delicious.
On most Saturdays, a local chef is set up at the market entrance giving cooking demonstrations. Recent food samples from the demo booth included a spicy scramble of organic eggs and farmer Doug Wiley's Italian sausage, prepared by Chef Brent Beavers, and Colorado Bread Company chocolate bread French toast topped with strawberry preserves sold at the Tres Rios Coop booth, prepared by Chef Chris Adrian.
Olde Town Creperie is a customized crepes truck that offers breakfast specials and gourmet crepes. Last Saturday's special was a Greek crepe stuffed with spicy Greek sausage, feta cheese, baby spinach and a creamy white sauce. The regular menu features the perfect hot summer morning breakfast -- a buttered crepe, drizzled with fresh lemon juice, sprinkled with sugar, folded and dusted with confectioner's sugar.
David Olday mans the booth for Cookie Crumbs, a gourmet cookie and cheesecake company offering unique recipes like Ginger Lemon Softies, a thick buttery ginger cookie topped with lemon icing and a slice of candied ginger. Down the row from Cookie Crumbs, shoppers can snack on samples of herbed focaccia made by Colorado Bread Company (formerly Breadhead's), tart salsa by Angelina's Salsa of Peyton, and crisp veggie spring rolls with sweet Thai chili sauce from Garden of the Gods seasoning, all washed down with a cup of gourmet coffee from Purple Mountain Coffee Roasters.
But it's summer, and the star of the farmers market in summer is the produce. Mauro Farms of Pueblo is present every week with a huge variety of vegetables including green and wax beans, bright yellow and regular zucchini. Colorado's Organic Garden of Canon City offers three varieties of beets -- golden, chioggia (pink and white striped flesh) and the usual deep red variety, grown to about the size of a large walnut, with tender greens.
Frost Farms, from the farming area south of the Springs, sells buckets of tender, tiny new Yukon Gold potatoes and the red-skinned variety as well. And last week, Jay Frost arrived following a harrowing day of flooding on the farm, with a freezer full of just butchered lamb.
Red Fox Run Orchard of Palisade resides at the market each Saturday with a station wagon full of the sweetest peaches this side of paradise. And Susan Gordon of Learning Ground Farm in Canon City sells delicate bagged leaf lettuces, either of a single variety or mixed baby greens. Compared to the similar mass-produced product in the supermarket, well, there is no comparison. These greens were harvested yesterday and will stay fresh in the refrigerator for a week or more.
Across from the produce stands are colorful booths featuring fine handmade jewelry, hand-painted scarves, handmade soaps and lotions by local artists and craftsmen.
Parked at the end of the food producers' row is Doug Wiley, owner of Larga Vista Ranch of Boone, Colo., producer of grass-fed beef, pastured pork and organic vegetables. Wiley currently serves as president of the Colorado Organic Producers Association and is passionate about the mission of the Colorado Farm and Art Market -- to introduce consumers to Colorado-grown products and, in kind, support the local farming economy and healthy growing practices.
"We're trying to concentrate on all-Colorado produce," said Wiley, adding that consumers need to understand and embrace seasonality. "You can't get good melons in June."
A customer wanders by and asks what's better about pastured pork.
"I got the best pork in the world," Wiley says matter-of-factly.
And just when can we expect those Colorado melons?
Early September, says Wiley. For now, we'll have to settle for peaches.
Colorado Farm and Art Market
Saturdays, due south of the Colorado Avenue bridge on Cimino Street
Wednesdays, on the lawn of the Briarhurst Manor, 404 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs
Open 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Interested vendors call Dyan, 719/640-6154; interested cooperative members call Dan, 719/250-9835