Colorado's growing season makes late August through September prime time at farmers' markets. Customers now will find the biggest variety of freshly picked vegetables and fruits, and the best prices of the season.
Colorado Farm and Art Market, the innovative urban cooperative market started last summer and continuing this year in Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs, adds other attractions. CFAM welcomes local artists, artisans and producers of value-added food products alongside the traditional farmers' booths.
Market visitors can shop for freshly baked breads or muffins, frozen gourmet entres or Alaskan seafood while perusing the growers' booths for organically grown Palisade peaches and a bounty of regionally grown vegetables, fruits and meats. Jewelry makers, metal and textile artists, soap makers and a variety of local craftsmen add beauty to the mix.
In two short seasons, CFAM has attracted a steady stream of loyal customers looking for a quality shopping experience that enhances health and community ties. Now approaching the market's peak, something new is about to happen at the Colorado Farm and Art Market.
CFAM has received a grant from the Independent Community Partnership to help extend the pleasures and health benefits of the market to lower-income shoppers. By enabling the transfer of Electronic Benefits Transfers (including food stamps and other kinds of public assistance) to Market Dollars, the board of CFAM aims to embrace a wider spectrum of the community.
The goal, in the words of renowned public policy professor Richard Florida, is "to build a broader creative society that includes addressing the rising levels of inequality -- the service sector and the economically disadvantaged who are essential to complete the diverse, embracing community."
An electronic benefits exchange program has worked at the Santa Fe Farmers' Market since 1999 and has been adopted at markets in Arizona, California and Minnesota.
Here's how it will work:
Customers will take their EBT cards to a wireless terminal at the information booth at the front of the market and will convert benefits to Market Dollars, issued in one-dollar denominations. The dollars can be used to purchase anything at the market. Farmers and market producers will collect the Market Dollars just as they do cash, then will redeem them at the end of the day at the information booth. (Market Dollars also will be available to customers wishing to write a single check, or to use a credit card, for all purchases.)
Market organizers will work closely with the Sand Creek Family Services Center, where EBT cards are issued, by distributing informational flyers to each recipient of a new card. To get the word out, ongoing informational programs will be taken to community centers like Silver Key and the Colorado Springs Senior Center and to other service agencies across the city.
Directors anticipate kicking off a pilot program in Colorado Springs this September. In June, when the market re-opens for the 2006 season, the program should be in full swing.
How can you support the program? Visit the market in its last month, when the fruits and vegetables will be piled high at the harvest's peak. Or make a donation to this program through the Independent Community Partnership. For details on how to donate, see p. 11 of this week's Independent.
-- Kathryn Eastburn
Colorado Farm and Art Market
Colorado Springs, Colorado Avenue at Cimino Drive, next to America the Beautiful Park: Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Manitou Springs, Soda Springs Park: Wednesdays, 4-7 p.m.
For more information, visit farmandartmarket.org.