The Boulder County Farmers’ Markets organization, which operates weekly markets in Boulder and Longmont, has been the envy of Denver food lovers for years. Many of them make regular visits to Boulder; some complain that Denver farmers’ markets tend to be more like flea markets than purveyors of healthy foods. The secret to the BCFM’s success is that it’s for growers only, with almost all produce grown by farmers in Boulder County, meat raised by Colorado ranches and fruit picked from orchards on the Western Slope. The market fosters a strong sense of community and sturdy relationships between producers and buyers; purveyors of prepared goods are encouraged to use local ingredients whenever possible. Most important, BCFM has helped dozens of small and organic farmers stay in business over the 29 years of its existence.
Now the market is partnering with Denver Union Station to bring its essential growers-only philosophy to Denver. On October 10, BCFM floated a pilot harvest market at the station, with 25 vendors — farmers, bakeries, restaurants and providers of prepared and packaged food — that attracted approximately 1,670 visitors. As a result of that success, a regular Saturday market will begin on Saturday, June 4, 2016, and continue every Saturday between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. until October 24 on the north side of Wynkoop Plaza at 17th and Wynkoop streets. BCFM executive director Brian Coppom hopes growers’ markets like this will eventually spread to other Colorado communities.
The Union Station market, which is supported by the Union Station Alliance, RTD and the Downtown Denver Partnership, represents an exciting broadening of Denver’s food horizons, but some in Boulder County — where the market is an essential element of many families’ lives — worry that their Boulder County farmers may desert them for greener, more profitable fields or that, as it grows, a beloved homespun institution will become slicker and more corporate. Coppom, who was recently named CEO of the year by ColoradoBiz Magazine (the first nonprofit director so honored), is well aware of the pitfalls.
“I have the same concerns,” he says. “The idea is that we can be instrumental in supporting and encouraging small growers. I want to make shopping at a market as normal as shopping at a grocery store, and it has to happen on a broader level than Boulder County.”
Coppom understands that the notion of a farmers’ market is rooted in individual communities, not in corporate consistency. “My fear sometimes is how do we maintain the culture of the market so it’s not a corporate market but a market owned by the community, owned emotionally,” he adds. “People love the market because that’s where the person who grows their food sells; sometimes their kids go to school together. I don’t want to lose the magic. I do worry about that. Sometimes the magic is having something loosely organized or informal, but those are qualities that don’t necessarily lend themselves to efficiency and stability. This is Denver, so how do we make this a Denver, Union Station farmers’ market? The only similarity I want customers to notice between the two is the quality of what we have to sell and the fact that there are only growers selling.”