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Eating Local For Less


Food_tomatoes-1335810Pitch-in with local farmers to get closer to the foods you eat

Farmers markets are a mainstay for Colorado summers, and offer a way to feel like a farmer without the need for land, fertilizer or do any of that pesky hard work.

Dave Patterson, former operations manager at Miller Farms, now helps man the produce stand for the company’s farmers market gigs. (He was that guy you paid if you stopped by Miller’s tent at opening day of the Louisville Farmers Market.) At the Miller Farms stand you can walk away with a variety of produce — weighing several pounds — for only $10.

For some, there’s an even better way to be able to secure produce all summer long and feel more connected to its growers. Joining a community supported agriculture (CSA) program allows members to pick their own produce straight from the farm or collect it at the farmers market.

Defining the CSA

For those that have yet to be introduced to the CSA world, it’s where people buy a share in the farm at the beginning of the season before it’s ready — either a half or full share — according to Patterson. These subscriptions help local farmers with the initial cost of seeds, equipment repair and general operating money.

Miller Farms offers full shares for $750 or half-shares for $450. The program lasts 20 weeks, from June 15 through October. You receive a punch card good for 20 visits, so essentially you’re able to acquire weekly batches of fresh produce that would easily cost over $1,000 at the grocery store.

A full share, which can feed about 2-4 adults in most CSA programs, feeds 4-6 in Miller’s program. Half shares are geared toward couples or even families with small children.

Shareholders reap the benefits in the summer by picking up fresh produce at any one of Miller Farms 40 weekly market stands. And this isn’t your average grocery shopping — as a CSA partner, you can even go directly into the fields and dig up your dinner.

“Back in the day, most CSAs would give you a box, and that’s what you got,” Patterson explained. “[Your veggies were] basically the farmer’s choice.” That meant that for some, all they’d get was a bunch of lettuce or a small selection all summer. CSAs have evolved since then.

Patterson says many people don’t realize when they’re buying grocery store produce, it has to be packed, then shipped, then shipped again to stores, where it’s sorted through by others before it reaches your home. “You can’t go to the grocery store with one of our baskets and fill it up with produce for what we charge.”

For farmers markets, produce is usually picked the day before and sold at its freshest. The way Miller’s stand is organized, you start at one end to get the heavy stuff, then pack your bag until the lighter, fragile foods can settle safely on top.

Like all investments, CSAs come with their share of risks. By signing up as part of a CSA, the farm cannot be held responsible for incidents outside of their control, such as weather or theft.

A 2009 hail storm wiped out Miller Farms. While the company would have been off the hook to provide their members with produce, they instead partnered with farms in Wyoming and Pueblo to buy produce at cost.

Patterson says Miller Farms has been working with a CSA at least since he arrived in 2006. Since then, it’s grown immensely and he guesses Miller Farms has one of the biggest CSA farms in Colorado. This year, there are roughly 700 members and growing.

CSA Trends

Lately at farmer’s markets, Patterson says veggies okra and asparagus are catching up to the ever-popular tomatoes. In the last few years, the demand for kale has exploded, and as for veggies that grow best in Colorado, potatoes are awesome and eggplant also does real well in the climate.

Corn is big too. Miller Farms has won the Colorado State Fair with their sweet corn 13 years in a row. Their sweet corn is so good, Patterson ships it down to his friends in Florida every year. He cautions not shucking the corn until you’re ready to eat it.

Raw diets have also grown over the last few years, and many shoppers take advantage of the bulk savings offered at farmer’s markets. When eating raw foods, freshness is a big factor. Corey Jacobs, owner/operator of Boulder’s Thrive, an exclusively raw restaurant, says a lot of farmers market shoppers tend to compile a lot of raw ingredients they don’t know how to use.

But when trying a new raw diet, Jacobs recommends incorporating a little bit at first, then seeing how your body feels.  “It’s a great time for greens,” he says. Start by bringing a more complex salad to your table. Also shop with recipes in mind so you return home ready to prepare it.

Jacobs advises talking directly with farmers and see what veggies work best when paired together. “They eat it themselves. They know how they’re preparing it.”

There’s a reason why you’ll consistently see the same vendors at farmers markets year after year, and why some stands don’t last. Thrive participates in Boulder’s farmers market on both Wednesday and Sunday.

“As you walk through the market, you’ll see salsa, meats, nuts, coffee…and those all do well,” Patterson says. “But if you don’t last a season or two, you’re not going to make it because people have to get to know you.”

If someone is looking to get into setting up a station at a farmers market, he highly recommends they go there and chat with vendors. The cost of setup alone makes it a labor of love at first. “It’s a hell of a lot of work, and people don’t get that,” Patterson says.

Your Summer Meat Guide

For carnivores, finding locally-sourced meat in Boulder County area is less an issue than for the rest of the state. Many restaurants pride themselves in raising organic, grass-fed animals without added hormones or antibiotics, and as part of a CSA, you may find yourself working with new types of meat.

If you’re cooking your meat at home this season, keeping it safe in hotter summer temperatures is a precaution that should not be taken lightly. Grilling meat outdoors is something Coloradans can take advantage of only a few months out of the year, so it’s easy to forget some important factors.

Thaw your meat in the fridge instead of on the counter. While this may take a little longer, the hotter temps in your home during the summer aren’t very conducive to keeping away bacteria from meat residing in room temperatures.

When grilling, don’t put meat on too early. Wait at least 30 minutes when using charcoal or wood. While gas grills are quicker, check temperatures before starting to cook meat. Steaks need at least 145 degrees, and chicken should be no cooler than 165 degrees.

Don’t sacrifice the char on fragile seafood by keeping it off the grill. Just oil up the grates and make sure the fish is placed diagonally so it doesn’t fall through. If that’s still a struggle, not many will complain about fish wrapped in foil with a few lemons and herbs.

Don’t sauce too early. Allow the meat to fully cook and reach a safe temperature before applying any sauces. Heat should also be reduced to ensure delicious caramelization.

Avoid flame-ups by using tongs instead of a fork. When meat is flipped, fatty juices drip onto the grill and make for an easy fire hazard. This could over-char your cut.

When in doubt, use a meat thermometer. Actually, always use a meat thermometer. It’s 2016, so invest in one that’s better than what your dad had to work with. Lavatools Javelin Digital Instant Read Food and Meat Thermometer is only $25, comes in a variety of colors and folds up for easy storage.

Were to Go

Finding a farmers market in Boulder County isn’t a difficult task. The two largest are in Boulder and Longmont. Boulder’s holds a market every Wednesday and Saturday through the fall on 13th Street. Longmont holds its market on Saturdays through November at the Boulder County Fairgrounds. New this year is the Union Station Farmers Market in Downtown Denver.

Aside from Miller Farms, there are several options to partner with community supported agriculture in Boulder County, and many of these offer delivery or easy pickups at local markets. However, some shares are limited and tend to be sold out by now.

Boulder’s Black Cat, which provides food for their farm-to-table program no longer has shares left this season. Their CSA is $550, typically feeds two people and can be picked up similar to Miller Farms at Boulder’s Saturday Market. You’ve got to plan ahead to be a part of this one.

Cure Organic Farm has several CSA options. Not limited to vegetables, partners can buy exclusive shares in fruit, coffee, flowers, eggs and bread. Their vegetable option is so popular, they hold a lottery conducted in January. This year they offered 195 shares.

Grant Farms, one of the area’s most widespread CSA farms, offers options including mushrooms, Noosa Yoghurt, herbs, tofu and tempeh. Their largest option, the “all in kitchen” share, provides a variety from all categories. The lowest option costs $3,250, which provides an assortment of essentials for 26 weeks (or roughly $125/week).The upgraded kitchen shares, which are closer to $4,000, include extra pounds of meats or veggies, depending on the package. Grant Farms offers pickup at a variety of locations, but you cannot choose what comes in your box.

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