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Cherry Creek Farmers’ Market – Denver, CO

May 29, 2010

Now, this was a farmers’ market.

Tucked into a corner of the Cherry Creek shopping center in the heart of (one of the sections of) downtown Denver was an L-shaped row of white and colored tents around 9:30 last Saturday. Having been my first trip into this portion of the city, I was a little on edge immediately having to to fight through traffic on one of the warmest weekends of the year. Everyone seemed to be out. Old men and women walking dogs or riding bikes from the bike kiosks at their multi-million dollar condos three blocks away. Men in suits, minus the jackets–from where they came, I had no idea. Women in loose-fitting dresses blowing every which way in the stiff wind.

The Market shared a parking lot with the mall stores and because of this parking was almost a complete nightmare. There were signs everywhere claiming Bed, Bath, and Beyond Parking Only as well as little orange cones quarantining parking stalls and more mall cops than a person ever really needs to see enforcing the directives. Luckily, I made my way to a corner of the lot close to the market and was able to land a great spot without too much hassle.

Again, it is one of the warmest days Colorado has witnessed this summer to date and the wind was more Wyoming than anything I had ever felt in Colorado. Patrons and producers, alike, were clamoring for tent scaffolding and ropes when gusts lifted the canopies from the ground like unshapely hot air balloons.

At both Cherry Creek and the Boulder market, vendors were selling all sorts of dog treats, from gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian dog biscuits to smoked buffalo shanks and rawhides from organically raised buffaloes and cows.

As I mentioned earlier the congestion was overwhelming, both on the roads and inside the market. I had not been to such a large market that was quite this busy before. Once I incorporated myself into the flow of the crowd, everything became more manageable.

One of the best features of this market was the increasing number of produce items. The early season market is a little sparse because of obvious issues with the time it takes to grow a tomato or melons, etc. I assumed this would be the case, but I was not ready for the overabundance of processed goods – soaps, breads and pastries, cheeses, jams and jellies, etc. – that have thus far dominated the three markets. With the larger crowds and the larger market, though, came more stands offering vegetables, including tomatoes, string beans, yellow squash, asparagus, peppers, and more.

I spoke with this woman working for/owner of Palizzi Farm for a brief second as we exchanged money for produce. She told me that I had to come back in mid-summer when they have even more  variety and something about “her own” string beans, which I failed to follow up on and have been wondering about since. As I walked away with a bag full of an assortment of colorful garden fare, she called out that, “we have the best produce here. I’ll see you in August.”

Her two or three tents (my memory is a failing me and I’m starting to realize that I am falling in the trap I have set out to help educate others about. I’m buying on impulse and not asking the right questions because everything looks so delicious, especially the items I have been hoping to find) were absolutely packed, about three or four people deep in four lines, for the entire three hours I spent wandering back and forth from tent to tent.

Quite possibly the most welcome sight (and smell) was that of chiles being roasted. It was the first thing I saw after the girl hawking handwoven baskets. Guerrero’s Chiles were available in medium and hot for $5 a bag – a full quart-sized zip top bag. They were also offering sculptures(?) and frozen Hatch Chiles from New Mexico for $10 for a larger bag.

Another interesting aspect of this market was that many of the stands were accepting credit cards, although I have not found anyone who is yet accepting food stamps – wait, maybe I did see a man paying for some produce in Boulder with food stamps, but I’m not quite sure.

I realized on the long ride to Missouri through Kansas that I ahve been failing to ask some essential questions as I mentioned earlier. The atmostphere can be contagious. When I go into the markets looking for specific items, I tend to ask fewer questions rather than how much and what kinds. I failed to ask how the giant tortillas were made and with what ingredients, and they were offering gluten-free tortillas that did not look half bad, but I have no idea what type of flour (or corn) they used to make them. It is proving more difficult than I had anticipated to ask questions of patrons and producers because there is just so much going on, more than I had anticipated based on my previous market experiences. At the same time, I had hoped to approach the markets as a learning experience and even with all the reading and googling I had done prior to embarking upon this tour, I am still, at times, merely trading one system of acquiring food for another. But is this a bad thing? Maybe that is the best question.

Here are a few more pictures.

Another interesting thing about some of the markets are their policies allowing or prohibiting dogs to be on the premises. I’ll have to follow up on this when I start interviewing the market managers. Most of the open-air markets have allowed dogs, but I notice that Memphis’s market as well as Santa Fe’s do not allow dogs – I think it is because both have enclosed sections, but I’m not quite sure.

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