farmers market

The Montrose Farmers Market is gearing up for the winter. (Courtesy photo)

Picture a local farmers market, and images of fresh, sweet, summertime fare — Palisade peaches, Olathe Sweet corn, vine-ripened tomatoes — likely come to mind.

Yet there is one farmers market on the Western Slope that is open not only in summer, but year-round: the Montrose Farmers Market.

The holiday iteration of the market is open Saturday in its usual spot, downtown on the S. Uncompahgre plaza, at 433 S. 1st St., from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The market is closed the two weekends following Thanksgiving and Christmas (additional holiday markets take place Dec. 5, 12 and 19). Curbside pickup is available. Through December, the market will be held outdoors.

The Winter Farmers Market, which is scheduled to be held every other Saturday from Jan. 9 to May 1, takes place both outdoors and indoors.

With COVID-19 rates rising  — at press time on Wednesday, La Plata County moved to Level Red, for Highest Risk on the state’s dial, and both Ouray County and San Miguel County are Level Orange — indoor gatherings become riskier. On the other hand, farmers markets are considered essential businesses (“we’re still discussing our winter plans with the county,” a representative of the market said). In the meantime, outdoors not only this weekend for the rest of the year, the holiday market will feature “coffee, honey, baked goods, meats,” and more. SNAP and Double-Up Food Bucks service are available. (A $20 “seasonal selection of produce and market goods” is available to be ordered in advance for curbside pickup at tiny.cc/vfpfoodbox.)

In Covid times, supporting local food sources is more important than ever. Given the now-legendary shortages of TP, paper products, Clorox wipes and all types of foods at even big-box stores earlier this year, you might expect that local food producers would be having an even more difficult time making ends meet financially. Instead, as a regional pork producer at the Ridgway Farmers Market told this reporter, “We’re getting slammed.”

There was simply not enough meat, he explained, to meet increased demands from local shoppers and restaurants. “We’ve been hearing the same thing in our conversations with local food producers around the state,” said Shawn Gardner of the Valley Food Partnership, a nonprofit that works to strengthen regional systems and improve access to local foods. Together with ENGAGE (Entrepreneurial Growth in Agriculture, Energy) of Delta County, the partnership recently received a $135,000, two-year grant for the planning and design of regional food partnerhips.

“We have a lot of great partners,” including CSU, Natural Grocers and several producers already on board, Gardner said. “We’re going to sit down with these producers, look at their workflows, business processes” and help them plot distribution strategies going forward.

The idea is to help make local producers “better match supplies with demand, to be more competitive with the dominant food supply chain, to create visibility, and to be a better source for regional food hubs.

Can we streamline some of their stuff? Can we standardize it?” Gardner said. “We want to help these producers to market in other places. Farm owners and Vicki’s in Telluride and the Norwood Food Hub have set up systems to get food from our regional, small and mid-sized producers” consumers and restaurants. “We want to strengthen those systems,” Gardner said. “We want to help optimize efficiency, so more farmers can get on board and grow” — literally as well as figuratively — “into that food chain.” The question, he added, is whether local producers “will keep getting slammed, post-Covid. We’re hearing that demand (for local foods) has spiked. We need to take advantage of this time and see what kinds of transitions we can build toward a more diverse system. It could be when Covid’s over, bigger producers’ “price-points are harder to compete with. There are other ways to measure ‘value’” for ones’ food dollar, on the other hand, “such as (the impact local food producers have when it comes to) resilience, and helping to forestall climate change, “and nutrition,” Gardner said. “There’s more to be measured than just prices, and cost.”

There’s also the subject of waste: “There’ve been feasibility studies in Delta and Montrose counties that look at taking waste fruit from orchards and quick-freezing that into products that could go into a store, or to restaurants,” Gardner said. “It’s outside the scope of this particular grant, but processing and preserving will be subjects of discussion.” The grant’s partners include the Colorado Dept. of Agriculture, Farm Runners, Jack Rabbit Farms, the Telluride Foundation, the Valley Organic Growers Association and others. To help bring local stakeholders together, and offer news and updates, a Western Slope Food & Ag discussion group has been created. To register, go to startupcolorado.org.