Article

Buyers Aware, the Watch

Amy M. Peters, Watch Contributor | Posted 1 month ago

Locally farmed food is the “taste of place,” and with the opening of five farmers markets across the region over the next several weeks, people will have the chance to buy meats, cheeses and fresh produce directly from local farmers. 

After more than a decade of explosive growth, nationwide sales of local food at U.S. farmers markets are slowing. A January report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates that while more farmers are selling directly to consumers, local food sales at farmers markets, farm stands and through community-supported agriculture have lost some momentum. 

However, market managers report increased attendance at all five regional farmers markets, which may indicate that markets across the tri-county region are bucking this trend. 

Barclay Daranyi has farmed with her husband, Tony, for 15 years at Indian Ridge Farm on Wrights Mesa. She cites a review prepared by the University of California’s Center for Excellence in Fruit and Vegetable Quality claiming that every minute after a vegetable is picked, it loses a certain amount of its nutritional value.  

“So you’re losing a lot of your nutrition (from) food that isn’t fresh,” she said.

Big store produce is often harvested before maturity and processed to increase shelf life and uniformity and to improve appearance. These factors affect taste and nutritional value, which is one of many reasons Daranyi encourages people to shop at their local farmers markets. 

“Food at a farmers market is going to taste better,” she said.  

Kris Holstrom has been a producer on Hastings Mesa for 29 years. According to her, there aren’t enough farmers in the region to be self-sustaining, even if everyone were on board with eating local foods. 

“We need more farmers,” Holstrom said, adding, “we’re never going to be sustaining [when it comes to] bananas and oranges and coffee, but we could be growing a whole lot more of what we can grow at this altitude.”

Tony Daranyi believes that while our first food purchases ought to be local, as Americans, we’re motivated by convenience and price in our shopping decisions. “So people head to Walmart and Costco by the droves,” he said. “But when you’re buying from Costco, you’re buying into the corporate model of the way food has been grown for the past 50 years. The tomato at Costco is probably from Mexico or Brazil. So, by the time it’s been shipped, distributed and arrives at Costco in Rifle and then is put in a car and driven to Telluride, that thing has traveled thousands of miles and has been handled dozens of times.”  

The ability to know exactly where your food comes from, Daranyi says, is further incentive for people to shop farmers markets. Local agriculture also keeps food dollars in the regional economy and supports local jobs. 

Barclay Daranyi explains that selling directly to the customer at farmers’ markets means she collects the full retail price rather than losing a percentage of profits by selling her goods to a wholesaler or to a restaurant. For example, for a bag of granola sold through Whole Foods in Fort Collins, she collects a quarter of what she would get selling it direct to buyers at local farmers market.  

“It’s that retail sale that is helping us, as farmers, to make it. Our bread and butter, I would say, is the Telluride Farmers Market.”

Holstrom asked the rhetorical question: “Do you want to support the Walmarts of the world, or do you want to support your neighboring farmer?” 

Regional Farmers Markets

All five regional farmers markets — in Montrose, Ridgway, Norwood, Mountain Village and Telluride — have requirements in place to keep food local and quality high. All five markets are “producer only,” meaning vendors only sell products from their own farms. All five markets also only accept vendors from a limited radius to ensure that food is grown locally. 

As mainstay vendors at the Telluride Farmers Market, Tony and Barclay Daranyi frequently hear customers ask, “Why can’t we have peaches in June?”  

“Part of what we’re trying to teach is that we live in a mountain environment,” Tony Daranyi said. “Growing food in a mountain environment is really challenging. You eat what’s available at certain times of the year. Otherwise, you’re fooling yourself. In Colorado, tomatoes aren’t available in June. They’ll be available in August, unless you have a green house. And then you’re spending a fortune on heat and people wonder why the price is so high.”

Barclay said their first chicken is butchered in June, and the last in October. “People ask, you don’t have any chickens in December? No,” said Barclay. “We grass-feed our chickens and we don’t have grass in December. We could raise (the chickens) indoors, but we don’t want to do that.”

Norwood’s FRESH Food Hub  

According to the same January report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, while sales at farmers markets have declined nationally, food hubs have exploded.  From 2007 to 2012, the number of food hubs — local groups that connect farmers to food-using businesses — increased by 288 percent.

Norwood’s newest nonprofit and cooperative organization, Food Resources Encompassing a Social Hub, or FRESH, is an online buying club where consumers can access fresh, local food at a Main Street store.

The group’s acting manager Leila Serpahin says FRESH opened in response to a desire expressed by, and discussion with, the Norwood community.  

“We’re trying to build community and connections through the commonality of food,” Seraphin said.  “People bond (through) that. Everyone needs food.” 

She said FRESH is trying to “improve food culture and accessibility in our town” and offers local, seasonal produce, eggs, meat, fruits, juices and specialty items like jams and honeys.

Seraphin hopes that FRESH has found a niche that hasn’t been filled yet, but points out it is not an entrepreneurial, money-making venture.  

“This is something that the community desires — a link between producers and consumers — making it easier for both to share resources.”  

Seraphin, a small-scale producer herself, explained that FRESH operates as a two-fold entity: an educational, non-profit component along with a registered retail space for the cooperative, all overseen by a board. 

“Our bylaws state that any profit we might make at the end of the year goes into the nonprofit to support education in Norwood and our region. So the idea is we keep the markup really low to cover running costs. Anything outside of reinvesting and making the co-op more functional goes into education. So we don’t function as a for-profit space.”    

There are currently 35 or 40 people with accounts and approximately 20 members, mainly Norwood residents. Eventually, FRESH hopes to branch out to Placerville and Telluride, an effort aided by a recent distribution grant from the Telluride Foundation.  

“We’re looking for a vehicle right now,” Seraphin said. “Once we have that in place, we will develop a good route to service those locations.”  

Pricing

Food sold at farmers markets does tend to be more expensive than food sold in grocery stores.  

“We don’t have the economies of scale that huge factory farms have,” Tony Daranyi said. “When we go to feed our birds or weed the garden or collect the eggs, everything is done by hand. We can’t afford the machinery. It’s very labor-intensive.”  

Those costs translate into higher prices.  

Daranyi argues that people need to flip the question around and ask, “Why is the food I’m buying at City Market so cheap?”    

Daranyi suggests that by spending more on high quality food, we may have to spend less on our health. 

“Food is medicine,” he said.

The Daranyis pointed to the recent surge in gut ailments; they both believe these trends are related to diet.  

“A pill isn’t going to save you,” said Tony. “But improved diet might.”   

Educational Outreach

Barclay Daranyi believes that there needs to be a shift in thinking about food.  

“We will pay $100 for a cut and color for our hair but not $6 for a dozen organic eggs. It’s our value system. We don’t value our food,” she said.

Leila Seraphin points out that education is half the mission at FRESH. To that end, FRESH offered Health Day seminars in the winter and will offer local herb walks and a nutrition series in June.  

“I think it’s really important for people to be intimate and hands-on,” said Seraphin. “To re-introduce themselves into the kitchen. Have a relationship again with their diet. And know where their food comes from.” 

 

  •