Farmers’ bounty: Markets bursting with produce
ASPEN – It’s the favorite time of year for farmers in western Colorado. Their plump ears of sweet corn nearly burst from their husks. Fresh-ripened peaches give off an intoxicating aroma that pulls in customers like sugar water attracts hummingbirds. Mounds of red, juicy, vine-ripened tomatoes fill their booths at farmers’ markets.
The farmers’ bounty is in abundance in these fleeting days of summer. They have the widest variety of fruits and vegetables to offer at this time of year, and loads of each type of produce. After all the hard work planting, irrigating, weeding and harvesting, now is when the effort and investment needs to pay off.
“This is probably the peak season,” said Guy Borden, who owns Borden Farms in Delta with his wife, Lynn. Sweet corn, tomatoes and peaches are “the big three,” he said. They account for roughly 90 percent of sales at this time of year and 90 percent of the profits.
Borden is wearing down after the long growing season and a summer on the road. He and his wife divide up duties traveling to seven farmers’ markets: Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, Edwards, Telluride and Crested Butte, along with helpers. They also deliver weekly loads of produce to residences in Grand Junction through their Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, program.
“You have to do a lot of markets because there aren’t very many people in western Colorado,” he said.
Guy covers the Roaring Fork Valley markets. It’s 2 1/2 hours from his farm to Aspen. He needs to sell a lot of produce to make it worthwhile.
“I have learned over the years it’s not an easy way to make a living,” he said. “It is a royal battle to pay the bills.”
He’s been at it for 17 years. He got into farming because he is a “foodie” who likes to cook and experiment. He became frustrated with the fresh ingredients available at the grocery stores, so he decided to grow his own.
He bought land in Delta and started a farm despite no prior experience planting, irrigating or caring for crops. He learned quickly by planting vegetables, flowers and herbs on 10 acres and peach trees on another acre. Everything has been grown organically from day one.
He figures he’s got 140 different varieties of veggies. Borden Farms is probably best known for its 15 varieties of heirloom tomatoes.
“They’re kind of a challenge to grow. They’re not pretty in a lot of cases,” he said.
Borden plants 6,000 to 8,000 tomato plants early in the spring. They plant earlier than many growers to position themselves to be among the first in the market with fresh tomatoes. “We’re willing to gamble,” he said.
That requires covering susceptible plants to guard against late spring frost and keeping access to more plants in case replanting is necessary.
This year has been a good one for the Bordens. They had fewer bug problems than usual, he said, and there’s been plenty of cloud cover to prevent it from getting too hot. He has extensive water rights for irrigation so he actually would have liked less rain this summer. By timing irrigation, he and his workers can get into the fields when they want to harvest crops. When it rains, they have the added hassle of dealing with the mud.
Peak season means no rest on the farm. His six employees are working dawn to dusk, seven days a week. He says he pays among the highest wages on the farms so he can count on the same crew returning year after year.
Their toil is keeping the booth full of peppers, okra, string beans, zucchini, squash and lots of potatoes as well as the big three of tomatoes, peaches and sweet corn. The ample bounty at this time of year is what keeps him in the business.
“I love it that I try to have the best good money can buy,” Borden said. “I like to be able to do a craft well and have people appreciate it.”
Borden knows many of his customers at the various markets by name. He’s a personable guy, very approachable. It’s important for people to know who is growing their food, he said.
Just don’t ask him which of the heirloom tomatoes are best. They are like his children.
“Every tomato here has somebody that says it’s the best,” Borden said.
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