Farmers cultivate opportunity at Basalt winter market |

Farmers cultivate opportunity at Basalt winter market

Scott CondonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

BASALT – An indoor winter market at Willits is breathing life into the midvalley development after a rough 18-month stretch and helping some farmers cultivate extra income.The Willits Winter Market is held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Saturday at a vacant commercial space next to the Kitchen Collage store in the Willits Town Center. Twenty-some vendors offer everything from ready-to-eat soup to pasteurized goat cheese, root vegetables to a few precious greens, and wine from area vintners to sweaters made in the Roaring Fork Valley.Between 300 and 500 shoppers have been showing up each week since the market began at Thanksgiving time.”They always want tomatoes and greens. We have to let them down easily,” said Dava Parr, an innkeeper and farmer from the Paonia area. “I need to get them recipes and teach them what to do with the winter vegetables.”Parr and helpers from the Fresh & Wyld Farmhouse Inn and Gardens sets up a “general store” at the market each week and offer virtually everything except tomatoes and fresh greens. There are onions from Olathe, granola from Norwood, jams from Hotchkiss and some of the largest carrots ever grown.Parr said the market is a way to make some extra money in the winter to plow back into the farm come spring.”We haven’t had a winter venue to sell at,” she said. “So in the fall, what doesn’t sell at the end of the summer market a lot of times we’ll compost or we don’t grow as much, anticipating it not selling through the winter. So it would be really cool to beef up a couple of winter markets.”Joseph and Corinne Coniglio make the trip from Delta each week to sell goat cheese they make at their Redlands Mesa spread, Roubideau Farm to You. They keep 30 goats on their property and milk once per day. They make pasteurized chevre, bleu and cheddar cheeses, but their specialty is fresh chevre, a two-day old, shaped, soft goat cheese.Corinne is the cheese maker, according to Joseph. She grew up in Brussels, Belgium, and missed goat cheese in the U.S., so they bought the goats and educated themselves on cheese making four years ago.The winter market is there first attempt to build a following in the Roaring Fork Valley. Joseph said he thinks there is big potential, since many people in the appreciate locally grown food.”Hell, I’m in the country, man, I’ve got to take my chances, bring a little product for people that know it and appreciate it,” he said.The timing works well, too. He and his wife are usually scrambling to farmers’ markets in Delta and Montrose counties during summers, but need venues in winters. “This is the only indoor winter market on the Western Slope,” Coniglio said.Megan Lund, who is marketing the Willits Winter Market, said the fresh food motivates people to come to the market. Many of the same food vendors rented space for the entire season. Other vendors, selling such items as sweaters and jewelry, rented for shorter periods, creating a fresh mix each week. “It keeps the market from getting stale,” she said.Some shoppers come specifically to grab fresh bread from The Upper Crust or Midland Bakery or pasta from Pappardelle’s. Others come to check out what’s new or to stay for the music, which changes each week. Dan Sheridan is playing Saturday. He was booked well before the local controversy over his “Big Money” song.The music and prepared food gives the market more of the feel of a gathering place, Lund said. Many vendors also appreciate the extended selling season. “It’s a good business incubator since the economy isn’t the greatest,” she said.Parr said her sales “are jumping up a couple of hundred dollars each week” as people become more aware of the market and that fresh produce is available. It’s another sign that the interest in organic and locally-grown food is thriving.”Six years ago I had to beg people to eat organic and local,” Parr said. “It’s not always been the mainstream choice but it seems to be now. There’s a popularity. For the first time ever, organic farmers seem to be doing quite well at markets.”

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