National Farmers Market Week: A great opportunity to celebrate great food
Aug. 4 through Aug. 10 offers another opportunity to celebrate with great food. For seven full days, it is National Farmers Market Week.
Farmers markets are an ever-growing link between the consumer and farm. The United States Department of Agriculture listed 7,864 markets in its directory — a 9.6 percent increase since 2011. That is selling a whole lot of carrots.
Besides produce, there also are wonderful opportunities to meet with farmers and learn about the food you are buying and consuming. A special relationship and source of knowledge are available to you — all just for the asking.
This is enjoyable also for the farmers, and they appreciate the feedback. Today, I will share one farmer’s view from his side of the fence. I decided to actually go to a farm and see where the produce was grown.
Hillside Acres has been a regular at the Aspen market for 15 years. With its big, white truck, this looked like a serious operation to visit. The owner is Jack D’Orio, and his farm is 90 miles away in Paonia. A few days later, I had a late afternoon appointment at the farm.
Driving over the picturesque McClure Pass, I eventually found Hillside Acres located high up on Lamborn Mesa — a beautiful spot with 360-degree farmland views just outside the small town of Paonia.
As I pulled up to the roadside mailbox, I saw D’Orio standing in the distance by his greenhouse. He waved me to come through the farm gate and down a lane that divided 6 lush acres of vegetable crops. Assorted sunflower varieties stood tall above the lower crops with their bright yellow and chocolate blooms.
We began with a tour of the grounds and talked about the miles of “drip tape” used to irrigate the fields with water that comes from six miles away. And we discussed the prospect of having to order millions of seeds from 10 or 12 places each winter. Each spring starts all the new plants inside his greenhouse. Then come the fall hours of fertilizing and tilling the fields with tons of composted manure from a nearby dairy. Everything is all natural and done the old-fashioned way.
Vegetable varieties range from 20 to 30 types, and D’Orio changes this up all the time. This is good for retaining soil nutrients. The usual mainstays such as heirloom tomatoes, squashes, carrots and cucumbers are always grown. It’s a lot of work to keep so much plant life watered and harvested.
After returning to my car from the walk around, I questioned him about the Aspen farmers market. He said that in 15 years, he’s missed only one. That happened because a doctor in Denver would not release him for an eye injury, and he said nobody else could drive the big truck over McClure Pass.
I asked how did you get into this business? He answered, “Its not for the money. You just have to love the land and the people. There is a pride of being able to produce quality products that are totally untouched by any chemicals. Heck, seven years ago I had to try to convince people that organic was the way to go. Now it is the big thing. People are discovering how it all directly relates to their health.”
He found out about college degrees and worked for 14 years as a state agricultural-extension agent, seven of which were in Eagle County.
D’ Orio said, “Guess that’s why I enjoy meeting my customers. I can still teach while I am at the Aspen Market.”
In order to be at the Saturday market, he has to have the truck loaded and ready to go the night before. Then out the gate not a minute after 4:30 a.m.
As our conversation came to a close, D’Orio added, “I know more people up in Aspen than anywhere else, all just from being at that market. I have been feeding those folks for years. I have seen their kids go off to college. It is a lot more than just growing vegetables — it is a connection.”
D‘Orio is a big bear of guy with a heart of gold. Visit him in Aspen on Saturdays, and ask him whose idea was it to start that farmers market anyhow.
Their website is http://www.hillsideacres.com.
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The new podcast “Origin Stories,” premiering on Mother’s Day, recounts stories by Roaring Fork Valley women about motherhood, birth and rebirth.