Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Belmar Farmers' Market by Grace Olson

The Farmers’ Market season crept into Jefferson County like a late spring, and is now suddenly in full bloom.  From Evergreen to Lakewood, the weekends are alive with smells of exotic cooking stations, shouts of face-painted children skipping through the streets, and the enthusiasm of those seeking a local connection to their land, food and community. In between the booths selling seedlings, scarves, fresh produce and stuffed chili peppers, Colorado Master Gardeners (CMG) add their voices to the festival-like atmosphere.

Colorado Master Gardener Apprentice Susan Bloomquist holds a presentation on container gardening at the Belmar Farmers' Market
    I recently volunteered at the Belmar Farmers’ Market. It takes place along a fifth-avenue-style boulevard, touted as offering the “finest shopping in America” by the market’s website. The clientele: Chic urbanites dwelling in sky-rise apartment complexes that offer postage-stamp-sized balconies inhabited by a Topsy-Turvey or two.  Couples in their 20s and 30s stroll by hand-in-hand, seeking ideas for a gourmet supper party. Families stop by, their bags full of tomato plants or lettuce heads, and shake their heads when asked if they ever grow their own.

Enter: the Colorado Master Gardeners, spreading the gospel of good tilled earth and the benefits of dirt under your fingernails. Didn’t get a plot in the local community garden? You can put a pot of tomatoes on your patio. Love to cook with expensive spices? Fill your window box with basil, oregano and thyme. The day’s theme was “Container Gardening in Almost Anything,” and the good people of Lakewood seemed taken with the idea of flowers springing out of watering cans, decorative baskets and even an old pair of running shoes.

    Farmers’ markets are becoming more and more popular across America. They add a sense of community, build up local businesses and help increase awareness about the source of our food. Colorado Master Gardeners play a huge role in the movement, helping children, families, retirees and busy executives realize that fresh, local produce can come right out of their backyards. We answer the hows and the whys. We field questions on pests, soil, watering and compost. Above all, we help the average market-goer feel confident enough to go home and face their own gardens with enough enthusiasm and knowledge to reap the benefits.

    And even if you are used to shopping Saks, that kind of interactive experience sure beats a day in the mall!