Farmers markets are gearing up for summer, bringing with them the promise of fresh, local options after a long season of imports.
During the past 10 years or so, the number of seasonal markets has increased from a handful to more than 20, with new ones continuing to crop up. Today we'll take a look back at maybe the first local farmers market and then take a peek at a new kid on the block.
Alice Spencer Robinson, who with her husband, Dan, own Spencer's Lawn & Garden Center, 1430 S. Tejon St., takes us on a trip down memory lane. Her grandfather, Nobel Spencer Sr., started their farmers market at the family home located behind what is now the garden center in 1934. Her parents, JR and Margie Spencer, bought the lawn and garden business in 1958.
The market has been a mainstay throughout the years. and you'll still see JR helping out around the stands during the season when produce is plentiful.
How it all started
"He (Robinson's grandfather) was hauling fence posts all over the state (to sell to farmers) and hauled fresh produce as a back-haul," Robinson said. "He did business with the Merlino family in Canon City and the Canfields for peaches in Palisade. He got peonies and berries from the Gunburgs from Palisade. Thomas Farms in Pueblo for vegetables and John Okagawa in the Grand Junction area (also for vegetables). Rocky Ford melons from another farmer there."
To this day, Robinson still does business with the people who have bought or inherited those farms.
"We had a working relationship with Venetucci Farms, too," she said. "Back in the day, Colorado Springs did not have trash pickup. Nick Venetucci came by the market twice a day to deliver asparagus and corn during the growing season. He took our garbage back to the farm to feed his pigs. For a special treat my Aunt Mary would take all of us kids to the farm on a regular basis so we could feed the pigs."
Now she uses Larry Fuller and Max Noland in the Grand Junction and Palisade areas for fruit.
"Frank at Okagawa Farms is one of our largest providers for vegetables," she said. "Shane Milberger Farms is a huge grower for us in the Pueblo area."
Spencer's Farmers Market operates Mondays through Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., from early July through October. There's a second Spencer's Lawn and Garden Center, 4720 Center Valley Drive in Fountain, that has a smaller produce and fruit market during the same hours Fridays through Sundays, from early July into October. Details: spencers gardens.com.
The great news is there will be a farmers market in Acacia Park on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. starting July 6. The market is like the Colorado Farm and Art Markets in that vegetables, herbs, fruits, eggs and meats must be locally sourced. A mix of other artisan food products such as breads and honey also will be available, as well as arts and crafts vendors. Expect to find organic, gluten-free and vegan options, too.
While filling your reusable bags with produce, you can enjoy live entertainment. Then you can peruse other downtown shops; time isn't a factor since parking is free on Sundays.
Part of the plan for the downtown market is to assist Seeds Community Caf? an eatery that offers meals with a pay-what-you-can concept. At the end of the market day, any remaining unsold food will be given to the caf? which is nearby at 109 E. Pikes Peak Ave.
Hunt or Gather, a local food marketplace inside Ivywild School, 1604 S. Cascade Ave., will manage the farmers market. Hunt or Gather is a venture of the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, which has been operating for about a year and specializes in providing broader access to healthy, locally and regionally produced, chemical-free food. Farmers interested in participating at the market can call 368-6100 or visit ivywild school.com/huntorgather.