This Friday marks the anticipated start of summer eating, with the first Farmer’s Market of the season. Now in its tenth year, it brings farm-fresh, locally grown and raised, and organic fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs, and cheeses, in addition to regional artisans’ wares and other products to the center of town.
When it was conceived a decade ago, the Telluride Farmer’s Market introduced a healthier, environmentally kinder food paradigm to the greater Telluride region; today, it continues to shape a more sustainable local food consciousness.
In 2002, Tony and Barclay Daranyi had just launched their small family farm operation at Norwood’s Indian Ridge Farm and Bakery. They were one of the first local farms to attend the just-born Telluride Farmer’s Market, and as they explain, at the time the local and organic food movement was still in its infancy, at least in this remote and high-altitude region.
“Little did we know we were jumping onto this wave of interest in eating healthier and more locally at a critical time,” Barclay Daranyi says of the food landscape when they started Indian Ridge.
At the time, the USDA had just launched its National Organic Program (NOP) for certification of organic foods, a divisive development in the organic foods movement that catapulted organic foods into the mainstream.
It was at this critical juncture that Telluride activist M’Lissa Story first envisioned and ultimately brought to life the Telluride Farmer’s Market, as a means of raising awareness regarding the vital importance of creating and maintaining a healthy food system.
Wayne Talmage, of Paonia-based White Buffalo Farm, was also one of the first farmers to become a TFM vendor. Considered one of the pioneers of organic farming, Talmage founded White Buffalo Farm in 1974, a decade after Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, first awakened large-scale public awareness to the environmental risks of agricultural pesticides.
If White Buffalo was part of organics’ infancy, the Telluride Farmer’s Market’s appearance in 2002 could be considered a part of the movement’s toddler stage, as organic foods gained some stability in the market. Prior to TFM’s launch in 2002, Talmage attended a handful of other farmer’s markets, some as far away as Boulder, but at that time there were less than a dozen farmer’s markets in the entire state.
Today, at least 150 farmer’s markets are held in communities throughout Colorado, making the TFM, along with the Ridgway Farmer’s Market, one of the state’s trailblazers.
In the decade that has passed, regional farmers such as Talmage and the Daranyis have seen a surge in interest for the products they provide, but not just because they are organic. The market for locally grown food has multiplied in recent years, representing the latest phase in the nation’s evolution toward a more sustainable food system.
Studies have shown that while organic food sales are still far larger than local foods, the rate of growth in local food sales seems to be accelerating. The term “locavore” was in fact chosen by the New Oxford American Dictionary as their 2007 “word of the year,” describing someone who shows a strong preference for foods that are locally grown, seasonally available, and produced without unnecessary additives.
Patricia Low, Telluride Farmer’s Market Manager, says the mission of the TFM goes beyond simply providing organic foods to the Telluride community to also providing an outlet for local farmers, and is thus a boon for the local economy. “As people become more aware of our nation's conventional growing practices, they have turned to healthier and more sustainable small farming and local CSAs. Not only are people starting to understand that the quality is better, but it is also important to support our local [farming] communities,” Low says.
Anchored by the growth and success of farmer’s markets and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), this new, local-eating model has provided another opportunity for small family farmers such as the Daranyis and Talmage, who otherwise couldn’t compete in today’s industrialized agricultural markets.
Small farmers are now exploring new business niches, with more farms springing up regionally and nationally that focus just on tomatoes, for example, or grass-fed lamb.
“All these niches are being developed and explored, and it’s great because they are all helping take on the big corporate structure,” Tony Daranyi says. “The result is that as humans we’re healthier, the environment benefits, plus we’re helping strengthen local economies. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
As the Telluride Farmer’s Market looks to the next decade, the vendor-run organization sees itself settling more comfortably into its role as a regional leader in the organic and local foods movement. TFM continues to be a direct market, meaning that all its vendors sell directly from the farm. Also, all products sold there must have been grown or crafted within 100 miles of Telluride. The organization recently came under the non-profit umbrella of SWIRL, the Southwest Institute for Resilience, a non-profit dedicated to enhancing the region’s ability to provide its own food, which was founded by local farmer Kris Holstrom of Tomten Farm.
In the midst of growing awareness about the dysfunction the contemporary industrialized food system breeds, outlets like the Telluride Farmer’s Market will continue to provide a visceral connection between food and its consumers – a critical connection that is expected to become even more important in the future.
“As the price of fossil fuels rises, the cost of purchasing conventional food products will also continue to go up,” White Buffalo’s Talmage says. “Ultimately, the difference in pricing between local and not-so-local will diminish. With more education, people will only continue to see that they want to eat local and eat organic, which is more sustainable, and in effect will help save the planet.”