Monday, July 16, 2012

A Tale of Two Markets: Part I, Telluride, Colorado

As some of my recent posts (here and here) suggest, I've been thinking for some time about the booming farmers' market phenomenon in relation to the slow/local food movement and, in particular, how local--and affordable--the food at farmers' markets really is.

Stall of hole foods farm, La Sal, Utah, at Market on the Plaza
As a ruralist, I'm also interested in what the farmers' market phenomenon says about our connection to rural places and the extent to which rural economies benefit from it.

This week I had the opportunity to visit two markets in southwest Colorado, one in the posh town of Telluride and the other in the equally posh (but more obviously nouveau riche and glitzy and less old West cowboyish) neighboring town of Mountain Village.  In a two post-series, I am going to compare these markets with a newly established one in my hometown, Jasper, Arkansas.  This first post will be dedicated to the Colorado markets. 
High Wire Ranch booth, TFM, July 13, 2012.

Before I get down to what I saw at the markets, let me provide some background on Telluride, which I have written about previously here and here.  As these prior posts indicate, I see Telluride as a prime example of rural gentrification.  With a population of 2,221, Telluride is the county seat of tiny San Miguel County, which has a population of 7,490, a very low poverty rate of 9.8%, and a median household income of $66,399.  (To put this in perspective, the median household income for all of Colorado is $56,456, and for the nation it is $51,914).  Another demographic feature that really stands out is that nearly half of the county's residents have college degrees, whereas the national average is only about 30%. Many of the homes in Telluride and Mountain Village are second homes, occupied only part of the year.  Telluride in particular is a rigorously slow/no growth community, and nimbyism is rabid there.  On both days last week when I read the local paper, it featured front-page stories covering San Miguel County Planning Commission news. 

It is not surprising given the demographic profile of TellurideMountain Village, and the surrounding county that the offerings at these markets were, well, upmarket.  Lots of organic produce and grass fed beef, lamb, elk, and bison were for sale.  Both weekly markets--Wednesday afternoons in Mountain Village and Fridays in Telluride--also featured pottery, jewelry and other such artisinal wares from places as far away as Durango.  Prepared food was for sale, too, and at the Mountain Village market, you could even get a massage.  In fact, the Mountain Village market is called "Market on the Plaza" rather than farmers' market, and it offered far less food than other stuff.  Perhaps 4-5 stalls/tables out of 15 or so featured fresh fruit and veg, beautiful flowers, and one offering grass-fed beef.   The Telluride Farmers' Market (TFM) was much larger, with perhaps half of the several dozen stalls featuring farm produce.  Plus, as many of the food vendors were offering meat as were offering fruits and veg--something I don't see so much in California.  This meant that most of the meat vendors had brought entire display freezers, plugged in to central electricity outlets.  One stall had its organic whole chickens on ice.   
Canyon of the Ancients near Cortez offered
wild apricots and grass-fed beef. 

As for the provenance of the food, the TFM website indicates that it all comes from within a 100-mile radius, and the same is probably true of the Mountain Village Market.  At the latter, I chatted with one vendor, hole foods farm (highly recommend the sugar snap peas at $4/pound!), out of La Sal, Utah.  As the crow flies, that is certainly within a hundred miles, though it's no short journey through the mountains into Telluride's box canyon.  The same is true for the vendors from Cortez (population 8,482), Paonia (population 1,497), Hotchkiss (population 968), Norwood (population 438), and Colona (population 30).    

James Ranch, a farm stall, "Harvest Grill & Greens," guest ranch, and all around agritourism operator was at TFR promoting their operation, which is north of Durango.

Parker Pastures of Gunnison was at the Telluride market offering eggshares, CSA, and sales of meadow-fed bulk meat.  Parker also offers herdshares for purposes of providing raw milk because simply selling the milk is illegal in Colorado, as it is in California.  The brochure they provide indicates that if you buy in, "we will present you with two legal documents, the Bill of Sale and Boarding Contract."  The cost for a half gallon of raw milk each week is $35 for the share and $5.50/week to cover the cost of feeding, housing and milking the cows.  The milk can be picked up on certain days in either Crested Butte or Gunnison.  Their motto is "Nourishing our Community.  Nourishing our Lands."
Mesa Mix is offered by TomTen Farms, Placerville
I talked to several of the meat vendors.  One told me that he and his wife make a living from what they sell at the Telluride market on Fridays and the Aspen market on Saturdays.  Their farm is about half way between the two. Of course, they also acquire customers at these markets, customers who then place mail orders.  A lamb vendor told me she was there for her daughter, a recent college graduate who raises the lambs (and began doing so as a 4-H'er) but whose day job as a supervisor at a meat packing plant in Durango prevents her from being at the market herself.  The 20-something lamb rancher wasn't the only youngster represented at the market.  I also talked to three young farmers from Buckhorn Gardens, Colona, whose motto is "feed the soil, feed the body."  Their blog features photos and bios of their "New Agrarians," who come from around the country to work on the farm.   Other farmers and ranchers I met were a bit longer in the tooth, but one of the things I really enjoyed was actually meeting some farmer/entrepreneurs, not just their marketeers.  

It was hard for me to assess the price points on the meat offered at the markets since I rarely buy meat.  The brochure I took away from High Wire Ranch, however, put the price of a pound of ground elk or ground bison at $9, while elk tenderloin is $50/lb, bison tenderloin is $40/lb, and elk skirt or flank just $10/lb.  Sausage ranged from $10-$12/lb.  These folks also sell duck eggs for $6/half dozen and they feature Wild Alaskan halibut and salmon--presumably caught and packaged by someone other than themselves.  It all looked tempting, even for someone like me who doesn't eat red meat and who had no place to cook it.
Stall of hole food farms, La Sal, Utah, at Market on the Plaza
The fruits and veggies were perhaps more expensive than what you find in local grocery stores in the area--which are already quite pricey because of the place's remoteness and size and demographic of the population.  One stall at the Mountain Village market featured tomatoes at the especially dear price of $6/lb, and the going price for cherries and apricots was $6/bag.  Japanese cucumbers were $2/each and Sweet Walla Walla onions, $3/lb.  Greens tended to go for about $5/bag, and prepared sauces for more than $10 a pint.  Still, these upscale Colorado produce markets were only marginally more expensive on most items than what I find at farmers' markets in greater Sacramento--except on items like tomatoes, which are quite a bit less expensive down here in "Sacatomato" land.     

The TFM website enumerates the following goals for its market, which it calls a "living, evolving event that actively and tangibly enhances the quality of life in Telluride":
  • Fresh, local foods for residents and visitors
  • Supports organic agriculture and environmental issues
  • Improves community spirit
  • Additional attractions for tourists
  • Improve/maintain bioregional biodiversity
  • Reduced environmental impacts with shorter transportation of local foods
  • Increases rural/urban links
  • Invigorates secondary shopping areas
  • Educational--awareness of farming, sustainability, etc.  
Stand of Buckhorn Gardens, Colona, at TFM
As this tiny sampling of photos indicate, both markets offered very salubrious experiences--come rain (Telluride on Friday) or shine (Mountain Village on Wednesday).

In my next post, I'll compare these markets to a new one in Newton County, Arkansas, a persistent poverty county in northwest Arkansas whose agricultural history runs primarily to subsistence farming. Cross-posted to Legal Ruralism.
Market on the Plaza, July 11, 2012

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know the sellers jack up prices for the market here. As a local, I have not made purchases at these markets, as I don't fit into the financial demographic mentioned in your article. I just cannot buy a $20 fryer chicken.

7/17/2012 9:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a seller at Telluride farmers market we have significant costs to bring product to that market compared to other farmers markets. The average farmer vendor incurs an average of $75 per week in fuel costs, then the market charges the vendors about 5% of their gross sales through various fees, most vendors include the 4.5% city sales tax in their price, we all pay to park (I paid $320 to park for the season this year alone!), and if I hire someone to help me it costs a minimum of $80 plus benefits per market.
After all said and done, we net pretty darn close to what we wholesale our product for.

7/17/2012 12:17 PM  

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