Thriving Market: Fresh produce, handmade goods expand Main Street event
July 1, 2017
The Main Street Steamboat Farmer's Market has flourished in recent years, and it has gained a reputation as being one of the best in the state.
Stands are filled with fresh vegetables and fruits that are quickly ripening in western Colorado, and there are other booths offering art, sweet treats and even chats with city council members.
Some of Steamboat's most popular food vendors are working hard to keep up with growing lines of customers who fill the downtown market at Seventh and Yampa streets from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays.
“I have 130 participating vendors, however they are not always all there," Main Street Executive Director Lisa Popovich said. "We have about 110 per week. This is the most we have had, but we have a bigger variety this year and more actual farmers.”
The Farmers Market was not always such a success story.
Former Main Street director Tracy Barnett said the event was suggested by Steamboat businessman Tom Ptach.
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"The point was to get people downtown and get them out of their cars," Tracy said.
Tracy spent the summer researching the idea; then, they started looking for vendors by distributing fliers throughout Northwest Colorado.
"We literally drove them to grocery stores," Tracy said.
There were 15 vendors when Main Street launched the Farmer's Market in 2005 at a small parking lot next to the Routt County Courthouse.
Many of the vendors at the initial Farmers Market chose not to return, but Farmers Rising Sun Ranch Creations stayed and still has a booth today. They sell natural bath and body products.
The second year of the Farmers Market, Main Street added a few more vendors and, eventually, moved to the courthouse lawn, but there was a problem with all the traffic the Farmers Market was attracting.
"It took too long for the grass to recover," Tracy said.
The moved to Sixth Street before finding their current home at Yampa and Seventh Street.
"We were amazed at how it grew every year," Barnett said.
At the heart of the Farmers Market is a growing variety of booths staffed by families that have turned their hobbies and passions into a business.
Tapping a new market
Each week during the busy growing season, Aaron Jeffrey will work 90 hours and travel 1,600 miles to bring produce to nine different markets.
This is the first year Jeffrey Farms has come to Steamboat.
"We've heard good things from other vendors that it's a good market," he said.
Jeffrey Farms spans 200 acres in Clifton, Grand Junction and Palisade and is staffed by 20 pickers.
On June 24, the farm was selling its first picking of bing cherries at the Steamboat market. And everything is priced by the bucket — the old-fashioned way.
"Fresh-picked cherries will last you two weeks in the refrigerator," Aaron said while handing out samples.
That is despite their farm not using the type of preservatives some larger farms use.
"That's why they look so good in the grocery store," Aaron said.
People visiting the Farmers Market should expect the Jeffrey Farms booth to grow.
At some markets, the farm's booth is seven tents long.
"We feel like we've got the potential in this market to do something like that," Aaron said.
He works hard to educate visitors and residents about the products he sells.
"It takes a long time to establish that market when you come into a new farmers market," Aaron said.
Jeffrey Farms' variety of produce will expand as the growing season progresses to include apricots, peaches, apples, chilis roasted on site, corn and more.
They're expecting a robust harvest by the end of July.
"That's when everything just gets going gangbusters," Aaron said.
North Routt County resident Dennis Lodwick says his hobby involves a lot of work and imagination.
His booth is filled with custom furniture, porch swings and knick-knacks he creates using blue-stained lodgepole pine.
During the mountain pine beetle epidemic in the 2000s, the forests in the Rocky Mountains were devastated, leaving swaths of dead trees.
"You go back to your old fishing spot, and you see these downed trees, and it's kind of disheartening, but at least Mother Nature takes care of itself," Dennis said.
Loggers and hobbyists like Dennis are trying to put the wood to good use.
"We're making lemonade out of lemons," Dennis said.
Dennis started building picnic tables about 15 years ago, and when the recession hit in 2008, he turned his hobby into a business to supplement his income.
He and his wife, Jeanne, have been selling their creations at the Farmers Market for about five years.
The weekly venue allows them to showcase their work and build a customer base for future sales through the Lodwick's website at uniquepicnictables.com.
"They don't come here and haul a picnic table off," Dennis said.
Dean Montgomery has been maxing out his smoker by selling out of food at recent events, including the Farmers Market.
In addition to the Farmers Market, Dean can be found in his red trailer with a smoker attached to the back at the Steamboat Springs Free Summer Concerts.
Menu items include brisket and pulled pork sandwiches, pulled pork nachos and chicken teriyaki.
"I have to keep it simple," Dean said.
He can't take credit for coming up with the pulled pork sundae, something that is popular in the food truck barbecue world.
It features Hawaiian sweet bread, baked beans, pulled pork, cole slaw, mashed potatoes and a cherry tomato on top. It's then doused in sauce and dry rub.
Dean grew up in the St. Louis, Missouri, area but did not start experimenting with barbecue until a few years ago, after moving to Steamboat in 2002.
One of his friends had entered a contest, and Dean was hooked.
"I like to cook, I like to compete," he said.
One year, he placed fourth out of 500 teams for his pork at the American Royal World Series of Barbecue.
Cracking some eggs
Remy St. Pierre is probably the youngest vendor you will find at the Farmers Market.
"I make jewelry out of eggshells," said Remy, who will be a sophomore at Steamboat Springs High School next year.
This is his sixth year at the Farmers Market in Steamboat.
He was taught the art of making jewelry and decorated mugs out of eggshells by his grandmother when he was 9 years old.
The young entrepreneur then decided to turn the art into a business.
The necklaces and other pieces he creates feature eggshells that are dyed with an alcohol ink, then encased in an ice resin.
In addition to the Farmers Market, Remy does four shows in the fall — one in Hayden and three in Craig.
The hobby keeps him busy.
"This is what I do all summer, and I try to stock up during the winter," said Remy, who also sells his work at remysrainbow.weebly.com.
Bear fat goodness
For the past 18 years, Dana Haskins' soap making has slowly taken over the garage at the Hayden home she shares with her husband, Jim.
And Jim Haskins is OK with that.
"I'm building my shop, so I have my place to go," he said.
This is Dana's fourth year at the Farmers Market running her Mountain Meadow Soap booth.
"This is maybe the best Farmers Market in the high country," Dana said. "A lot of customers. People really like it here."
Through the years, Dana has perfected her soap recipes, and some interesting things have happened along the way.
"I get to be artsy and creative," she said.
One time while making soap, it formed into balls, and she ran with it.
"It was an accident," Dana says. "Pioneers made soap balls."
One of her more unique soaps is made with bear fat. Last year, she got 300 pounds of the fat and rendered it in the backyard.
"It's a natural resource that would otherwise be wasted," Dana said. "I have people with eczema that say that's all they use, because it's mild."
She focused on the branding and came up with Rocky Mountain Bear Balls Soap.
The label reads, "Get yourself a pair."
Dana said it's a popular gift item for dads and bosses.
"It's a polite way to deliver a sensitive message," she added.
Keeping it local
Steamboat residents Paul and Hillary Ackerman have been selling strictly local products at the Farmers Market for five years.
"We know everyone that makes everything," Paul said. "They are either friends or family."
The Ackermans also sell their own Goji Goodness, a tea made with goji berries, hibiscus flowers, cinnamon, cardamom and red clover flowers.
The Ackermans are successfully managing Type II diabetes, and they got the tea recipe from a diabetic cookbook.
There is only one tablespoon of sugar in a gallon of tea.
"Everything in this tea is a medicine," Paul says.
The Ackermans also sell Billy Ackerman's mustard and J & J's Pure Rocky Mountain Honey, which is harvested from hives throughout Northwest Colorado.
New this year at the booth is Judy's Wooly Mitts — mittens that are handmade from recycled sweaters by Judy Winter, a retired preschool teacher and a volunteer at LiftUp of Routt County. ✦