Aug. 4-10 is another opportunity to celebrate with great food. For seven full days it is National Farmers Market week.
Farmers markets are an ever-growing link between the consumer and farm. The United States Department of Agriculture listed 7,864 markets in its directory, a 9.6% increase since 2011. That is selling a whole lot of carrots.
Besides produce, there are also wonderful opportunities to meet with farmers and learn about the food you are buying and consuming. A special relationship and source of knowledge is available to you, just for the asking.
This is enjoyable, also, for the farmers and they appreciate the feedback. Today I will share one farmer's view from his side of the fence. I decided to actually go to a farm and see where the produce was grown.
"Hillside Acres" for 15 years has been a regular at the Aspen market. With his big white truck, this looked like a serious farmer to go visit. The owner is Jack D'Orio and his farm is located 90 miles away in Paonia. A few days later I had a late afternoon appointment at the farm.
Driving over picturesque McClure Pass I eventually found "Hillside Acres" located high up on Lamborn Mesa — a beautiful spot with 360-degree farmland views just outside the small town of Paonia.
As I pulled up to the roadside mailbox I saw Mr. D'Orio standing in the distance by his greenhouse. He waved me to come through the farm gate and down a lane that divided six lush acres of vegetable crops. Assorted sunflower varieties with their bright yellow and chocolate blooms stood tall above the lower crops.
We began with a tour of the grounds and talked about the miles of "drip tape" used to irrigate the fields with water that comes from six miles away; about having to order millions of seeds from 10 or 12 places during each winter; about each spring starting all the new plants inside his greenhouse; then about hours of fertilizing and tilling the fields with tons of composted manure from a nearby dairy in the fall. Everything is all-natural and done the old-fashioned way.
Vegetable varieties range between 20 to 30 types and he changes the rotation all the time. This is good for retaining soil nutrients. Usual mainstays like heirloom tomatoes, squashes, carrots and cucumbers are always grown. What a lot of work to keep so much plant life watered and harvested.
After returning to my car from the walk around, I questioned him about the Aspen farmers market. He said in 15 years he's missed only one. That happened because a doctor in Denver would not release him because of an eye injury and he had nobody else who could drive the big truck over McClure Pass."
I asked, "How did you get into this business?" He answered, "Its not for the money; you just have to love the land and the people. There is a pride of being able to produce quality products that are totally untouched by any chemicals. Heck, seven years ago I had to try to convince people that organic was the way to go. Now it is the big thing. People are discovering how it all directly relates to their health."
I found out about college degrees and 14 years working as a state agriculture extension agent, seven of which were in Eagle County. D'Orio continued, "Guess that's why I enjoy meeting my customers. I can still teach while I am at the Aspen Market."
In order to be at the Saturday market, he has to have the truck loaded and ready to go the night before, then out the gate not a minute after 4:30 a.m.
As our conversation came to a close D'Orio added, "I know more people up in Aspen than anywhere else, all just from being at that market. I have been feeding those folks for years. I have seen their kids go off to college. It is a lot more than just growing vegetables, it is a connection."
Jack D'Orio is a big bear of a guy who has a heart of gold. Visit him in Aspen on Saturdays and ask him, whose idea it was to start that farmers market anyhow?
Hillside Acres' website is www.hillsideacres.com.
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