The Fruit of Their Labor
We’ve reached the brief but magical time of year when nearly all local fruit is in season. Palisade peaches, nectarines, crisp apples, plums, pears, raspberries, and melons are all ripe for the picking. To celebrate the most delicious time of the year, the Boulder County Farmers Markets’ team set out to the Western Slope to meet with our fruit farmers and learn more about this unexpected haven of sought-after fruit. Here are the answers to our most commonly asked questions.
Why does fruit at the markets come from the Western Slope?
This is one question we always get: why don’t more farmers grow peaches and apples on the Front Range? The answer boils down to climate. Boulder County and surrounding areas are well-known for our freakish weather, where one day might be 70 degrees and sunny, and the next a snowstorm. Vegetable farmers can get by growing only in the warmer seasons, but fruit trees have to survive over the winter and spring to produce fruit in the summer. Towns like Palisade and Paonia on the Western Slope enjoy a steadier, warmer climate year round that bodes well for growing fruit that tastes delicious.
However, a spring frost, last-minute rain storm, or other weather events can still greatly impact fruit farmers’ ability to successfully harvest fruit that is worthy of selling. Plus, when they lose trees due to weather, disease, or old age, it takes years for new trees to grow to maturity and replace them.
How does fruit from the farmers market differ from Colorado-grown fruit at the grocery store?
It’s easy to find a local label at your regular grocery store this time of year. While we always endorse supporting local farmers, there is a difference between the Palisade peaches at the store and those sold at the farmers markets. Farmers harvesting for wholesale pick peaches about two weeks before they are ripe, gathering as many as possible in one harvest to get them out the door. Farmers selling directly to consumers may pick the peach two days before it reaches their market booth, giving it much more time to ripen on the tree and harness the full flavor of the fruit. They may visit the same tree repeatedly, only picking the best peaches and tasting them along the way to get the farmer’s seal-of-approval that it’s ready to enjoy. It’s much more labor intensive this way, but it is that level of attention to detail that results in mind-blowing fruit.
How can I best support local fruit farmers?
It simply wouldn’t be a Colorado summer without Western Slope fruit. Our farmers work year-round to prune the trees, monitor frost, and usher forth an incredible fruit harvest for us to enjoy. Not to mention, they make the drive from Paonia to Boulder and Longmont multiple times every week! To return the favor, support local fruit while it’s here. We’re reaching the end of peach season, so stock up on premium fruit and be adaptable to each week’s harvest so that when market season ends, they have the resources they need to get ready for next year. Whether that means picking up a case of seconds or trying something new this season, every purchase helps support their incredible work of growing delicious fruit that benefits our local ecosystem.
We asked Kacey Kropp of First Fruits Organic Farms for his favorite way to enjoy peaches, and he recommended whipping up peach salsa. Any recipe that allows us to take advantage of fresh peaches and tomatoes gets our vote. Plus, you can choose to can it and keep it around for whenever you need a taste of summer. Pro-tip: Kacey likes to add a little Green Belly hot sauce to his salsa, which in our experience is always a good idea.
- 3 medium-size fresh peaches, diced
- 1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
- 1/2 small serrano chile, sliced
- 1 teaspoon grated lime zest plus 2 Tablespoons lime juice (from 1 lime)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
Combine ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and allow to rest for five minutes. Grab your favorite market tortilla chips, and dive in!