Before heading to one of the local farmers markets this summer, do as mom always suggested and make a list of the essentials — but only the essentials.
Whiskey, goat cheese and seasonal dog food? Check, check and check.
Well, these ain’t the farmers markets your mom grew up at, and that’s half the fun.
This weekend, summer begins in earnest when Vail, Minturn and Edwards welcome the farmers market season. Each town boasts a different batch of vendors — think foodie-friendly organic produce in Edwards and just about everything under the sun in Vail — but the sheer scope of offerings is wildly eclectic.
The events have become more like old-school street bazaars than small, traditional farmers markets, and they boast the crowds to prove it: Vail averages 14,000 curious shoppers each Sunday, while the main drag in Minturn literally shuts down to fit more than 105 vendors on Saturdays. Fan favorites like Brewski Bones, Nicky’s Quickie, Alpine Avocado, Winter Park Honey and Eat a Peach Organics are spread between the markets, along with dozens of newcomers from across the state and region.
But size and selection aren’t the only draws. Shoppers hunker down to enjoy the summery, free-wheeling vibe, including diversions like live music and kid’s activities. Dogs are even invited to Minturn and Edwards.
Now, back to business. Along with that shopping list, mom would also suggest reusable bags — the Vail market sells them near the entrances on Meadow Drive — not to mention sunscreen and cash. ATMs are sporadic at each market and only a handful of vendors take credit cards. Don’t say mom didn’t warn you.
While the market has its staples and perennial favorites, new vendors and help keep the market fresh. Here’s a look at some of the booths to look out for this summer.
Lalka’s Designs, Vail and Minturn
Next to produce and spices, handmade goods are staples at any modern-day farmers market — watch for more than one carpenter working with beetle-kill pine — but that doesn’t mean they’re wholly modern in spirit.
Lalka’s Designs, a three-year veteran of the Minturn and now-defunct Eagle markets, makes its debut in Vail this year with custom lacework, from napkins and aprons to intricate tablecloths. Owner Polina LaConte is a native of Bulgaria, where she spent her childhood browsing markets and fairs in the Balkans region. Around the same time, she learned to knit and crochet from her mother, Lalka — the business namesake.
Along with her mom’s help, LaConte will run tents in Minturn and Vail. The items range from $9 for place mats to $120 for tablecloths, with most other goods priced around $35. She’ll also offer custom, on-site embroidery for gift-ready pieces like napkins and aprons.
10th Mountain Whiskey and Spirit Co., Vail and Minturn
Ryan Thompson really, really loves bourbon. And he should: As co-founder of the brand-new 10th Mountain Whiskey and Spirit Company, Eagle County’s first commercial distillery, bourbon might as well run in his blood.
“Whiskey is what we like, simple enough,” laughs Thompson, who’s also a partner at Westside Cafe in West Vail. While the Gypsum-based distillery waits on government licenses — bourbon is one of the most tightly restricted spirits on the market — Thompson and business partner Christian Avignon have one goal — hit the markets in Vail and Minturn to build anticipation for their line of classic spirits.
And it shouldn’t be hard. The two attended Moonshine University in Louisville, Kentucky, where they learned the ins and outs of old-school distilling. Their master distiller opted for Olathe sweet corn and Colorado-grown grains in the bourbon, but the end result isn’t snobby. He also crafted a moonshine (albeit the sort that won’t cause blindness). Once licenses are approved in the next few weeks, the 10th Mountain Whiskey team will bring tasting samples of rye whiskey, vodka and the moonshine to the markets. Until then, dry merchandise will have to suffice. Find out more at 970-331-3402.
Harvest Pottery, VAIL
Humans have made crude kitchenware from gourds and ephemera for millennia, but few do it with the panache of Michelle Zinanti.
As owner of Harvest Pottery, a one-woman workshop and showroom in Carbondale, Zinanti is bringing the artistry back to simple, everyday goods. Her handmade cups, bowls, pots and plates are all crafted with organic produce like pumpkins and tropical fruits. Once carved out, each piece is then finished with a coating of clay to show off its natural shape and stand up to a washrag. Sure, they don’t shimmer like stainless steel, but they boast more soul.
Zinanti travels across the state to show her pieces, but this year marks her first time in Vail. Pricing ranges from $15 for a jicama dish to $120 for large serving platters. A popular table setting with pumpkin, cabbage or birdhouse gourd plates is around $40.
Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy, VAIL
There’s goat cheese, and then there’s Haystack Mountain goat cheese.
Since 1989, the award-winning Front Range dairy has built a fervent following at Colorado grocery stores with its line of artisanal, hand-crafted cheeses. But director of marketing and sales John Scaggs owes it all to markets.
“Unlike a lot of other companies that have abandoned their farmers market roots, those are still a lifeblood of our company,” said Scaggs, who’s also an avid goat herder. “It’s a great way to stay connected with our customers, and not only that, but it’s a great way to broaden people’s knowledge about all the new, different cheeses you can make with goat’s milk.”
For the first time in a few years, Scaggs and his team return to the Vail market to sell and sample those enticing new cheeses. He suggests Sunlight or Red Cloud, two strong, bold, raw-milk varieties that pair well with Colorado IPAs and pale ales, particularly from the dairy’s neighbor, Left Hand Brewing.
Wholesome Hounds Wellness, MINTURN
Oddly enough, one of the most lip-smacking dishes at the Minturn Market is made with fresh tilapia, quinoa, cucumber and eggshell powder. Pooches, prepare to chow down, seasonal-style.
The small, year-old Minturn outfit Wholesome Hounds Wellness was sparked by a simple idea: Like their humans, dogs are what they eat. It seems straightforward, but co-owner and chow chef Kelly Smith didn’t notice the connection until her mother’s dog was diagnosed with cancer. Instead of radiation and chemo, local holistic vet Suzanne Kline recommended a diet change. The results were immediate — the pup had energy to run around and play again — and Smith ran with the idea, thanks to help from business partner Maren Cerimele.
Today, Smith and her two dogs are constantly in the kitchen at night, testing new recipes inspired by seasonal meats and veggies. The tilapia concoction, her summer offering, is available for $6 per pound at the market. She’ll also bring homemade treats to the market, including the popular dehydrated lamb sticks.