Can you feel it? The long, warm days of summer are upon us. While not a primary produce growing state like California, our beloved Colorado delivers top tier fruits and vegetables.
We know all too well that the local food system is not mandatory from an urban/suburban household perspective. Ag is only important to the economy in rural counties and our global food supply chains have weathered even the most extreme demands of the COVID-19 era, with of course some empty shelves if your timing was not great. So who cares, right? We Front Range folks need not bother. We have tech, higher education and other key economic drivers and, speaking of drivers, those refrigerated trucks will keep on trucking into Colorado. Local food is trendy, elitist and simply a throwback to food systems of yesteryear. Or is it?
Although I drank the Kool-Aid years ago, I struggle with these questions. Embedded in them I think are questions of quality, place and culture. We are absolutely overshadowed by California produce, but have you ever tasted a California peach that even came close to a Colorado peach? The Colorado summer fruits we can all name and savor include cantaloupe, sweet corn, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans…and the list goes on. Why do these taste exceptional? One gift Colorado provides growers is warm days and cool nights. This increases sugar content in summer fruits during the day and retains them with the cool nights. In the hands of a talented grower, plants grown here with this special sauce from Mother Nature create a flavor profile second to none. This principle applies to all botanical fruits grown here, whether sweet or savory. But if you stop at the fruits, you are missing the amazing lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, beets, peas and other cool season vegetables that Colorado growers also excel at producing.
Many of us take for granted that a farm means open space. Yeah, granted farms are working lands, but would you rather see a field of squash or another subdivision? Farms create place. And that place creates something special, unique, elemental, raw and subject to all the glories and hardships that a growing season casts upon the field and the farmer. When you drive by you are witnessing the ongoing evolution of a 10,000-year-old craft. You likely don’t understand all that you are seeing but maybe you can appreciate that this place called a farm is creating value that we know of as food.
New arrivals to Colorado continue to shape its culture. But what is Colorado food culture? Undoubtedly it is embracing the harvest. We have a hard stop and start on field harvest in this great state and because of that eating seasonally is something to be cherished and not taken for granted. And as your summer celebrations start, no matter how small in our new COVID-19 shaped world, I bet you love to include something healthy and grounded in what it means to be a Coloradan.
At its very best, unless you are buying produce directly from a farm, the marketplace can be opaque in terms of knowing if a retailer or restaurant is selling you Colorado grown fruits and vegetables. Here are a few tips to find the truth at point of sale:
Check for known seasonality. Fortunately, the Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association has this worked out for you.Go to coloradoproduce.org and click on the “nutrition and health” page under “resources”. There you’ll find a full, vetted, produce availability calendar. If a retailer or restaurant is selling something as Colorado grown outside these dates, press them for more details.
Look for labels. Some retailers have their own (see above for double checking this). And some growers use the Colorado Proud logo. The Colorado Department of Agriculture provides this label.
By Adrian Card, Colorado State University Extension Boulder County. For more information on agriculture in Boulder County, visit the CSU Extension Boulder County website at boulder.extension.colostate.edu/agriculture.