To market, to market! Perhaps not to buy a fat pig, but on a warm summer Thursday evening in Grand Junction, Colorado, there is no better place to be than the downtown Farmers' Market Festival. Along four blocks of serpentine Main Street, traffic switches from motorized to pedestrian and vendors and shoppers perfectly reflect the heart and soul of Grand Junction — and a true taste of Colorado.
While "local" produce at farmers' markets in big cities may come from hundreds of miles away, fresh in Grand Junction means just that: picked only a few hours ago, only a few miles away. Acres of vegetables, orchards and flower farms provide a bountiful harvest, creating a direct route of goods from grower to consumer.
From mid-June into September, tree-ripened, rosy-cheeked Colorado peaches hold star-of-the-show status — fruit so lush and sweet it's been shipped to London, England, for sale at Harrods department store. More than a dozen varieties thrive in orchards stretching through the Grand Valley, from Palisade to Fruita. Peach aficionados know their favorites — Red Haven, Elberta, Sullivan, Suncrest, Hale — but friendly growers help those of us still learning peach nuances to make the proper selection for eating fresh, baking, freezing or canning.
Bing and Lambert sweet cherries kick off the fruit season in late June, soon followed by golden apricots. Nectarines, raspberries, sour (pie) cherries, pears, plums and apples also appear at peak ripeness. Besides fresh fruit, find a broad assortment of locally made jams, jellies, sauces, syrups, salsas and dried fruit — all ideal for gifts and pantry shelves to savor until next year's harvest.
Produce selections evolve with the season, from spring greens and peas to autumn's bounty of crisp apples and fat orange pumpkins. The heat of the Colorado summer brings truck-loads of melons: watermelons (traditional or seedless), cantaloupes and casabas from nearby Loma and Colorado's sweetest corn from Olathe. For those who can't wait to get their corn home, vendors roast plump ears, shuck away the charred husk, brush with melted butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper before serving. Can we stop at just one?
Plenty of noshing opportunities dot the market. A portable pizza oven bakes perfect slices of Pablo's inspired creations. There's a continuous line at Main Street Bagels for samples of fresh baked bread, and pleased tasters add loaves and bagels to shopping totes. Chef Brunella Gualerzi greets shoppers to the booth outside her popular Il Bistro Italiano with trays of fresh-made pasta, jars of jams, sandwiches, breads and sweets to tantalize taste buds. From buffalo burgers and vegetable fajitas to sugared almonds, popcorn and cooling sno-cones, there's something appealing to everyone.
Farmers' Market merchandise extends beyond fresh produce, too: aprons, golf markers, handicrafts, jewelry and handmade soaps are just a sampling. Local authors and publishers display recently released books. Plein-air artists set up easels, capturing the lively street scene. Completed works are, of course, for sale.
The Art on the Corner project enhances downtown with more than 100 sculptures displayed year-round. In a wide variety of media and styles, more than half are permanent installations. Others are on loan from the artists for a year-long exhibit. Planters, benches and landscaping add to the shopper-friendly atmosphere, offering places to sit, munch on goodies and watch the action. Three musical venues keep market goers entertained; performers change each week from belly-dancers to bluegrass.
Opportunities to align with causes and special interests abound, from the humane society to political parties. Neighbors stop to chat with neighbors. Generations of families shop together, granddad proudly pushing the stroller while mom and grandma make their selections. At the Grand Junction city booth, a police officer stoops to talk to toddlers.
Visitors to the area find help in enjoying their stay from representatives from Colorado National Monument and The Museum of the West. The museum encompasses a number of attractions including Dinosaur Journey in Fruita, hands-on dinosaur digs, Cross Orchards Historic Farm and the Museum of the West in Grand Junction.
As the weekly market draws to a close, shoppers fill downtown restaurants for a relaxing dinner before heading home. Or, they continue the evening at the Avalon Theatre if a show is scheduled.
The weekly festivities run from 5:30-8:30 p.m. each Thursday evening, mid June through mid September. There's plenty of free parking. For more information, visit www.downtowngj.org.