The Durango Farmers Market kicks off its season this same weekend as the release of director Baz Lurhmann’s movie adaptation of “The Great Gatsby.”
Like the glitzy parties of Jay Gatsby’s mansion, the Saturday morning market that will open at 8 a.m. today – the 18th annual – has become known as a social scene.
While F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story is set in the Roaring ’20s, the market this year features new vendors in their 20s, although their animals are more likely to baa or moo than roar.
Malisha Sutherlin, 23, a 2012 graduate of Fort Lewis College, raises lamb on her farm in Hesperus. She will be bringing “a variety of (meat) cuts.” For more adventurous tastes, she offers lamb chorizo sausage and lamb and green chile tamales prepared for her by Zia Taqueria.
“Lamb is a such a sweet meat,” said Sutherlin, the owner of Southwest Lamb. “Everybody needs to try it at least once.”
Sutherlin is going to have a busy summer, selling lamb at the farmers market in Telluride on Fridays, too.
Dustin Stein, 29, who grew up in the suburbs of Denver, will be selling black Angus beef. He raises cattle and grows “root crops, beets, onions, garlic, greens and string beans” at his Stubborn Farm just west of Mancos.
“You have to be super stubborn to hack (farming),” Stein said.
Not far from the ancestral Puebloan ruins of Mesa Verde National Park, Stein is going to try his hand at growing quinoa, the grain of the Incas originally grown in the Andes of South America.
“Nobody does it here, but somebody’s got to try it,” Stein said. “It will be a fall crop. It will take a while to clean it and wash it.”
Both Sutherlin and Stein described a passion for their vocation. Sutherlin said she has raised lamb since she was 8 years old.
Stein said he “had a garden for a few years. Then I decided I should make a living out of it since I have so much energy for it.”
Stein is in his second year at the market. He is appreciative of customers supporting farmers who “are younger and newer. It’s really nice seeing people spreading their wealth,” he said.
Linda Illsley, a tamale vendor and owner of Linda’s Local Foods Café, emphasized that “in a drought year, it’s even more important that we support the farmers.”
She said many farmers could face a short growing season this summer if their water supply is limited by the drought. Consumers should also support them out of their own financial interest as well.
Buying local keeps more money circulating in the economy, Illsley said.
To increase revenue for the farmers market, located in the parking lot of First National Bank, 259 W. Ninth St., organizers decided this year to allow more arts and crafts vendors during the shoulder months of May and October, said Michael Schwebach of Schwebach’s Cedar Hill Farm. He is the president of the market’s board of directors this year.
One local crafts vendor is MaryAnne LeBlanc, who makes quilted table runners, aprons and cloth napkins. Her husband, Durango City Manager Ron LeBlanc, often acts as her pit and setup crew, he said.
“I do field a variety of city-related questions while I am in her booth,” the city manager said in an email. “The farmers market has become a social experience for locals and tourists. We see people from other countries, other states and from the adjoining region. All the vendors act as ambassadors for Durango. We are lucky to have such a successful market.”
The arts and crafts vendors will pick up the slack for farmers who don’t have as much to sell this early in the growing season. Stein and Sutherlin also anticipated that they won’t be ready for a few more weeks.
The market sells only food that is produced in La Plata and surrounding counties.
Even though it’s early in the growing season, consumers should still find enough produce to make a decent salad.
“I think there will be a lot of kale, spinach and lettuce,” Schwebach said.
Schwebach also expects meat and cheese to be on sale. Over the summer, the market should offer almost every kind of meat, with farm-raised tilapia representing fish. One notable exception is chicken, which can’t be sold at the market because there is not a local processor or slaughterhouse for poultry.
If certain food cannot be found, one can always be a flapper.
“It’s a great place to hook up with the community and see your friends,” Schwebach said.