The food is beautiful: a palette of royal purple beets, red and yellow tomatoes the color of sunset and deep ocean greens.
There is artistry in the presentation that grabs your attention as you walk the market, bag in hand. This is where the allure of food is in the staging that entices you to pick it up and feel the texture as you bring it to your nose.
Ask Dave Banga of Banga Farms and he’ll likely tell you which are best fresh for the table, which are best for cooking and how the garlic varieties vary in the sauté pan. He’ll tell you he’s always loved food, and always been interested in its presentation.
Banga spent 15 years as a potter, forming serving dishes out of red clay. He was raised in Orlando, Fla., and as a teen was drawn to the art of pottery, studying at the University of Central Florida and then receiving a master’s degree in art at Utah State University.
It was during his time in Utah that he developed a love for the Four Corners. But he had work to do in Chicago first, teaching pottery at an arts center, then spending two seasons working for a nonprofit urban garden.
The nonprofit’s goal was to rehabilitate inner-city vacant lots and turn them into productive growing spaces. He was involved in the endeavor to prove that urban market gardening could be profitable. He sold the produce to upscale restaurants in Chicago, but also saved a portion of land for growing collards and green tomatoes, which were sold directly to residents from nearby projects.
Banga learned he loved farming as much as creating pottery. When he moved to Colorado, he set out to coax delicate plants out of the clay as well.
He has been organically growing food here for four years, the last two on his own farm, located two miles south of Mancos. He cultivates 1¼ acres, including two greenhouses. He faces a problem unusual to most farmers in Southwest Colorado: too much moisture. A high water table threatens his root crops and forces him to grow on hilled or raised beds.
Banga is eager to experiment, and prefers heirloom varieties that often have better flavor. He directs me to Purple Prince and Striped German tomatoes, which have unsurpassed sweetness. His favorite winter squash this year is the brilliant orange Kabucha.
Banga’s Community Service Agriculture customers find their bags include artful choices delivered to their doorstep. It is this steady, direct connection with his customers he likes most, as he encourages people to eat healthy and try new things.
Numerous menus also feature Banga’s Farm produce, including Cosmopolitan, Cyprus Café, Kennebec Café, Guido’s Favorite Foods and Cocina Linda.
Now is the time to make that special request for the heirloom tomato Grandma used to grow.
Find Banga at the Durango Farmers Market, or call him about the next CSA season at 946-4551.
Marje Cristol owns Linnaea Farm
in Durango and sells cut flowers and goat-milk cheeses. She also serves
on the Durango Farmers Market
board. Reach her at 946-2712 or marje@LinnaeaFarm.com.