At the grocery store you might find mangoes from Peru, avocados from Mexico, and when the time is right, peaches grown within a few hundred miles of downtown Longmont, or even lettuce varieties harvested just a few miles away. Not everything can be grown or raised in Colorado, but there are more options than you might expect, and in the Longmont area all types of businesses are utilizing local agricultural or bringing their farm-raised goods directly to consumers: local restaurants teaming with farms, delivery services such as the Longmont Dairy that produces and delivers its own milk, Door to Door Organics’ grocery delivery service, and expanding markets like farm-based skin care.
Come spring and summer, restaurants around the city will work with area farms or head to the farmers’ market to stock their menus with fresh, local goods.
Harold’s Restaurant and Lounge in Longmont works with Ollin Farms and Dew Farms in town as well as local meat producers like Colorful Ranch located east of Denver.
Harold’s executive chef, Jef Forsberg, says the restaurant strives to keep the menu as local and as seasonal as possible, and develops relationships with area farmers and purveyors.
“It creates less of a carbon footprint for our earth,” says Noah Heaney, Harold’s manager and craft cocktail connoisseur, while supporting the local economy.
“If you’re purchasing locally and selling locally, you’re keeping the circle of business within the community.”
“Purchasing local produce has just as much to do with taste and quality,” says Forsberg. Produce that was picked yesterday or today is more vibrant and flavorful than produce picked while still green and ripening on the train, plane or truck.
“You can’t compare with the quality and freshness and flavor.” he says.
In the summer Forsberg and his sous chef create a weekly market special from inspiration and goods found at the farmers’ market.
“With large chain restaurants, a lot of their products come from outside of the United States, and the owners don’t live in Longmont,” says Heaney.
The Bayonet Room, the craft cocktail lounge attached to Harold’s, focuses on fresh juices and a menu full of selections from local breweries and distilleries.
“This city is really skyrocketing toward the future which is steering away from the chain style restaurants that have developed here over the years and moving toward a locally owned, small business model,” Heaney says.
The Praha Restaurant and Bar is one such locally owned spot that’s been a part of Longmont since the late 70s. Co-owner and executive chef Monica Smetana completed her culinary training in Europe where a daily relationship between restaurants, local markets and farmers is more common and since then she has always relied on local farms to stock her kitchen when possible.
“It’s kind of nice to see that they’re placing more value on that here in the United States,” she says.
The Praha sources much of its seasonal produce from Toohey & Sons Farm and makes a point of buying from different farms each week at the farmers’ market. “I try to shuffle it around,” Smetana says, and “support all of them as much as I can.”
“I think that’s the beauty of the restaurant that we have,” Smetana says, “We don’t have to buy huge quantities, it stays fresh a lot longer.”
Haystack Mountain goat cheese, made at Haystack’s Longmont creamery, is often featured on the menu, Smetana says, and in the summer peaches are ordered from the Western Slope.
Local farms and producers are the type of family-run businesses that are a dying breed, Smetana says, and the “heart and soul of this country.”
“I get excited when I can feature a local farmer, I would hope that they would get excited as well.”
Restaurants who focus on seasonal and local foods often use distributors to help them find foods outside of Colorado’s main growing season.
Overall, it’s become easier to source locally, says Seth Witherspoon, co-owner and executive chef at Sugarbeet. More competition among small farmers drives down his prices, and food distribution companies focusing on small and large Colorado farms, like Grower’s Organic from Denver and Source Local Foods from Boulder, help restaurants find what’s available throughout the year.
“Some menus take (seasonal or farm-to-table) to an extreme,” Witherspoon says, which really cuts down on the culinary options with Colorado’s growing season. “We try not to limit ourselves.”
Right now Witherspoon says he’s purchasing a lot of goods from Alton Alma Organics’ wholesale shop in Boulder that sources organic sprouts and dried fruits and vegetables. Sugarbeet also works with farms closest to their location, getting produce from Aspen Moon Farm and Full Circle Farms, and making stops at the farmers’ market in the summer.
“It’s good to support your local economy first when it makes sense.”
Door to Door Organics, a Lafayette-based grocery delivery service was “founded on that basic idea of access to organic produce,” says CEO Chad Arnold.
In summer, the company’s local farm box provides customers with the option of receiving only Colorado-grown organic produce each week, with the remaining flexibility to substitute other products in and out.
Door to Door Organics provides a convenience and variety that seasonal CSA memberships can’t, Arnold says, (CSAs are farm shares and stand for Community Supported Agriculture) but customers also come and go as some prefer to use CSAs and shop local farmers’ markets in the summer, returning to Door to Door at season’s end.
The delivery model was about convenience and access at the company’s start because there weren’t many grocery stores filling that need.
They have since expanded into other categories including meat and dairy using grass fed beef from the San Luis Valley, a local chicken supplier on the eastern plains, milk from Morning Fresh Dairy, north of Fort Collins, and a selection of local packaged organic shelf stable and dry goods to serve Colorado customers. Additional operations are located in Chicago, Michigan, Kansas City and a tri-state location in the northeast including parts of Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
The Door to Door Organics model allows the company to have more of a broker relationship from the farmer direct to consumer, Arnold says. “It creates more of a win-win-win situation” than the traditional wholesale chain, he says, by passing a greater profit margin to the farmer and serving customers willing pay for the value of knowing where their food comes from and the convenience of delivery.
Local isn’t always possible, especially with Colorado’s growing season, and depending on what consumers are looking for, it isn’t always the best choice, Arnold says. There isn’t any sort of regulation or standard as to what local means, what defines something as local, and how the word local relates to production and growing practices.
“People can slap the word (local) on [the product] and say whatever they want,” Arnold says.
What defines good food or what defines local food for consumers is based on different values for different people be it environmental, nutrition-based, health-based or a desire to directly support the local economy.
At the same time, he points out, the beauty of access to local produce is people can actually find answers to their questions through authentic relationships with those closest to the source, the farmers.
Farm to consumer options like the Longmont Dairy are the complete caboodle: farming, processing and distribution in one.
“The convenience of having milk delivered to your home is a little bit of a lost art,” says Susan Boyd, owner of Longmont Dairy Farm.
Longmont Dairy delivers fresh milk in glass bottles to over 20,000 homes each week along the front range.
In addition to milk they deliver a range of other products including butter made with Longmont Dairy cream and apple juice from Talbott’s Farm in Palisade on the Western Slope.
There’s always been a strong farming community around Longmont and Boulder County, Boyd says, and it is a privilege to live in a place that produces so much locally.
As a local producer and distributor, Longmont Dairy relies on other local businesses for repairs, refrigeration, maintenance, sanitization and printing, creating an “infrastructure of doing business with other companies like ourselves,” Boyd says.
A weekly milk delivery can lessen the number of trips to the store, save on gas, road wear and tear and contribute less air pollution, Boyd says.
Boyd says she hopes there’s a growing interest, concern and feasibility to focus efforts locally for all kinds of different manufacturers.
Another direct farm to consumer company in Longmont serves a less likely market — skincare.
The local food movement is getting a lot of attention these days, says Cindy Jones, biochemist, herbalist and farmer behind the Colorado Aromatics skincare line based in Longmont, and that is starting to carry over into skincare.
For some consumers it’s a bit of jump from the pristine, glowing cosmetics counter. “Consumers don’t have the mindset yet that cosmetics can come from a farm, but the best things for your skin are grown on a farm.”
Small cosmetic care lines like Colorado Aromatics use the term farm-to-skin or farm-based cosmetic science.
Jones’ three big crops are lavender, calendula (great for the skin, she says) and chamomile, with smaller crops like lemon balm, raspberry leaf, fennel, artemisia, red clover and mint.
With her PhD in biochemistry and love of herbs, Jones has been doing consulting, blending of herbal extracts and microbiology testing for other small cosmetics companies since 2004 through SageScript, her company that has housed the Colorado Aromatics line for about five years.
There is a growing demand for more natural ingredients in cosmetics as people want to move away from petroleum-based skincare, Jones says.
“The attitude around this area of Colorado has gotten very educated as far as buying local products,” says Jones.
Jones’ products are designed to deal with Colorado conditions like high altitude and winds that can be harsh on the skin. Her line includes products for face, body and bath and her bestseller is the Springtide Anti-aging Face Cream, “just heavy enough to protect skin in our climate here,” she says.
“I find we do really well at the farmers’ markets because farmers’ market customers are looking for local products. They don’t expect to find skin care, but when they do find skincare that works, they are very excited.”
“Consumers are starting to get there, but there’s still a lot of work compared to the farm to table movement. I think the Colorado consumer is certainly the most open to that.”
By Jennifer Lehman