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Thursday, July 12,2012

Reaping the bounty of our state

Colorado food festivals invite locals to share the yield

By Michael Callahan

Boulder County residents are spoiled in that we don’t have to look far for fresh, sustainable foods. And as more foods from the burgeoning local scene pack farmers’ markets and fine dining establishments, curious consumers are not short on choices.

 

Yet when summer heats up and Colorado’s agricultural industry shifts into high gear, great-tasting food choices move beyond the borders of Boulder to all corners of the state. Many harvests are celebrated with festivals and entertainment that acknowledge the hard work of individual farmers and invite the whole community to participate in the fruits (and veggies) of their labor. We’ve compiled some highlights of upcoming festivals featuring the tastes that make our state great.

One of the first crops to reach harvest stage is corn, and over the years the Western Slope town of Olathe has used its unique climate to produce some of the nation’s sweetest corn. The Olathe Sweet Corn Festival, held Aug. 3-4, beckons travelers to sample the goodness that hot days and cool nights pack into each kernel.

“We started out as an event that was just going to celebrate the wonderful crop that we have here, and we have grown from around 850 [participants the first year] to having about 800 volunteers just for the event,” says Bobbi Sale, spokesperson for the Corn Festival. In a town of about 1,700 people, that is a lot of community commitment. With a focus on agriculture, including a special aim on the popular “Farm to Fork” trend, this year’s event supports not only corn growers but the entire region, as organizers have used the festival as an opportunity for local nonprofits to earn money outside of soliciting donations.

“Every year nonprofit groups earn more than $50,000. That is a really good thing for our town,” says Sale, noting that even if you do nothing more than walk through the gates, you’ll still get plenty for your money. “If you pay the admission fee, you get all the signature Olathe sweet corn you can eat,” Sale says.

Moving on from the decadent sweetness of corn to the chin-dribbling succulence of melon, Rocky Ford Watermelon Day will be celebrated on Aug. 18 as part of the Arkansas Valley Fair, which, at 135 years old, is the longest continuously running fair in the state.

“We consider ourselves one of the biggest little fairs,” says Sally Cope, one of the organizers of the event. “We have 4H youth events, a demolition derby and a tractor pull. We have a full carnival, beer gardens and two days of horse racing, a tradition which dates back to the late 1800s. We even have MMA cage fighting on Sunday.” Watermelon seed spitting and melon carving contests are two of the more popular events at the fair, which is being held for the first time since the cantaloupe scare last fall threatened to taint the niche industry.

“We’re concerned about our reputation. We feel just as strong [about Rocky Ford melons] as we always have. We’ve just moved on and know that we have an excellent product,” Cope says.

Not too far from this neck of the woods is the Windsor Harvest Festival, which will be held Sept. 1-3. The festival celebrates technology allowing farmers to get their products to market faster.

“It’s called the Harvest Festival because it was based upon the first paved road in Windsor that they ran the harvest through, and so it’s kept that name for 91 years,” says Casey Johnson, who has been affiliated with the event for 18 years. During that time he has seen the festival grow “exponentially,” producing more than half of the town’s yearly event sales tax revenues.

In addition to an all-town barbeque and street dance, there will be more than 300 vendors and what is billed as one of the largest parades in northern Colorado. Organizers of the Windsor Harvest Festival are also anticipating big things from an added home and garden show.

Tucked safely away in a box canyon of the San Juan Mountains is the eclectic town of Telluride. Home to adventure enthusiasts, blues and brews and a popular film festival, the town has also played host to the Telluride Mushroom Festival for the past 32 years — building a venerable event that can satiate the appetite of the most fervent fungophile.

Rechristened Shroomfest 2012 by event planners, the Aug. 16-19 festival incorporates learning and living into a four-day event. From lectures and classes on identification and edibles to forays into the fungi-rich hills surrounding the town and growing workshops, participants can become so inundated with mycological knowledge that college credit can be earned from the experience. Or visitors can simply soak in the atmosphere by taking in the parades, dances, live music and mushroom-inspired dishes from local restaurants.

Up the road from Telluride and Olathe is the town of Palisade, where growing conditions are kind enough to support two festivals a month apart.

First up is the Palisade Peach Festival, held Aug. 16-19 to celebrate the melt-inyour-mouth fruit that benefits from basking in the strong Colorado sunshine and the cooling in the crisp mountain air. Eating contests, agricultural tours and locally made peach products are followed by live entertainment each evening. And that is only an appetizer for another event that calls the verdant fields of Palisade home.

The Colorado Mountain Wine Fest, held Sept. 13-16, coincides with the harvest of grapes along the Western Slope.

Less than a month after wiping peach juice off your chin, drink in the refined tastes of Colorado wine producers. The event will feature a grape stomp, interactive seminars, a commemorative wine glass and unlimited tastes from more than 40 Colorado wineries. Adventuresome participants can work up an appetite during the 25-mile Tour de Vineyards, a bicycle tour through the Palisade wine country and orchards.

Apple Fest is a one-day event held at the Historic Turner Farm in Buena Vista. Guests step back in time to the turn of the 20th century, touring the small orchard and taking part in apple pie contests, demonstrations and entertainment.

“It’s a pretty busy time there,” says Bob Wichmann of Buena Vista Heritage, the overseer of Turner Farm and four other area properties. Proceeds from the event go toward maintenance of these locations. “They have rides and a lot of activities for kids, trying to show them some old-time things that people did on these farms and ranches.”

In late summer, as the leaves begin to turn, the city of Pueblo turns its attention to a Colorado favorite — the green chile. From Sept. 23 to Sept. 25, the Loaf ‘N Jug Chile & Frijoles Festival will showcase local spicy and musical fruits. The event heats up with a farmers’ market and culminates in a jalapeño-eating contest.

Artisans, food and four entertainment venues run the festival grounds along the Union Avenue Historic District and the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk. The Pueblo Chamber of Commerce estimates that around 100,000 people will visit the event this year, to the tune of a seven-figure economic boost for area businesses. During the three-day event, a Chile & Salsa Showdown food competition will share billing with live music, art exhibitions and a 5k Fun Run.

Take a break one weekend and discover a whole new world beyond the produce aisle. Not only will your taste buds thank you, but so will your fellow Coloradans who rely on Mother Nature and consumer tastes for a living.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com


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