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For many home cooks, spring is synonymous with the start of outdoor market season, and weekend shopping trips are social outings for families, friends and farmers.

This year, farmers markets are more essential than ever: Farms across the country have been forced to waste millions of pounds of food already during the shutdown, The New York Times reported. For now in Colorado, the service that markets provide to connect those producers to more consumers has been deemed essential.

Whether with online ordering and curbside pickup or heightened in-person health protocols, more markets will start to open slowly in the coming weeks. They won’t be the social experiences that we’re used to, but they will provide much-needed fresh food to Coloradans. Here’s what to expect.

How it will work

Metro Denver Farmers’ Markets are starting on time this year. The first markets will be held on Saturday, May 2, at Littleton’s Southwest Plaza and on Sunday, May 3, in Highlands Ranch Town Center.

You’ll notice a different layout when you get there, according to market manager John Herian. For starters, tents will be spaced 10 feet apart, and each booth will likely have an empty table separating shoppers from the food and farmers. Vendors will be wearing masks and gloves. You’ll likely be ushered through the lineup in one direction and, as at grocery stores, the number of shoppers at any given time will be limited.

Saturday Market at Southwest Plaza southeast parking lot, intersection of Wadsworth and Bowles, 8 a.m.-2 p.m.; Sunday Market at Highlands Ranch Town Center, 9288 Dorchester St., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. 

If you don’t want to shop in person

While Metro Denver markets plan to open in-person shopping, Boulder County Farmers Markets in Boulder, Longmont, Denver and Lafayette are currently working on an online ordering system that will allow for pickup and delivery only. Online ordering options already for the week of April 20 should consist of CSA-style produce bags, according to market director Brian Coppom, and limited add-ons such as meat, bread, cheese and eggs.

Many of those CSA bags are reserved for customers who receive WIC, SNAP and Fruit and Veg Boulder benefits, but the market also sets aside bags for the rest of the public. Coppom says these offerings and more will increase in availability as the market moves toward full online ordering and distributing.

“On April 4 and 11, we distributed about 800 bags of produce to food-access customers,” Coppom wrote over email. “We’re lining up space to conduct the pick-and-pack and store product and getting trucks for distribution. It’s a whole new ballgame. ”

Boulder County Farmers Markets, for more information and for weekly ordering. 

A post shared by Union Station Farmers Market (@unionstationmarket) on

What will be available

Metro Denver Markets sell a variety of goods from meats to vegetables, breads, wines and preserves. But this time of year, farms will see a lag between their early spring and summer crops, according to BCFM’s Coppom. So spinach and greens will soon give way to asparagus, radishes and more.

“There are few overwintered crops still available,” Coppom said. “Stepping into this new business model carefully will help us make sure customers will have reliable access to crops when they are ready to harvest in abundance.”

For now, customers can also check with farmers directly to determine what they’re growing. BCFM’s new local online shopping guide lists more than 20 area farmers and organizes them by products offered — vegetables, fruits and grains or meat, eggs and dairy. Potential customers can browse each farm’s offerings and find contact information and hours listed.

Metro Denver Farmers’ Markets:; BCFM:

More upcoming farmers markets

These farmers markets are scheduled to open throughout May and June as usual. Please check their websites for updates and any changes before you go. Organizers are changing plans and protocols daily.

“We’ll make it work,” said Kelly Miller with the Louisville, Erie and Highland markets. “Farmers are growing food, and the customers will come and everybody wants to support our local economy, now more than ever, so I’m really excited.”

Southlands – May 9

This content was originally published here.