One of the joys of the harvest season along Colorado's Front Range is cruising the farmstands that sprout up where the plains meet the foothills. You can even make it an excuse for a party. Pack friends or family into the car, and head out with a purpose: to pick up all the ingredients for Sunset's harvest salad.
The recipe blends the best local varieties of produce typically available this month, all topped by a drizzle of dressing and some fresh local cheese. Grab a melon or two for dessert.
The most fertile territory for pursuing the perfect salad is the edge of the plains, east of Boulder. Follow our farmstand route (see map on page 40) and you'll trace long, straight roads laid out in a grid, as if shadowing the fence lines of long-ago farms. Our drive hits the choicest spots; each offers a variety of produce, picked at its peak. And, since the stands are so close to health-conscious Boulder, many veggies are organic.
STOP #1: Red Wagon Organic Farm
'Early Cascade' tomatoes
Under a red-and-white tent, you'll find seven varieties of tomatoes, including 'Early Cascade'; four types of basil, including lemon basil; various lettuces and lots of cukes; and eight kinds of melon, including heirloom varieties. Taste a richly flavored 'Jenny Lind' musk melon, and you may discover a new favorite fruit.
INFO: 10-7 daily through Oct 31. 95th St. at Arapahoe Rd., Lafayette; www.redwagonorganicfarm.com or 303/949-0285.
STOP #2: Munson Farms
'Peaches and Cream' corn
Ask farmer Bob Munson what he grows, and he rattles off a list at machine-gun pace. "We do 15 varieties of sweet corn, 31 kinds of squash, plus chiles, bells, cukes, tomatoes, melons ... ," he pauses midthought to cut into a fat squash, "and just look at this beautiful kabocha―it's a gold mine of beta-carotene!" One of his biggest sellers: a corn variety called 'Peaches and Cream'.
INFO: 9-7 daily through Oct 31. 75th St. at Valmont Rd., Boulder; 303/44 -5330.
STOP #3: Zweck's Fresh Vegetables & Flowers
A few miles north of Munson Farms, off Airport Road in Longmont, you'll find this certified organic farmstand. "I love selling direct to customers," says grower and co-owner Connie Zweck, "because you get these lively exchanges on how best to cook the vegetables!" She sells arugula, cukes, lettuce, red and yellow onions, peppers, radishes, and tomatoes―along with herbs, honey, and garlic.
INFO: 10-1 and 3-5:30 Mon-Fri, 10-1 Sat, 11-1 Sun. 10901 Airport Rd., Longmont; 303/776-1171.
STOP #4: Rocky Mountain Pumpkin Ranch
Hunkered along Ute Highway/State 66 in Longmont, a big chile roaster sits in front of the small storefront. As if to remind shoppers how briefly the harvest season lasts, a sign, shaped like a giant ear of corn, exclaims, "FRESH SWEET CORN FRESH PICKED DAILY!"
Besides corn and packages of fresh and roasted chiles, you'll find arugula, mesclun mix, baby spinach, sweet onions, potatoes, pumpkins, and Western Slope peaches and apples. INFO: 9-6 daily through Nov 1. 9059 Ute Hwy., Longmont; www.rockymtnpumpkinranch.com or 303/684-0087.
STOP #5: Haystack
Mountain Goat Dairy
For the finishing touch to your salad, head southwest to Niwot and this small goat dairy. If you're lucky, you'll spot a few playful Saanen and Nubian kids climbing on the hay bales. "Goats like to get on top of things," explains owner Jim Schott. The dairy's semisoft Boulder Chèvre logs are delicious on salads.
INFO: Tours and sales 12-2 Tue and Sat. 5239 Niwot Rd., Niwot; www.haystackgoatcheese.com or 303/530-3777.