Sarah Hamilton greets a customer by name at the Colorado Farm and Art Market, and they spend a few minutes catching up before Hamilton rings up the purchase of freshly harvested greens, herbs and flowers.
Hamilton is in her third year owning and running New Roots Farm, a 5-acre family operation near Cañon City. She raises crops organically using natural pest-control methods and sustainable practices including building healthy soil.
Customers know and seek out New Roots Farm at the Colorado Farm and Art Market, one of Hamilton’s principal outlets for her produce.
“The shoppers that come to CFAM are people who truly care about where their food is coming from,” Hamilton said. “So they’re willing to have the patience for things to be in season and are very understanding and very excited and appreciative to buy our produce, which is very gratifying.”
That’s exactly what the market was designed to do — attract customers so small farmers, artists and artisans can survive, said manager Natalie Seals as she surveyed the thriving scene at the market at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.
Colorado Farm and Art Market operates the downtown market on Wednesdays and also hosts a Saturday market at the Margarita at Pine Creek.
“The big advantage is building up a customer base with personalized, one-on-one interactions,” Seals said. “These are not staff members that are sitting in a store and some CEO somewhere is making money. These are people that are creating everything that they sell, and you can talk to them and share their passion.
“You can find out exactly why this vendor who does these body care products that are all natural, exactly what inspired him to want to make these products; why this vendor who grows microgreens, what drives him to grow these organic, local microgreens. … You don’t get that at Walmart.”
The Colorado Farm and Art Market, formed 15 years ago, is organized as a cooperative, a legal entity owned and operated by its vendor members, who do about $300,000 in sales through the markets each year.
“The vendors get a vote in how this cooperative is run,” said Seals, who is the only paid employee. “We’re not a nonprofit, but we don’t make a profit. Any money that comes in just goes right back to making these vendors successful.
“We’re definitely growing,” she said. “Last year’s sales were 18 percent higher than the year before, and we’ve been somewhere in the 15-20 percent range [of growth] since 2014.”
Seals said the market currently has about 50 regular members and another 20 guest vendors. Not all attend each and every market session, but those who do contribute a percentage of sales to the market each day.
The market has served as a support for vendor members and as an incubator for new businesses.
“This is all small businesses trying to get off the ground,” Seals said. “There are quite a few businesses that were CFAM that are in storefronts now.”
Pikes Peak Lemonade and Cacao Chemistry gourmet chocolates, both downtown businesses, got their start at the market. So did Radiantly Raw, an organic chocolate business located in Manitou Springs and Old Colorado City.
During the off-season, the cooperative helps members by connecting them with people who can help them develop their business plans and accounting.
Hamilton has been around the market since it was founded; her mother, Susan Gordon, ran Venetucci Farm for many years and was one of CFAM’s founding farmers.
“CFAM was founded because all the truly local Colorado farmers were going to all the other markets around Colorado Springs and having to compete with really big farms that are often just resellers … selling produce that wasn’t necessarily in season for Colorado,” Hamilton said.
“That’s why they banded together to form this cooperative market where the requirement is that you actually produce and grow what you sell and that it is local to Colorado.”
The market has moved around quite a bit since its founding but now has procured favorable locations downtown and at the Margarita.
Hamilton said her sales at the market represent about 30 to 40 percent of her business. She also sells through a community supported agriculture association.
Doug Wiley, owner of Larga Vista Ranch near Boone, produces meat and dairy products and offers vegetables later in the season. Seals, a founding member, said the co-op has been a lifesaver.
“I was rebuilding my business when we started this back in 2004,” Wiley said. “I was doing more direct marketing, and we weren’t able to get into any other market stream, so we started our own,” said Wiley, who also sells through the Arkansas Valley Organic Growers CSA. “It’s helped us get exposure and gain new customers.”
Wiley said his pasture-raised pork is his best seller.
“It’s just the way we raise those hogs out in the field,” he said. “They get to roam and graze. They’re not all jammed up in some little container; they live the way pigs should live. It’s a taste all its own.”
Belonging to the co-op means that, as a part owner, he puts more into it, he said.
“I probably wouldn’t have stayed with the farmers market otherwise,” he said. “It’s a lot of work. The longer you’re a member, the more you benefit.”
Colorado Farm and Art Market
Contact: 719-640-6154; farmandartmarket.com