Dinner happens a lot differently these days. The growing popularity of meal kits has revolutionized the way many consume their meals. Instead of shopping at the grocery store, people are turning to companies like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh or Plated to mail them a box of pre-portioned ingredients and recipe cards

While these companies are getting more people in the kitchen, they aren’t always encouraging folks to support local agriculture. Seeing an opportunity to do both, the Boulder Community Farmers Markets team — the ones behind many of the producer-only markets in Colorado — decided to build a box of their own at the Union Station Farmers Market

Grown To Go

The Grown to Go program takes all of the familiar parts of a meal kit — easy instruction, pre-portioned ingredients, etc. — and adds a local angle at every turn.

Each meal has two servings, featuring a vegetable or fruit paired with a meat or grain. All of the ingredients you need to execute dinner come from some of the more than 39 local vendors at the Union Station Farmers Market. Customers also receive the recipes needed to execute dinnereach developed by Paul C. Reilly, executive chef and owner of Beast & Bottle and Coperta. There is also a step-by-step video to accompany each meal. 

The recipes require home cooks to have a few staple pantry items and cookware, but the list is emailed to you beforehand. On the website, it suggests basics like olive oil, butter, milk, lemons, salt and pepper.

Recipes are based on what’s available each month. For instance, asparagus was the star in May, but the plan right now is to focus on cherries in June, summer squash in July, eggplant in August, tomatoes in September and leeks in October.

In its pilot year, the Grown to Go program cannot accommodate dietary restrictions, but it will be available five more weeks of the market season — June 23, July 28, August 25, September 22 and October 20. Recipes are available in a full season ($30 per recipe) or a la carte ($35 per recipe).

The Pick-Up

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When we tried the first week of meals, we were told to arrive at the market on Saturday, May 26 between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. When we got there, the tent was clearly marked and lined with green Grown to Go reusable freezer bags. After signing in, we were given the bag, the recipe and a list of farmers to visit and what to grab from each. 

I liked that the bags weren’t pre-packaged with ingredients because it gave me an opportunity to explore the market while still having a game plan in mind. I visit the farmers market weekly, but I always find myself bumbling aimlessly around the stalls. This gave me a greater sense of purpose, and it encouraged me to grab items I don’t usually reach for, like local chicken thighs or pea shoots.

The recipe for May involved a few stops — for local shitake mushrooms from Mile High Fungi, thick asparagus from Kiowa Valley Organics, chicken and eggs from McCauley Family Farm and pea shoots and green garlic from Ollin Farms. Because of a hail storm, Cure Organic Farm wasn’t able to supply the pea shoots, but it was great to see another farm step in to help. Each farmer needed to sign off on the ingredient to pick it up, which gave me a great opportunity to have a short conversation with each about what they do.

After shopping, I went home to ready myself to tackle the recipe — crispy chicken thighs, asparagus and a mushroom green garlic flan.

The Dinner

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From start to finish, the recipe took a little less than an hour to make. Because I had the recipe card and video to follow, I felt pretty confident in the kitchen following along. Although I consider myself a moderate home chef, I’ve never made flan, so it was fun to push myself out of my comfort zone. 

I followed the instructions at the top, which said to read through the entire recipe before starting. And I’m glad I did because I realized the recipe needed a microwave — something my apartment is missing. But, I was able to saute the asparagus in a pan for the same effect.

As someone who’s always bored with the same old chicken breast, I liked getting to explore a different cut of meat. And, my husband was super excited to dig into skin-on dark meat for dinner.

I burnt the chicken a little — that cast iron pan gets hot! — but otherwise, we both gave the meal a big thumbs up. We spent dinner discussing what a killer date night the entire experience (from shopping to cooking) would be, married or not.

The Union Station Farmer’s Market is every Saturday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. through October 20 at 17th and Wynkoop Street. For more information on Grown to Go, click here

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