Microgreens bursting with flavor, spicy hot sauces, sweet honey, and earthy mushrooms – these vendors showcase the variety and quality found at outdoor farmers markets in Denver. We’ll explore the meticulous process of growing and drying mushrooms, the nutritional advantages of microgreens, the misconceptions surrounding hot sauces, and the familial/cultural traditions behind honey production. Let’s learn more about the vendors who exemplify the diverse and exceptional offerings found in Denver’s farmers markets.

Worker sells mushrooms at outdoor farmers market in Denver

Hazel Dell Mushrooms are sold at a Denver-area farmers market. Image provided by Hazel Dell Mushrooms

Hazel Dell Mushrooms

Lucinda Womack of Hazel Dell Mushrooms cultivates a variety of mushrooms using a meticulous process, offering fresh and dried mushrooms at Denver-area farmers markets. Hazel Dell’s mushrooms can be found at the Boulder County Farmer’s Market (Saturdays from April to November, Wednesdays from May to October) and at the Larimer County Farmer’s Market (Saturdays from late May to late October), as well as at Whole Foods and Sprouts locations throughout the Denver area.

Q: Can you walk us through the process of growing and drying mushrooms?

A: The lab is where the magic all begins! Mushroom mycelium is cultured on sterile petri-dishes and used to start new mushroom crops by transferring and sealing the mycelium spawn in specially designed mushroom grow bags filled with a sterilized growth medium. These bags are then sealed and carefully transported outside the lab into incubation rooms for colonization and then into harvest rooms to complete the mushroom fruiting. This entire process is precisely monitored for cleanliness and efficiency to minimize the risk of contamination and failed harvest. The entire process from petri-plate to dinner plate can take anywhere from six weeks to six months, depending on the variety grown. 

Q: What are some of the health benefits of eating mushrooms?

A: Mushrooms contain a variety of micronutrients including vitamin D, riboflavin, folate, niacin, selenium, potassium and beta-glucans, to name a few! Not only do these nutrients support overall health, but they also help to boost the immune system. Specific varieties of mushrooms also have a lot to offer. Recent studies of lion’s mane mushrooms indicate that they can help improve memory and support nerve function. 

Q: What are some of your most popular mushroom products?

A: Shiitake mushrooms are our top seller; they’re delicious, packed with umami, and quite versatile. We are also seeing increased demand for lion’s mane mushrooms and mixed exotic mushrooms.

Q: How do you recommend storing and preparing your fresh mushrooms?

A: When you buy fresh mushrooms direct from our farm stand or at a farmers’ market, we recommend leaving them in a paper bag (mushrooms like to breathe), keep refrigerated, and use them within 7-10 days of purchasing. Mushrooms purchased at the grocery store are generally not nearly as fresh. Dried mushrooms and powders have a very long shelf life if kept in a cool, dry, dark place. 

Q: What are some lesser-known varieties of mushrooms that people should try?

A: I love maitakes, aka “hen of the woods.” They are savory, meaty and have an almost peppery spiciness. People are sometimes intimidated by these and other “weird-looking” varieties. If you can’t decide, try an exotic mix and get a little bit of everything!

Tague farm microgreen mixes

Microgreen mixes offered by Denver-based Tague Farm. Image provided by Tague Farm

Tague Farm

Chelsea Tague started growing microgreens in 2020, providing highly nutritious and flavorful microgreen mixes like brassica blends and micro cilantro. Tague Farm’s offerings can be found at South Pearl Street Farmers Market (Sundays from May to November) and at Union Station Farmers Market (Saturdays from June to mid-September).

Q: How did you first get into growing microgreens?

A: Tague Farm developed from a need to be outside as well as a dream to grow food for my family and community. I first started growing microgreens in late 2020. During the pandemic, I had extra time to dream about what I wanted my life to be going forward. Farming has always been a dream, but growing microgreens was a way to begin making my future happen without having to move out of the city.

Q: What are some of the health benefits of eating microgreens?

A: Microgreens have more nutrition per ounce than their full-grown counterparts. One ounce of micro broccoli has 40 times more nutrients than an ounce of broccoli florets. Microgreens are also great at delivering vitamins. Tatsoi, for example, has a lot of calcium. 

Q: What are some of your most popular microgreen products?

A: Our most popular microgreens product is the Microgreens Mix. This is a brassica mix of broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, arugula, and cabbage. It’s a great starter microgreen to add to salads, smoothies, or sandwiches. Another recently popular microgreen is micro cilantro. It’s always taco season, and you cannot beat fresh cilantro. Micro cilantro is interesting because it has a bold cilantro taste, but has a few seed casings left, which is coriander, so it has a dual flavor profile.

Q: How do you recommend storing and preparing your microgreens?

A: Microgreens should be refrigerated. When preparing meals with micro greens, you can rinse them and spin them like lettuce or pat them dry. I love adding them to everything, from omelets to salads or topping soups or pasta dishes, and their versatility makes them great additions to all meals. Recently I have been making smoothies every morning, and I add a big handful of cabbage and kale microgreens. You can’t taste them, really, but I know they are there and my family is getting all the nutrients first thing in the morning.

Q: What are your plans for your microgreen offerings in the future?

A: Tague Farm will continue to deliver every Friday to homes, chefs, and grocery stores around town. We will also be at the South Pearl Street Farmers Market starting in May and at the Union Station Farmers Market in June. It’s going to be a great summer.

Coopers Small Batch hot sauce at outdoor farmers market in Denver

Cooper’s Small Batch Hot Sauce on display at a farmers market. Image provided by Cooper’s Small Batch Hot Sauce

Cooper’s Small Batch Hot Sauce

Michelle Davidson’s Cooper’s Small Batch Hot Sauce offers a unique selection of hot sauces with complementary flavors, using ingredients like seaweed and popcorn. Find Cooper’s Small Batch Hot Sauce at South Pearl Street Farmers Market (Sundays from May to November), Parker Farmers Market (Sundays from May to October), Highlands Square Farmers Market (Sundays from May to October), and Union Station Farmers Market (Saturdays from June to mid-September).

Q: How did you first get into making hot sauce?

A: At Cooper’s Small Batch Hot Sauce, we first started making hot sauce out of necessity. We owned a restaurant in Denver on Old South Pearl Street called The Crusher. We needed hot sauce for customers who wanted to add spice to their meals. Instead of buying commercial brands that either had too much salt or vinegar or were so spicy that just a couple of drops burnt the palate, we created four hot sauce flavors to complement the food and not overpower it. We sold the restaurant in 2012, and a few years later, we decided to rebrand the hot sauce and introduce it into the market, starting at farmers’ markets and shortly after expanding into retail stores, grocery stores, and restaurants.

Q: What makes your hot sauces unique compared to others?

A: We use simple, complementary ingredients that blend into the food. We like ingredients that are not typically found in hot sauces, like seaweed and popcorn. We create new flavors, like the black habanero found in some of our hotter hot sauces. And last, you can taste the fresh ingredients complemented by the flavors of the peppers.

Q: How do you come up with new hot sauce recipes?

A: We first think of different genres of food that we like and that could use hot sauce. We try to use different ingredients not typically used in hot sauce. For example, dates to add sweetness without adding sugars, rosemary for a bold aroma, and most recently, we created Ghost of Serr-Ana hot sauce. We wanted a hot sauce that would go well with sushi and oysters. We used Serrano peppers, green ghost pepper, shiso, seaweed and popcorn. It’s our spicy green hot sauce with a bright, fun flavor profile.

Q: What are some common misconceptions about spicy foods?

A: Some misconceptions are that spicy food is too hot and only about heat, that spice overwhelms the flavors of the food, and that it can give you heartburn (high salt content can cause heartburn, so seek out lower salt content). Peppers serve a purpose. Peppers make you salivate, acid clears fat from the tongue and salt opens the palate to receive flavor, making craft hot sauce a great condiment to have in your kitchen. Depending on a person’s spice tolerance, we have a wide range of heat levels, ranging from a very mild tomatillo hot sauce to spicy habanero or ghost peppers.

Q: Do you have any collaborations or partnerships with other local vendors?

A: We collaborated with Locke + Co Distilling to make a limited reserve hot sauce called Drunkin Funkin and used their Aspen aged rye whiskey discs to create a hot sauce that has black habanero, pumpkin, and whiskey.

Bjorn's Colorado Honey on display at outdoor farmers market in Denver

Bjorn’s Colorado Honey beekeeper, Pontus, packages honey at a Denver farmers market. Image provided by Bjorn’s Colorado Honey

Bjorn’s Colorado Honey

Lara Boudreaux and beekeeper Pontus continue the Swedish honey-making tradition at Bjorn’s Colorado Honey, providing locally sourced, high-quality honey from hive yards in Boulder County and Denver, along with other bee-related products, with plans to open a store in Golden. Look for Bjorn’s Colorado Honey at the South Pearl Street Farmers Market (Sundays from May to November), City Park Farmers Market (Saturdays from May to October), Westminster Farmers Market (Saturdays from June to September), Southlands Farmers Market (Saturdays from May to September), Arvada Farmers Market (Saturdays from June to September), University Hills Farmers Market (Saturdays from May to October), Union Station Farmers Market (Saturdays from June to mid-September), and Highlands Square Farmers Market (Sundays from May to October), along with several other farmers markets throughout Colorado.

Q: How did you first get into beekeeping and honey production?

A: Pontus, our beekeeper, grew up in Sweden and learned the practice from his grandfather, Björn, the company namesake. Our brand is a celebration of Pontus’ Swedish roots and the beekeeping heritage he comes from. Because Pontus grew up as a third-generation beekeeper, he always thought he’d take over his family’s honey business. When he met Lara, his wife, they decided to live in Colorado, where Lara already had a job in tech. Pontus then realized he’d better get some bees so he could follow his dream of becoming a beekeeper even if he wasn’t going to take over his family business. These days Pontus takes great pride in carrying on the Swedish family traditions of honey-making and beekeeping, and he hopes to pass the business on to his daughter, Ester, someday.

Q: How do you ensure the quality and purity of your honey?

A: Pontus, our beekeeper, has worked hard over the last nine years to build up hive yards on private land and organic farms in the Boulder County and Denver area. We now have 12 hive yards in Boulder County and two in Denver (one in Cherry Hills and one in Southeast Denver). These hive yards contain over 130 colonies and allow us to source honey from the Boulder/Denver metro area, which is important to customers looking for truly local honey. We never move our hives or use them for pollination services. Pontus prides himself on his beekeeping knowledge, which is based on three generations of beekeeping and honey production in Sweden. These sustainability practices help ensure high-quality honey and healthy beehives every season.

Q: Do you offer any other bee-related products besides honey?

A: We do sell a line of bee-based skin and oral care products that are made by our beekeeper’s family friend in Europe. That producer is a professional beekeeper and pharmacist who understands bees and their benefits, as well as traditional cosmetics production. Björn’s lotions, creams, and salves leverage the wonders of honeybees, from beeswax to propolis and, of course, honey. We also offer bulk beeswax and raw, undehydrated bee pollen. 

Q: What are some common misconceptions about honey?

A: People worry about honey being highly processed or heated. By purchasing honey from local beekeepers instead of large grocery chains or bulk stores, folks can be confident that they are getting real honey without anything added or subtracted. We actually created our Untouched Honey for people who are looking for truly raw and unfiltered honey because there is so much confusion around this topic. While all of Björn’s Colorado Honey is raw to American standards, our Untouched Honey is raw to our standards. Extracted without any filtering, this honey includes pollen, beeswax, and occasionally propolis in each jar. This honey is never pasteurized, heated, or filtered and nothing is ever added or extracted.

Q: What are your plans for expanding your honey offerings in the future?

A: We’re planning to open a store in Golden this coming summer! We already have honey shops in Breckenridge and Steamboat Springs, but we wanted to find a location that is easier for our front-range customers to access all year, even when the farmers’ markets aren’t in season. We hope you’ll stop by our Golden Shop when it opens and see what all the buzz is about!