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A taste of (only) Colorado

HEATHER MCWILLIAMS
the denver post
The Denver Post/Cyrus McCrimmon
ALL | The Denver Post

A soft spring rain patters the sidewalk outside In Season Local Market. Milk in glass bottles, artisan cheese and yogurt line the coolers. Neatly placed canned goods fill some shelves, and freshly baked bread rests on a wooden shelf next to the cash register.

It’s the picture of a neighborhood market with one twist: Every available item is grown and made within 250 miles of the store, 3210 Wyandot St.

“Even the bread is made from wheat grown in Colorado and milled in Colorado,” says store co-owner Shannon McLaughlin.

A conversation at a Broncos preseason game prompted McLaughlin and In Season co-owner Todd Stevenson to open the 180-square-foot space in north Denver. The two wanted to make buying local easier than at large groceries.

“Weeding through the things that aren’t local is frustrating,” Stevenson says, leading to the store’s motto: “If it’s not from here, it’s not in here.”

Some local-food purists, or “locavores,” argue for 100 miles as a truly “local” radius, but Stevenson wanted to quantify “local” in more pragmatic terms.

“I have a ’96 4-Runner, and 250 miles is how far I can go on a tank of gas,” Stevenson says. The distance brings variety to the shelves, too. “I want peaches in the summer,” McLaughlin says, and Western Slope fruit falls conveniently within his prescribed radius.

In Season sparks the interest of sustainable food advocate Michael Brownlee. “I think it’s terrific,” says Brownlee, co-founder and catalyst of the Boulder-based Transition Colorado, an organization dedicated to re-localizing economies. He says eating local isn’t an “ascetic discipline” but a way for people take back a bone-deep tradition of agriculture and community.

In an effort to buy products from sustainable sources, Stevenson and McLaughlin visit all their suppliers looking for quality practices and humane treatment of the livestock. Store walls sport photos of farmers, and McLaughlin keeps pictures of the cows and pigs intended for future food on her phone.

All this builds a sense of trust in their customers, Stevenson said. “When you walk in, all the questions of where it’s from, how the people treat the animals and the land is stripped away,” he said. It’s a message that resonates with many shoppers.

“It’s nice to come here and know it’s local,” said Christina Wright, a regular customer. “Plus everyone is so sweet and friendly,” she says, pushing back out into a cloudy afternoon.

In Season partners with other businesses promoting local foods and plans to sponsor a nearby farmers market this summer. They also offer discounts to business owners purchasing large quantities of local foods.

Two moms, toddlers in tow, shake raindrops from their jackets and chat with Stevenson about using In Season foods for their upcoming baby-food-making classes.

“I love it,” says Abby Hoverstock, another In Season regular. As Hoverstock enters, McLaughlin swings open the door to a cooler, squirts her locally grown radishes with water and greets Hoverstock and her son by name as they dart in from the rain.

Hoverstock pulls empty milk bottles from her canvas bag and shushes her son, clambering to have the bottles weighed on a produce scale hung behind the counter. McLaughlin’s laugh drifts through the shop as she weighs the bottles for the boy and offers him a honey stick.

“How many stores can you go to where the people pay attention?” Hoverstock says.

The shop opened in January, perhaps the hardest time of the year to find fresh produce, to brisk sales.

“We’ve had an amazing positive response,” McLaughlin says. So much so it’s hard to keep the shelves stocked some days. “The whole store turns over in less than a week and some things every three days,” Stevenson says. The Noosa yogurt and fresh milk hit just about everyone’s basket. One woman popped in for the first time just to pick up some Fort Collins-produced MouCo Cheese Co. Inc. cheese.

With products moving so quickly, and stocked shelves dependent on the growing season, shopping at In Season calls for a different mind-set.

“It requires more flexibility and participation on the part of our customers,” McLaughlin said. She demonstrates by negotiating with a woman buying a dozen bottles of heavy whipping cream for a dinner event, asking her to take only 10 because another customer just called wanting the thick cream for his wife’s birthday dessert. McLaughlin wants to be sure she has some.

“You’re not going to come in and find Twinkies, or some modified version, on the shelf,” he said, but that adds to the store’s honesty. McLaughlin admits she can’t cook without things like lemons and bananas. She gets hers elsewhere.

The two plan to offer online ordering and home delivery in coming months, Stevenson said. Bikes pulling trailers modified as “flatbeds” will transport the groceries.

Cathy Vigil breezes into the store from her home a mile away as the spring rain lets up. There she buys everything from produce and dairy to Colorado-produced gifts for out-of-town friends. She hopes the concept sticks.


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