Restaurateur to cultivate Winter Park farmers market |

Restaurateur to cultivate Winter Park farmers market

Donnie McBath, of the Mirasol Cantina, is organizing a new farmers market for Winter Park, which he hopes to have up and running in June.
Byron Hetzler/ | Sky-Hi News

WINTER PARK — A new farmers market is coming to the county, far more ambitious than the veggie-vending operations in the past.

Restaurateur and chef Donnie McBath is spearheading the project, and his goal is to feature between 60 to 80 vendors by the end of the summer.

“I want to push this thing as much as possible and have one of the largest mountain town farmers markets,” he said. “You just have to think outside the box a little bit, and I’ve always been one to think outside the box.”

McBath has already managed to prove his ambition and lateral thinking in Winter Park. He took over the Mirasol Mexican restaurant on the north end of town over the winter, transforming it into a “southwest Colorado cantina” that puts a big emphasis on local food. It’s so local that McBath drives nearly every day to Denver to handpick the Colorado-grown produce and wild game he features on his menu. At 3 a.m., he gets text messages from seafood vendors about the day’s catch. He makes his choice and has it flown in so it’s still fresh – out of the ocean for 24 hours or less. Somehow, he manages to keep his dishes affordable, with tacos and bowls ranging from $5 to $15.

Local emphasis with competitive prices is a theme McBath also wants to see at his farmers market.

“I’m going to set a cap, produce has to be market value,” he said. “You can’t just come here and charge $4.99 a pound for tomatoes when you can go to Safeway and get the same thing for $1.99 a pound.”

McBath said he’s had a lot of interest from vendors and farmers around the state, especially the Boulder area, but he’s hoping to encourage more local Grand County vendors to participate.

“There’s a list of people trying to get into it, but I want to keep it local first,” he said.

McBath expects to kick off the farmers market on June 6 outside the Mirasol Cantina at the intersection of Highway 40 and High Country Drive. It will be open every weekend through the summer.

“Realistically, we will probably just have a few vendors to start, I’m not expecting anything big,” he said. “But by the next weekend, we’ll get into the swing of things, like figuring out the parking situation. At the end of day, you don’t know how it’s going to turn out until you have a trial run.”

Still, even a small-scale market is a tough prospect for the area. Farmers markets are nothing new for the Fraser Valley, but they typically only run for a summer or two before fizzling. Catherine Ross, executive director of the Winter Park and Fraser Chamber of Commerce has seen a number of farmers markets come and go over the last few years. In her experience, she said it’s largely due to the county’s small population.

“If you call a vendor and they have a choice between this community and Boulder, they’ll usually go to Boulder because there are more people,” she said.

Even with the Valley’s track record for markets, Ross is optimistic about McBath’s produce-selling prospects.

“We haven’t done (a farmers market) for a few years, so things may have changed,” she said. “There is a lot more entrepreneurial interest around farm-to-table and local food, and it has become a lot more popular as a business practice in our state, so there’s more potential.”

While McBath hasn’t solicited help from the chamber for his upcoming market, Ross said they “wish him well” and will help him promote it. For his part, McBath understands the importance of community buy-in for a viable market that lasts.

“I will deliver, I will make sure the vendors are here and they show up, but I ask our community to at least come check us out and to start thinking about living affordably and sustainably,” he said. “There’s the big picture. There’s a lot more out there, and I want to offer that to our Valley.”

Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.

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