The knotted, age-worn fingers calculate $1.60 in their familiar dance across calculator keys and handwritten spreadsheets. Richard Stevens (MGeog’58) tenderly picks six tomatoes off the scale and hands them to the waiting customer.
The methodical exchange is one the 79-year-old farmer has patiently and happily performed for more than three decades. He has been selling at the Boulder County Farmers Market since it began in 1986 and still runs a stand sporadically with the help of his wife Betty from April through November.
Richard has become a legend at the market not only for his produce, which customers claim is infinitely more flavorful than the rest, but also for the authenticity of the experience that he unconsciously creates when selling it. His meticulous record keeping is captivating in its simplicity, while his bounty of carefully collected knowledge about produce, storage techniques and agricultural history seems never ending.
His path to agriculture is one that began in academia and continued around the world. After earning a doctorate in geography at the University of Kansas in 1961, Richard was recruited by CU to develop the geography department at the Denver campus. He remained a professor at the campus until 1996 but took several hiatuses, including a yearlong trip to Lesotho on a Fulbright scholarship to study local agricultural practices.
He also served four times with the Semester at Sea program, teaching college students about the agricultural practices of the different cultures they visited.
Meanwhile, the couple started a garden at their Boulder home as an academic experiment to see if they could reproduce the techniques they witnessed abroad. Through the endeavor, they discovered a passion for farming and decided to buy 10 acres of land outside the city. Using Richard’s grandfather’s simple methods — compost, manure, crop rotation and attention to soil quality — they have created a produce paradise that churns out enough crops to pay all of the bills and allows Richard and Betty to avoid all but occasional trips to the grocery store.
As the couple prepares to gradually retire from the farmers market, Richard preaches a beautifully humble and inspiring view of his profession.
“Anybody with an acre of land to plant can do this,” he says. “It keeps your mind active, your body active and you get good food out of it.”