Claire Yang picks out turnips t the Black Cat Organic Farms stall at the Boulder Farmers Market 2017 opening day. A group of six scientists will be at three Boulder and three Longmont farmers markets this season to talk and answer questions.
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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that scientist Kelsi Singer is employed by Southwest Research Institute.

On Saturday, the Boulder Farmers Market will feature its usual selection of local foodand friendly faces.But among the booths featuring fresh veggies and handmade goods also will be a group of planetary scientists.

They won’t be there seeking job applicants or donations, nor will they be selling something — throughout the day, a group of six scientists will be there just to talk and answer questions.

“Our community outreach usually takes the form of giving talks to groups and going to schools,” said Joel Parker, director of Boulder’s Southwest Research Institute. “Good communicators find outside-of-the-box ideas. You don’t expect to talk to astronomers at a Farmers Market. This way, it’s less formal and more welcoming.”

The idea was hatched by Amanda Hendrix, a senior scientist with the Planetary Science Institute, who was inspired by other organizations doing similar public outreach.

Hendrix employed the help of representatives from a number of other planetary science organizations, including Parker’s SwRI and the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“Boulder is a rich, bubbling stew of people who study planets and space,” Parker said.

That stew is a storied recipe that has helped define Boulder for 60 years. The Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics was founded in 1948 and, in 2007, landed a $92 million NASA contract to support missions, a portion of which is funded through taxes. Kelsi Singer, a senior researcher at SwRI, said it’s the group’s duty to help residents know where their taxes are going.

“Our research is funded by taxpayer dollars, so we love to share our research with everyone,” Singer said.

The missions being funded are more than just return trips to the moon, too. Singer was involved in the New Horizon mission that did a flyby of Pluto and discovered cryo-volcanoes on its surface.

“It’s good for communities to have scientific inquisitiveness,” she said. “People at the market may not do their own research, but this way we can teach them.”

This is the first of six markets the groups will be at throughout the summer. Scientists will set up shop at two more Boulder farmer markets and three in Longmont, though they aren’t yet sure on what dates. Setting up shop in a farmers market is like unexplored space to the group, however, so they’re unsure where exactly they’ll be. The booth will be easy to find, though.

“Just look for the banner with images of planets,” Hendrix said. “That’s us.”

The booth will have globes of the moon, Mars and Pluto, a model of a comet and Parker said he’ll have his laptop to show photos. But him and his colleagues are adamant in promoting the main draw — the opportunity for people to learn.

“I’m lucky to be doing this for a living and it’s easy to communicate because people are naturally curious about space,” Parker said. “Everyone looks at the night sky and wonders what’s out there. We’re here to feed that.”

If you go

What: Boulder Farmers Market

When: 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays through Nov. 23; 4 to 8 p.m.Wednesdays through Oct. 2. Planetary scientists will be at the market Saturday, Aug. 10 and Oct. 12.

Where: 13th Street between Canyon Boulevard and Arapahoe Avenue

What: Longmont Farmers Market

When: 8 a.m to 1 p.m. Saturdays through Nov. 23. Planetary scientists will be at the market July 13, Sept. 28 and Nov. 9.

Where: Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Road

More info: bcfm.org

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