to market, to market

by Ben Ikenson
photograph by Gabriella Marks Photography

local farmers and growers markets keep the farm to table movement thriving in Northern New Mexico

If farmers markets are a living link to an area’s evolving agrarian traditions, those traditions are alive and bursting from booths in Northern New Mexico, where several vibrant venues help to offset some of the region’s natural limitations.

“Supporting small-scale agriculture in Northern New Mexico is especially important given the challenges farmers in this region face,” says Amara Nash, business manager for the Santa Fe Farmers Market (santafefarmersmarket.com). “We don’t have the large swaths of land or ample water access that exist in other areas of the nation, which leaves us at risk of diminishing food access unless we can bolster these farmers and increase their opportunities for financial success.”

The market, which marks its 50th anniversary this year, is a veritable cornucopia of fresh, locally grown offerings, from seasonal produce, meats, and cheeses, to organic goat milk and artisan honey, to body care products and herbal medicines.

“One advantage of our small-scale agricultural traditions is that it produces an amazing variety,” says Nash. “Stuff you wouldn’t even think of being produced here is on display, much to the delight of market-goers, which often includes several renowned local chefs who incorporate their selections into recipes at their restaurants.”

An hour’s drive south of Santa Fe, the Corrales Growers’ Market (corralesgrowersmarket.com) is a natural extension of the Village of Corrales’ one-acre minimum property ownership ordinance and its support of farmland preservation.

“The Village has 35 acres under protective farmland easements,” explains Bonnie Gonzales co-owner of Gonzales Flower Farm and a spokesperson for the market. “Many were made possible through an overwhelmingly successful 2007 local bond election in which the community voted to tax themselves to protect their farming tradition.”

According to Gonzales, a core of about 24 farms have been consistently represented in the market since the 1990s, and around 40 producers are on hand at the season’s peak, from July to mid-October.

“Customers can expect to find fresh food at its best, and get firsthand knowledge about preparation, storage, and processing,” says Gonzales. “Getting the person who grows food and the person who consumes it face to face is ground zero for education about local food.”

Likewise, in downtown Albuquerque, local food producers have ample opportunity to engage consumers and showcase the fruits (and veggies) of their labor. In operation since 1996, the Downtown Growers’ Market (downtowngrowers.org) has expanded with each season and now hosts nearly 200 vendors, 70 of them food growers.

Market manager Liz Skinner says, “These markets provide farmers and small business owners an outlet for their product, an outlet that brings so many residents and visitors out to engage with local producers.”

An organic farmer who grows tomatoes, beans, and melons in Albuquerque’s North Valley, Minor Morgan of North Valley Organics started participating here three years ago. “Just in these past few years, we’ve seen the market really take off,” he says. “It’s a great way for us to connect with the community, show off our produce, and spread the message about the benefits of local produce.”

Housed in the former blacksmith shop of the enormous and iconic Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Rail Yards complex in Albuquerque, the Rail Yards Market (railyardsmarket.org) became the highest grossing farmers market in the state last year, according to the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association. Having injected a new lease on life into the old building and the surrounding Barelas community when it was established in 2014, the market hosts some 120 vendors weekly, with public attendance ranging from 3,000 to 5,000 every Sunday, according to assistant market manager Amy Jones.

“Our market is different from others in size and programming,” says Jones. “And we aim for 50 percent of our market to feature local artisans, including wellness vendors, textiles, photographers, illustrators, home goods, crafts, and so much more.”

One vendor is Donovan Smith, a formerly homeless 13-year-old who makes bath soaps from aloe vera and goat’s milk. Smith has been the recent subject of much publicity lately. After donating some of his earnings and thousands of soaps to charitable organizations, and becoming an advocate for child abuse victims, Smith earned a Youth Choice Award at the McDonald’s 365Black Awards Community Choice Awards.

“We’re really seeing how pulling together as a community can and does change lives,” says Jones. “At the end of last year’s season, many vendors shared stories about how we helped keep a roof over their heads or how the venue allowed them to earn enough to feed their families, or how it helped turn their dreams into reality.”