IT'S SATURDAY IN HIGH SUMMER, and the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market is in full swing. A whirl of color—salad greens, multihued tomatoes, ripe peaches, and bright sunflowers—blends with the sounds of live music and laughter that fill the Santa Fe Railyard. The earthy aroma of green chile tumbling in roasters wafts through the air.
The place is packed. Shoppers dart from one booth to another, buying corn, summer squash, and other fresh fare, trading stories and recipes with scores of farmers from northern New Mexico.
A similar scene takes place at more than 70 farmers’ markets throughout the state, each one a place to buy fresh food coaxed from the soil by hard-working farmers. These traditional community gatherings also represent the heart of a village or city, where neighbors catch up and locals connect with visitors. Everyone at these markets knows that seasonal food from small, local farms is healthy for our bodies and for the land.
“I really love this market,” says Ana Malagon, as she packs a few plants into overflowing saddlebags on her bicycle. “It has a sense of community for me.”
She’s shopped the Santa Fe market since moving to the city two years ago from Juneau, Alaska, where she worked on a farm. “I get almost all my food from here, including Hakurei turnips, which are sweet, and all my meats and sausages,” she says. “I chat with the farmers, who are all really nice, and I feel like a regular. It’s wonderful.”
The farmers thrive here, too. “There’s a connection in this market between farmers and shoppers,” says Jennifer Fresquez, a farmer and the market’s president. “We’re very deeply rooted in the community.”
The growers share a strong bond. “We all support each other, even though we’re all sort of competitors because we’re all trying to sell the same food to the same people,” she says. “It’s a very supportive community, and the customers are amazing.”
Fresquez comes from a family of well-known farmers. Her parents, David and Loretta Fresquez, have been selling at the market since 1989, with produce grown on their Monte Vista Organic Farm, in La Mesilla, south of Española. Jennifer grows rhubarb and sweet onions; David is famous for his heirloom tomatoes.
You can taste those tomatoes at Joe’s Dining, in Santa Fe, in the caprese salad and pizza margherita made by chef and owner Roland Richter. Customers wait all year to devour his summer specials.
Like other Santa Fe chefs, Richter mines the market for fresh ingredients, year-round. “The market is incredible,” he says. “The farmers do an amazing job despite the
challenges with weather and water. The food is sustainable. You’re in touch with the ground, the environment, and the seasons, and you see the consistency.”
José Gonzalez and his wife, Maria, have spent 16 years facing down the challenges of farming in New Mexico on their Gonzalez Farm, in Alcalde and Lyden. They bring a bounty of chile, squash, cucumbers, corn, fennel, and more to markets in Santa Fe, Eldorado, Taos, and Los Alamos.
Their spicy daikon and sweet watermelon radishes are a huge hit, and tourists eagerly take home colorful crosses and other decorative items that Maria makes using dried chile, flowers, and herbs. A high point of their market day is the camaraderie. “We like to see other farmers at the market,” Gonzalez says. “We know it’s hard to farm, and seeing other farmers is like a payoff for our hard work.”
Many growers you meet at markets throughout New Mexico are passing along their traditions to future generations. Nery Martinez, for instance, learned to farm with his uncle, Don Bustos. A veteran of the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market, Martinez grows some 70 types of produce on his Santa Cruz Farm & Greenhouses, including asparagus and prized blackberries.
After running both his uncle’s farm and its market booth, Martinez is now the market manager. He’s well aware of the value of each transaction that takes place. “Everything that people buy at the farmers’ market is pure hard work,” he says. “The hands that are giving it to you are the hands that worked to grow it.”
The New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association can help you find a nearby market. The website also has recipes using what’s fresh in each season. Here are a few of our favorites.
Los Ranchos Growers’ Market, 6718 Río Grande Blvd., Los Ranchos. Besides produce fresh from Albuquerque’s North Valley, you’ll find handmade arts and prepared food for an alfresco lunch.
Corrales Growers’ Market, at the intersection of Corrales and Jones roads, in Corrales. This Sunday morning scene boasts exotic greens, green chile, and some of the best jams and pies you’ll ever taste.
Musicians, artists, and growers gather at the Farmers’ and Crafts Market of Las Cruces, on the Plaza de Las Cruces. Pop into nearby museums to cool down with culture.
The San Juan River supports growers who sell their produce at the Farmington Growers’ Market, in the parking lot of the Farmington Museum.
“This dish has the greatest hits of the farmers’ market in August in one pot, simply prepared and arranged so that you can sample the flavors of the season and the vegetables grown by many different farmers.” —Louis Moskow, chef and owner of 315 Restaurant & Wine Bar, in Santa Fe
“This is a huge, hearty salad that takes advantage of fresh market produce. Make the chicken first. While it rests and cools, you can assemble the salad and dressing. I love fruits and vegetables in salads. With grilled chicken and a hint of red chile, it’s a perfect summer meal for lunch or dinner.” —Douglas Merriam, photographer and author of Farm Fresh Journey: Santa Fe Farmers Market Cookbook
“For the best caprese salad, do not refrigerate the mozzarella. Tomatoes should be sun-ripened, soil-grown, and never refrigerated.” —Roland Richter, chef and owner of Joe’s Dining, in Santa Fe