Terri Bad Hand and Patti Martinson, co-directors of Taos County Economic Development Corp. (TCEDC), had many reasons to celebrate Friday (Feb. 12). Among them were the Food Center Award from the state Economic Development Department that recognized the nonprofit as a business incubator.
“We were actually the first business incubator in the entire state, so it feels good to be acknowledged,” Martinson said. “The award comes with some funding that we could use as well.”
They were also celebrating their annual Winter Food Festival and Valentine’s Day, which was still an upcoming event at the time. A team of volunteers, Friends of TCEDC, was busy selling gift baskets that contained products from the Food Center donated by the merchants.
“This sale is a fundraiser for TCEDC,” Martinson said.
Last, but not least, they celebrated the start of a “clean and clear” year, or finally being free of its mortgage.
“Now we are able to devote more time, energy and money towards events like this one,” said Mercedes Rodriguez, TCEDC IT and media specialist. “We want to thank all the community for their unwavering support.”
During the celebration, Danza Azteca de Anahuac performed traditional Aztec dances. Danzantes (dancers) Linda Velarde, Pat Garza and Guillermo Rosette conducted a special blessing ceremony for the center.
Taos Mayor Dan Barrone was also present at the event.
“I came to share this special moment with members of TCEDC and taste some of their great food,” he said. “This celebration is a wonderful way to honor the people who are part of the organization and who work very hard.”
“I couldn’t have started my business without TCEDC,” said Dana Blair, owner of tea.o.graphy, who has been selling specialty handcrafted teas since April 2015. “It’s remarkable to see how many people come here and to meet all of them in one spot.”
Joe Verduzco, owner of Pepe’s Salsa, has been the chile champion for the Milagro Rotary Scholarship competition several times. He began working at The Taos Food Center in 2006.
“And I am still here 10 years later,” he said. “This is a great organization.”
Mitzy Lancaster, owner of Mitzy’s Garden Salsa, is a relatively new merchant — she started her business only six months ago. She makes hot, medium and mild salsas.
“My daughter and I work together in the kitchen,” she said. “We use a family recipe that I have made for relatives and friends over the years. They all love the product and encourage me to market it. I’m grateful to TCEDC for this opportunity to begin my own business.”
Those who were looking for last-minute treats for their valentines had a lot to choose from.
Award-winning baker Alexandra Rose brought pies, tarts and other delicacies.
“I work here every week,” she said. “This is the oven I use. This is my table by the window — I’ve been coming to this kitchen for eight years and love this place, where we have the opportunity to do what we enjoy most. Many of us sell at the Saturday Winter Market, at the Guadalupe Church gym. Visit us there!”
UNM-Taos student Autumn Reid was representing her grandma’s company, Biscochitos de Taos, which is one of the many TCEDC success stories.
“My grandma started making the cookies here more than 10 years ago, and now we have an actual storefront in Albuquerque,” Reid said. “But it’s still the same recipe. All thanks to this great community kitchen! Now my boyfriend and I are planning to get in the food business, too.”
There were also Madam Stephanie’s Super Deluxe Brownie Cookies — gluten-free, fat-free, delicious morsels.
“This is my first show,” said the owner, Stephanie Zorie. “I came up with the recipe and wanted to share it with as many people as possible. I may add other products soon.”
Gemma DiFerdinando and Elliott Lefthand Enos offered Hemp Heroe Energy Bars.
“We want to support economic development in cultural communities,” DiFerdinando said. “All profits from the hemp food energy bars go to our charity, Wumaniti Earth Native Sanctuary.”
Geronimo Romero, from Taos Pueblo, had oven bread, prune pies and tortillas — regular and whole wheat. He has been in business more than 20 years.
“The best part of attending this event is the people,” he said. “And the food.”
Kamala Mars, owner of Kamala’s Krunchies, wanted a nourishing food to snack on, something both healthy and tasty. Through research and experimentation, she came up with “sunkins.”
“They are sunflower and pumpkin seeds that are soaked overnight and dehydrated at low temperatures to keep nutrients and enzymes intact,” she said. “Sunkins are made with medicinal spices for added nutritional benefits. They can be sprinkled on a salad, soup, or yogurt – or eaten by themselves.”
Mars began her business around six months ago and is happy with the response she has been getting.
“People seem to love my sunkins as much as I do,” she said.
Visitors who weren’t very fond of sweets and wanted something more “exotic” didn’t have to leave empty-handed. There was Heyam Khweis, owner of Arabian Night Foods, with different varieties of hummus (one includes chile) and pita bread.
“I feel so blessed for being part of this group,” said Khweis, who has been part of TCEDC for 16 years. “As the mother of six children, having my own business, which I could take care of in my own time, was a great opportunity. I am very grateful for the way it has expanded over time.”
Patty and Dave Caron moved from North Carolina last April. They took the TCEDC Food Sector class and are starting their business, 4 Healthy Directions, in a few weeks.
“We make freshly prepared, portion-controlled, healthy meals, with a different menu every week,” Patty Caron said. “The only thing people will need to do is pick them up, and we may add delivery service as well.”
Among the many tools TCEDC offers to food entrepreneurs is the Food Sector Opportunity Project—a week-long class that covers all the basics of food processing. It includes technical training as well as basic small business skills and computer skills for food entrepreneurs.
“Our next class begins the first week of April,” Martinson said. “Come and learn everything you need to know to start a great food business with very little capital. We are here to guide people step by step, from recipe development and food safety issues to marketing.”
TCEDC is located at 1021 Salazar Road, Taos, NM 87571. Phone: (575) 758-8731. Website: www.tcedc.org.