Growing a community farmers market

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The Taos Farmers Market was one of the open-air markets that got its start in the early 1970s.

"The Taos market operated for the first time in 1972 and was considered successful," according to an article from November 14, 1973 in The Taos News, titled "Farmers markets spread the benefits." By 1973, the market was in full swing, running Fridays from late July through November with 15-20 farmers participating each week.

The market was located north of the old courthouse on Albright Street. People were invited to use the parking and the restrooms of the old building that stood at this location from 1970 to 2011 when it was demolished to make room for the new courthouse.

A group called the Friends of Taos Valley oversaw the market and provided $250 in support each year. They sought grants to improve the grounds and encourage more participation.

The group also spearheaded efforts to get the Taos Recycling Center going during this same time. The Taos News credits Alyce Frank, past president of Friends of Taos Valley, for her big role in getting the market started.

Only raw food could be sold and the market was open to any farmer in Northern New Mexico. "Farmers are encouraged to sell from pickup trucks or other vehicles," reported the article.

The Taos market joined others operating in Santa Fe, Las Vegas, White Rock, Española and Los Alamos.

A newbie market

In the early days of the market, seasonal produce was featured in Fayne Lutz's Taos News column, called "Cooking for the season" that ran for several decades. In September 1976, Lutz wrote, "The farmer is the biggest gambler of them all. He is obsessed with seeds and soil and moisture. Some years he goes on a big winning streak and has so much produce that he gets sick of the sight of it all. Another year may bring a losing streak. There will simply not be the best combination of moisture and temperature and his crop will be small."

That year, the root crops, such as carrots, beets, and onions did well, and Lutz offered her recipe for high altitude carrot cake.

Daniel Carmona of Cerro Vista Farms started selling his produce at the market in 1983 when it was at the courthouse. In the 1990s, the market moved to the Juan I. Gonzales Agricultural Center on Chamisa Road. Carmona and others worked to move it to a more visible spot and in the early 2000s, it was relocated to the town hall parking lot on Camino de la Placita.

During this time, more farmers began to participate in the market. With the help of the Taos County Economic Development Corp. to manage the operation, it began to thrive. "These were the golden years for the market," Carmona recalls. "We had up to 90 vendors, as many as we could fit in the parking lot. And we had a series of good fruit years between 2009-2012." He helped negotiate two extensions of the contract with the town for this location.

When work was needed to the Town Hall parking lot in 2014, the market moved to its current location at the Taos Plaza. Although some merchants opposed the move and worried that the reduction in parking would deter visitors to their stores, many in the community welcomed the move as a return to the historic center and the heart of town.

Another early farmer was Ron Boyd of Mer-Girl Farm. He got involved with the market in the late 1980s. He remembers that the market at that time consisted of a few pick-up trucks with produce, such as corn and watermelon for sale, often being resold at the old courthouse. He helped start an informal organization called the Taos Growers Association to bring more farmers to the market.

"The start of the market coincided with the arrival of the back-to-the-land movement seen here in the communes like New Buffalo," observes Boyd.

Now a Taos Farmers Market board member, Boyd says that the market is running smoothly due to the effectiveness of market manager Jennifer Helsel now in her second year. According to Boyd, the board is focused on continuing to make the market friendlier to both consumers and vendors.

"The awareness about the importance of local food is growing everywhere, and here it is growing tremendously," says Boyd. "We want to bring more education and involvement to the market and have recently introduced the golden shovel award that encourages interaction between the customers and vendors."

Market today

Boyd says that this is going to be a great year for fruit and chiles. Fresh produce and local eggs, dairy and meat are some of the main draws at the market, along with baked goods, prepared foods, cut flowers and skin products. At the peak of the season, hundreds of people attend the market to purchase food and other products from the 71 vendors, hear music, meet friends and participate in some of the activities, such as the art booth provided for kids by the Harwood Museum.

A strong feeling of community has grown among the vendors with young farmers joining those who have been coming to the market for many years. "This is my fourth year here," says James Garcia of Growing Opportunities Farm in Alcalde, who sells tomatoes and other produce. "I like the people of the community, both the customers and the vendors. Everyone cooperates when we set up in the morning to make it work for everyone."

Curtis Chesney of Just Kidding/Abundant Generations Farm is in his fifth season at the market. "I was working on permaculture in Colorado for two years before I came here. This is my natural calling. I like to see so many young farmers getting involved. I don't worry about competition. I welcome everyone," says Chesney, who is serving on the farmers market board this year.

Coming up

Already at least one farmer is roasting chiles at the market, says market manager Helsel. Upcoming events include the Golden Shovel events for the most attractive vendor booth in August and for food preservation in September.

"It's a fun way to encourage more interaction between the customers and the vendors," observes Helsel. "Vendors present information about the topic of the month and share tips. Customers can vote on the most interesting and useful presentations and that vendor wins the golden shovel for that month."

There is also an end-of-season award for favorite vendor on October 13. A Halloween costume contest will be held on the last official day of the market - October 27. An option is open to extend the market at Taos Plaza for three weeks into November for several holiday markets if weather permits. "It is the perfect opportunity to get everything you need for Thanksgiving," says Helsel.

"We strive to make the farmers market the best place to buy fresh, local food in Taos. We see it not only as a place where our farmers come to make their living, but also where our community comes to connect with their food and with one another…a place where we can all get along and where we are free to express ourselves as Taoseños."

The Taos Farmers Market takes place each Saturday until October 27 from 8 a.m. until 12:30 p.m., with a possible extension into November. For more information, stop by the market on Taos Plaza or visittaosfarmersmarket.org.

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