Until the Espanola Farmers Market debuted in 1993, local farmers who wanted to market their crops needed to travel to cities and tourist hubs like Santa Fe. This left the town of Espanola itself–where few stores sell fresh produce–without access to fresh food. The opening of the market by Espanola’s main road meant that farmers could sell their food to the town’s 15,000 mostly low-income residents – all just a few miles from their farms or pueblos.
When the market launched, the 74 farmers who participate in its June-to-October season formed an advisory board to help manage major decisions. One of the first decisions was to choose the market’s location at a parking lot on the campus of Northern New Mexico Community College (NNMCC). Here, market vendors–all of whom must sell vegetables, fruits, chilies, and corn-based crops that they produce, including crafts designed with harvested goods–can prepare value-added products in the college’s certified commercial kitchen.
A range of community events and partnerships utilize the market location to build local support. Seasonal events like the Taste of the Valley Festival and a potluck banquet create a dialogue between the farmers and the 300-500 daily customers about where their food comes from. A poetry contest, which encourages everyone from students to retired residents to write poems about how food and agriculture relates to their lives, is now spreading to local elementary schools. Whether it’s children eagerly pulling their parents to the free book exchange Monday morning, or volunteers building an outdoor Orno (traditional New Mexican clay oven for baking bread), the market is a city-wide affair serving more than the community’s appetite. The book exchange, started by market manager Sabra Moore to serve local kids, is growing continuously, and thanks to donations from organizations like the local library it now serves adults too.
The farmers also ensured that the market would accept WIC coupons. To make the coupons as easy to use as possible, WIC trainings are held in the conference room of the NNMCC on market days, allowing women to pick up their checks at the market site and making it more convenient for them to buy fresh produce. The Espanola Farmers Market is now the second largest WIC redeemer in New Mexico.