Market Report: Bernalillo
A pueblo harvest
Each time I show up at a growers' market, it’s like coming home. Even if it's one I've never visited. As soon as it comes into view, I feel like I already know the people I'm about to meet, like I've slipped into a recurring dream that’s always different yet familiar. That’s why if, during the next few weeks, you don’t find yourself reading about too many restaurants in this space, I hope you understand. I haven’t been eating at restaurants much. Instead I’ve been haunting the markets, bringing home the goodness and cooking it into 10,000 permutations of green chile, corn, calabacitas, garlic and meat (with the occasional artichoke or leek), and washing it down with melon juice.
As the car drives, the Bernalillo market—held on Friday evenings—is the closest market to my house in Placitas. (If I were a crow I could get to the San Felipe market quicker: See the San Felipe market bite.) I’m very happy to have this cute and well-stocked market as my local. Under the shade of big cottonwood trees in a gravel parking lot off of Camino del Pueblo, I surveyed the action—arranged in a tight circle around me—alongside a woman getting real with a big, juicy peach. I made a note to self about that peach.
The air was savory with the smell of several chile roasters doing their thing. Lots of Pueblo farmers brought their native chiles, which are smaller than the Hatch-style varieties. And there were the large, plump Hatch types to be had as well, including some very nice specimens, priced accordingly, from the Corrales Chile Company stand. Fantastic Sandia chiles grown at Calabasa Farm in Santo Domingo Pueblo were roasted on the spot and priced to move.
A San Felipe man named Roger was selling bags of pintos and blue corn, and he promised to bring blue corn tortillas the next week. A Santa Ana woman had green chile Spam burritos in homemade tortillas. Susie Cheykaychi, of Native Baking in Santo Domingo, brought a lineup of horno bread, dense and crumbly, and Pueblo fruit pies. She also had a box of red chile tamales. The bright chile had orange tones, and the large tamales were tied in three places like a Christmas present. Many of the Pueblos brought big, juicy melons, including yellow-fleshed watermelon, sweet and tasting of tea, and crispy honeydews. They were both excellent.
Joe Moody is a tenant farmer on leased land just outside Cochiti Pueblo, a few miles up the bone-dry Santa Fe River in La Bajada. Despite the fact that the river dried up in June, Moody somehow manages to grow beautiful produce at Squash Blossom Farm, including okra, and some very cool varieties of garlic and heirloom tomatoes. But it hasn’t been easy. He’s had to use “every way you could imagine” to get water on his crops.
Under the shade of big cottonwood trees in a gravel parking lot off of Camino del Pueblo, I surveyed the action—arranged in a tight circle around me—alongside a woman getting real with a big, juicy peach.
In July, Stuart Dyson of KOB News 4 did a report on the plight of the Santa Fe River, and he placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of beavers, explaining how the city of Santa Fe replaced the invasive Russian olive and salt cedar trees on the riverside with native cottonwood and willow trees. This made the habitat more beaver-friendly. And that’s why La Bajada is drying up, Dyson says, unequivocally.
“Our water is going to Las Campanas golf course,” says Moody, who sees the situation with a tad more nuance. Sure, the beavers may slow down the water, but we are in a major drought, and water that belongs in the river is watering lawns and flushing toilets in Santa Fe.
Moody and many of his neighbors in La Bajada, as well as many Cochiti down “stream,” are senior water rights holders on the river. By law, he says, if senior water rights holders don’t get their water, the junior water rights holders will get cut off. The process, as with all New Mexico water rights issues, is maddeningly complex, and might even involve the Federal Aviation Administration, Moody says. But the process is moving forward—beavers and golfers beware. “It would be great for the river if it flowed all the way to the Rio Grande,” Moody says.
From the center of the circular market, I overheard an older gentleman ask a customer of a similar age if she needed anything else from this booth. "¿Que más? ¿Que más? ¿Quieres bailar conmigo esta noche?"
I stood there admiring a striking view of the Sandia Mountains and eating a firm but deliciously messy peach from Montoya Farms. It was like a swim in peach juice. We can grow some amazing food here in New Mexico, if we can just get the water on it. The desert on moisture is a magical thing. But there isn’t enough water to go around.