We associate growers’ markets with summer, and for good reason. That’s normally when stuff grows. Thanks to a combination of old-fashioned tactics and newfangled technology, however, farmers have figured out ways of extending the season. And if you’re out to absorb some social cheer as winter sets in, stock up on staples, and wolf down a breakfast burrito and a coffee, there’s no finer place than the Santa Fe Farmers Market—the state’s largest, oldest and arguably best.
The granddaddy of New Mexican markets started like many do, with a bunch of pickup trucks gathered in a parking lot. Luckily for the nascent food swap, Santa Fe’s geographic positioning put it near a diversity of landscapes at varying elevations. These microclimates support all kinds of interesting crops and livestock.
Beyond the area’s agricultural gifts, the fact that this particular parking lot happened to be in Santa Fe has, through the years, amounted to something of a silver spoon in its mouth. Today, the Rail Runner brings passengers to the market’s doorstep in the groovy, redeveloped Railyard (complete with an REI and a below-ground parking garage). Most importantly, the market has the support of the bad-ass Santa Fe Farmers Market Institute. As a nonprofit, it’s dedicated to helping farmers by providing everything from loans, water resource aid and a live radio show on KSFR. The institute also supports every aspect of the market itself, including the enclosed pavilion that makes winter shopping comfortable. It’s no wonder that Sunset Magazine has Santa Fe on its top-10 markets list.
At the Dec. 3 market, I was amazed at how leafy the options were, though some farmers warned me their fresh leaves were winding down. Early-morning shoppers should still be able to get fresh chlorophyll from the enterprising farmers with heated greenhouses.
One of the reasons I buy from this guy—besides his mustache, of course—is that he gives out samples: I know what his products taste like. It amazes me that meat sellers ask for grass-fed prices without that.
But as we take the plunge into honest-to-God winter, the focus inevitably shifts to roots and hearty vegetables. Gemini Farms, from Las Trampas, has the most complete and impressive array of winter crops. There’s always a cooked squash cut into samples in front of their pile of monster Hubbard squash. I bought a load from the bearded owners, who look like hill tribesman.
I also picked up a 30-pound sack of unwashed carrots. You have to ask for dirty roots, but most sellers have them stashed somewhere. Less labor for them means lower prices. Even better, unwashed roots will generally store for longer than clean roots. Just keep them in a cool place, like an unheated garage or basement. I also bought potatoes and cabbage and have been kicking myself for skipping their beets.
Elsewhere in the market, I snagged a bag of Brussels sprouts, some amazingly fragrant sweet potatoes from Freshies, rainbow chard from Red Mountain Farms in Abiquiú, South Mountain Dairy goat milk and a big bag of Asian greens from Green Tractor Farm in La Cienega.
Bacon and burger meat came from the brilliantly mustachioed seller at Red Mesa Meats. Unfortunately, he was out of kidney leaf lard. That’s pork fat from the kidney area, and it’s supposed to make the best crusts and pastries. I just wanted to fry my eggs in it, but the bacon will work. One of the reasons I buy from this guy—besides his mustache, of course—is that he gives out samples: I know what his products taste like. It amazes me that meat sellers ask for grass-fed prices without that.
The Saturday, Dec. 17 market promises to be a humdinger. The Railyard Artisan Market, which usually happens every Sunday, will set up for a special holiday market that afternoon. Soon after the growers’ market winds down, the artisans will unpack truckloads of furniture, fiber arts, pottery and jewelry. There’s going to be live music and hot food, too. Whether you arrive by Rail Runner or sleigh, it has the makings of an epic day in Santa Fe.