The two best times to hit the farmers market are first thing and last thing. Arriving early affords the widest selection, and in the case of morning markets, the day’s heat hasn’t had the opportunity to wilt the produce. Arriving late offers the possibility of deals, as farmers are in a hurry to move their produce anywhere but back onto their trucks. Sometimes they will make you an offer to let you walk with the rest of the box of whatever you’re perusing. But all things considered, I prefer arriving early. That’s when the diversity of what the market has to offer is on full display, and you aren’t on the edge of heat stroke. I’m happy to pay full price, and if there are any deals to be had, I prefer to let them come to me without asking for them. The farmers work too hard for me to ask them to lower their margins so I can have more beer money.
The problem with arriving early to a morning market is that it means waking up even earlier and perhaps forfeiting an easy Sunday morning at home. The Corrales Growers’ Market (500 Jones Rd., Corrales) is scheduled to address this problem, with an eminently reasonable 9am start time. The farmers need a chance to sleep in too, explained market manager Al Gonzales. Things were definitely heating up by 9am last Sunday, but being near the river helps the Corrales market keep its cool. Heading for home by 10 helped me keep mine. The market is set up in a way that is as sensible as it is distinct. All of the vendors form a ring around the dirt parking lot as if they’re doing a circle dance. In the center is a burrito stand and a covered wagon from which market-related t-shirts and assorted swag are sold. Musicians congregate in the northwest corner, where the shade is best, and their serenade can be heard anywhere in the market, even above the white-haired stampede in front of the unmarked stand with the 75-cent calabacitas.
I’m happy to pay full price, and if there are any deals to be had, I prefer to let them come to me without asking for them. The farmers work too hard for me to ask them to lower their margins so I can have more beer money.
At another unmarked stand, an old-timer had some gnarly looking cucumbers. “Chinese cucumbers,” he called them. I asked if they were any good. He guffawed and made me promise to thin-slice the one I bought and toss it with thin-sliced onions, oil, vinegar and salt. Funny he didn’t suggest I add tomatoes to this mix, even though his table was full of them. As he didn’t have any onions to sell, he recommended his neighbor’s.
I got my kid a strawberry tart at Hand to Mouth (h2mfoods.com), one of the best all-around food artisans at any market, and bought some expensive grass-fed beef from Kenny’s Beef, aka FishHugger (fishhugger.com). The burger was flavorful but not gamey, and worth the money. When meat is cheap, you have to wonder. Two of the regulars I typically patronize weren’t there: Camino de Paz School & Farm (caminodepaz.net) from which I get my goat meat, and HipChik Farms for the parsley and other greens. For reasons that where unknown to Mr. Gonzales, Camino de Paz didn’t make the trip down from Santa Cruz that day, and HipChik Farms was dealing with a well issue. This is the kind of farmer problem faced daily by the people who grow your food. Problems like missing a week’s worth of market income while you dump money down your well. Ricardo Blanco, of Corrales Chile Co., had a doozey of a problem himself.
Remember all of those grasshoppers a few months back? Right around the time they were thick enough to show up on the Doppler radar, resembling a storm cloud moving through Rio Rancho and Corrales, Blanco’s chile plants were about three inches tall. “Everywhere you stepped you had 20 or 30 grasshoppers jumping everywhere. They hit us pretty good. Many of the chile plants were nibbled down to the stems. We ended up replanting.”
So before you go ask a farmer for five bucks off a sack of chile or a dollar off that pound of tomatoes, remember: You don’t know what was sacrificed for that food. Chances are, a lot.