Salad Days

Santa Fe Farmers Market marks 50 years of growth and growing pains.

Nina Yozell-Epstein and Matt Ladegaard met two years ago. He had studied sustainable agriculture in college and always wanted to start his own farm. She had worked for the café at the Santa Fe Farmers Market and served on its board. They fell in love and, this year, rented land in Pojoaque and founded Ground Stone Farm, which is having its debut season at the market.

On one early Saturday morning in July, Yozell-Epstein offered samples from the couple's more exotic wares: mouse melon and ground cherries. Drought notwithstanding, their effusion for the new undertaking is palpable. "The market is amazing," says Yozell-Epstein, whose other business, Squash Blossom, provides wholesale farm products to local restaurants. "Our customers are amazing in their loyalty to buying local food."

Yozell-Epstein and Ladegaard are among the 150 farmers from Northern New Mexico who fill the market weekly. Newcomers vend side by side with farmers who have sold at market for all of its 50 years, celebrated this year. Entire families have grown up in the market as it's moved from location to location before landing in a permanent home in the redeveloped Railyard 10 years ago.

Along the way, the market has grown, both in size and programmatically, with mixed reviews. Some criticize the logistic and cultural challenges of the Railyard location. Others say a recent Santa Fe Farmers Market Board of Directors decision to expel a long-time vendor reflects poorly on the board and its newer members.

Some veteran vendors say these are the salad days. Rose Trujillo, age 83, has sold at market since the early 1970s when vendors operated out of the St. Anne's Church parking lot. She's training her granddaughter Christina Chacón, a market regular since babyhood, to take over the family stand, featuring everything from vegetables to dried chile to multiple fresh fruit juices. Trujillo has farmed since she was a young girl when "my father had me working in the fields and my mother had me in the kitchen." Today, she has no complaints because "we have everything. We have food. We have clothing. Then, we didn't have those things." Now she wants to take some time "to enjoy my house, enjoy my family."

Families abound at the market. Victoria Montoya sells fruit and apple cider at a stand outside while, down the aisle, her father Pat slices peaches for his customers to sample. Victoria grew up working on her dad's farm in Velarde, started her own business at the age of 14, and has been at the market for 24 years. Like many, she has expanded to also sell "value-added" products, such as apple cider slushies.

The new products reflect the market's evolving profile; today's customers can buy egg rolls, kimchi pancakes (delicious) and a wide variety of jams, sauces and other products (market rules require an 80/20 split, with the larger portion for raw agriculture items). These products make vendors competitive, particularly with tourists.

Other changes include additional Tuesday morning and Wednesday afternoon Railyard markets and a Tuesday afternoon Southside market, El Mercado del Sur. The market's nonprofit partner, the Santa Fe Farmers Market Institute, owns the yearround farmers building in the Railyard, offers a farmers' microloan program, and a Double Up Food Bucks program that provides matching funds for customers using government assistance, among other initiatives.

Today's market presents logistical concerns for some, with Railyard parking as, by far, the biggest gripe. "The building is a beautiful asset for the community, but I don't know if it's the best thing for the vendors," Todd Doherty says, from behind the stand at the Intergalactic Bread Company, owned by his wife. "The city really creamed us with parking." (In July, the city halved Saturday parking to $1 an hour through Fiesta weekend). Others say the location has drawn more tourists and fewer local shoppers.

Farmers Market Board President Brian DeSpain, who runs Bodhi Farms, says while "obviously it would be better if we had our own lot," planned improvements to the pedestrian path between the market and underground parking garage would improve navigability.

Both DeSpain and Farmers Market Institute Executive Director Kierstan Pickens acknowledge the Railyard location attracts tourists, though Pickens said an informal survey indicates approximately 80 percent of shoppers remain local.

DeSpain, entering his fifth year at market, characterizes the gripes as natural. "There's always going to be some tension between newcomers and people who have been at the market for a while," he says. "A big chunk of that is just change."

One particular sore spot, raised by numerous vendors, was the May board vote to expel longtime vendor Tom Delehanty, who operates the poultry business Pollo Real. DeSpain said he could not discuss Delehanty's expulsion as an appeal is pending, but says such a decision is rare. Delehanty, who has been farming for more than 40 years and sold at the market for 20 plus, shared with SFR extensive correspondence related to his expulsion, which included a grievance filed against him by a former market manager, and a grievance from Delehanty filed against DeSpain.

Market personnel enlisted the Santa Fe Police Department to remove Delehanty when he showed up at market during a one-week suspension. An email to members from the board, citing its code of conduct, states that "Mr. Delehanty has had numerous violations over the years and several in the past year alone." Numerous vendors wrote to the board opposing the decision, and several vendors echoed that sentiment to SFR. "I think it was a mistake, personally," Ligaialein Products owner Thure Meyer says. "No small group of people should ever be in a position to vote out a long-time member."

As for Delehanty, he is organizing a buyers' club for his customers and on a recent Saturday cheerfully maintained a brisk business in the old Wild Oats parking lot. A Vietnam veteran with PTSD, Delehanty says he's raised numerous questions related to the market building infrastructure over the years, but disputed he's been in any way menacing. In some ways, he says, "I'm much happier out of there. I'm healing up."

Despite growing pains, everyone associated with the market expressed a fierce, if occasionally frustrated loyalty for its ecosystem.

"It's been around here for a long time and it's come a long way since the days of selling out of the backs of trucks in a parking lot," Institute Executive Director Pickens says. "But we still have that aesthetic. The market brings a certain vibrancy and culture that is vital to our community and we want to see the market here in another 50 years."

Santa Fe Farmers Market 50th Birthday Party:
7 am-1 pm Saturday Aug. 4. Free.
Farmers Market Pavilion,
1607 Paseo de Peralta,

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