Grown and Raised

Southside farmers market bouncing back and expanding partnerships after challenging pandemic season

Patrons of the Southside farmers market shop for tomatoes and turnips, flowers, honey and other local products as a light rain sprinkles the stands in the parking lot of the Presbyterian Santa Fe Medical Center last week.

Officially known as the Santa Fe Farmers Market’s Mercado Del Sur—which runs from early July to late September—the bounty of locally grown goods is at the end of its yearly season. The last day is planned for next Tuesday, Sept. 28, from 3 to 6 pm at 4801 Beckner Road.

After a slow summer last year, the market is recovering, with more vendors, increased foot traffic and several partnerships with local organizations that are helping expand its reach on the Southside.

In 2020, the market averaged about four vendors because many didn’t want to participate in the early days of the pandemic out of concern for their health, says manager Nery Martinez, a farmer who sold produce at the market for nearly a decade before taking the managing job.

On most days last year, there were between 50 and 80 customers.

On the flip side, 14 vendors had set up when SFR visited last week and at 4:30 pm, with the market halfway over, Martinez had counted about 115 customers.

Included in that count was the Ortiz family. Sarah Ortiz, a Southside resident who was browsing the stands with her husband Mike and daughter Penelope, says the Del Sur market is convenient for her family because it’s closer to their home than the Farmers Market’s other locations, including the Saturday market at the Railyard.

“I think it’s really important for the Southside to have a place to get fresh vegetables and for working people to be able to come in the afternoon and evening,” Ortiz says. “Not everyone can get up on Saturday morning and go.”

The Southside has long suffered from a lack of healthy food options and the problem has only worsened in recent years, with fast food restaurants and convenience stores outnumbering grocery stores at a higher ratio than ever, SFR has reported.

Because the market is meant to help fill that gap in access, it made sense for Del Sur to partner with Presbyterian—which has several programs focused on addressing food insecurity, including a $200,000 grant the hospital received earlier this year to get food to families—and set up shop in the medical center parking lot starting in 2019.

“The market has really aligned with our community health goals and the goals of our hospital around supporting local farmers and the local economy and encouraging healthy eating,” Carrie Thielen, manager of regional community health at Presbyterian, tells SFR.

Every month, Presbyterian gives employees and patients vouchers to shop at the market, according to Thielen, and the hospital cafe’s food service director buys produce from the market and other local sources.

Thielen says partnerships between the market, Presbyterian and local nonprofits including YouthWorks and Cooking with Kids have helped the market grow this season.

“We had a lot of grassroots outreach between all of our partners, getting the word out through flyers and radio and advertising and then just our partners sharing information through their networks,” Thielen says. “I think we have seen an increase in participation and that will just continue to build.”

Cooking with Kids does hands-on nutrition education with schoolchildren and families. Executive Director Anna Farrier says the organization has partnered separately with the market and Presbyterian for years, so when the market changed locations, “it all came together.”

“It was a great opportunity for us to come and do mini cooking classes, just different sorts of things like watermelon salsa and hummus that don’t involve heat and feature fresh produce from the market,” Farrier says.

Cooking with Kids has been a partner since 2019, but the partnership with YouthWorks, the well-known nonprofit providing vocational training and educational services to at-risk young people, is new this year.

YouthWorks founder Melynn Schuyler says the partnership came about after the organization joined the Santa Fe Food Policy Council and took part in weekly meetings, which Presbyterian and the Farmers Market were also in, to figure out how to get food to people in need during the pandemic.

Since July, YouthWorks has been bringing a food truck to Del Sur and selling meals including green chile cheeseburgers, plant-based burgers and Frito pie. Schuyler says they’ve seen a gradual increase in customers over the summer, partly driven by hospital employees who have shift changes during the market.

“It’s really become a good stop for everybody and I think once and for all it’s going to take off and stick, which is what we’ve needed for the Southside, because in years past it didn’t really get there,” Schuyler says. “A lot of the population we serve lives on that side of town and they should have that access.”

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