Santa Fe Farmers Market: Harvesters’ Homecoming

The Santa Fe New Mexican

First Day in Bright New Railyard Digs Draws Crowd of Growers and Shoppers

Finding dried herbs, fresh vegetables and fragrant floral arrangements at the Santa Fe Farmers Market is the norm. Finding the market inside a bright, airy building with a bathroom hasn’t been, until now.

Tuesday was the first day that the growers market — nomadic for the past several decades — was held in its brand-new building in the Railyard.

The market hall is about 10,000 square feet of spare, concrete-floored space brightened by skylights. Eight open garage doors let in air and allow visitors to circulate, patronizing vendors inside and out.

“I love it,” said Ross Bird, 49, who has sold at the market for 12 years.

Bird travels from Estancia twice a week to sell tomatoes. His other family members man stalls in several smaller markets in Albuquerque. But Bird said the Santa Fe market is bigger and more lucrative than those. And that, he said, is thanks in part to the regular customers. Bird said Tuesday’s market attracted about three times as many people as the Tuesday market has in the past.

Salvador Corona, 42 — who has sold the vegetables he raises in Española at the Santa Fe Farmers Market for about 12 years — was one of several vendors who set up outside the main hall Tuesday because there was not enough room inside when he got there at 6:40 a.m.

“It’s a beautiful space,” said George Gundrey, executive director of the Santa Fe Farmers Market. “We are thrilled to death. But we are still a little tight.”

The building has about 25,000 square feet. But only about 10,000 of that is market space. Sarah Noss, director of the Farmer’s Market Institute (the fundraising arm of the market), said rents on the rest of the space — which will house offices and a restaurant — are needed to help pay for the building. Though the farmers market had traditionally operated outdoors, Noss said, the city required the construction of a structure as part of the land lease on the property.

Gundrey said when ongoing construction around the new building is completed — it is hoped by next Saturday — there will be space for about 106 stalls in the market, about half of them in a shaded area along the tracks or in an open plaza north of the building.

About 30 vendors were inside Tuesday. But Gundrey said when the side doors are closed in the winter, the hall will be able to accommodate about 50 vendors. Noss said the farmers market wants to encourage farmers to start growing more produce in greenhouses so they can have a stable year-round income.

About 160 sellers regularly set up at the market, Gundrey said. About 90 of them have reserved spaces. Vendors pay $20 to $35 each for their spaces.

Vendor Bill Althouse — who drives his wild strawberries and giant dahlias to market in a soybean-powered limousine he claims once belonged to Ferdinand Marcos — said the indoor space gives his flowers a longer shelf life.

“Last Tuesday (when the market was located in a parking lot off Old Pecos Trail), I was set up on an anthill,” joked Doug Findley, proprietor of Heidi’s Raspberry Farm jams, demonstrating how he’d had to shore up his table and stomp his feet all day to compensate.

“It has good light,” said M.J. Malmud, 60, who has been bringing her garlic oil to the market for well over a decade. “It’s not claustrophobic. It has good flow. Parking has been a problem, but if we just stay patient, it will work out.”

Parking was the one issue nearly everyone complained about. The Tuesday market is traditionally less crowded than the Saturday market, but confused motorists cluttered the streets around the market Tuesday. Gundrey said about 900 parking spaces are in the Railyard area (including street parking and a lot across Paseo de Peralta behind Warehouse 21), but because some of it is new, people might not know where to go.

The best place to park for Saturday markets, Gundrey said, will be in the undergound parking lot at the end of Camino de la Familia across the tracks from the market.

But unlike previous locations — such as the Public Employee’s Retirement Association building and the DeVargas Center parking lot — little of the parking is close. “When somebody buys 25 to 30 pounds of groceries, they don’t want to lug it that far,” Bird said. He suggested the market administration might want to start a valet or shuttle service to help customers trundle produce to their cars.

Good idea, said Gundrey. “Let’s get a bunch of kids to do it for tips!”

Helen Chantler, a longtime customer of the market, put the problem in perspective as she shouldered a box of tomatillos on the way to her car. “We’ve always had trouble with parking — this is nothing new,” she said. “We just got spoiled there at the PERA before the end. But I’m just happy we have such a great farmers market and people cared enough to do something like this.”

The building cost about $4.4 million. Noss said more than half the money raised for the project was donated by the community. “The community support has been financial as well as emotional,” she said. “I’m really proud.”