Many words come to mind when one thinks of the part of the Rio Grande Valley that runs through Valencia County — lush, verdant, productive and caring.
All those qualities have culminated in local growers having the opportunity to share their homegrown produce with the community in three different farmers markets across the county.
The Los Lunas Farmers Market is back at its original location under the shady trees at the River Park off Main Street.
The back and forth change of location from the river to Heritage Park has made for a rough couple of years that have hurt business, said Loretta Torres, a board member of the Los Lunas Farmers Market.
“We’re back to our old location, which is good,” Torres said.
“We will be at this park on Tuesdays 4 to 7 p.m.,” said her husband, George, who manages the Los Lunas Farmers Market. “We are accepting WIC checks, we have EBT and we have debit capabilities here, so you can use any one of those modes of payment.”
The market boasts that it thrives as a no pesticide market, he said.
Farmers and backyard gardeners are encouraged to bring their surplus produce to the market to add their variety to the venue. Vendor space is available at only $8 per day.
Because of the extreme fire danger in the bosque area, it was closed on June 29, but an agreement between the village and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District was reached, allowing the produce market to set up along the river with park ranger security and fire protection.
The atmosphere is pleasant under the canopy of trees along the river, and usually there is a deejay playing mellow music. Pickup trucks and pavilions are nestled along the tree line, and there is plenty of parking.
“Right now, the vegetables that we have are beets, cucumbers, garlic, Swiss chard, onions, beans — of course we always have dried beans and chile for sale,” said Loretta Torres. “We usually have eggs and honey, and in the next couple of weeks we’ll have tomatoes, chiles and peppers, and corn of course, an all-time favorite.”
The Griego brothers, Christopher and Santos, think people should get back into canning food again to bring local produce to their winter tables.
The Griegos brought a variety of culinary garlic, young onions and potatoes and leeks.
Torres said up to 25 percent of vendors can bring other products, such as jewelry, arts and crafts.
Ohana Artisans often set up at the market with semiprecious stone necklaces and earrings. The stones are delicately wire-wrapped in silver with unique designs.
Lorri Eberlein’s locally made lotions, creams, and bath products smell sumptuous. She handcrafts these products at home with the finest, freshest ingredients, she said.
Torres sells plants as well as produce and has a variety of potted rose bushes and flowers, including geraniums, salvia, dianthus, dahlias, ganzania and yarrow.
A nice variety of fresh herbs, including thyme, oregano, basil, sage, rosemary, peppermint, lavender, yarrow and catnip are available.
“Did you know catnip is good for people?” Torres said. “It’s called both catnip and catmint. It’s a member of the mint family, and makes an excellent, slightly sweet tea, hot or cold. It’s good for colds.”
Bee keeper Daniel Espalin sells bee pollen, and suggests taking a few grains each day, increasing from three to four to five and so forth until your allergy symptoms start disappearing.
He has been participating to the Los Lunas Farmers Market for four years, and has been a bee keeper for 14 years. He also offers bee-keeping classes.
The River Park location can accommodate 28 vendors easily, and the organizers are hoping more vendors will join, they said.
“Right now, I’d say we’re averaging 12 to 15,” said Loretta Torres.
This is the fifth year since the market was established.
“Our market is consistently trying to support and promote good, fresh, locally grown produce,” George said.
The market is open from 4 to 7 p.m., every Tuesday, and from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., Saturdays.
To register for a space at the Los Lunas Farmers Market, call George Torres, market manager, at 307-1891. And for additional operations hours and locations, call Loretta Torres at 307-1857.
Green artichoke ready to bloom into a purple flowers, bright red, plump tomatoes and crisp white garlic, still attached to its roots, are a few of the rainbow of vegetables sold during the Belen Farmers Market.
And this year, the market, as well as its vendors, are teaching residents how to cook with these locally grown vegetables sold at the market, such as Swiss chard, leeks, summer squash and okra, said Belen Market Manager Abbi Ramirez.
“These are things that you don’t commonly eat in New Mexico,” Ramirez said.
The market, spanning from June through October, is from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. every Friday at Anna Becker Park on Reinken Avenue.
On top of offering biweekly cooking demonstrations at the market through the I CAN program from New Mexico State University, Ramirez and vendors will be publishing a market newsletter, “Market Madness.”
The newsletter will include two recipes, submitted by vendors, for vegetables offered at the market and solutions to common gardening problems, such as getting rid of vegetable pests.
“We’re trying to get the community more involved and have people come and learn how to cook for free,” Ramirez said.
As the fresh produce begins to roll in, about 30 vendors will fill the park’s green grass with vegetables and fruits grown in farms throughout the county.
The market also offers snow cones for those seeking relief from scorching temperatures, roasted corn on the cob for those seeking fair-like foods, arts and crafts for jewelry lovers and carnival games for energetic children.
After family and friends kept telling farmer Eric Baca, of Baca Farms, that he should try selling vegetables grown out of his backyard at the market, he decided to give it a try. Not only did Baca decide to stick with it for a second year, but customers loved his produce.
“People just love homegrown vegetables and we have a lot of regular customers coming back from last year,” said Baca’s mother, Agnes.
The Belen Farmers Market is more than beekeeper Beth Crowder’s best outlet to sell honey-related items. It’s a community, where she socializes with neighbors and trades vegetables for goods.
Crowder has been selling her honey-related products at the market since it began more than 10 years ago.
Farmer Frank Storey with Schwebach Farm, who has sold produce at the market for eight years, said its fun talking to customers about the locally grown food they love.
“Everybody knows they can find local produce here, that’s the beauty of it,” Storey said. “I get so many repeat customers, who know they can trust the vendors and find good food.”
Valencia County needs an outlet that provides residents with healthy foods, said farmer Janice Meastas, of AJ Farms.
“I would like kids to have healthy foods that are pesticide free,” Maestas said. “These are things kids should be eating, and if they get used to eating them then as adults they’re more likely to eat them.”
For more information about the Belen Farmer’s Market or to sell local produce or arts and crafts at the market, contact Abbi Ramirez at 514-1183.
The newest market has only four weekends under it’s belt, but it is consistently bringing in 12 to 16 growers, organizers said.
George Torres, the market manager for the Los Lunas Farmers Market said the community of Bosque Farms has expressed an interest in hosting a market.
And the community came out to support the effort.
“We knew people like good, fresh, local produce,” Torres said. “These markets are about engaging the community and coming together.”
Loretta Torres, who helps George organize both the markets, said there is always room for more customers and encouraged people to come see what the growers have to offer at all three markets.
“The corn and tomatoes are still to come,” Loretta Torres said.
The Bosque Farms Farmers Market starts at 9 a.m. every Saturday, and she urged shoppers to come early to get “the best stuff.”
Like the Los Lunas and Belen markets, the Bosque Farms location accepts debt and EBT cards. Loretta said they are also accepting WIC checks, as well.
Many of the vendors in Bosque Farms use no pesticides on their produce, Loretta said.
“There’s just so many other easy ways to do it,” said Don Draisner with Peralta Gardens.
And that’s not the only bit of advice Don and his wife, Karen, and the other growers offer to customers.
“Be sure you pinch these suckers off the bottom here,” Don says, pointing to the cherry tomato plant purchased by a young customer. “They just drain the plant.”
Under the shade of the elms, growers recommend soil types, tips on safe pest control, suggest watering schedules and even offer up simple but mouth-watering recipes for their produce.
The scent of garlic and roasting corn waft through the air and colorful flowers bob and nod their heads in the breeze.
The Draisners started growing vegetables to sell about four years ago, Don said.
“We kicked some dirt, threw down some seeds, watered and lo and behold, something grew,” he said.
Now the couple and their small operation make their own soil and use it in raised beds to grow their produce.
Growers and customers alike agreed that having the market was good for the community.
“I love it. There’s a real feeling of community and it’s a way to bring people together from the neighborhood to see what’s going on,” said Bosque Farms resident Alice Bris as she picked out gladiolus from Jared Barkemper’s stand.
Along with the flowers, Barkemper offered blooming artichokes in vivid purple, squash, and tomato and basil plants.
He said his family grows the produce on two farms in Peralta and one in Tomé.
Monay Juan is only 12 years old but she already has a bounty of yellow squash and zucchini to offer at $1 each.
Later this year she hopes to bring in corn, grapes, tomatoes and pumpkins as well as fresh eggs from her chickens.
And grower Frank Storey said it was going to be a “great market. It’s next to the bike path, so we get a lot of foot traffic. Last week we even had some people come by on horseback.”
People are stopping by all right. Sue Martinez, from Peralta, picked up some squash and a cherry tomato plant on her way back from work in Albuquerque Saturday morning.
Nancy Cole lives in the village and her daughter-in-law-to-be from Albuquerque, Lisa Cordova, was the impetus to get her to the market.
“She saw the sign and stopped by on the way to our house,” Cole said. “She got there with a bag of peaches so we came back to check it out.”
The two women left with bags of squash and red geraniums ready for planting.
The Bosque Farms farmers market starts at 9 a.m. on Saturdays and wraps up around noon, and is located on the north side of the bend where the North and West parts of the loop meet.
Public parking is available in the vacant lot east of where the vendors set up.