This year, we learned a great deal about the challenges and joys of running a local famers’ market. This is a venture that requires community support to succeed, and that is why we want to share with our community the highlights as well as the challenges of this year’s experience.
We launched the Mayapán Farmers’ Market on June 4, 2011, and closed for the season on October 30, 2011. Over those five months, we worked with small farmers and local growers, including a couple of community gardeners, to stock the market on a weekly basis.
Increasing Access to Fresh, Local Produce. We were able to offer varied local produce at our food stamp friendly farmers’ market, including tomatoes, zucchini, chili, onion, pumpkin, nopales, and cooking herbs, including epazote, basil, and mint. A total of 20 different local produce items were available at some point throughout the season.
Maximum Utilization of Local Produce. If the farmers did not sell all of their produce directly to customers, we purchased their remaining produce to utilize at the Mercado Mayapán kitchen and at Rayito de Sol Daycare and Learning Center. This way, participating farmers were guaranteed business and we incorporated local produce into our menus.
Nutrition Education Based on Culture. We combined our effort with nutrition education through cooking demonstrations, taste tests, and recipe distribution featuring local products and ingredients of the traditional Mesoamerican diet. Our Public Health Specialist was a guest on three occasions in the Spanish language radio show, La Comadre with Teresa Fendi, where she discussed the assets of the traditional Mesoamerican diet and promoted nutrition workshops at Mercado Mayapán. Our nutrition education approach based on history, culture, and anthropology as well as public health, garnered much attention, including from the Christian Science Monitor, the International Agriculture and Policy Institute, and the blog, Mahindra Rise.
We learned that our region and community faces many challenges, including the following.
A decline in small family farms. Based on conversations we had with farmers and food system advocates, our region has experienced a decline in small family farms over the last 15 years. In one case, a local growers’ association that began with fifteen members approximately twelve years ago today has only two members. The primary reason for this decline seems to be that many farmers believed there was not enough demand for local produce and switched to growing only pecans or cotton, instead of maintaining a diverse set of crops that can be consumed locally. Another major challenge for local farmers is access to water, particularly with the rise of pecan farms in southern New Mexico – one pecan tree can require up to 250 gallons of water per day.
Lack of awareness about the local food system. There is a great need for consumer education about the importance of local foods and supporting the local food system. We put together an exhibit relaying the top 10 reasons for supporting local farmers, but we realize an exhibit alone is not enough to create a lasting awareness. Our staff participated in nutrition and culture workshops, a food sovereignty workshop taught by Carlos Marentes, as well as a discussion about food as a human right organized by our sister organizations – the Sin Fronteras Agricultural Worker Project, Colonias Development Council, and La Semilla Food Center. We look forward to strengthening this type of education by having more workshops and discussions about the food system, as well as field trips to local farms for our staff as well as youth and community groups next year. Increasing consumer awareness about the importance of a strong local food system is important in order to have meaningful participation by community members in food policy decisions that affect us. For example, Congress recently voted to no longer provide WIC Vouchers to small farmers – and this decision might have been prevented by informed advocacy by constituents.
We knew from the start that starting a new farmers’ market would be a challenge. We were and continue to be determined to increase access to fresh, locally grown food for Chamizal neighborhood residents and the rest of our patrons.
We know that together we can reflect on the lessons from this season and work towards an even more successful farmers’ market next year and – with continued education and involvement – an improved local food system in the years to come.