Santa Fe is famous for its bustling art scene and signature Southwest architecture. But the city is also a culinary hotspot (think chiles) with richly diverse food that’s spicy, delicious…and creative.The year-round Santa Fe Farmers' Market supports this local food scene and is one of the most widely recognized markets in the U.S. More than 150 active vendors sell foods grown right in northern New Mexico.
Nature.org connected with Robert Ross, Santa Fe Farmers' Market Institute president, to learn why the market is so popular—and what he makes with chiles.
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- Robert Ross
President of the Santa Fe Farmers' Market Institute
“The thing about chile is that if you live in Santa Fe, you grow to like it—and if you don’t have it enough you really start to crave it!”
How did the Santa Fe Farmers' Market get started?
The market began in the 1960s with farmers selling produce out of the backs of their pickup trucks.
About a decade ago, there were enough sellers to finally have a permanent market in a former rail yard downtown. Our facility is a LEED-certified, 10,000-square ft. space that’s open year round.
How does the market serve the Santa Fe community?
One of the things we’ve started is a loan program for our local farmers. They can apply for these funds to buy seeds, tractors, you name it.
We also accept food stamps and really encourage participation from a cross-section of income levels. Our “meals on a budget” program brings out local chefs for weekly cooking demonstrations to show that local produce can be affordable.
It sounds like the market is about a lot more than just selling food.
It really is. I love watching the interactions between customers and farmers, especially when you get kids involved. In the spring, local schools come and visit with the farmers—a great way for kids to learn where their food comes from and how it is grown.
We’ve partnered with the Conservancy for several years on Earth Day to showcase the connection between conservation and the food we eat.
We also have several restaurant chefs who come to market every Saturday to buy produce. Some are world-trained—Scottish, Irish, German —and like to be able to handpick their ingredients.
Why is Santa Fe a “foodie” town?
This has always been a very creative community. What drew artists here was the landscape and blue sky. With that comes an unusual and unique inquiry into food.
That’s part of the culture in this part of the country, beginning when the Spanish came into El Camino Real and brought food from around the world.
Besides chile, what else can you find at the market?
Yes, we have a lot of chile growers and a lot of different varieties. One of our farmers comes from a long line of chile farmers going back more than 200 years. He still grows the same type of chiles that his great-grandfather grew.
Interestingly, we have quite a few garlic growers as well producing more than 15 different kinds of garlic! And, we have potatoes, dried corn (chicos), pinto beans, local honey and more.
Our farmers experiment with everything from okra to wild asparagus and rhubarb.
What’s your favorite recipe using ingredients from the market?
The thing I make most is sour cream chicken enchiladas. You can use local tortillas, and I get my red chile powder from a guy and his wife who make it north of Santa Fe in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It’s always fun to put together.
The thing about chile is that if you live in Santa Fe, you grow to like it—and if you don’t have it enough you really start to crave it!