Touring The Santa Fe Farmers' Market

A wooden water tower emblazoned with "Santa Fe Railyard" that once loomed over a maze of railcars, warehouses, and delivery trucks now oversees the pulsating heartbeat of one of the best farmers' markets in North America, the Santa Fe Farmers' Market.

Located in a windswept plaza near the intersection of Paseo de Peralta and the Rail Runner Commuter Train in Santa Fe's re-vamped Railyard District, the market comes alive every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., and on Tuesdays during the spring, summer, and autumn. Local farmers and ranchers converge to sell their bounty alongside break dancers, buskers, and art dealers, but most of all, the Santa Fe Farmers' Market is a festive food destination.

The number of farmers' markets in the U.S. has nearly doubled since 2004 to more than 7,000, with consumers spending more than $1 billion last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For 40 years, Santa Fe's Farmers' Market has been at the forefront of that movement, providing seasonally available foods to locals and visitors who seek easier access to nutritious, locally sourced foods.

"Everything here is really fresh," said local shopper Jan Kapatinsky. "It's real good, not trucked in from California or farther; our market really is a wonderful place."

The Santa Fe Farmers' Market is in two parts: north of the rail crossing at Paseo de Peralta Street is a collection of artists and craftspeople selling their work from neat white stalls. South of the junction, starting at that signature water tower, is the farmers' market, including more than 150 active vendors, lined up at outdoor stalls or packed under a recently completed pavilion that includes amenities like an information table, bathrooms, café, and the home to Santa Fe Radio Café, a weekly public radio program that discusses community events and all things food.

Not to miss vendors include Romero Farms at the north end of the food bazaar. Matt Romero started out as an executive chef before opening a spot at the farmers' market. His sprawling array of produce is punctuated by Romero himself, standing at the forefront of market twirling the drum of his blazing chile roaster and shouting like a carnival barker, "Chiles... five varieties today... local organic, not like the commercial farms in south New Mexico." Chiles are a religion in Santa Fe, and church is in session on market days with Romero serving as one of many preachers. Besides the classic green and red poblanos and other fresh produce like lavender cauliflower that is grown on his farm in nearby Dixon, N.M., Romero has taken on special growing commission from local chefs.

Chef Matt Yohalem of Il Piatto Restaurant buys Jimmy Nardellos, a long and red Italian sweet pepper, and Spanish Padrones, a green Spanish sweet pepper, for his farmhouse cooking.

Matt Romero is not the only Romero preaching at the Farmer's Market. Bookending the southern end of the market is Pat Romero (no relation), knife sharpener and market goodwill ambassador.

"We have a value added service here, locally produced," said Romero. "Mine is also value added, I take care of the customers, the farmers and chefs while they shop."

In between the Romeros is a bustling array of stands, from game meats and bison (you can even sign up for your own buffalo hunt) to breads and cheeses to fresh local beans, grains, and legumes to posole (a Mexican stew).

The market is also an opportunity to find local Indian-made foods and culture.

"I make Pueblo style tortillas, they are thicker and bigger than Mexican, and I make them in my home horno (a beehive-shaped adobe-style outdoor oven made of mud)," said Susie Cheykaychi from the Santo Domingo Pueblo tribe. She also sells fresh-baked pies, tamales, and breads.

The market is also a great place to pick up a souvenir ristra. Partly a practical means of drying your green chiles, the ristra is a dazzling decoration of blazing red chiles that adorns windowsills, kitchens, and doorframes throughout Santa Fe. Ristras typically come in long strings, but can be arranged in bunches, bursting stars, and even holiday wreaths. Cooks tired of the ristra look can always use the chiles for cooking.