FARMINGTON — A bumper crop of backyard gardeners, farmers and commercial growers, buyers and sellers gathered Thursday to talk about food.

The occasion was the 2014 Food System Summit for the Four Corners region, sponsored by Four Corners Economic Development at McGee Park.

"We need to grow more food in the Four Corners," said Four Corners Economic Development board member Clifton Horace. "The demand is there."

Sustainable community agriculture was the focus of the first food summit two years ago, but there was a lack of sharing ideas and expertise. To counter that, Horace invited the more than 50 attendees this year to include their names on a new Listserv managed by Christa Rommé, marketing director for 4CED.

Sutherland Farms Market employee Adrianna Ivie serves Ron Allen on Thursday during Four Corners Economic Development’s Food System Summit at McGee
Sutherland Farms Market employee Adrianna Ivie serves Ron Allen on Thursday during Four Corners Economic Development's Food System Summit at McGee Park in Farmington. (Megan Farmer/ The Daily Times)

"The goal of this conference is to introduce you to your neighbor, to provide everyone with a community and a resource for growing food — on a central server, a party line, if you will," Horace said. "If you have a knowledge base, I want to meet you."

To underscore the degree to which collaboration can go, Pastor Robert Tso of Shiprock spoke to attendees about the Navajo Nation's burgeoning partnership with agriculture specialists and officials from Israel. The two nations' farming project represents a sharing of expertise and experience across cultural divides that will "make the desert bloom on the Navajo Nation," Tso said.

Bonnie Hopkins, an agriculture agent with the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service, promoted agritourism, a segment of tourism that brings visitors to farms and food-based operations for work, entertainment or both.

"People, it turns out, love our (state's) bumpy roads, want to come here and help prune at our farms, want to sleep on dirt floors," Hopkins said to gales of laughter.

Keynote speaker Tim Nisly, with the Mixing Bowl Kitchen Incubator in Albuquerque, talks on Thursday about the program during Four Corners Economic
Keynote speaker Tim Nisly, with the Mixing Bowl Kitchen Incubator in Albuquerque, talks on Thursday about the program during Four Corners Economic Development's Food System Summit at McGee Park in Farmington. (Megan Farmer / The Daily Times)

Farmington fruit grower Leslie Kerby shared his experience growing and selling his orchard's apples and other fruit in an era when people pluck their fruit primarily from grocery stores instead of from local sellers.

"I had one of my worst years this year, and I didn't advertise, which I now see as a mistake," Kerby said. "What I need to do is go to the Internet. It's a whole new ball game, but I can be modern. I got my first cellphone two years ago."

Cody Reinheimer, manager of the Durango Farmers Market in Durango, Colo., invited more food producers in San Juan County to sell their food at his market, which he said has seen demand outpace supply.

Attendees wait in line on Thursday for a lunch prepared by Sutherland Farms Market during Four Corners Economic Development’s Food System Summit at
Attendees wait in line on Thursday for a lunch prepared by Sutherland Farms Market during Four Corners Economic Development's Food System Summit at McGee Park in Farmington. (Megan Farmer / The Daily Times)

"We want to expand the pie and recruit vendors from our sister cities like Aztec south of the Animas (River) to sell with us in Durango," Reinheimer said. "Many of our vendors sell out by (midmorning). The value of the Durango Market is that it's transparent — you can see for yourself what's for sale, who's selling it and where (the food) came from."

To encourage new vendors, Reinheimer shared the market's Vendor Incubator Program, which encourages beginners to try selling goods for two Saturdays under the market's own license and insurance policy.

The Durango Farmers Market is in its 17th year. The regular market is open on Saturday mornings from May to October.

Also on Thursday, Tim Nisly from the Mixing Bowl Kitchen Incubator program in Albuquerque encouraged greater community involvement and idea sharing. The nonprofit is a group of more than 60 entrepreneurial members who receive help and access to commercial food production space, creating a cooperative system that helps start-up food growers sell their wares and grow their business.

"Building a community of entrepreneurs that support each other is what it's about," Nisly said. "The challenge is to start moving, to gather around a vision. You've got all the elements to do something great with food in this region. It's about transforming New Mexico's economy. Competition is not a problem, and there's plenty of demand."

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.