Hopkins: The benefits of farmers' markets

Bonnie Hopkins
NMSU Cooperative Extension Service
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Editor's note: This article is part of a project of the local Community Health Council, or CHIC.  Health Councils were created statewide in conjunction with the New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) with the goal of getting local citizens and county governments more involved in the manner in which health might be improved in each of their communities.  The local CHIC is conducting an ongoing awareness campaign addressing the various areas that can potentially affect a person’s health.  September has been devoted to the promotion of local healthy food.

The Farmington Growers Market, originally known as the San Juan County Farmers Market, was started in 1991 by a group of local farmer vendors in cooperation with the San Juan County Cooperative Extension Service.  Since the nineties, the market has grown to accommodate around 30 local vendors annually, hosting a market for about 20 weeks throughout the growing season on Saturday mornings from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and Tuesday afternoons from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Farmington Museum.

The market sees around 30,000 customers throughout the summer, from young families to senior citizens and everyone in between. The name of the market changed with the expansion of additional markets, such as the Wednesday afternoon Aztec Farmers market, and the Thursday evening Bloomfield Farmers market, but the mission has stayed the same.

The goal of the market is to support local farmers and ranchers through direct marketing opportunities, and to build community through the access of local, healthy food.  We strive to maintain a 90 percent agriculture base in order to support the important legacy of farming in this area. The remaining 10 percent is reserved for land-based local craft vendors such as wool or pottery, or other handmade items.

The Farmington Growers Market board and staff work closely with the New Mexico Farmers Market Association, or NMFMA, on marketing and programs that are implemented state wide.

In 2015, the Farmington market, in collaboration with the Aztec Farmers Market, began taking both debit and SNAP/EBT cards at the market.   The NMFMA obtained funding to pilot a program called “Double Up Food Bucks” or DUFB, in 2015, and has secured four years of funding to continue to the program.  The DUFB program is for SNAP/EBT participants and allows them to double their SNAP/EBT dollars they intend to spend at the market.  If a participant chose to spend $20 at the market, it will automatically be matched with $20 in DUFB tokens, allowing participants to purchase additional New Mexico grown fruits and vegetables for their families.

This money goes directly to our farmers and ranchers and stays right here in our community, encouraging both economic development and market diversification.

The Farmington Growers Market began as a tailgate drop market, and continues that mission to this day. It has become a staple in the community, serving as an outlet for local growers both large and small to serve the community healthy local food.  Vendors are welcome to attend as few as one market per season, bringing their backyard garden surplus and making it available to their community members and neighbors.

In a tough economy, the market strives to remain small and approachable for every community member.

We want to be the type of market that welcomes everyone, with our vendors and our customers.  We want to be a place where our neighbors can help make ends meet and put healthy food on the tables of San Juan County residents.

The Farmington Growers Market will operate for two weeks past the first killing frost of 2016, or until the last Saturday in October, whichever comes first.  For additional information, visit the website or on the Facebook page for Farmington Growers’ Market.

Bonnie Hopkins is the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service agriculture agent and a Farmington Growers Market board member.