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Aztec Farmers Market offers affordable, healthy options

Participation in state food programs helps stretch budgets at the market
Betsy Kinney, Nova Market Garden, participates in the weekly Aztec Farmers Market. (Jacque Ritchie/Tri-City Record)

Summertime in the Lower Animas River Valley means Aztec Farmers’ Market growers offer an abundance of fruits and vegetables to the community.

Since 2000, local growers, independent farmers and a variety of home food producers have gathered in Aztec. This summer, vendors come together from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. every Wednesday at the Westside Plaza in Aztec from July 15 to Oct. 25.

In years past, the local farmers and gardeners were an organically-organized coalition of neighbors and volunteers. In 2020, local growers joined forces with Northwest New Mexico Growers Market Alliance and formed a collaboration that includes seven different growers markets, including Kirtland, Farmington, Bloomfield, Aztec and others.

The goal of the nonprofit NWNMGMA is supporting and strengthening local food systems through education, advocacy and networking.

“Many of these vendors go to other markets throughout the week,” said Pauline Pao.

Pao started as a volunteer farmer and organizer in 2008. These days Pao serves as alliance coordinator and works directly with each market manger to support their efforts. Even more recently, Pao and the other market managers started to draw a modest stipend, thanks to a federal grant.

The Tri- City Record stopped by the AFM last Wednesday. Around 10 booths formed an intimate avenida, the air smelled of fry bread and honey while kids played, dogs looked hopeful and vendors chatted with customers and each other.

“The Aztec market is small event compared to some in the area but our vendors are really a great group of families. Everyone is very knowledgeable and happy to share their experience with anyone.” Pao said that typically, early in the season, the turnout is light but she was confident, “By the end of August we usually have 15 to 20 vendors.”

Perhaps the most important mission of the alliance is to make healthy food more accessible to the community. To that end the group offers the New Mexico Farmers Market Nutrition Program.

This New Mexico Department of Health-sponsored program serves seniors and WIC participants by providing up to $50 on a mobile shopper card to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, honey and herbs at no charge to qualified participants.

Information and applications for the program are available online at www.nmwic.org/farmers-market-nutrition. Seniors may also sign up for the program at the market. To check eligibility, email doh.fmnp@doh.nm.gov or call (505) 496-0548.

Because everybody deserves healthy food, SNAP recipients can double their SNAP dollars at the Aztec Famers’ Market, and other markets. To participate in the Double Up Food Bucks program, go directly to the information booth where Pauline Pao, or perhaps Rosalynd or Kasey, are stationed and they will assist shoppers.

Pauline Pao of Aztec’s Offbeat Family Farm says she likes to grow colorful things. (Durango Herald file)

If someone wants to spend $25 of his or her SNAP budget at the market, present the card at the info booth where it will be scanned and pinged for the desired amount.

Then, the information booth attendant will provide double the amount of the pinged amount in wooden tokens. The $25 dollars in SNAP funds becomes $50 in tokens. If a person doesn’t use all the tokens at the event, he or she can spend them at any San Juan County Farmers and Growers Market or any participating fruit stand.

New qualifying products include roasted and frozen green chile, 100% New Mexico juices and more. For current information on products and where to shop, visit DoubleUpNM.org.

The information booth at the market also offers a variety of healthy eating tips, as well as seasonal, innovative recipes.

Local grower Betsy Kinney and her family own Nova Market Garden, located near the ruins in Aztec. At last Wednesday’s market, the Kinney’s chalkboard menu displayed 27 different herbs and vegetables at reasonable prices compared to Kroger.

Kinney sat in the shade of a canopy. Her neat table had baskets that displayed a sample of her harvest. Because of the heat of the afternoon, most of her harvest was stored in coolers to prevent wilting and damage.

When asked if the current heat wave has posed any gardening challenges, Kinney said, “All I know is it’s been really hot and there are no monsoons.”

Kinney advised local farmers/gardeners to use a shade cloth against the afternoon sun and, if possible, to water in small amounts throughout the day.

While this is the Kinney family’s first season selling at the market, her philosophy resonated, given supply chain and global climate change issues. “We figure it’s better if we have a good reliable local food supply as things change. We are working to one day being totally sustainable.”

The booth space fee at Aztec Farmers Market is $12. The market is a make/grow-your-own product market. No resale products are allowed. For produce, no license is required. For baked goods, a safety certificate is required. For eggs, poultry and some food products, licensure may be required.

For more information, call (505) 634-6171.

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