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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Growers' Market sprouts love of produce

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By Diana Cervantes / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Mary Macias, a local farmer, sets up her produce early Tuesday morning at the Albuquerque Uptown Grower’s Market, located at Presbyterian Hospital. Macias and other vendors are part of an initiative to foster positive economic relationships between local buyers and farmers by accepting various modes of payments such as WIC, Senior Checks, EBT and Debit.

Low income students can double their money at a UNM-area market.

Nancy Erickson, manager of Albuquerque Growers’ Market at Presbyterian, said her market price matches any EBT or SNAP purchases up to $20, doubling the amount of food those customers can purchase.

The market, which is located in the Northeast corner of the Downtown Presbyterian Hospital parking lot, focuses on providing excellent food from local growers, she said.

“I have a deep appreciation for fresh local food that goes back as far as I can remember”, she said.

The market has been operating for three years, every Tuesday from 7 a.m. until noon, and offers various local produce and crafts, all made by those who call New Mexico home, she said.

The market was established with a grant from Presbyterian hospital to assist low income New Mexicans, Erickson said.

The customers who use the market vary from seniors to students and even hospital employees, Erickson said.

Marie Brown Wagner, a physician at Presbyterian, has been a regular customer since last summer, she said.

Wagner heard about the market through her work at the hospital, where they advertise for Erickson and her vendors, Wagner said.

The farmers’ market works great for someone on a budget with a busy schedule, Brown said.

“The prices are better and it’s homegrown from the area, so I always try to support that. It also tastes better — you don’t get a cardboard tomato,” she said.

Presbyterian’s grant made the market possible, but the vendors are what give the market its life, Erickson said.

Frank Storey is one such vendor. Frank works for Schwebach farms and sells corn by the husk every Tuesday morning, he said.

Storey has been farming with Schwebach for 15 years and has been involved with the market for two years, where regular customers arrive every Tuesday to pick up some of the two varieties of corn offered by Schwebach, he said.

Storey became a farmer to make his family’s eating habits more healthy, he said, and is happy to offer that same service to the public.

“I started doing this about 15 years ago, when my kids were little, all they knew was the golden arches and Burger King, they didn’t know about good food,” he said.

Presbyterian is also using the farmers’ market to help its patients maintain healthy lifestyles, Erickson said.

Just this year, Presbyterian initiated a fruit and vegetable prescription program called Fresh Rx, which assists low-income pediatric patients who are at risk for diet-related diseases, Erickson said.

Qualifying patients are given a prescription for the local produce offered at the market. The prescriptions may also be used for the Downtown Growers Market, which is hosted in Robinson Park every Saturdays she said.

It is not just local food that is sold at the market. Susan Cortese is a vendor who sells homemade lotions out of her booth, she said.

Like many vendors, what began as a household hobby has morphed into a full on business, she said.

Cortese said the Tuesday market brings many repeat customers along with a lot of good contacts.

Along with the good customers, there is an atmosphere of camaraderie between the vendors, she said.

“Nobody competes against each other, everybody helps everybody else,” she said.

A master gardener who has shopped at farmer’s markets since she was a child, Erickson holds an appreciation from both the customers’ and the vendor’s point of view, she said.

She is positive about the future of the growers’ market and local produce in general within the neighborhood, she said

“I hope to see it grow. I don’t see why it won’t. With the support of the hospital we’re really working hard to get the word out among the community that we’re here,” Erickson said.

Matthew Reisen is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. Daniel Montaño is a news editor. They can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @DailyLobo.