Writer: D'Lyn Ford
LAS CRUCES -- Bee pollen, wheat grass juice, natural dog treats, bitter melon leaves and bantam hen eggs are only a few of the unique products that can be found at the local growers' markets in Albuquerque this summer.
In Santa Fe, massage oils, apple wood chips, red worms, mulch, bird houses, catnip toys, safflower and peacock feathers attract discriminating buyers.
Whether it be cough syrup, willow chairs or traditional fruits and vegetables, New Mexico farmers' markets offer buyers a wide choice of products this time of year, said a New Mexico State University horticulturist.
"Aug. and September are a busy time of year for small growers at various farmers' markets across the state," said George Dickerson, with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. "At this time last year, the number of vendors at the Santa Fe Area Farmers' Market ranged from 98 to 110. The Albuquerque Growers' Market hosted about 54 active vendors then."
There are approximately 26 growers' markets in New Mexico -- six of which are located in the Albuquerque metropolitan area. "The largest market in the state is the Santa Fe Area Farmers' Market, located near the train depot off Guadalupe in Santa Fe," Dickerson said. The Albuquerque Growers' Market is one of the oldest, located in the Caravan East parking lot on Central Avenue.
"One of the most popular direct marketing methods is the growers' market," he said. "This type of marketing places the consumer in direct contact with the grower, resulting in greater freshness and quality of fruits and vegetables." Direct marketing also returns a greater share of the consumer's dollar to the grower and, ultimately, the community.
In general, more vendors attend Saturday markets than weekday markets, Dickerson said. "This can probably be attributed to the fact that most vendors are part-time or small farmers who have weekly jobs or are busy farming during the week." Many consumers also may find it more convenient to shop on Saturdays.
Although fruits and vegetables are the mainstay of growers' markets, many vendors are now selling animal products like meat, cheese and eggs. Others have included value-added products such as jellies, ristras, corn products, vinegar, honey and pastries. "Nursery products such as bedding plants, potted plants and cut flowers also have become popular in markets with nursery licenses," he said.
In a market survey conducted by Dickerson in 1998, 5.5 percent of the vendors at the Albuquerque Growers' Market were organically certified. Slightly fewer vendors, 3.4 percent, advertised that they were certified organic at the Santa Fe Area Farmers' Market.
"The main purpose of the survey was to find holes in the market that growers might capitalize on in the future," Dickerson said. "For example, only one grower was selling asparagus at the Santa Fe Area Farmers' Market last May. He was charging $4 a pound, and consumers were paying the price because the produce was fresh." In grocery stores, asparagus was selling for about $1 a pound.
Dickerson plans to publish his survey findings through Extension later this fall or early winter -- in time for farmers to plan next year's crops and consider the opportunities in direct marketing at growers' markets.
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