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Local Flavor

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A riot of organic vegetables, smoky meats and divine treats — the Santa Fe Farmers Market may be the city’s best feast. Stephanie Pearson digs in.

Photography by Gabriella Marks

From grass-fed organic beef to fresh-roasted green chile to bunches of flowers, the Santa Fe Farmers Market is a kaleidoscope of culinary experiences, especially in the summer. Chefs from all across the city scope out the produce, retirees shop for Santa Fe Opera parties and young families stroller around for the week’s grocery supply.
From grass-fed organic beef to fresh-roasted green chile to bunches of flowers, the Santa Fe Farmers Market is a kaleidoscope of culinary experiences, especially in the summer. Chefs from all across the city scope out the produce, retirees shop for Santa Fe Opera parties and young families stroller around for the week’s grocery supply.

Every Saturday morning in Santa Fe the locals partake in an almost sacred weekly ritual. They wake with the sun and make their way, as early as 7 a.m. in the summer, preferably via foot or bike, to the Railyard. Just a few blocks southwest of the Plaza, this gentrifying cluster of modern-art galleries is anchored by the Santa Fe Farmers Market, an institution that started back in the 1960s when local farmers sold organic produce out of the back of their pickup trucks. Today the market has a membership of 150 vendors who sell everything from organic greens to stone-ground polenta to grass-fed beef year-round under a LEED-certified pavilion built especially for them.

Farmer's Market of Santa Fe Farmer's Market of Santa Fe

The sensory overload starts with a Mexican accordionist, a six-piece bluegrass band, or a classical guitarist jamming out to seasonally shifting aromas, maybe grilled kimchi pancakes, freshly cut peonies or roasting green chile. Most local shoppers are in a rush to reach their favorite booth before the vendor sells out his coveted arugula or artisanal goat cheese, but it’s nearly impossible not to first stop off at Cafe Fresh, the hub in the middle of the pavilion, where shoppers are lined up for organic Whoo’s Donuts (try the maple bacon with dark chocolate glaze and chile brown sugar), hand-held green-chile breakfast burritos and steaming cups of organic coffee.

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Almost every U.S. city offers its own variation of a farmers market, but few have set the bar high as Santa Fe: 80 percent of the vendors here are required to offer minimally processed agricultural goods, and all of the vendors must grow, raise or produce their goods within the 15 northern counties of New Mexico. And that includes the wheat in the bakery products, the fruit in the jams and the meat from the lamb. Further, the person who grew it also has to sell it — no resellers are allowed here.

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These strict rules and the farmers who abide by them are why you’ll be rubbing elbows every week with some of the finest chefs in Santa Fe, from Roland Richter of Joe’s Dining — an old-school, classic diner with a sustainable, local food twist on the city’s south side — to Andrew Cooper of Four Seasons Resort’s Terra in the foothills north of town. Add Matt Yohalem of Il Piatto and Patrick Gharrity from La Casa Sena, two long-standing greats, and you’ll need to arrive early enough before they buy the place out.

Playing favorites: Click here to find out which four vendors not to miss.
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