In 2000, I answered an ad in the Río Grande Sun for a “low-pay community job” managing the Española Farmers’ Market. As it turned out, I was the only applicant and I got the job, midway through the market season. I had moved to Abiquiú full time in 1996 after living for 30 years in Brooklyn. I worked in New York City as an artist and freelance photo editor. I had never managed a farmers’ market but had organized exhibitions, conferences and events. In taking the job, I was returning in an indirect manner to my rural East Texas roots. My grandparents had been farmers, and I grew up planting gardens; the farmers felt like kin.
That first year, Española Farmers’ Market was located on Don Diego Street, a short stretch of blacktop behind the historic Bond House. It was September. Beautiful pink and striped heirloom pumpkins were starting to appear on the vendors’ stands. I thought about organizing a Big Vegetable Contest, in the long tradition of honoring prize produce. Then I decided to add a second part: a Best Poem Contest. I was afraid the growers would think my idea silly, but in fact they loved it. Poetry, songs and stories have long been part of rural culture. I asked some of the teachers who came as customers to solicit poems from their students, and some of the vendors’ children and grandchildren wrote poems as well. As an artist, my media included the artist’s book, so I made a photocopied booklet and printed all the submitted poems alongside grainy images from the contest day. I gave a book to each participant. There was some advertising money left over, so I had one of the contest photos printed on a postcard. For me, exhibit cards were ordinary, but for the farmers, the cards were unusual. The format of the contest was born and—with various modifications—has stuck for 16 years.
If you look through the assembly of cards, some things are constant but other things change. We are always standing behind a row of straw bales lined with pumpkins, gourds, onions, apples and other produce of various sizes and shapes. Each year, our numbers have grown. Some of the same growers I met in 2000 are still with the market and often line up for the yearly photo: Rudy Cordova, Nicolas Romero, Floraida and Tranquilino Martínez, Elias Gómez, Ida Salazar and Salvador Corona Chávez. Others in the early photo still visit but no longer sell: Euralia Vigil, Susie Lucero, Eufelia Martínez and Marie Coriz, among others. The smallest children have now graduated from high school. Poetry or vegetable judges and fellow organizers started appearing in more recent postcards: Joan Logghe, Beata Tsosie-Peña, Chellis Glendinning, Sandra Cata and Norma Navarro. The teenagers who work with Dexter Trujillo during the summer horno-cooking project, Cooking Up Traditions, have also joined in, and occasionally customers or musicians who play at midday stand beside the vendors.
The market has changed but has also remained constant. We have moved through four sites; the first three on roads or parking lots. The 2007 card signals the biggest change– our walk to our permanent site at 1005 North Railroad Ave., led in procession by the Española High School Mariachi Band. We are now on 3.19 irrigated acres and able to cultivate two gardens with the vendor plaza in the center. A wildflower garden and horno greet visitors at the entryway. In the back field, we are currently hosting New Moon Lodge and its cultivation of a fine cornfield using organic practices, under the aegis of Jon Naranjo.
But the primacy of culture is the constant. Española Farmers’ Market has remained a community space where growing food is a cultural value and not simply an economic opportunity for growers. Even the production of the postcard exemplifies that spirit. Various friends and community members have taken the photos over the years for the cards that I have designed. Roger Mignon, Iren Schio, Marguerite Kearns, Betty Tsosie and others have freely shared their images from our celebrations. We are all there each year, posing for the picture, but also in motion, talking to someone on the side or sharing a laugh. We’ll be there again this year on Oct. 10 for the 17th annual contest. We invite you to join us.
Española Healing Foods Oasis Garden Sparks a Community Renewal
Can a garden change the course of a city? Tewa Women United thinks so. The award-winning nonprofit organization has partnered with the City of Española to establish the Healing Foods Oasis, a community garden tucked behind City Hall.
Since May, the group has transformed a barren slope with erosion problems in Valdez Park into a thriving garden featuring native herbs, flowers, grasses and trees. The long-term vision is for the site to serve as a living classroom with each plant species labeled with their Tewa, Spanish and English names. The garden has already hosted five free community workshops, as well as the first Regeneration Festival Española, a celebration of local youth.
Corrine Sánchez, TWU’s executive director, says, “The Healing Foods Oasis is helping tell a new story about Española, one we’ve known has been there all along but can be obscured by the challenges of living in an economically distressed area. It is a story of a community with strong traditions and deep roots that values working together and supporting one another.”
Over the spring and summer, nearly 150 volunteers from Río Arriba County and beyond have contributed more than 600 hours to the garden’s creation, an intensive process of laying irrigation drip line, preparing soil, laying down mulch, and digging holes for dozens of native plants such as amaranth, beebalm, sumac and sage.
Local businesses and organizations supporting the initiative with in-kind donations have included Angelina’s, Cook’s Home Center, El Paragua, Española Transit Mix, the Flowering Tree Permaculture Institute and Radicle.
The project, based on TWU’s organizing principle of the Two-World Harmony Butterfly Model, balances Western technology with traditional Indigenous knowledge. Beata Tsosie-Peña, coordinator of the organization’s Environmental Justice program, says, “The Healing Foods Oasis is part of our vision to end all forms of violence against women, girls and our Mother Earth. It’s facilitating our reconnection to the plants, water, air and all the elements.”
TWU is currently in the middle of a campaign to raise funds for a phase of the project that includes completing the irrigation system and constructing pathways and staircases throughout the garden. To support the project, visit: www.nativegiving.org/partners/tewa-women-united. To learn about opportunities for volunteering, sponsorships, or donating materials, contact Maia Duerr, 505.310.3790, email@example.com, or Beata Tsotsie-Peña, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.tewawomenunited.org