Sunday, September 14, 2014

Produce Stands

Weather: Promised rain did not arrive; apparently cold air in the east stopped its advance. Last rain 9/5.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, silver lace vine, trumpet creeper, rose of Sharon, datura, morning glories, bouncing Bess, sweet pea, Russian sage, zinnias from new seeds and reseeds, cultivated sunflowers.

Beyond the walls and fences: Pink and white bindweed, goat’s head, stickleaf, leatherleaf globemallow, yellow mullein, pigweed, ragweed, Hopi tea, snakeweed broom, broom senecio, native sunflowers, goldenrod, plains paper flowers, áñil del muerto, tahoka daisy, golden hairy and heath asters.

In my yard, looking east: Large-flowered soapwort, garlic chives, Jupiter’s beard, hollyhocks, winecup mallow, Maximilian sunflower.

Looking south: Betty Prior, Fairy, rugosa and miniature roses.

Looking west: Caryopteris, catmint, calamintha, David phlox, ladybells, Mönch aster, purple coneflower.

Looking north: Yellow potentilla, hosta, golden spur columbine, Mexican hat, black-eyed Susan, chocolate flower, blanket flower, anthemis, coreopsis, chrysanthemum.

In the open, along the drive: Buddleia, white yarrow.

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, blue salvia, moss rose, gazania.

Seeds: Larkspur, reseeded Sensation cosmos from last year’s plants, yellow cosmos.

Animal sightings: Geckos, humming birds, other small birds, bees, cabbage butterfly, grasshoppers, large and small black ants.

Weekly update: Last week one of the local produce stands had signs advertising peaches and yellow chicos.

I couldn’t find the signs this week, but when I went looking I discovered the produce stands have changed since I moved here in 1991.

The largest, Arlo’s Produce, was closed. Its owner, Arlo Martinez, died in 2009 at age 52. His family has deep roots in La Puebla, but probably no members were interested in continuing the business.

Another of the older stands is still operating with long tables under a metal roof. It may have been the one with chicos. This week it had a small sign advertising squash and displayed strings of drying red chiles. Bushel baskets of green ones were under the tables.

Perhaps these permanent stands no longer can compete with farmers’ markets. I always had the impression many of their customers were people driving north. The market in Santa Fé is closer, and guarantees its produce with a jury that determines who may sell. The fees for a vendor are high. $100 a year plus $25 for each week and a valid city business license.

Farmers’ markets forbid reselling products, which Arlo’s had done. He was a carpenter by trade. His mother’s sister, Rita, was the cook at La Cocina. His late brother, Zacarias, a jack-of-all trades. They were not farmers.

Martinez bought his produce from growers and wholesalers. Boxes often were piled beneath the yellow truck emblazoned with his name and two red peppers. A story in a 2003 issue of Sunset listed his fall produce as green chiles, potatoes, dried beans, sweet piñon brittle, honey, squash and apples. Only the last three could have been local, and the apples probably were from Velarde.

The alternative has always been roadside vendors. These generally are pickup trucks offering piñon seeds or Rocky Ford melons. Fire wood is often available. This week someone was selling hay.

I talked with a man in 2012 who bought potatoes in Colorado for resale. He rotated between locations here and in Santa Fé.

He was professional pedlar, I think originally from a farm. He’d worked odd jobs his whole life. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he spent many nights in his truck. But, when he had a good day I got the impression he spent his evening in a place with people like himself interested in relaxing together.

He and the other resellers serve a useful purpose. Local grocery stores have raw fruit and vegetable sections, but their produce is rarely fresh. The pedlars provide a link between people tired of potatoes that have sprouted inside and farmers too remote to use local outlets.

Trade links between Colorado and the Española valley were exploited by the Rio Grande railroad, and strengthened when cars became available. In the depression, when Martinez’s parents were young, Puebla had a poor irrigation ditch. Families were beginning to lose their land to the Bonds because they couldn’t pay the tax accessed for the irrigation dam. Men grew wheat for food, corn for their animals and themselves, and peppers for cash. They sold their surpluses in Santa Fé and the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado.

Colorado closed its borders to non-resident farm workers in 1936. The legislature passed laws that required truckers to have state licenses and pay a per ton fee on whatever they carried. They eliminated traditional trade with New Mexico.

Rio Arriba County did not reciprocate. Older marketing patterns were maintained by men like Martinez. At most, police and landowners harass venders today.

Now there are men with a little more capital than the pedlars. They set up small tables under patio umbrellas or frame canopies. There usually are two vehicles parked at the stands; at least one is a pickup. I suspect the teams of men sell a combination of their own produce, produce from neighbors and goods purchased in the south. They’re more like the village entrepreneurs familiar to newer residents in the valley than farmers.

I saw three this week. None had signs listing what it offered, though one had a sign announcing its name.

One was probably selling sweet corn. Several times, the men had corn stalks tied to their frame posts. Another had bags of peppers hanging from the canopy frame, bottles of honey, and packaged goods on the table. The third had large melon samples and half-peck baskets of green peppers on their table.

These men cater to local workers. They’re never set up before two in the afternoon.

When I worked in Los Alamos, the local farmer’s market was closed hours before the end of the day shift at the laboratory. The only people who could shop were those without jobs - retirees and housewives - or those who could leave their offices for some time without penalty.

The one time I tried the Española market, most of the vendors were gone by the time I got there after work. They had sold out. Soon after its site near the old post office was coopted. It’s reopened on a side road.

The main farmers’ market in Santa Fé closes at noon on Saturdays and 1 pm on Tuesdays, with parking fees. The organization does sponsor an afternoon market at one of the malls on Tuesday.

These little weekday stands are open on the main arteries when women who work as maids or cleaners are getting home. They’re still open when men, even construction workers, are driving though.

They’d all left by Saturday, perhaps to return to their families, perhaps to find more stock. The one with melons only had peppers left on Wednesday.

Instead on teams of men, women were sitting behind tables on Saturday. Their husbands hovered in the background. They may be people who work during the week and maintain market gardens on weekends.

One, selling tomatoes and green peppers, had a sign saying Velarde. Another, selling green squash had no sign.

On Sunday (today), the women were gone, and some of the men were back. The one with melons returned with green apples, green peppers, and sweet corn. The wooden roadside stand was closed.

Calkins, Hugh G. "Handling of a Cash Crop (Chili)," USDA Soil Conservation Bulletin, 1937, reprinted in Marta Weigle, Hispanic Villages of Northern New Mexico, 1975. Discusses the effects of Colorado law on local farmers. Villages also contains the Tewa Basin Study, 1935, with says people in Puebla relied on chicos when they had a good corn crop. It was described as white corn that was "boiled, then dried."

Cobos, Rubén. A Dictionary of New Mexico and Southern Colorado Spanish, 1983. He says chicos is "specially prepared dehydrated corn used in flavoring beans, pork and other dishes."

Niederman, Sharon. "Taos Harvest Drive: Sample New Mexico's Autumn Bounty," Sunset, October 2003. She used the word chilis.

1. Weekday produce stand, Chama Highway, 5 September 2014. Angostura is a settlement northwest of Española on the Río Chama noted for its fertile land.

2. Saturday produce stand, Chama Highway, 13 September 2014. It had a sign on the ground saying Velarde. The village at the end of the Española valley on the road to Taos is noted for its fruits.  Faces have been obscured.

3. Remains of Arlo’s Produce, Riverside Drive, 12 September 2014. His truck (below) usually was parked on the left side.

4. Sun Valley Produce, Riverside Drive, 12 September 2014. The box of yellow squash is under the table.

5. Potato vender, Riverside Drive, 12 September 2014. This is not the same person discussed above.

6. Weekday produce stand, Riverside Drive, 7 September 2014.

7. Sign in place pedlars gather, Riverside Drive, 11 September 2014. You could buy blue-nosed pit bull puppies there Saturday.

8. Corn stalks on stand in #1, 10 September 2014.

9. Weekday produce stand, Riverside Drive, 8 September 2014. Green peppers in hanging bag.

10. Saturday produce stand, Griego Bridge Road near Riverside, 13 September 2014.

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