Margaret’s Big Idea – Taking the Market to the People

(Published in Edible Santa Fe, Summer, 2009)

It’s mid-April when I follow Eremita Campos and her daughter, Margaret, of Algo Nativo, out to their greenhouse where they’ve got the jump on the season: pots of squash, melons and tomatoes are already well on their way to becoming producing plants. Margaret harvests some tiny beets and clips lettuce for our lunch. On the way back to the kitchen she pulls up some garlic that has strayed from its bed. The greens and garlic Magliette Calcio A Poco Prezzo go into a cast iron skillet with some other vegetables, and then they get folded into tortillas less than an hour old. A slice of cheese softens over the vegetables and we dine on vegetable quesadillas so succulent it’s hard not to be greedy.

Margaret and Eremita have been farming together for a long time.  I credit them with introducing Santa Feans to an extraordinary array of heirloom tomatoes and eggplants, Eremita’s passion. But not one to be content with a job plus farming plus kids, Margaret started a cooking school, Comida de Campos where students start their day with warm scones and jams from the farm, before going into the fields to harvest the food they’ll cook under Margaret’s tutelage.

“People love to be on the farm,” Margaret says. “For some, it’s the experience of returning to something they know. For others it’s a chance to connect some deeper farm memory.” Summer classes fill quickly at Comida de Campos, but in June Margaret encourages people to bring their children. Her own two children like vegetables (and can cook a few meals), and she feels it’s important to give other kids a positive experience.

“So many mothers will say ‘My kid won’t eat that’.  But then I serve my vegetable quesadilla with its broccoli, beets, carrots and all, her kids eats it all and love it! Kids tend to have this automatic ‘I don’t like that’ response to vegetables without really even knowing what they are. When they eat some and love them, they’re even surprised that they’re vegetables!”

With the school more or less running itself, Margaret is turning her attention to new ventures.  “It’s not just kids who generally eat poorly, it’s a lot of people. I want to find a way to get good farm food to people of all ages, people who can’t necessarily get to the farmers market.” To do this, Margaret and Eremita, are changing how they farm and how they connect people to food.

“We see a people around Embudo who are starting to grow market gardens,” says Eremita, who thinks there could be a surplus of produce at the market this summer – and possibly fewer shoppers. While none of us know how the market will shape up, “Growing for farmers markets is always a hard way to make a living,” says Eremita, “and it’s especially hard when you’re competing with the guy who’s retired and practically gives his food away.”

Margaret also notes the trend towards more people growing their own food. “Instead of trying to grow so much produce in the summer, we want to concentrate on the winter, using large solar greenhouses.”  

So Eremita and Margaret are planning to build greenhouses for a winter farm, something akin to what Eliot Coleman is doing in Maine. This would fill a needed gap in the winter and leave the summer open for Margaret’s school and her other big idea – Los Locals.

 “Los Locals is something I’ve been hatching for the past few years, and now it’s time to put it in motion,” she says. She sounds determined. “Basically, I want to complete with Schwaans and put food on a truck and bring it to people because despite the evidence that people want gardens, or at least want to buy locally grown produce, I know from my own experience that it can be very hard if you’re working, going to school, and raising kids.”

What Margaret aims to do is to bring farm food to people who can’t get to a market.  “I want to go to places that don’t have a farmers market, like Angel Fire, or a state office building.”

And she wants to bring them food that is partially prepared and easy to finish – such as cut up calabacitas, or corn that’s been shucked, or bags of braising mixes or vegetables that are ready to stir-fry. “I want to add just enough value to a bag of vegetables that cooking dinner will be easy for people,” she says. And in addition to vegetables, she wants to offer local eggs and meat, and eventually create juice bases from fruit, like apples, and overlay it with berries, peaches and other fruits. Margaret is also a good baker and she wants to offer bread using wheat from the growers in Questa. It’s a big vision.

 As energetic as Margaret is, she can’t really be selling food out of a truck, growing it and partially prepping it, and maybe even teaching people how to cook it. “Once we get it going,” says Eremita “we can involve other people who can grow vegetables.” And Margaret agrees that they don’t Cheap NFL Jerseys have to necessarily grow all the food.  She plans to work with farmers in the area, helping them with hoop houses or whatever it takes to make growing food possible  “And because this is a poor area, people could use jobs growing and prepping.”

“Do you like this idea”” Margaret asks me? 

I love it. It’s a big idea that benefits people on both sides of the exchange. As wonderful as farmers markets are, they can’t be the only means to obtain locally grown food. We need to be working on all fronts, and Margaret’s is a generous vision that could make it possible for more people to eat well. True, there are innumerable steps to take to get her trucks (“Just one to start with,” she cautions) full of ready-to-cook local produce on the road, but she reminds me about St. Theresa, the patron saint of small deeds, or all the little steps that go into taking a big one.

“ Also it’s my year – the year of the Ox,” she adds.

 And what do oxen do?  They put one foot in front of the other and move forward slowly but surely towards their goal. Better keep your eyes open for Los Locals.

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