In its Second Year, FARMesilla Eyes Changes Big and Small
By Katie Goetz · Photos by Stephanie Cameron
Shawna Runyan is light on her feet around FARMesilla, the farm-to-market store she and her husband TJ opened on the edge of Mesilla in 2018. Today, she’s updating her point-of-sale software to incorporate new items made to order in the onsite kitchen.
FARMesilla just hired a new chef. Becky Windels moved to New Mexico last summer after twenty years in the restaurant and catering business in and around Phoenix. On her first visit to FARMesilla last fall, she bought local pumpkins, pinto beans, and green chile sausage, then brought the resulting dishes in to share with Shawna. The pair started talking about how they might partner, which culminated in Chef Windels’s hiring right around Valentine’s Day—a day made more memorable at FARMesilla this year when a customer proposed to his girlfriend on the patio. She said yes.
Today, Windels brings out what she calls Little Casa Ensalada: a bed of greens topped with pickled red onions grown by Shiloh Produce in Hatch; feta crumbles from Tucumcari Mountain Cheese; pepitas candied with bourbon from nearby Dry Point Distillers; and a vinaigrette featuring FARMesilla’s own Mesilla Sunrise cold-pressed juice of carrot, apple, lime, and ginger.
“It’s a playground in here,” Windels says, pointing around the market. “I like cooking with big flavor [and] I love the food culture here.”
Hiring Windels complements FARMesilla’s core: hundreds of local items, including produce, meat, eggs (chicken and quail), cheese, raw milk, beer, wine, salsas, spices, biscochos, coffees, jellies, skin products, candles, and more. There’s a grab-and-go case for hungry folks on the run. FARMesilla began serving and stocking its shelves with New Mexico beer and wine last year. This year, they’ve added taps for Small Batch Booch, kombucha made locally from FARMesilla’s own cold-pressed juices.
“I’m always looking for unique items that set FARMesilla apart from all the other shops in town,” Shawna says.“[The search is] very time-consuming, but it always pays off.”
FARMesilla’s customer base includes tourists to Mesilla, RV-dwelling snowbirds, and day-trippers from El Paso. Highway 28 bicyclists gather here every Thursday and retired teachers every Friday. There’s ample covered seating outside and a sunlit nook inside.
“When I was in here yesterday, I didn’t know what chile to buy for my son: mild or hot,” Jerry Ellis says while on vacation from Muskegon, Michigan. A moment later, he’s out the door with a bag of dried New Mexico red chile. His son requested hot.
FARMesilla employs ten people. Shawna is full-time, as is Israel Jiménez, the jack-of-all-trades who fabricated much of the market’s décor: lighting, shelving, and barstools. Shawna designed the market to be clean and simple—an aesthetic reflected across FARMesilla’s social media channels.
“The produce itself is just a work of art,” Shawna says. “That [and the product] is what I want the focal point to be.”
The Runyans have two sons, 15 and 11, who help out at the market. If the boys get hungry on the job, whatever they grab from the shelves gets put on their respective tabs.
Shawna grew up in Belen and studied accounting at New Mexico State University, where she met TJ, who studied agribusiness and marketing. He grew up on a ranch near Artesia and spent summers selling his family’s apples at a roadside stand. After college, he worked as a produce broker, then started his own company called Mesilla Valley Produce. Shawna was content keeping the books for MVP until TJ suggested she start a truck farm. She says retail has brought her out of her comfort zone.
“Now that I have the infrastructure set up and all the little mechanical parts are turning the way they’re supposed to, I can hop out and go do things like meet with the vendors and taste their products.”
The Runyans are still deciding what to do with the three acres they own behind FARMesilla. They’ve cover-cropped it before, and they’re considering planting a garden there. Shawna says she’d like to do a test garden at home before investing in any irrigation infrastructure behind the market. TJ half-jokes they should set it up for glamping.
Shawna responds with questions that suggest she’s willing to at least entertain the idea. FARMesilla has been her baby since 2015, when she showed up every day to oversee its construction.
FARMesilla will celebrate its second anniversary on August 1. “Standing back and looking at it now,” Shawna says of the market, “there’s the realization that it really came together how I envisioned.”
1840 Avenida de Mesilla, Las Cruces, 575-652-4626