Have you ever asked yourself where you could snag micro greens, framed artwork, French pastries, lip balm, flowers, and dog treats all in one trip without leaving the city? The answer: The Rail Yards. The ever-growing Rail Yards Market sits tucked in a quiet corner of 1st Street, in a blacksmith’s building from 1917 restored to its former glory. Every Sunday, the space comes alive for hordes of visitors and locals alike, offering an ever-growing spread of local produce along with local art, prepared food, and educational entertainment. I talked with Alex Paramo, Marketing Director for the Rail Yards Market, about what the market has to offer this year.
The Rail Yards Market opened in 2014 in a huge community effort to rejuvenate the rail yards and create an economic incubator for local farmers, artisans, and vendors. Other than the Downtown Growers’ Market, a favorite of Albuquerque produce-seekers for 20 years, it’s one of the only places to go for a bustling market atmosphere with ample foot-traffic. With the help of a few dedicated community organizers, including Eric Griego and Chad Gruber, the City Council granted enough funding to clean out the building and rent it out.
Since its opening in 2014, The Rail Yards Market has only grown. About 4,000 people visited, on average, per week the first year, and the number eventually grew to 5,000 in 2015, and then 7,000 last year. The Rail Yards gives small businesses the exposure they may not otherwise get and allows them to meet face to face with potential customers. Each week, the Rail Yards Market is themed. When I visited on the second weekend, the theme was “Seeds and Starts.” Accordingly, local farmers sold micro-greens, potted plant starts, and seed-packets. The ABQ-BERNCO Seed Library had a table and handed out information on their program, which makes hundreds of seed varieties available for use through the Albuquerque Public Libraries. The Barelas Community Coalition handed out sunflower seeds and encouraged passers-by to decorate paper sunflowers with the prompt “What I love about my community.”
To that end, vendors of every kind told a different story on our walk through the bustling stalls. Kathy Wendt from Tailwaggin’ Temptations, is one of what Paramo calls the “founding vendors” of the market. She sells all-natural homemade dog treats, and told of a time when a man sampled almost every one before realizing they weren’t meant for humans. Bar X Brand Beef Jerky, another “founding vendor,” is coming out with a new line of flavors in partnership with Marble Brewing and a revamped label. Caribbean Temptation, Inc., which dishes up addictive fried vegetable fritters and other Caribbean food, sends all their proceeds to a school in Haiti. The owner of High Country Grass Fed Beef and her 8-year-old son, from Quemado, NM, travelled 205 miles just to be there.
Apart from attracting a wider swath of produce vendors this year, the Rail Yards staff is launching a program called Rail Yards Recipes, which allows Rail Yards visitors to sign up for a monthly box full of enough local produce to make a meal for two. Much like other popular mail-order recipe programs, Rail Yards Recipes portions out ingredients and provides detailed instructions for easy preparation. The program is available on a sliding scale basis, allowing low-income families and government benefit recipients to take advantage of the seasonal offerings.
The market will also be continuing their “Double Up Food Bucks” program, a New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association program through the state that allows SNAP EBT (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program/Electronic Benefits Transfer) recipients to use their federal benefits and receive an equal and additional amount to spend at participating locations. For example, a shopper that spends $10 at certain local farmers markets, farm stands and grocery stores receives an additional $10 to spend there. According to Paramo, the program started small but has grown quickly. “It’s really important to get out the message about good local food, how it’s not actually as expensive as people think it is. It actually works out to be cheaper,” he said.
The Rail Yards market will also continue to feature interactive educational “zones” as an effort to make the market a hub for community education as well as food and art. This past week, the Children’s Zone featured a terra cotta ceramics workshop for kids to participate in. The market is also partnering with Whole Foods, giving shoppers the option to donate their bag credit to the market. The Rail Yards Market will also host their annual holiday market, which attracted more 15,000 people last year, for two days this time, on December 9 – 10.
The Rail Yards Market is open every Sunday 10 am – 2 pm, May through October
777 1st Street SW
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87102
Double Up Food Bucks program
Barelas Community Coalition
Tailwaggin’ Temptations Gourmet Dog Treats, LLC
Bar X Brand Beef Jerky
J & D Foods Inc.
120 Trumbull Se