By Cassidy Tawse-Garcia · Photos by Stephanie Cameron

Polk’s Folly Butcher Shop and Farm Stand in Cedar Crest.

I pull into the parking lot just past Cedar Crest Tire on Highway 14 and head for the front door, passing a sign cheerfully announcing, “Pigs Sold Here.” Above the door hangs the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union emblem, declaring that farmers call this place theirs. As I tuck my head into the cozy farm store just twenty minutes east of Albuquerque, the first thing I see is a smile.

The smile belongs to Ethan Withers, the younger of the two brothers who own Polk’s Folly Butcher Shop and Farm Stand in Cedar Crest. My mother had phoned in an order from Taos a few days earlier, and Ethan and a cheerful employee, Colby, had everything packed and ready for me.

Despite having access to the natural foods store in Taos and a Whole Foods relatively close by in Santa Fe, my mom asked me to stop by the farm stand to pick up pork and beef cuts on my way up for a visit. I’m guessing this is because she has heard me singing the Withers brothers’ praises ever since they helped me source local flour for my baking business in the early throes of the pandemic. Also, I know she understands the value of buying food from those who know what it is to raise food. In the case of Polk’s Folly, no other operation in New Mexico quite compares with their intimacy. Polk’s Folly is a place where, out of necessity, farmers imagined a shopping hub for local food, and in doing so, became the knowledge keepers for many.

The farm stand features products from more than thirty farmers and ranchers and a dozen producers and artisans in a building that, until early 2020, served as a storage space for the neighboring mechanic shop. “The first question is always ‘Are we supporting good agriculture?’, because that is what we want to do,” Zach, the elder of the farming brothers turned shop owners, later tells me over the phone. What started as a vision to have a butcher shop to process their own pigs quickly evolved into an ecological display of what’s being grown and raised in New Mexico and southern Colorado this very minute. Unlike a display in a museum, the items at Polk’s Folly are begging to be consumed with abandon.

Ethan and Zach Withers breaking down a lamb in the butcher shop.

Piles of winter squash from Vida Verde Farm fill the tables of their storefront. Varieties of local honey line the shelves. Tortillas from Tortilleria Cuauhtémoc in the South Valley and sourdough bread from Ihatov Bread and Coffee in Nob Hill are intermixed with jams and jerky. An abundant selection of fresh greens, celery, and herbs from East Mountain Organic Farms adorns the display cases. Local potatoes and onions are stacked next to apples from orchards near Velarde. Ethan and Colby dance around each other, serving the constant flow of customers and listing the fresh cuts of meat available to all who ask.

Zach and Ethan Withers grew up in the East Mountains. Their mother and grandmother raised and bred Egyptian Arabian horses on the family property in San Antonito, just ten minutes away from the shop. Zach headed to Vermont for college, where he was exposed to thriving local farms and regional distribution pathways. After Zach returned to New Mexico, he and Ethan, both interested in butchery and the economic potential of local food systems, began to raise pigs on their family’s land. “Things that taste like home, where you can almost taste the earth,” Zach says, “those are the things I get the most excited about.”

“We just wanted to make some good sausage,” Ethan tells me over a kombucha at one of the sunny picnic tables outside their shop. “It became clear rather quickly that to butcher our own meat, we needed a shop, and for a shop to work, we needed economy of scale.” This meant bringing in as many local products as possible.

Zach recounts the shop’s beginning in April of 2020: “We sold through our entire month’s supply of pork in four hours on our second day open . . . so we got to work.” They called every farmer and rancher they knew, trying to stock more local products. At the height of the pandemic, the Withers brothers doubled down on their belief in regional food systems, and it is paying off.

Today, in addition to stocking pork they raise themselves, including their famous green chile pork sausage, the butcher shop carries beef from Sol Ranch in northern New Mexico, run by a young female rancher, Emily Cornell. Also, you can find New Mexico–raised lamb, goat, and poultry products, and Colorado elk and yak sourced through a partnership with Valley Roots Food Hub in the San Luis Valley. In addition to meat, the shop carries grassfed milk and yogurt from De Smet Dairy and New Mexico–grown and –milled flour from one of few mills left in New Mexico, Valencia Flour Mill in Jarales.

I’m here for a meat order, but I can’t help picking up some full and crisp-looking celery leaves and pomegranates to make a winter salad with barley, some organic tricolor quinoa from the San Luis Valley to stock my pantry, and the most vibrant yellow grassfed butter from Sawatch Artisan Foods to embellish my sourdough toast.

As I’m paying, Ethan offers me a sample of the new sausage flavor he’s been working on—Cardamom Manifesto. I gleefully accept the hot morsel, thankful for the warm bite and tiny bit of sustenance. As we chat through the bright flavoring, discussing the potential of adding black pepper, Ethan looks up and smiles each time a customer passes through the door. He greets nearly every person by name.

This is why I return to Polk’s Folly again and again. (And I do not mean the hot sausage sample, although that was grand!) The Withers brothers are committed to their place in this world. With that comes a sincere commitment to their community and customers—something sorely lacking in many consumer interactions. Confronted with the perils of the pandemic and growing social and environmental woes, the face of grocery shopping has changed. We can (and do) now buy all we need with a few thumb taps. There are more CSA choices than ever to support local farmers. But I find, more and more, folks are seeking relationships with those who make and sell their food, relationships where their needs are anticipated and their choice to spend money locally has a positive ripple effect within their community.

As we move forward into the unknown expanse of future life-with-COVID, I find myself even more drawn to places like Polk’s Folly. What started as an endeavor to raise pigs in order to make the best sausage possible is now a local foods and product hub brimming with all the necessities for a weekly shop and then some. We cannot know what the future will bring, but I believe it is safe to say, a smile and a personal greeting will meet you if your future includes shopping at Polk’s Folly Butcher Shop and Farm Stand.

12128 NM 14, Cedar Crest, 505-503-0395, polksfolly.com

Cassidy Tawse-Garcia
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Cassidy Tawse-Garcia is a storyteller, cook, and food justice advocate living in Albuquerque. Hailing from Colorado, she grew up on a small family farm, growing vegetables and flowers for market and community supported agriculture. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, she started Masa Madrina (an ode to her great-aunt, a native of Arroyo Hondo), a prepared-food business focusing on sourdough and farm-sourced seasonal offerings, as a means to survive. Today, her work has evolved to focus on mutual aid and elevating marginalized voices in food justice and farming. She is currently pursuing her PhD in human geography at the University of New Mexico, where she studies community reciprocity and care movements.