Albuquerque’s Downtown Growers’ Market launches their winter season this week with a COVID-safe “Farm to Car” program. Customers can place orders online throughout the week to pick-up on Saturdays. KUNM’s Nash Jones met up with market co-manager Danielle Schlobohm at the site where customers will roll through for their local market goods starting this weekend.
DANIELLE SCHLOBOHM: So, we're in a parking lot that's located on Gold Ave. downtown, between 7th and 8th street, right behind Capo's Restaurant and Good Year Tires. When customers arrive, we'll have them enter on 7th St. and come in right behind this building behind me here that's got a bunch of murals on it. Vendors will be parked with orders, and so customers can just drive through. Put your name in the window of your car. Have a list or remember who you ordered from. You'll just go through the line and pick up your orders, we'll put them in the back of your car so there's no contact. Should be easy-peasy.
KUNM: You all ran a Farm-to-Car program when the pandemic first hit from April to June last year. What you're calling the "Winter Edition" kicks off this week. What kind of products are available through this new iteration of the program?
SCHLOBOHM: So, we've got a pretty good selection of stuff. We've got a couple meat farmers. Currently, we have one farmer who's doing produce – mostly greens and things like that – EMS Farms. We've got bakers, we have artisans, there's some people who do wellness products.
KUNM: I saw that there was maybe some agua fresca and some breakfast burritos that are going to be available?
SCHLOBOHM: Yeah, some prepared food folks.
KUNM: So, for folks who didn't do the Farm-to-Car market in the spring, how does it work?
SCHLOBOHM: Vendors each have control of their own shop. So, it's kind of like you're shopping the market, but online. So, you can shop each vendor individually and then you pay each vendor individually. Most people take payment right online, a couple of them want you to pay cash when you get here, but you just see that when you check out. And then yeah, once your orders are placed, you just come through on Saturday and pick them up weekly.
KUNM: What if somebody doesn't have a car? Can they still access the market?
SCHLOBOHM: We encourage vehicles just because of the pandemic and safety, but you're more than welcome to walk or bike up. We're directing those people to come to the welcome table and then we'll just send you through the line to pick up your orders.
KUNM: The pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity across our community. Will those who are receiving SNAP benefits or other food assistance be able to use those at the market this winter?
SCHLOBOHM: We aren't able to offer the food assistance programs for Farm-to-Car, and that's largely just due to our staffing capacity and just the limitations that are around food stamps and things like that. WIC and Senior Checks are another thing that we take, but those are only offered during the summer months.
KUNM: In addition to the challenges posed by the pandemic for area farmers, the National Weather Service announced this week that 2020 is likely to have been the 2nd warmest and 4th driest year on record in New Mexico. What are you hearing from the local farmers that you partner with about how they're faring?
SCHLOBOHM: It's been an interesting year. I mean, farming in New Mexico is challenging in general. We had one farmer actually, last year at the beginning of the season, say that they were having issues with water and were just only going to be able to sell some of their like dried goods and things like that. I also know that this pandemic really put a lot of focus on local foods and I'd heard a lot of farmers were just planting every inch of ground that they could access because the demand was so high. But yeah, as far as the upcoming season, I mean, folks always seem to figure it out. I mean, it's hard. But these farmers are hard workers and adaptable and all that. So, you know, fingers crossed.
KUNM: And, of course, so much remains up in the air in terms of when it's going to be safer to open up the economy and begin gathering again. But, with that in mind, what does the Downtown Growers' Market have planned for the spring?
SCHLOBOHM: We're hoping we'll be able to operate in ways we have years past. Mostly, we're hoping to be able to have our full vendor capacity back. This past year we had to cut it in half to allow for distancing, which was hard on the market financially, but we'll be working with city departments as it gets closer to the market. We have our application open right now for local vendors to apply. It'll be open through the end of the month.
KUNM: And so, when you're taking applications, are you planning on having a full capacity like in pre-pandemic times?
SCHLOBOHM: We planned kind of three different things. Like, operating the way we did this past year, operating at a 75% [capacity], [and] operating at a 100%. So, right now, we're kind of planning for 75%. Also just concerns about safety and all of that, so we'll be taking all that into consideration as it gets closer.