The air may be turning crisper, but produce is still bountiful, and Saturday mornings still see a bright array of vendor tents sprouting up along South Chestnut Street for the Cortez Farmers Market.
The market has grown significantly over its four decades of existence and has become a community staple. The 2019 season has run since June.
“It has this long tradition of being an institution in our community,” said Lily Jamison-Cash, a co-manager of this year’s market. “We’ve worked hard this year to make it energetic and fun and lively, and continue to make it that space where people want to gather.”
At the market’s entrance is the market’s founder Bessie White, standing behind a table piled with bags of peppers, tomatoes and pies.
Her sister and nieces bring quilts and craft goods, along with produce from the garden. White makes the pies and jams – about 25 pies and two dozen jam jars every week, she said. They come in all sorts of varieties, including rhubarb and strawberry.
White started selling vegetables off Main Street 46 years ago, as a way to help pay the hospital bills for her newborn grandson.
“I just came, and we sold what we had,” she said.
It got large enough that participants eventually formed an organization, White said. But they still don’t control pricing.
“People can come and sell what they have, and put their own price on it,” she said.
This season, the market has 47 vendors from Montezuma and Dolores counties, up five from last year. Day vendors rotate in when the regulars can’t make it, Jamison-Cash said.
There are your standard produce and meat vendors, along with several craft stands. Yvonne Shellhammer has a roaring business selling colorful animal hats. The most popular are sharks for boys and unicorns for girls.
“I made a couple hats for a baby shower a few years ago, and it just took off,” Shellhammer said.
The market began accepting SNAP benefits a few years ago and now takes part in the Double Up Food Bucks program, which allows SNAP participants to double the value of their benefits in exchange for buying locally grown produce.
“It’s been really, really rewarding, especially being able to work with our SNAP customers, and just connect people who really need and want fresh, healthy, local produce with the vendors I know and care about,” Jamison-Cash said. “Everybody gets to win.”
A series of musicians rotates through the market, including the Moetones, Marilyn Kroeker and the Aloha Club.
Their sound is distinctive enough to have inspired a “Sounds of the Cortez Farmers Market” concert at the Montezuma-Cortez High School back in January.
The market has about five weeks to go, wrapping up Oct. 26.
“It’s a really wonderful time of the season to be there,” Jamison-Cash said. “The chile roaster’s there. Everyone’s just got squash spilling off their tables.”
For more information, visit the Cortez Farmers Market website.