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Big Community, Little Mercado

In Nogales, a community comes together around food, music, and friendship.

October 18, 2017

Farmers' Market Finds

Rays of golden light are just beginning to set behind the storefronts that line the boulevards in Nogales, Arizona. The green and red hues from cars and traffic lights create a bustling glow as families begin crossing the international border, which connects the two communities known as “Ambos Nogales,” or “both Nogales.”

Mexican music can be heard above the voices and laughter from people at the Nogales Mercado Farmers Market, held weekly in downtown Nogales.

While small, the Mercado offers a variety of homegrown, locally made, and organic produce and prepared food. The flavorful smoke of roasting green peppers fills the cool air, a scent commonly known to ignite the feeling of fall in Southern Arizona.

“We are working together because we want the people from Nogales to invest in their local economy and their health,” said Santos Yescas, as he turns the pepper roaster over an open flame, inviting the charred paper-like skin to slip between the grates and blow in the breeze. “We are helping people bring extra money to their homes.”

Yescas, the co-manager of the Nogales Mercado Farmers Market, said the Mercado is a way to help families in Nogales by providing a place to sell their items, such as cheese, tamales, tortillas, horchata, or fruits and vegetables.

Those benefitting from WIC, FMNP and SNAP are also able to make purchases at the Mercado, an important step in bringing the community together, according to Yescas.

Natalie Ainza, the coordinator for the Nogales Mercado Farmers Market, is working to bridge the gap between growers and business owners by providing individuals with the opportunity to take classes and become certified as a vendor at the Mercado. César Martinez is one of those individuals.

Peppers, beets, zucchini and tamarind, a legume from a tree commonly grown in Mexico, line Martinez’s farmers’ market table.

Martinez, who owns his own ranch in Patagonia, Arizona, travels from Patagonia to Nogales to sell his produce and freshly made cheese and salsa at the Mercado.

“I’ve been making cheese since I was born,” Martinez says as he grins. Making cheese and tortillas are Martinez’s specialty.

“I come because I make good money sometimes,” Martinez, a Nogales native, said. “I’ve been coming [to the market] for five years.”

The atmosphere of the Mercado warms the heart with the feeling of community. Everyone from elders to children eat tamales, drink agua de piña, a popular pineapple drink, and listen to music as they talk and laugh with their neighbors.

While not much English is spoken so close to the Mexican border, all are welcomed with open arms. The next time you’re free on a Friday evening, take a relaxing drive to Nogales, grab some warm tamales for dinner, and satisfy your sweet tooth with unique seasonal fruits (like fall persimmons). The Nogales Mercado Farmers Market is held every Friday from 3-6 p.m. at the corner of Court Street and Morley Avenue.

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