“What’s that? What do you use it for?” Lucero said, pointing at the bok choy. “Can I put it in spaghetti?”
Antonio Lopez, a professional cook with Agri-Cultura Cooperative Network, recommended against using the Asian cabbage for spaghetti, at least at first. He suggested that Lucero sauté the bok choy with some garlic to familiarize herself with the flavor.
Lucero of Isleta Pueblo was among the first customers this year to visit the mobile market outside First Choice Community Healthcare – one of six sites it visits each Monday and Tuesday in the South Valley and Albuquerque’s International District.
The market, in its third year, began its new season Monday and will continue through Oct. 31.
Other vegetables for sale Tuesday included radishes, beets, chard, dried beans, lettuce, honey and turnips, and some uncommon items such as garlic scapes – the part of garlic that grows above ground – and tatsoi, an Asian green that tastes a bit like cabbage.
Possibly the most exotic feature of the mobile market is that all the food it sells is grown by small farms in the South Valley and harvested just days before it is sold. The variety will increase as new crops come to harvest.
“Our food was picked yesterday – it wasn’t picked green and ripened on the shelf,” said Natalie Donnelly, community food projects coordinator with the Center for Community Health at Presbyterian Healthcare Services, which partly funds the program. Bernalillo County and federal agencies also provide funding.
In 2016, the mobile market sold $15,000 worth of food and served 1,000 unique visitors, said Leigh Caswell, director of the Center for Community Health.
“We’re trying to increase access to healthy food in communities that don’t have it,” Caswell said. “We want people to eat more healthy food and know what to do with it.”
The markets also feature on-site cooking demonstrations to help people learn how to use foods that often are unfamiliar to shoppers.
The market also helps provide income for small farmers in the South Valley who use traditional farming practices, said Helga Garza, coordinator of Agri-Cultura Cooperative Network, which consists of nine small farms in the South Valley.
“They key of the mobile market is that it is buying local,” Garza said. “It is keeping traditional agricultural practices alive in our state.”