Written and photography by ROB MCCORKLE
After a lengthy “germination” period that spanned many months, a two-story building at the northern entrance to Mesilla “sprouted” and FARMesilla opened its doors to a curious public on August 1. The premier farm to market business specializes in bringing fresh, top quality produce grown exclusively in New Mexico.
Thanks primarily to advanced social media buzz and subsequent word-of-mouth, FARMesilla hit the ground running in August and hasn’t looked back. Customers come for the cold-pressed juices, vegetables, and fruit fresh from the fields of southern and central New Mexico and to soak up the inviting farmhouse atmosphere some have compared to HGTV celebrities Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Market in Waco, Texas and Albuquerque’s historic Los Poblanos.
The cozy, sparkling clean, rustic industrial chic market and friendly staff make shopping for a wide array of seasonal veggies, fruit, and specialty food items convenient and fun.
FARMesilla, open every day but Tuesday, is the brainchild of New Mexico natives Shawna and husband T. J. Runyan. They came up with the farm to market concept more than three years ago and purchased a prime four-acre tract between Avenida de Mesilla and New Mexico State Highway 292. T. J. grew up in an apple growing family in Artesia and Mayhill and manned a roadside apple stand as a youth. He turned his love of farming into a degree at NMSU and landed jobs with several produce operations in subsequent years, finally deciding to start his own produce brokerage business in Las Cruces in 2008. He operated out of cramped quarters in his North Valley home for 10 years, but Mesilla Valley Produce now occupies ample office space on the second floor of the FARMesilla building.
“We had a lot of good contacts with growers in the Mesilla Valley,” says Shawna. “My husband was pushing me to do something because if I don’t stay busy I get bored. FARMesilla seemed the next logical thing for us to do.”
The Albuquerque native, who graduated from NMSU in 2000 with an accounting degree, believes the business fits nicely with the current movement of people wanting to know more about their food and where it’s grown, adding that the timing was fortuitous. “Mesilla has a really good vibe right now and has had for the last few years,” Shawna says. “We have a great location and a unique concept.”
FARMesilla had been open a month when I sat down to talk to the owner at a patio table on the front porch that offers a compelling view of the Organ Mountains. A nearby pavilion provides additional outdoor seating and free Wi-Fi for laptop-toting customers who can grab a pastry and cup of gourmet coffee from Milagro Coffee Y Espresso, or dine on a sandwich, wrap, or salad made each morning in FARMesilla’s on-premise kitchen. She talked about the satisfying feedback she had been getting.
“I’ve put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this. It’s gratifying to see people walk in, stop and look around the store with this look of ‘wow.’ To get a reaction like that, I realize the market came out the way it was supposed to. People are excited they can come down and get a watermelon grown just up the valley.”
On any given day, Shawna’s clientele might include locals such as retirees from the nearby Trails West Community or tourists headed back to California or Arizona who have called ahead to make sure FARMesilla has flame- kissed Hatch chiles for sale. Some chiles are roasted onsite. Even outside of chile season, Shawna stocks frozen, roasted and chopped green chiles. She’s noticed a number of repeat customers from the community who pop in several times a week to buy a handful of locally grown tomatoes, many of them exotic heirloom varieties. Sweet watermelons and cantaloupes from Morrow Farms in the Las Uvas Valley west of Hatch, she notes, have been big sellers. As the seasons change, FARMesilla’s kitchen will adapt their offerings of produce, soups, salads, wraps, and sandwiches.
Las Crucen Antonette Martinez, who grew up in a small northeastern New Mexico town where she supported local businesses, was eager to see what FARMesilla had to offer. She has not been disappointed.
“I loved it,” she says of her first visit just after the opening. “You’re immediately greeted by friendly smiles and employees readily available to answer any questions. Since that first visit, I have returned to buy fresh produce, wraps and pastries. Everything is amazing.”
The market’s main room is a kaleidoscope of colors with bins and coolers chock full of produce from farms throughout Dona Ana County, as well as Hatch and Deming.
Customers can peruse chalkboard signs to see the origin of the produce, beef, and pork. Carnivores can choose from frozen steaks and ground meat sourced from Mayhill’s Mulcock Ranch and pork sausage and chorizo from Talus Wind Ranch near Santa Fe. Cheeses from farms in Tucumcari and Estancia are offered, as well.
In the adjoining Silo Room, customers can peruse the shelves for a variety of merchandise ranging from gardening tools, books, and hats to candles and bath and body products. New Mexico-made jellies, spices, and sauces, including the Truck Farm’s award-winning Besito Caliente gourmet sauce, line the shelves.
FARMesilla customers can take solace in not only having access to top quality products, but also of supporting the Las Cruces economy and being environmentally conscious by buying local instead of frequenting large chain grocery stores, where produce is often trucked from far away and takes weeks to arrive on the shelves, according to Chadelle “Chaddy” Robinson, assistant professor of Agricultural Economics and Agricultural Business at NMSU.
“When someone buys produce from farmers that goes directly on the shelf, the quality and freshness of the items will be of premium level compared to what you’ll typically find in a grocery store,” she says. “In Shawna’s store, when she sells an item, for every dollar she generates, there’s a 1.5 multiplier economically for the community. We’re keeping the money right here instead of it going to Arkansas.”
Part mercantile, part produce market, part sandwich shop and part outdoors hangout, FARMesilla covers the bases with the finest New Mexico growers have to offer. Future plans call for selling hard cider and New Mexico beer and wine, and featuring live music. Phase II of the enterprise includes development of two acres on west side of the property that will include food truck parking and a picnic area surrounded by row crops and orchards, and a wind break along the highway.
In the meantime, Shawna will be fine-tuning FARMesilla operations to guarantee a unique experience. “You simply won’t find any other place like it in Las Cruces or Mesilla.”
1840 Avenida de Mesilla | 575-652-4626 facebook.com/FARMesilla