Monday, February 11, 2013
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico: The Farmer's Market is a Smash Hit
By Kent Paterson
In a sluggish economy, Puerto Vallarta’s
Old Town Farmer’s Market (OTFM) is a notable success. Every Saturday morning thick crowds file past the booths that
line the lower end of Basilio Badillo and an adjoining street in the Mexican resort city. The market-goers sample salsa and
jam, enjoy freshly-prepared breakfasts, purchase locally-grown fruits and vegetables, hear live music, load-up on prepared
foods and hand-made items, and dialogue with growers and product makers.
a producer, it gives you an opportunity to know the customer’s opinion,” said market seller Yael Sanchez. “You
don’t have that opportunity when a product is in a store.”
Semple, OTFM director and the proprietor of an exotic chocolate business, said the number of market vendors has increased
from 65 to 90 in the last two years.
“We have a very long waiting list.
The market is full at the moment,” Semple told FNS. “This year, the market has kind of exploded, and people recognize
the viability of this.” Semple estimated that as many as 5,000 people show up on a good day.
Recent strolls at the OTFM revealed an eclectic and imaginative array of products --eggplant, greens, perogies,
pastries, coffee, jams, breads, cheeses, pickles, cigars, and organic mosquito repellant, to name but a few. At this market,
the accent is on the value-added.
Larry Dorwart and his wife sell sour mash and un-aged
whiskey the couple distills in Boca de Tomatlan, south of Puerto Vallarta. A brochure for their Los 2 Compadres company claims
Dorwart’s Canadian grandmother produced booze for Al Capone. Dorwart said he uses locally-grown, non-GMO corn for spirits
that already are gaining a reputation across borders and could soon be in the aisles of a major supermarket chain. Dorwart
and partners also churn out a Mexican ice coffee made with locally-cultivated beans.
getting exposure. We get people from Canada and the States who look for it,” Dorwart said while handing out free samples
of his products.
Dorwart then spoke about one man from his hometown in Canada
who stumbled across the transplanted whisky man in Puerto Vallarta. “’I heard there was this wing-nut from Lampman
making whisky here,’” he chuckled, recalling the home-boy’s words.
early afternoon many booths display “sold-out” signs. A former Mexico City resident who moved to Puerto Vallarta
three years ago, Maria Reyes posted one such message after selling out her gluten-free corn cakes. “I’m not presumptuous,
but they are tasty,” Reyes said, adding that many people with health concerns buy her product. Reyes said that since
she does not work fulltime, weekend market sales are an indispensable chunk of her income. “It’s the only thing
I have to survive,” she affirmed.
Sandra “Mamma Jamma” Ituarte
also credited the OTFM for providing a significant source of income. A mother of four, Ituarte said having the regular sales
outlet allows her to take care of the children, run errands and produce a line of eight jams at home. Mamma Jamma’s
flavors include peach, raspberry, mango, and hot chili pepper with ginger, among others. “In my case, it helps me out
a lot,” Ituarte said of the OTFM.
Semple calculated that 80 percent of
her market’s vendors are Mexican nationals while 20 percent are “internationals” from Europe, South America
and other nations. In the winter tourism high season that is in full swing, the customers are overwhelmingly foreigners, though
more Mexicans turn out during popular national holidays, Semple said.
November to May, the OTFM is part of a regional food and local production movement that’s taken off during the past
few years. In and around Banderas Bay, other initiatives include Puerto Vallarta’s Saturday Market Co-op, as well as
farmers’ markets in Bucerias, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, and Sayulita.
the OTFM’s success is drawing the attention of local officials, who are now interested in connecting more tourists in
the sprawling resort city to the market site near Los Muertos Beach.
is a lot of attention on Old Town, and I think that’s to draw people back to experience the Mexican culture, as opposed
to the inclusive (vacation package) culture,” she said.
income for market vendors, the OTFM has encouraged spillover business on Basilio Badillo Street. “They come to the market
and they come here,” said Luz Morales, a clerk at Turleen’s Boutique.
the street from Morales, Carol’s Boutique has also benefited from its proximity to the market, according to the owner.
“It was packed,” is how Carol Smith assessed the customer flow on a recent Saturday morning. “Saturday is
one of our busier days.”
OTFM veterans Yael Sanchez and Manuel Murillo said
the market has not only been an extra sales venue, but has helped grow their overall business and increase economic activity
in the zone.
Located in the Emiliano Zapata neighborhood about a 10 or 15
minute walk from the OTFM, the couple’s Organic Superfoods store has new clients who were initially exposed to the business
at the Saturday market. Customers now sometimes even show up at the store shortly after the market closes, perhaps shopping
at other establishments along the way, Sanchez and Murillo said. Established businesses shouldn’t fear losing clients
to the OTFM, Sanchez contended. “What goes on isn’t competition, it’s an addition,” she maintained.
Like many fellow vendors, Sanchez and Murillo emphasize the healthy and the organic.
Nowadays, they have a small plant that producers eight different products for the national market, and send packages on an
individual basis to customers in the U.S. and Canada. One of their newest products sold at the store -- blue corn pecan muffins
--would likely entice the taste buds of New Mexicans.
the OTFM as an institution that could inspire new entrepreneurs. “This is an opportunity to get out of the rut if you
work hard,” he said. In the view of Sanchez and Murillo, the OTFM and Puerto Vallarta are on the cutting edge of cross-fertilizing
and transnationalizing gastronomic culture. For example, hummus with chili chipotle, Sanchez said. “We have to open
ourselves to globalization,” Murillo argued. “Tacos are sold in Japan. 20 years ago, sushi wasn’t sold in
In a strategic business sense, the proprietors of Organic Superfoods
regard farmers’ markets as one component of a new concept they are promoting: “Vallarta Fit and Green.”
Their idea is to link health, organic food and ecological tourism with culturally friendly “market niches” in
places like Portland, Oregon, and Austin, Texas, which could serve as important points of origin for future tourists.
Already, the OTFM’s Charlotte Semple attributes the success of her organization in good measure to the
presence of similar markers abroad. “There is a demand,” Semple summed up. “There are a lot of foreigners
accustomed to farmers’ markets and supporting their local producers.”
Kent Paterson is the editor of
Frontera NorteSur. Reprinted with authorization from Frontera NorteSur, a free, on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news source.
Frontera NorteSur (FNS)
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University