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Mercado San Agustin

On a recent warm Thursday afternoon, my dear friend Regina and I headed west of I-10 to check out Mercado San Agustin. Thursdays are Santa Cruz River Farmer’s Market days from 4-7 p.m., and the parking slots were nearly full as we slowly inched into our spot along the sidewalk. Tables shaded by tents lined the path leading up to the mercado: the Food Bank, where you can swipe your credit card and receive tokens rather than use cash; a jam & jelly vendor; native flowers and other plants being sold; and farmers with their apricots, tomatoes, cilantro and potatoes.

The sidewalk outside the main entrance to the market. 

We wandered around chatting with farmers (all of whom Regina knew), and making small purchases. Regina got some scapes, I got some sprouts, an onion. We queried a farmer about how long fresh eggs stay good, we chatted with David the beekeeper, who makes delicious honey, which I had bought a few times before at the Tucson Village Farm. He also had some good tips for my travels I’m anticipating in Ireland!

Another tasty treat we sampled was with Gloria from Chilttepica Salsa. Gloria’s one of the folks who uses the community kitchen at Mercado San Agustin; event planners, caterers, food trucks, and individuals jump-starting their culinary careers can apply for access to use this fully-equipped commercial kitchen.

Remember La Estrella bakery? The one I drove so far to get to? Well, you can find it at Mercado, too! Buns, cookies, empanadas, the works. I bought a pack of fresh tortillas and couldn’t help but eat a couple for dinner. Man, I love tortillas. (Side note: as a kid, my absolute favorite snack was a tortilla smothered in butter and honey. If you’re feeling adventurous, add a little cinnamon. SO TASTAY!)

Reg and I got some wonderful handmade soap from Joyce at Dragnass Soap; all her soap is unique in its own little way, as it’s all hand-made. I bought some classic lavender for my mom, and we got a couple samples of watermelon soap. One bar that I didn’t purchase but was tempted to was the Dragnash, which is supposed to be wonderful to get grime out while keeping the moisture in! Joyce is an artist, and she discovered that that particular bar was super effective while cleaning art schmutz off her hands after a long day’s work. She also makes natural deodorant, lip balm and laundry bars!

After a while, as the sun began to set, the vendors also began to pack up. More and more glasses began to clink in the attached Agustin Brasserie, and a jazz quartet began playing inside the restaurant. For more insight into what the Mercado means for Tucson and its community, we sat down with Evan Storey, Director of Operations.

Storey, who’s a native Arizonan born and raised in nearby Casa Grande, had some farming background before coming to work for Mercado San Agustin. He traveled extensively in Spain and Colombia, and his Spanish language skills are impressive; as we wandered through the market and later picked up our drinks, he easily conversed with vendors in both English and Spanish, a skill useful and indeed necessary for this type of endeavor.

Storey’s interest in agriculture really began with the social aspect of the sustainable food movement, and has grown from there. He got involved with the Mercado because he was “passionate about their vision.” When I asked him about that vision and how the Mercado was changing the fabric of downtown, this was his reply:

“Basically we’re taking the fabric of two worlds: downtown–and the trend of urban development, it’s a cool place to be now with the restaurants and the nightlife–and the west side. Tucson’s west side has a long history; it’s one of the longest running sites of agricultural production in the US. We want it to be a district, the Mercado District, with a mix of that downtown urban feel and the historical.

We want to respect and embrace the historical traditions of the neighborhoods. Here, we are developing a future historic district of Tucson.” 

Storey went on to tell us that the new district will be “mixed use.” They want to implement good building practices and create a neighborhood committed to community: the neighborhood construction will be all masonry, preferably LEED certified.  Mercado San Agustin itself is striving to set the example for the burgeoning community there; the Mercado is trying to achieve LEED gold certification by engaging in green practices like using rainwater harvesting and solar energy.

Not only are they making good on their goals of green living, they also are endeavoring to incorporate those historical traditions that Storey mentioned into the market’s events. On June 24, there will be a giant fiesta celebrating El Dia de San Juan, and little more than a week later there will be a 4th of July firework-watching extravaganza. Before both of those events, though, is one perhaps more exciting: the Mercado San Agustin celebrates its very first birthday on June 22. There will be festivities from 6-10 p.m.! Check it out, and don’t forget to do some shopping while you’re there!

If you go:

Mercado San Agustin
Hours for individual businesses vary, check their website.
Farmer’s market every Thursday, from 4-7p.m.