An Age of Local Foodsheds & a Fair Trade State

A Multiple-Part Series

Project Co-Directors: Kenney Ausubel and Peter Warshall

Production Writing, Research: Peter Warshall and Arty Mangan

Project Coordinator: Nikki Spangenburg

NEW MEXICO has a chronically high poverty rate, usually one of the nation’s bottom three states. In 2006, the NM Association of Food Banks provided emergency food for an estimated 237,900 different people. Approximately 35,800 individuals receive emergency food assistance in any given week. The situation appears to be worsening. NM is 49th in child food insecurity — about one quarter of the state’s children (120,000) are not sure of their next meal. NM diets have deteriorated over past decades. The Center for Disease Control estimates that 60% of NM residents are either overweight or obese. Close to 80% eat fewer fruits and vegetables than nutritionists recommend, and over 20% report they do no physical activity at all. Major nutrition-related diseases (diabetes II, cardiovascular) are above national averages when undiagnosed cases are included.

The government, faith-based communities, non-affiliated nonprofits and a few businesses have tried to provide access to food for those in need. In the best survey done in NM, faith-based groups (churches, mosques, synagogues and other religious organizations) run about 70% of food pantries, 63% of soup kitchens and 33% of shelters. Private nonprofit organizations with no religious affiliation perform the balance. For the NM Association of Food Banks, volunteers staff 89% of pantries, 93% of kitchens and 77% of shelters. Many programs rely entirely on volunteers: 67% of their pantry programs and 46% of their kitchens have no paid staff at all. These compassionate organizations keep NM from experiencing widespread and persistent hunger.

DREAM By 2020, eliminate chronic food insecurity. All people have access to a culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through non-emergency (“conventional”) food sources at all times. Government, faith-based and non-affiliated nonprofits and the business community ensure a price spectrum affordable to all citizens.


Is nutritious food a basic right like clean water and air, home heating in winter or electricity? What are the moral obligations of NGOs and religious institutions to reduce food insecurity and find work to lift citizens out of poverty? What are moral obligation of NGOs and religious institutions as well as the private sector? How do food groups, businesses and the state balance charity and jobs? How many additional jobs can the local foodshed create that will relieve the most food insecure?

Secure food is closely tied to income. In 2006, among those seeking emergency food, 73% had individual incomes below the official federal poverty level during the previous month; 17% were homeless; and 81% of the households had an income of 130% below the federal poverty level. The food-needy fall into two general and ambiguous groups: those who cannot fully take care of themselves nor earn enough income to pay for their basic needs such as the poor elderly, children and mentally or physically disadvantaged and those who find themselves in circumstances that are hopefully transitory and not chronic. The later group should be considered a resource to help end hunger.

DREAM The food gap is approached as multi-faceted, not solely the provision of emergency food. The local foodshed community sees the pantries, kitchens and shelters as crucial resources to coordinate job training and health care programs in nutrition, cooking, gardening and food service.

The partial solution for those who will always remain disadvantaged and the complete solution for those in transitory poverty require various food banks, shelters and pantries to: Counsel clients on nutrition, WIC, food stamps, other government programs, legal services, housing services, finding short-term shelter, subsidized housing, housing repair and rehabilitation, and short-term financial opportunities; directly assist clients on utility, heating and energy bills, health, transportation, clothing, furniture, senior programs and food pantry take-home bags; enroll clients in programs such as welfare-to-work, job training, job choice, work for the physically disabled and mentally challenged; and educate (e.g. nutrition, consumer protection, language translation).

The dream has already achieved a few major steps such as: nutrition tied to health care; fresh food for food banks; and school gardens


The qualities of food have not been the high priority for those trying to feed the needy. NM pantries, kitchens and shelters all need more food or meals than food banks can supply. They graciously accept food donations from food drives, local merchants, farmer donations and religious organizations. Perhaps half of all emergency food comes from the federal commodity program.

Local foodshed farmers and distributors could provide seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables, milk and dairy products, beans, nuts and eggs closer to users than most farm-to-food-bank distributors. With capital, a subsidized local bakery could produce nutritious bread with local wheat with an assured subsidized market. With more difficulty, food banks could become part of the revival of local broilers and meat sources.

DREAM Local foodsheds make important contributions to feeding those in need, especially with local, fresh foods. Food banks and food distributors pursue a local, subsidized distribution and processing organization to increase the procurement of local, fresh foods for feeding emergency and disadvantaged families and citizens.

The best way to assure the origin of foods and food products is to buy them direct from a local farmer. Groups like Farm to Table (F2T) have been leaders in connecting farmers to schools with food insecure students. (Among households served by the NM Food Bank, 70% of students also received federal school lunch and breakfast programs.) F2T has the benefit of providing very fresh food direct to the schools and avoiding many intermediary costs. Major steps toward helping elderly and poorer citizens have begun with authorizing special farmers’ market debit cards and a small CSA/elder delivery program.

There is no program of farm to emergency food distributors, even though over 20% of the pantries, about 60% of the kitchens and over 65% of the shelters purchased fresh fruits and vegetables (2006).

DREAM Contract with local farmers to provide fresh food by donating and/or purchasing at cost their cosmetically imperfect foods to food banks and other emergency food services. At the end of farmers’ market days, pick up the good quality produce that farmers do not want to take back to the farm.

Often local farmers are looking for secondary markets for lower-grade produce. It can provide a stability and diversity of market options for culled seconds and final cleanup of field harvests. They can also receive receipts for donations for any produce gifted to food banks.

The direct purchase process, besides its moral satisfaction, provides a double security: The farmer can predict part of his/her income, and the food bank or food destination knows what it will receive. There are two challenges: Meeting state procurement standards and logistics costs requires start-up financial help, and diverting federal commodity purchasing funds to local purchasing requires changing the federal Farm Bill.


Most pantries and food banks rely almost entirely on nonperishable food. Much of the food provided through pantries and food banks is not low-fat, low-sugar (corn syrup) or low-sodium. This means that people who rely on food pantry food have an overconsumption of high-calorie and high-salt foods. Many of the clientele already have severe obesity, cardiovascular and diabetic issues. They need special diets, and the system is completely insufficient to meet the special diet needs. Many are not aware that the option is even available in a limited way. Because NM also has the second lowest health coverage in the nation, the costs of treating these nutritionally related diseases fall on the taxpayer. The situation is only a bit better for “non-emergency” government-helped diets of school children, the battered and the elderly.

DREAM By 2015, ban all trans-fat foods in school programs. By 2020, eliminate trans-fat from emergency food programs. Change institutional environments (especially schools) to provide easy access to physical activity opportunities and healthy foods. Require all health insurance

vendors in NM to cover obesity.

DREAM Institute a statewide tax on beverages with minimal nutritional value (the “corn syrup” tax) and direct the revenues to fund obesity and health-related services.

DREAM Eliminate vending machines in schools and public buildings that sell foods that contribute to obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Pass legislation to eliminate all “junk food” advertising on publicly supported media and institute equivalent bans for children’s shows on a national level. Require nutrition education in schools.

DREAM Expand preventative screening at major food distribution nodes and schools to diagnose Type II diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Establish public health body-mass index surveys to pinpoint locations in need of the most education and aid. NM now requires physical activity during recess or another time of day for schoolchildren.


Poor access occurs when there is no food source nearby and transport is difficult. In cities, poor access occurs when food distributors run out and when there are no or scarce good groceries in a neighborhood. Poor access occurs in the rural areas (“food deserts”) when a good grocery cannot be found within 35 to 70 miles of a household.

DREAM Help NM Passenger Transport Association find funds for an improved rural transport system. All over the state, bus routes and elder/disabled vans are designed for full-service groceries and access to food stamp offices.

In towns and cities, when demand so exceeds supply that a food pantry or soup kitchen runs out, there is currently no system for sending clients to another site. Manual Salud, La Comunidad Habla and The NM Alliance of School-Based Health Care have begun to address this issue. In non-emergency planning, the long-term solution includes: expanding neighborhood stores to stock healthier foods; facilitating local food coops and buying clubs; developing year-round public markets; and cities helping to assemble enough land and provide tax incentives for full-service groceries.

DREAM Create a network that notifies all emergency food distribution centers of food needs so that clients can go to nearest food source, or the food source can truck more food to the depleted location.

In rural areas, there is a need to attract regional or national chains to underserved areas. If a casino can subsidize a local full-service grocery, then the Pueblo or tribe can create better access. To attract markets to underserved areas requires a state policy on tax credits and/or a subsidized transport system. La Montanita Co-op, for instance, has started a Gallup branch with weekly deliveries from its storehouse. Philadelphia’s Fresh Food Financing Initiative has built a revolving loan fund for cash-strapped storeowners in rural areas to purchase coolers to increase the availability of perishables.

DREAM Casino, government and private funding help subsidize the spread of full-service grocery stores into food deserts.

For more information on the DNM Project or to order the Local Foodsheds map & pamphlet from which this article is excerpted, visit or e-mail


This map shows the connection between poverty and food insecurity. Russet areas are counties with 17% or more poverty rates and food stamp needs. The inset map shows areas with food banks. Food access is a major problem in poor sections of cities, which lack full-service groceries, and in rural areas with long distances between home and a good grocery (see icons on map).

Healthy food is a new challenge for emergency and school food distributors. The map shows farmers and school districts that purchase direct fresh food for their students. In simple terms, food security requires two tasks: feed the hungry now, and end hunger asap. It includes healthcare and job quality issues.

Healthy School Dreams

• Schools improve the quality of their offerings by increased reimbursements for school meals, funding for Backpack take-home foods and buying local, fresh foods with information about the farmer.

• Funding has “strings attached:” no trans-fats, no high sugar and only low-fat foods. These same rules apply to a la carte meals and vending machine foods and beverages.

• Recess occurs before lunches to improve appetites and lunch-eating times extend for better digestion and consideration of the importance of food.

• Schools provide classes in nutrition, cooking and growing foods (once called “home economics”) to reduce incidence of diabetes II, cardiovascular disease and obesity. Nurses screen high-risk schools. All schools grow a Zia Garden (see cover).


Urban, tribal and school gardens are crucial to revitalize the food system. They’re the most local foodshed, uniquely offering neighborly gift exchange and barter.

Gabriel Howearth designed this Zia Garden—utilizing New Mexico’s state symbol originating from a Zia Pueblo sun glyph—to inspire gardens with cultivar diversity and high nutrition; teaching values for body and soul. The garden includes varieties of sunflowers, sesame, oats, peanuts, amaranth, corn, quinoa, wheat, chard, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, peas, fava beans, dry beans, garbanzo beans, mint, oregano, cilantro, basil, sweet potatoes, chile, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, beets, cucumbers, melons and squash. Howearth recently won an award at the Eco Farm Conference in California for outstanding contributions to sustainable agriculture.

Gardens have started sprouting around the state. Santa Fe’s Monte del Sol School has an edible kitchen garden program providing nutritious foods to students at $3.50 per meal. The old Sánchez Farm in Bernalillo County is now the home of La Placita Community Garden with about ten parcientes—local schools, community members, herbalists and seed savers. They grow organic food and preserve wildlife habitat for Sandhill cranes. The Tesuque Pueblo Farm Project combines biodynamic with traditional farming, growing over 200 crops and saving heirloom seeds.

Federal Definitions

FOOD INSECURITY: Limited and uncertain availability of or ability to acquire nutritionally adequate and safe foods.

HUNGER: Uneasy, painful sensations caused by a lack of food; recurrent and involuntary lack of access to food.

FOOD SECURITY: Access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. Minimally: the ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods; as assured ability to acquire acceptable ways (without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing or other coping strategies).

Food Gap Facts

17% of New Mexico households are food insecure (’06). 6% have very low food security.

New Mexico is 49th in child food insecurity (24% of the children; 120,000/495,000). 18% live below the federal poverty definition.

For the same foods, a rural basket costs $85; an urban basket $55. In one study, 25% of small rural stores do not carry fresh vegetables or fruits.

60% of New Mexico residents are overweight or obese (one-third overweight; one-quarter obese). Nearly four of every five State residents eat fewer fruits and vegetables than nutritionists recommend; 22% report they have no physical activity. – Source: Centers for Disease Control

New Mexico’s poverty rate: 17 to 19%, depending on year.

Feeding America serves New Mexico, distributing 28 million pounds of food to 162 emergency pantries, 12 soup kitchens, 7 shelters, 29 residences, 7 daycare centers, 22 multi-service facilities, and 12 senior agencies. They sponsor 38 youth programs. About 35,000 volunteer-hours are donated each year.

From Dreaming New Mexico – An Age of Local Foodsheds and a Fair Trade State (www.dreamingnewmexico

Print Friendly, PDF & Email