I’m one of those people who brings a box of New Mexico goodies with me when I visit former New Mexicans or friends who haven’t been here yet. They always appreciate it, and it brings them the flavors of home. And for those who have not traveled to New Mexico, I think of it as a tasty tease. I even bought my friends a deluxe New Mexico breakfast gift box, chock full of green chile, blue corn pancake mix and other goodies as a wedding gift. (They told me it was their favorite gift by far. Score one for New Mexico!)
A few months ago I started my own business to consult on local economy issues for other organizations. When I got the call from my friend and local food co-conspirator, Kate Manchester, who is also publisher at Edible Santa Fe about working on “a project to brand New Mexico as a food state,” I jumped at the chance. What could be more fun than local food producers, tourism, and economic development?
We’ve teamed up with the South Valley Economic Development Center’s Mixing Bowl, a commercial kitchen incubator in the South Valley of Albuquerque to create a network for food entrepreneurs that will brand their products, help them to engage in best practices together, share resources, and elevate New Mexico as a food state. You may have heard of a little city up I-25 called Boulder, Colo? They are doing this. There’s a great organization there called Naturally Boulder, which has helped create the awareness for Boulder-made products and provided a venue to get those products out to the world. Perhaps you’ve seen Rudi’s bread? Bhakti Chai? Justin’s Peanut Butter? All of them are members of Naturally Boulder. All of them are successful, locally owned Boulder-based food businesses. What is unique about this group is that it brings together the best of the successful businesses with start-ups to share, learn and support a culture of entrepreneurship like nothing I’ve ever seen. These folks are not just smart and savvy business owners; they are happy to give advice to the newcomers to the food scene, happy to help elevate the best of the best, along with the entire food scene. When I attended their monthly networking event there were over 100 businesses represented, and the buzz from the conversation in the room was electrifying.
At South Valley Economic Development Center (SVEDC) we dream of a New Mexico that is rich in cultural heritage that can be experienced through the amazing food products we grow and create. Of course there’s an economic benefit to this whole idea; otherwise, why would I be involved? I’m a foodie and a local economy specialist. It’s a beautiful marriage. We can create greater community wealth for New Mexico farmers and the entrepreneurs who are using their products. We can elevate those food businesses to be the best of the locally owned businesses because their passion for food, culture and community will shine through in their products. We can create a New Mexico that gets back to our food routes, employs hundreds of people in small, locally owned businesses. And you know what that means if you’ve been paying attention to my monthly columns—locally owned businesses contribute to happier, healthier employees, and thereby create happier, healthier communities. All of this coming from the food movement? You bet.
Imagine the friends you visit in Delaware (you do go to Delaware, don’t you?) can purchase their favorite New Mexico product in their neighborhood Kroger grocery store. Down the road from you, your neighbor has just put the final label on that product to prepare it for shipping to Kroger’s distribution center. And on that label is a logo proclaiming not only the company’s localness, but also it’s values: sharing pride of place by preserving cultural heritage; providing meaningful work for New Mexicans; sourcing local products to the greatest extent possible from New Mexican farmers; giving back to the community in a meaningful way. Imagine those logos on hundreds of products throughout the state— in restaurants on the jams and mustards on their tables, in New Mexico grocery stores, gift shops, retail stores and available all across the country.
I could go on… It’s a big dream but one we believe is doable. I like to imagine the money exchanging hands in New Mexico, how it recycles over and over in our small rural towns and cities, all because we elevate New Mexico-made, value-added food products. Now imagine people wanted to spend their hard-earned, well-saved travel dollars to come to New Mexico to experience not just our culture, heritage and breathtaking landscape, but also the food landscape. It’s a landscape that includes our state staple, chile, and everything else made from it, but also the innovative new food products we are seeing. We have the Cheeseburger Trail and the Chocolate Trail, great things to attract more tourists to eat and drink their way around New Mexico and support our local food businesses. There are entire websites and travel businesses dedicated to bringing tourists to places to experience food. Roadfood.com has a whole section dedicated to “food tours” you can take all over the country that will bring you to the places that taste the best. And our very own Santa Fe School of Cooking has walking tours that take participants to meet the chefs in their restaurants to learn about the flavors of New Mexico that appear on menus.
Getting our products out to the world will have great impact to our local businesses: Imagine the increased production when demand surges and the small businesses incubating in the SVEDC Mixing Bowl move on to their own buildings. Or imagine kitchen incubators all around the state, all connected to this program, all using the same brand. A unified, inclusive economic development food-based project that makes New Mexicans shine? I’m in.
Stay tuned to this column for updates on the progress of our SVEDC project to brand New Mexico foods and our entrepreneurs’ network.
Vicki Pozzebon practices bold localism in her independent consulting business, Prospera Partners, LLC.