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Farm to Table: Solving the Food System Puzzle
Since 1997, Farm to Table (FTT) has worked to create a robust local food system. However, when Pam Roy and Le Adams created the nonprofit organization, they were not thinking of changing the food system, they just saw a need for children to have the opportunity to taste and eat fresh-picked food and to experience the joy of watching a seed that they planted, grow. They also saw a need for everyone, not just folks who could afford to pay two dollars for a tomato, to be able to enjoy the extra flavorful, nutritious and abundant fruits and vegetables grown on nearby farms.
What they found, as they pursued ways to get these needs met, was that they were looking at the food system–a food system that didn’t work for everyone. Our food system is like a jigsaw puzzle with no picture and about half of the pieces missing. If you have money, a car and live near a city, you can go to the store and buy almost anything you want, year round. That is pretty amazing. But, if you don’t have money or a car, or you live out in the country or in a part of the city without a grocery store, you may not be able to buy food at all.
If you are a big lettuce grower in California, you can ship your produce all over the world. That part of the puzzle is solved. But if you are a small farmer in northern NM, just getting your product sold and delivered before it spoils is a huge challenge. Another missing piece.
The work of FTT is to get the food system to work for everybody. And that entails finding those missing puzzle pieces and putting them together until the puzzle is solved. It’s an ambitious goal, and no organization can do it alone. So, since 1997, FTT has cultivated partnerships with farmers, eaters, organizations, agencies, public servants and communities. Together with our partners, we have begun to add some of the missing pieces to the puzzle.
How We Work
Farm to Table bases its work upon collaboration and empowerment. It is a practical approach. Because we work with partners, everyone benefits from our pooled resources and expertise. For example, in our Farmers Teaching Farmers program, knowledgeable farmers host “Quality Management System Trainings.” During these events there is usually a lot of discussion, as farmers take the opportunity to share what they know. And from within this community of farmers, others will have the opportunity to host events. Instead of creating a small team of “experts,” everyone involved becomes an expert and is asked to spread their expertise throughout their community.
As Tawnya Laveta, our program director says, “It would be a lot easier to solve the puzzle if there was a picture of what it should look like. Sometimes, you come across one by accident, but usually it takes a long time to find those missing pieces.”
Our work occurs on many levels: from one-on-one assistance to farmers, to providing opportunities for experienced farmers to teach others. From on-farm training sessions to sponsoring several conferences a year, including the Southwest Marketing Conference and the NM Organic Farming Conference with over 400 attendees. From helping a farmer sell nine pounds of lettuce to a local restaurant, to getting NM apples to 50 schools and school districts serving over 234,000 students.
We help schools set up gardens and Farm to School educational programs by mentoring key school personnel, providing funds, hosting FoodCorps and AmeriCorps service members as garden managers and nutrition educators, and by working with the National Farm to School Network to successfully advocate for a nationwide Farm to School grant program.
We help community members make a difference by training them how to set up working groups and policy councils that advocate for the health and food security needs of their communities. We link up those local community leaders so they can make a difference at the state level through the NM Food and Agriculture Policy Council, and we then take their concerns to our national partners and our US Congressional delegation.
Every meeting, every phone call, is one more piece of the puzzle in place, taking us closer to a robust local food system. All this activity is rooted in some basic values. We firmly believe that access to food is a basic human right. As co-founder Le Adams says, “I really believe that that we all have a shared responsibility. We have a role to play so that everyone in our communities has the ability to eat well, to nourish their bodies and care for our planet.”
We also affirm that access to regionally-grown, healthy and culturally-relevant food is paramount to the well-being and vitality of our communities. As such, our work is centered on investing in NM’s communities, farmers, children and the environment. Nelsy Dominguez, director of Community Engagement at Farm to Table sums it up like this, “Food is at the epicenter of our well-being; to know food—fresh, local food—is to cherish ourselves, our families, our communities.”
What we do know is that you, the community member, the citizen, the eater, are the most important piece of the puzzle. Your actions make a difference. When you choose to “buy local,” whether by eating at a restaurant that purchases from area farmers, purchasing produce from the “local bins” in your grocery store, or frequenting your local farmers’ market, you are sending a message that good, local, fresh, healthy foods are important to you. And that’s a big piece of the puzzle.
[Sidebar: The Work of Farm to Table]
FTT Collaborations Include:
The New Mexico Food and Agriculture Policy Council (http://www.farmtotablenm.org/policy/)
The Council focuses on key food and agriculture policy issues and opportunities that are affected by government and legislation; addresses top policy issues as priorities as set forth by the Council; and strengthens advocacy among agencies, organizations, individuals and communities for NM food and agriculture.
The Southwest Marketing Network (http://www.swmarketingnetwork.org/)
At its annual conference, the Network brings in folks with successful “on the ground” food and farming projects in the region to share what they have learned. The relationships that are fostered and the resources provided serve to increase regional marketing expertise and opportunities for farmers and ranchers in the Four Corners states of Arizona, Colorado, NM and Utah.
The New Mexico Organic Conference(www.farmtotablenm.org/fts/)
Each year over 400 farmers and gardeners gather to learn about the latest developments in organic farming and livestock production. Presenters range from national experts to local farmers who share their knowledge of organic methods.
FTT’s Programs (www.farmtotablenm.org/fts/)
The Farm to School Program connects schools (K-12) and local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving student nutrition, providing agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities, and making school gardens a wonderful way to learn.
The Farm to Cafeteria Program works with farmers to help them sell their produce to schools, senior centers and other institutions, and helps buyers, such as school food service directors, find farmers who can supply produce in the quantity and quality they require.
The Farm to Restaurant Program (www.farmtotablenm.org/266/)promotes a viable food system by helping farmers sell their fresh goods to restaurants and by helping restaurants find farmers who can supply them with fresh, locally grown produce.
Farmers Teaching Farmers Trainings provides opportunities for farmers to gather, share expertise and serve as mentors. Trainings in 2013 are scheduled around the state for farmers to learn how to ensure the quality and safety of their produce, especially if they are interested in selling to local schools.
Ranchers Teaching Ranchers Trainings focused on tribal communities, provide opportunities for native ranchers to share expertise with each other on rangeland management and restoration, and on cooperative herd management and marketing.
The Community-Directed Development Program provides leadership development training, mentoring, resources and networking opportunities at the request of communities who have an interest in working to create permanent access to affordable, nutritious and culturally-appropriate foods for their communities.
The Food Policy Program(www.farmtotablenm.org/policy/) addresses the laws, rules and regulations that affect how food is produced, processed distributed, purchased and protected, from local zoning laws to the federal Farm Bill. We work on the federal level as members of several national coalitions, including the National Farm to School Network; we work on the state level as a member of the NM Food and Agriculture Policy Council and we work on the local level as a member of the Santa Fe City/County Food Policy Council. We also provide training for communities around the state who are interested in forming food policy groups or councils.
The Enterprise Development Program provides assistance to farmers, groups and organizations, especially Native American or Hispanic, in accessing federal programs, private funding, and in developing their business or expanding their markets.
For more information on Farm to Table’s programs visit www.farmtotablenm.org or call 505.473.1004.
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