The Gift of Local Food

 

Celerah Hewes-Rutledge

 

This holiday season, many of us have two things on our mind: shopping and food. While we are continually subjected to pleas from national retailers to spend money with them, take advantage of sales and get holiday shopping done earlier and earlier in the year, I would like to suggest that you stop! Take a deep breath, and think about food. We spend much of the holiday season sitting around the table with loved ones, shopping for ingredients, whipping up traditional family foods in the kitchen and, of course, eating. Why not consider how you can extend that warm, full feeling you get this time of year as you shop for gifts? Take another step, and think about how you can give the gift of food while supporting local businesses. If you aren’t making it in your kitchen, isn’t the next best thing having it made right down the street?

New Mexico has had a vibrant local food economy for centuries. Our roots are deep in a tradition of agriculture, livestock and food production. We are proud of our many local restaurants and are starting to have an increased awareness of where the products they use come from. In recent years, we have seen a boom in local, value-added food businesses, owing to increased demand for local products in stores. Whether it is the local food co-op or a chain grocery store, you are now much more likely to find local products on the shelves than you were even a few years ago, and the selection has greatly increased. In addition to our many local salsas, you can now find a variety of sauces, baked goods, vegetable and meat products, cheeses and many other products that were made right here in New Mexico.

A great idea for a food product begins long before the product makes it to the shelf or into your home. It starts with family and friends eating many versions until it is just right, and it moves forward with the encouragement of a community to get the food to the public. Only then does it make its way into a production kitchen and onto a store shelf. Some of these local food businesses get off the ground by taking advantage of the few commercial kitchens in the state intended for new food entrepreneurs. These kitchens allow people attempting to start new food businesses to make their products in a top-of-the-line commercial facility while they grow their business at a fraction of the cost it would take to start a kitchen of their own. In addition, they are able to comply with FDA regulations and receive support from peer networks and partner organizations to get their product out to the public.

Some of your favorite local products may have started in a commercial kitchen like The Mixing Bowl, in Albuquerque’s South Valley, headed by the dedicated Ernie Rivera. Products like Heidi’s Raspberry Jam, Tío Frank’s Chile Sauce, Villa Myriam Coffee, Celina’s Biscochitos and others. Because of the successes of products like these, we are seeing more aspiring entrepreneurs looking for commercial kitchens. In 2015, the newest of these kitchens opened in Española, allowing more rural and local food producers access to a commercial kitchen.

As you think about gifts this season, think about local food products as items that were made by your neighbors, community leaders and friends. They are not only gifts that are delectable; they also give back to the New Mexico economy. Studies have shown that local businesses give back to the community by donating their goods and services 350 percent more than national chains do. They also are more involved in local activities and causes, helping to create a more diverse and vibrant region.

If you would like to give the gift of local food but do not want to hunt down local food products, there are lots of other ways to make that possible. You don’t need to buy a gift card to the chain restaurant; local restaurants offer gift certificates, too, and many can even be purchased online. A cookbook on local or regional cuisine makes a fantastic gift. Delicious New Mexico just released Dishing Up New Mexico, authored by Dave DeWitt, a renowned New Mexico cookbook author and founder of the annual Fiery Foods Show. Dishing Up New Mexico features profiles and recipes from many local food businesses across the state.

If you have children to shop for, Cooking with Kids, in Santa Fe, offers a variety of classes. Old Windmill Dairy offers cheese-making classes at its farm, just south of Moriarty. What a great way to spend a Sunday! If you want to give the gift of local produce all summer long, consider giving a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) membership from a local farm. Amyo Farms, Erda Gardens, and Skarsgard Farms are a few of the options in central New Mexico. Going to someone’s house for a holiday party? Bring along a pie from New Mexico Pie Company or another local bakery.

If you are looking for a gift for someone who likes to give back, consider making a donation to a food-related nonprofit organization in your area. New Mexico Agri-Cultura Network, The Mixing Bowl, and Delicious New Mexico are just a few of the nonprofits working every day to boost local food production and build our economy.

While you are budgeting for your holiday shopping, making out those last-minute lists and sitting around the table eating, the team at Delicious New Mexico hopes that you will think about the many people who make the food and products you enjoy and that you will discover that buying local food gifts is not only easy and fun but also a great way to support local food entrepreneurship in your community.

 

Celerah Hewes-Rutledge is the executive director of Delicious New Mexico. She can be contacted at Celerah@deliciousnm.org. You can purchase Dishing Up New Mexico at deliciousnm.org

 

 

 

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