The culture of food and the practices of farming and ranching in New Mexico are at the core of many livelihoods and traditions. Farmers, ranchers and the many businesses and agencies involved in food production, processing and marketing contribute to the state’s fourth-largest economic sector. While more than $4 billion in sales of agricultural products and more than 97 percent are exported out of New Mexico, opportunities abound to grow in-state market options for products to be sold and exchanged.
New coordination, advocacy and support programs have evolved over the last decade to provide more of these options. Fruit and vegetable producers like Danny Farrar of Rancho La Jolla in Velarde, Anthony Wagner of Wagner Farms in Corrales, Belen and Socorro, and Agri-Cultura, a group of farmers in Albuquerque’s South Valley are all expanding through farmers’ markets, schools, restaurants and specialized delivery services. Organizations like La Semilla Food Center in Anthony and Farm to Table in Santa Fe help schools and communities create their own farm-to-school initiatives and encourage schools to purchase New Mexico-grown fresh fruits and vegetables for school meals and snack programs.
Through a program called New Mexico Grown Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for School Meals, more school food-services directors are learning about opportunities to purchase fresh produce from area farmers. With a plethora of regulations to sift through, organizations like American Friends Service Committee and Farm to Table help farmers and school districts coordinate efforts to make it possible for New Mexico’s children to enjoy fruits and vegetables like watermelons, apples, salad greens and baby tomatoes. In addition to these efforts, a modest amount of state funding ($364,300) provides an opportunity for the 218 school food authorities across the state to purchase New Mexico fruits and vegetables. As many as 342,000 students may have a chance to eat “New Mexico grown,” coupled with learning experiences such as Cooking with Kids, in Santa Fe; Kids Cook, in Albuquerque; Las Cruces Public Schools’ Healthy Kids-Healthy Communities program; and La Semilla Food Center’s on-farm and in-classroom education programs.
As the number of farmers’ markets has grown across the state (now totaling 70), the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association has worked to connect federal programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s (SNAP) clients to access locally grown- and raised produce and meat and dairy products. The organization has been able to pair up state legislative funding of $400,000 for “Double Up Food Bucks” to double the funds SNAP recipients can spend. This effort is also helping leverage additional federal support through a new program called the USDA Food Insecurity Nutrition Initiative (FINI). The Santa Fe Farmers’ Market Institute has seen great success with this program and has added locally raised funds through individuals and the city of Santa Fe to meet the needs of SNAP recipients.
In 2012, with less than 1 percent of New Mexico’s total 13.3 million acres of agricultural lands growing fruits and vegetables, our farmers still produced 58.8 million pounds of apples, peaches and pears; 52.3 million pounds of melons; and over 544 million pounds of vegetables requested by schools that are also top sellers at farmers’ markets, stores like La Montañita Co-op and roadside stands.
Cities and counties are working with organizations such as the New Mexico Food and Agriculture Policy Council, Santa Fe Food Policy Council, Mesilla Valley Food Policy Council, Southwest Food Policy Council and organizations in the Albuquerque region to focus on ways to secure food production and agriculture as a continued, important way of life and economic opportunity. These cross-sector groups are focused on food, farming, health, land- and water use and the economy. Communities are working hand-in-hand with their policymakers to create urban agriculture ordinances and programs to encourage food production in cities and towns. Similarly, counties working on long-range plans, such as Santa Fe’s Sustainable Growth Management Plan, include food security and supporting farming and ranching as priorities. Numerous counties are looking at ways to encourage new farmers, who may not have the resources to own their own land, to produce by providing affordable ways to access land. Pitkin County in Colorado recently approved a program whereby new farmers have accessed 10 to 20 acres of county open-space land, negotiated 10-year leases and are growing a wide variety of vegetables for local markets.
At the state level, New Mexico policymakers will be considering expansion of the New Mexico Grown Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for School Meals appropriation during the 2016 legislative session. We are requesting their support.
Pam Roy is the executive director of Farm to Table, a nonprofit based in Santa Fe, and coordinator of the New Mexico Food and Agriculture Policy Council.
[BOX:] 4th Annual NM Food and Farms Day at the State Legislature – Feb. 3, 9–10 a.m.
Join New Mexico food and agriculture advocates at the State Capitol Rotunda for a ceremony honoring farmers, farm-to-school programs and school food-service providers who are working to provide fresh fruits and vegetables in school meals and education programs. For more information, call Pam Roy at Farm to Table, at 505.660.8403 or visit www.farmtotablenm.org