USDA Officials Visit La Montañita Co-op and Release Food Hub Report

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development State Director Terry Brunner, along with USDA Rural Business and Cooperative Service administrator Sam Rikkers, from Washington, D.C., visited La Montañita Cooperative in Albuquerque on April 21 to get some insight on how the co-op has been so successful over the years and to shine a light on the efforts of food hubs through the release of the USDA’s “Running a Food Hub” report.

Brunner said, “The National Grocers Association and National Restaurant Association have identified local food as one of the top trends in their industries and La Montañita is part of that trend. Their efforts create new opportunities for producers while making the cooperative more sustainable.” Brunner and Rikkers presented a certificate of appreciation from the USDA to La Montañita for its 40 years of providing fresh, locally grown produce. The business is the largest of its kind in New Mexico. 

“Running a Food Hub” highlights numerous best practices designed to help businesses that distribute food to cooperatives and other markets be more sustainable. There are two main food hub businesses. The ‘Wholesale Food Hub’ is more focused on retailers, as its customer base and does not rely on volunteer labor. The ‘Direct-to-Consumer Food Hub’ sells its groceries to the end consumer and is operated by a mix of full-time and volunteer labor.

Brunner and Rikkers also presented a Value-Added Producer (VAP) grant certificate of obligation to Silverleaf Family Farms of Corrales, New Mexico. Silverleaf is receiving $44,068 to market its produce at additional farmers’ markets around the state. USDA VAP grants are intended to support local and regional food systems. They can be used to develop new products or additional uses from existing ones, and support marketing opportunities for veterans, members of socially disadvantaged groups, beginning farmers and ranchers, and operators of small- and medium-sized family farms and ranches.

 

Mobile Farmers’ Market: Improving Health Equity

The Mobile Farmers’ Market is a collaborative initiative intended to help improve health equity for low-income individuals and families in Bernalillo County. The market on wheels supports local farmers and provides Albuquerque’s International District and South Valley with healthy, affordable, organically grown fruits and vegetables, and educational resources on how to prepare them. The effort is part of the Healthy Here initiative that includes Presbyterian Healthcare Services, Bernalillo County Community Health Council and 14 other community partners. It is made possible with funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Between June 6 and Oct. 25, the Mobile Farmers’ Market will make stops at various health clinics, middle schools and community centers on Mondays and Tuesdays. The market accepts all forms of payment, including WIC and Senior Farmers’ Market Checks, SNAP/EBT and Double Up Food Bucks (twice as much produce for the same price). For more information, contact Natalie Donnelly at 505.841.1357 or ndonnelly@phs.org

 

SeedBroadcast

 

During 2016 and 2017, SeedBroadcast, a collaborative project, is partnering with Native Seeds/SEARCH and farmers across New Mexico to creatively document bioregional seeds and climate-appropriate agriculture. The project is guided by the belief that it is a human right to save seeds and share their gifts, to grow food and share its abundance, and to cultivate and share grassroots wisdom.

 

Through seasonal photo essays and interviews, SeedBroadcast is working with farmers to share their stories about growing food in a changing climate while cultivating ecological resiliency. The stories are published in the SeedBroadcast Blog (http://seedbroadcast.blogspot.com/) and in the SeedBroadcast agri-Culture Journal (www.seedbroadcast.org/SeedBroadcast/SeedBroadcast_agriCulture_Journal.html).

 

For more information, visit www.seedbroadcast.org or

www.facebook.com/seedshare

 

Río Grande Agricultural Land Trust Earns National Recognition

The nonprofit Río Grande Agricultural Land Trust (RGALT, www.rgalt.org), an organization dedicated to preserving working farms, wildlife habitat, open space and scenic vistas, has achieved accreditation by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, a mark of honor in land conservation, signifying the commission’s confidence that RGALT lands will be protected forever.

The accreditation comes on the heels of another RGALT success: five conservation easements that protect a total of 546 acres of habitat along the Río Grande in central New Mexico, benefiting migratory bird and other wildlife corridors and contributing to scenic vistas and open space. Voluntary conservation easements on farms and ranches bind land and water together, ensuring their continued use as agricultural land and wildlife habitat.

“As a small organization with relatively few resources, RGALT’s accomplishments are on par with those of much larger land trusts,” said John Leeper, RGALT board treasurer. “It is my hope that the accreditation seal will give us the credibility to reach a wider philanthropic circle to assist us in preserving the rich natural and agricultural environment that makes our state such a great place to live,” said board secretary, Bill Hume.

Accredited land trusts across the country have permanently conserved more than 15 million acres of farms, forests and natural areas that are considered vital to healthy, vibrant communities.

 

Farms, Films, Food: A Santa Fe Celebration – May 11

CCA, Farmers’ Market Institute and Street Food Institute Event Series

 

Three institutions are teaming up to offer a series of events designed to celebrate Santa Fe’s love of great food and cinema. Farms, Films, Food: A Santa Fe Celebration will offer $5 meals from the Street Food Institute and other food trucks from 5-8 pm, free samples from a cooking demonstration of seasonal local foods by local chefs, gallery tours and presentations from community partners, along with two free screenings.

 

The first event, on May 11, includes a demonstration at 6 pm by Chef Greg Menke from The Beestro. The screenings start at 6:30 with Symphony of Soil by Deborah Koons Garcia, who will take questions from the audience by Skype. The Oscar-nominated The Boy and the World, an acclaimed animated feature from Brazil, will be shown at 6:45.

 

The other events in the series will take place on Aug. 31 and Nov. 2. All are free, thanks to underwriting in part by the Simon Charitable Foundation. The events are designed to create a context for prominent food and health issues facing New Mexicans and to facilitate dialogue on these issues. “We are offering these events as our gift to the Santa Fe community, as a chance to eat together, learn together and watch some wonderful films together,” said Jason Silverman, Cinematheque director at the Center for Contemporary Arts. “In this age of fast-food diets and corporate, market-tested storytelling, we feel incredibly fortunate to live in a city with real pride in community and love of all things local, artisanal and independent.”

 

 

ABQ 2030 District’s New Program to Improve Buildings

In 2015, Albuquerque was named a 2030 District, the 10th city to commit to becoming an urban sustainability leader by reducing buildings’ environmental impacts. Reducing energy and water consumption also saves money. So far, 27 property owners have voluntarily committed to high-performance buildings.

“High Five Certification” is a new strategy that building owners will be asked to use to help the district achieve its goals. Property owners are asked to evaluate their buildings in energy, transportation, water, waste and economic development.

The 2030 District is hosted by the Downtown ABQ MainStreet Initiative. The District’s advisory council includes Amy Coburn, director of the University of New Mexico’s planning, design and construction department; Doug Majewski of Hartman & Majewski Design Group; Darin Sand with Goodman Realty Group; and representatives from Presbyterian Healthcare Services, Central New Mexico Community College, Sandia National Laboratories and Public Service Company of New Mexico, among others.

Several entities are piloting the High Five Certification program. They include properties owned by the Historic District Improvement Co (HDIC).; CNM, Presbyterian; Hotel Andaluz; Hotel Parq Central and Hartman & Majewski. ABQ’s new interim executive director, Rick Rennie, asset manager for HDIC, expects to expand the program to other areas of Albuquerque. For more info, visit www.2030districts.org/albuquerqueq

 

Navajo Nation Breaks Ground on First Utility-Scale Solar Farm

On April 23, the Navajo Nation broke ground on its first utility-scale solar-energy production plant. Deenise Biscenti, public affairs director for the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA), says that the solar farm is the tribe’s first move in a long-term strategy to establish a green economy. The Navajo Nation has not previously generated its own power. The Navajo Nation decided to build the solar farm itself rather than hire an outside company.

The Kayenta Solar Facility, located on 300 acres of tribal land south of Monument Valley, Arizona, will offer “some of the lowest consumer electric rates in the region,” a press release states. The $64 million, 27.5-megawatt (MW) project is being funded partly through federal loans and tax credits. Salt River Project, a Tempe, Arizona–based utility, is partnering with NTUA in a power purchasing agreement.

When completed by the end of 2016, the facility will be able to serve about 7,700 homes in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. An estimated 18,000 Navajo homes are still disconnected from the grid.

Another project, the Paragon-Bisti solar ranch, on 10,000 acres in New Mexico, is in the preconstruction phase, which includes recruiting solar developers, surveying and performing an environmental assessment. That project is on five sites that have been deemed suitable to host 2,100 MW of photovoltaic (PV) power.

Since 1998, through a rental program, the NTUA has installed 263 residential PV solar systems to Navajo families. NTUA has also begun offering solar-wind hybrid systems, financed at $75 per month toward the purchase price. The hybrid system includes an 800-watt PV solar array, a 400-watt wind turbine and a battery for excess storage.

 

SFCC Plans to Develop ‘Micro-REEF’ Center

Santa Fe Community College, in partnership with a New Mexico company called Ecoponex Systems, plans to build a small-scale, renewable-energy farming technology center, known as “Micro-REEF.” SFCC will host the center in association with the biofuels lab in its Trades and Advanced Technology Center. The college will offer internships to students.

Ecoponex CEO Benjamin Brandt said that the college’s national reputation for programming in green technologies was part of the deciding factor in locating the project there.

The Micro-REEF (Renewable Energy Efficient Farming) is expected to make enough vegetable and fish protein to feed more than 16,000 people. It will be fueled by solar energy and biogas from food and green waste. A local company, Reunity Resources, will provide some of those fuels. Water, carbon and nutrients will be recycled to help grow vegetables, herbs and fish that will be supplied to the college, schools, restaurants and grocery stores. Micro-algae will also be grown and supplied to Pevig, a joint-venture company in Mexico, that will produce omega-3 as a nutritional supplement.

Besides saving millions of gallons of water, compared to conventional agriculture, the Micro-REEF facility will reduce carbon emissions and eliminate organic waste that now goes to a landfill.

The project will allow SFCC to partner with businesses that are developing and trying out new technologies. It is expected to create 14 jobs for those with degrees such as SFCC offers.

Ecoponex is still in the process of raising money for the $6.5 million project. The school hopes to launch the initial phase of the project this summer. The state Board of Finance needs to approve the lease of the land to the company. State money will not be requested for the project.

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