“Food hubs are not new in New Mexico; there have always been sustainable food systems,” says Patrick Jaramillo, of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). “But way back, it was just called ‘the community.’ Traditional agricultural communities throughout New Mexico have produced the food they needed to sustain themselves for more generations than can be remembered,” Jaramillo says. “Now food hubs are being rebuilt by farmers and land-based advocacy groups like the AFSC and the New Mexico Acequia Association.”
AFSC has been helping develop food hubs in New Mexico through three farmer networks: Agri-Cultura Network in Albuquerque; La Cosecha del Norte: A Growing Co-op in the Española Valley; and Sol y Tierra Growers in southern New Mexico. The nonprofit AFSC has linked the farmers they’ve trained and the networks they’ve developed to move food throughout the state, collaborating to meet the demand for local food and to support local farmers.
“Traditionally all land-based people grew food and used a bartering economy in New Mexico, sharing communal lands and acequias,” explained AFSC-NM Co-director Don Bustos, who farms his ancestral land. “In the rise of agribusinesses and federal subsidies, we’ve seen a shift to a more aggressive and competitive model of agriculture.”
Over the years, many of the components of New Mexico’s food system have been dismantled and destroyed by a long series of policies that, whether by design or because of unintentional consequences, made it very difficult for the state’s long tradition of sustaining its people to continue.
“New Mexican farmers have to operate within a system that operates on a set of policies designed to remove people from the land and push them into a wage economy in the name of progress,” says Bustos. “The practice of small-scale agriculture appropriate for our environment, as a matter of policy, has been actively discouraged, while large-scale factory farming has been promoted and subsidized.” This has created a situation where New Mexican farmers must compete with wealthy industry, developers and municipalities for the precious little land and water available in this high desert oasis.
Yet with the recent rebuilding of food hubs in New Mexico, the communal values of land-based people are evident. Last summer AFSC brought 30 farmers from across the state together to build relationships and collaborate on ways to feed New Mexico communities. Ranging in age from 18 to 70 years old, the farmers shared stories of why they farm and their connections to the land. At the conclusion of the meetings, they agreed to work collaboratively to increase the capacity for NM growers to meet market demand.
Due to the range of climates in New Mexico, farmers can support each other’s markets. For example, when heavy rains flooded farms in Anthony last fall, setting back production, Española farmers sent their produce to help fill existing orders for customers in Las Cruces. Since Anthony has a longer growing season than northern New Mexico, those farmers are able to send produce north in the winter to help Española farmers fulfill demand for local produce as production slows in the coldest months. AFSC has also built 19 cold frames in New Mexico so that farmers can grow in the winter.
Farmers trained by AFSC have been taught the same methods for crop selection, planting, harvesting and post-harvest handling, which has helped with quality control and consistency of product, especially when farmers work together to fill large orders for institutional buyers such as public schools. The AFSC-affiliated farmers are selling to grocery stores and co-ops in Española, Los Alamos, Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Las Cruces; three public school districts; the Mora senior citizen center, and a daycare in El Paso, as well as numerous restaurants and farmers’ markets throughout the state.
AFSC provides logistical support to the co-ops and networks by helping with sales, invoicing and delivery, as well as technical assistance to incubate the farmer networks in their infancy. AFSC’s farmer-to-farmer training program is community-based, hands-on education that honors the ancestral knowledge of New Mexican farmers like Don Bustos to mentor beginning farmers and connect them to farmer networks for marketing their produce collaboratively.
To learn more about this initiative, visit: www.afsc.org/newmexico
Sayrah Namaste is co-director of American Friends Service Committee-New Mexico.
Native American Food Hub Being Developed
Last month at the Southern Pueblos Council monthly meeting, USDA Rural Development State Director Terry Brunner presented a certificate of obligation to the Acoma Business Enterprise, LLC to develop a business plan and marketing study to expand the marketing of produce grown by Native American farmers through a food hub. Brunner said, “This strategic investment will help Native farmers find new markets for their products and offers a path to sustainable farming in the 21st century.” The $75,000 grant, made through the Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG) program, promotes development of small and emerging businesses in rural areas.
The Native Food Hub will be the first of its kind in the nation. Some pueblo farmers, at the end of the growing season, have found that they usually have an abundance of produce not being sold or utilized. A food hub will offer a location where producers can deliver their goods for processing and distribution to market.