October is National Farm to School month and New Mexico has much to celebrate. Throughout the state there are hundreds of school gardens and programs that help children learn and appreciate the world of gardening and food preparation. In addition, school districts are excited to add New Mexico-grown fresh fruits and vegetables such as melons, apples, tomatoes, bell peppers and salad greens to their school meals.
Summer has been in full swing with a plethora of New Mexico-grown fruits and vegetables, sweet alfalfa and high mountain grass hay for livestock. Summer rains and winter snows replenished our rivers and streams to feed acequias and waterways to our crops. New Mexico’s schools are purchasing our locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables while farmers’ markets are experiencing one of the best fruit seasons in years. Record-breaking heat never seems to diminish the spirits of our farmers as they cultivate crops in hopes for a bountiful harvest and market opportunities.
With a mind for diversifying their business, the Wagner family of Corrales has in recent years expanded their operation to sell to schools so that children benefit from the freshest locally grown crops. Besides their roadside stand and café, selling at farmers’ markets and to stores, they open their farm to educational trainings such as the recent New Mexico Farm to Cafeteria tour that focused on farm and food safety for farmers and school food service directors. Wagner Farms then tops off the season with their fall harvest festival, open to the public Oct. 7and 8. Anthony Wagner was the recent recipient of the First Annual Farm Schools Farmers of the Year award, along with Danny Farrar, owner of Rancho La Jolla, a 10-acre farm in Velarde.
Wagner Farms and many other diversified operations in New Mexico are working hard to keep farming a viable business in this state. Yet to build business, farmers, ranchers and communities alike need support through traditional and innovative programs. In recent months a broad group of stakeholders came together to focus on the growth of the New Mexico Fruits and Vegetables for Schools Meals Program, which has been expanding over the last several years. Out of these efforts, a five-year strategic plan was developed, called the “New Mexico Grown Program.”
The goal of the this initiative is to create a permanent and comprehensive Farm to School and Cafeteria program that integrates a) Results-Based Accountability, b) Values-Driven Public Policy, c) Integrated Community Wellness, d) Coordinated Infrastructure, and e) Asset-Based Development. The overall goal is a fully integrated, year-round New Mexico Grown Program. This program will go beyond the school environment, as it will create a roadmap for market access and economic growth for fruit and vegetable farmers. This seems lofty, yet there are many intersections that need to be expanded or developed to create a coordinated regional system that connects farmers with aggregation facilities and distribution, while managing sales, promotion and education programs—referred to as a “supply chain” or “value chain.”
“Integration” also means creating school programs that connect classroom education to real-world experiences with growing and preparing food. The vision is to incorporate food and gardening into core curriculum and classroom activities such as school gardens and programs like “cooking with Kids” and Kids Cook,” nutrition education, and “family and consumer education” programs in classrooms, then further tie these programs with schools meals experiences. Through state legislated funds, schools are purchasing New Mexico grown produce for their school meal programs —a win-win for the student, the schools and farmers.
To learn more about the “New Mexico Grown Program” contact Farm to Table at 505.660.8403 and email@example.com