Coverage consultants push higher assist for New Mexico farmers

SANTA FE, NM (AP) – Amid a pandemic that continues to transform global supply chains, food policy advocates recently met to discuss the future of sustainable agriculture in New Mexico, where “food deserts” have long been deprived of hungry children have separated healthy lives.

The virtual conference on reshaping the food economy in New Mexico focused on shifting the state’s food chain to helping local farmers – a long-standing goal that proponents say will become even more important given the impact the pandemic has on producers and consumers.

Krysten Aguilar, co-executive director of La Semilla Food Center, a nonprofit based in Anthony, New Mexico, called for nationwide participation in the healthy food funding initiative. The program is a U.S. Department of Agriculture program launched in 2014 that provides grants and loans to community organizations and companies committed to providing healthy food and jobs in areas without much of both.

According to the USDA, most of New Mexico is considered a food desert – large areas with no access to affordable, healthy food.

“We cannot focus on band-aid solutions to systemic problems. Yes, we need emergency aid and funding, but we also need to invest heavily in long-term sustainable systemic solutions that address these root causes of poverty, ”said Aguilar. “One of the best tools to do this job is the food system.”

Aguilar said the state is eligible for up to $ 2 million a year from the federal program to use state and local resources to build grocery stores, farmers markets, and other infrastructure.

“In the short term, we are trying to improve access to healthy food,” said Aguilar. “In the long term, we want to support small businesses, reduce hunger and improve the health of the population.”

Aguilar was on a panel with State Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte and Minister for Economic Development Alicia Keyes.

Witte said that if the state could increase the consumption of local agricultural products by only 15%, New Mexico would increase the sum of its gross domestic product per capita by about $ 750 million. According to Keyes, sustainable agriculture could help to replace falling government revenues in other sectors.

“We want to diversify our economy outside of oil and gas,” she said. “COVID emerged as a wake-up call for locally grown food and a sustainable economy that can withstand a global shock in the supply chain.”

As part of its farm-to-school program, the Department of Public Education made grants of $ 450,000 last year to 58 school districts, often the city’s largest food service establishments. During the conference, Kendal Chavez, the agency’s farm-to-school specialist, spoke about scaling this model beyond schools to provide a unified deal for local farmers.

“I’m looking at the farm-to-senior center and the farm-to-child care and other ways to use what we’ve learned in a decade of the farm-to-school program,” said Chavez. “We want to formulate a system for the future instead of reacting to dollars coming in and spending money through agencies. We are moving from a flat, worthless system of transactions, measured in terms of pounds bought or dollars spent. “

Isabelle Jenniches of the New Mexico Working Group on Healthy Soils said her organization found that 70% of New Mexico farmers are not making a profit, and the state exports 97% of the food grown in the state – while importing 95% of the food consumed.

In a state where roughly one in four children is food unsafe, the conference speakers see plenty of room for growth.

“We advocate local investments in our agricultural system, as our experience in New Mexico was always when something happened in the central valley of California. It was felt here in New Mexico, ”said Helga Garcia, president of the New Mexico Food and Agriculture Policy Council. Said Garza. “The bigger vision is to continue to feed our state with sustainable and regenerative farming methods.”

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