Food Depot warehouse in Santa Fe. Photo by Anson Stevens-Bollen

By Katherine Lewin, Santa Fe Reporter | October 28, 2020

 

A New Mexico public bank could reduce the cost of expanding the state’s agricultural infrastructure

 

County commission passes resolution to prioritize local food, farmers and fight worsening food insecurity

 

The COVID-19 pandemic’s economic devastation has exacerbated another lingering problem in New Mexico: food insecurity. In a bid to alleviate New Mexicans’ worsening battle with hunger on a county level, the Santa Fe County Commission passed a resolution Tuesday to implement a new plan for improving access to local and regional produce and meat.

A report by the Santa Fe Food Policy Council and its partners, released in September, helped shape the county’s resolution and spur a step forward. Commission Chair Henry Roybal and Commissioner Rudy Garcia sponsored the measure.

Commissioners voted unanimously to “explore the possibility” of developing procurement policies that prioritize buying local food; design a local food promotion and outreach program; and invest in new food distribution systems that will support nearby farmers as a part of implementing the council’s report.

On the state level, the commission wants to advocate for more public money to go toward buying local and expanding the state’s agricultural infrastructure.

“As a farmer, rancher, and commissioner, I feel it is very important for us to support farmers and acequia grown food, it is the very foundation of sustainability,”  said Roybal,  a lifelong resident of El Rancho.

What exactly those new policies, investments and outreach programs will look like is unclear, though Pamela Roy, executive director of the Food Policy Council said the county resolution comes just as the council pushes for two new bills to be passed in the upcoming legislative session, one that would bring fresh produce to seniors and early childhood education programs and another that would create “food hubs” to expand local farming distribution and bring in federal dollars specifically for health food initiatives.

Roy also said the report “expands what we’ve learned through COVID.”

County staff developed four recommendations from the nearly 50 problems and coinciding solutions the council laid out in the report titled “Strengthening and Expanding Food and Nutrition Programs in Santa Fe.” The lengthy look into food accessibility describes how counties, cities and even the state could both decrease food insecurity and support New Mexico’s farmers simultaneously.

The report points to several hard truths:

  • 12.4% of Santa Fe County residents, about 18,000 people, experience food insecurity. And that prior to the pandemic, one in nine people and one in six children suffered from hunger across the state.
  • Now, seven months into life with COVID-19, one in six people and one in three children experience food insecurity in the state. New Mexico imports most of its food from other states and the lack of internal infrastructure hinders farmers from selling directly to local and regional institutions.
  • Statewide public meal programs typically provide over 300,000 meals to students and more than 50,000 meals to seniors in a year. These public meal programs, especially in Santa Fe, purchase only a small percentage of the needed produce and meat from New Mexico farmers and ranchers.
  • Researchers and partners with the SFFPC noted several major obstacles to getting more New Mexico-grown food to the residents who need it, including COVID-19 keeping kids out of school, where they would normally get regular meals. Paperwork and procedural hurdles are also significantly increased if a local or state government wants to buy from multiple smaller vendors to fill a hole that just one national vendor would have plugged.

    This initiative, which comes as an expansion to the 2014 Santa Fe Food Plan and the 2019 AgriGate of Santa Fe County program, aims to change that in a world changed by the pandemic.

    “Many of the food producers in my district will have a traditional avenue to sell their traditional foods and we’ll give them another way to provide for a local food supply and at the same time provide for their own families,” Roybal said in the meeting.

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