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From farm to school

SILVER CITY – Southwest New Mexico school districts will be serving up more locally grown food to students thanks to a newly awarded Farm to School grant received by the National Center for Frontier Communities.

Locally grown peaches delivered by the Southwest New Mexico Food Hub are destined for students in Lordsburg. The new USDA Farm to School grant will expand sales of such produce to public school students in southwest N.M.

The United States Department of Agriculture awarded $100,000 to bolster the NCFC’s Southwest New Mexico Food Hub efforts to sell locally grown food to school districts in Catron, Grant, Hidalgo and Luna counties. The grant also provides funding for student education about local foods in select districts.

The Farm to School grant was one of four awarded in New Mexico. Other funded sites in the state include Capacity Builders Inc. in Farmington, La Semilla Food Center in Las Cruces and Taos Economic Development Corporation in Taos. Over $9 million in Farm to School grants were awarded nationally by the USDA.

“This grant is designed to benefit our region’s frontier and remote farmers (with) better access existing markets by coordinating growing efforts and combining products to fill orders from our area’s school districts,” said Ben Rasmussen, program manager. “These school districts want to feed their students quality, locally grown fruits and vegetables, and we are dedicated to help make that happen.”

From its headquarters in Silver City, the Food Hub coordinates sales and product transportation for over 20 frontier farmers so they can access larger and more diverse markets for their products. Last year, the Food Hub estimates it saved participating farmers over 25,000 miles of travel by consolidating food transport and leaving farmers’ time free to do what they do best – grow more food.

That extra food is now destined for the cafeteria trays of public school students in southwest New Mexico. And it is needed. New Mexico ranked first in the nation for childhood hunger, according to Map the Meal Gap conducted by Feeding America.

Nearly all the 8,200 students in the seven public school districts throughout the four-county region qualify for free or reduced school meals.

“We like getting fresh local food for students but, in our area, it can be a little tough getting vendors to deliver to our fairly rural schools,” said Rex Lish of Southwest Food Service Excellence (SFE), general manager for the Lordsburg Municipal Schools District in Hidalgo County. The district covers an area larger than the state of Delaware and serves 500 children a day breakfast and lunch.

“It’s hard for farmers to faithfully deliver to our isolated schools; it requires a refrigerated truck, so there’s the matter of logistics that can prove difficult for smaller farmers,” says Lish.

Last year the district spent $10,000 purchasing locally grown food and by partnering with the Farm to School grant. Lisha said, “We are hoping to diversify our vendors.”

The SWNM Food Hub’s refrigerated transport van and coordinated delivery model helps frontier farmers each to fill a portion of larger orders and benefit from sales they otherwise might have had to pass on.