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Legislature celebrates NM food and farms

Third from left, Dorothy Bitsilly of the Navajo Tohatchi Chapter Farm Board; Joy Bobelu from Zuni Pueblo; and Antonio Carrasco and Adele Balesh of Gadsden Independent School District were among recipients of the 2020 Local Food and Farm Awards at the Roundhouse on Thursday. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE, N.M. — Several New Mexicans have received awards for bringing fresh food to their communities and schools.

Thursday was New Mexico Food and Farms and School Nutrition Day at the Legislature. A Senate memorial declaring the day acknowledged New Mexico’s “vibrant food and farming culture that is significant to the rural economy,” and noted that communities benefit when they have better access to food from local farms and ranches.

“Food and Farms Day is a chance to lift up these state and federal programs that increase access to affordable, healthy food grown in New Mexico and offer economic opportunities for local farmers and ranchers,” said Pam Roy, executive director of New Mexico Farm to Table and coordinator for the state Food & Agriculture Policy Council.

Dorothy Bitsilly earned the Heart of the Land Award for Outstanding Leadership in Farming and Ranching. Bitsilly, 91, is the president of the Tohatchi Chapter Farm Board on the Navajo Nation, was a Bureau of Indian Affairs Education liaison for Navajo Nation youth for 30 years. She helped secure funding for an agricultural water well project that will serve more than 900 acres of Navajo farmland.

Zuni Public School District was presented with the Seeding the Future Award for Best Farm To School Practices. The district uses the Lucha Greenhouse to grow fresh produce for four school cafeterias. The recently-renovated greenhouse also serves as a classroom to teach traditional agriculture to students.

Gadsden Independent School District was recognized with the New Mexico Grown Award: Celebrating Best Practices in School Nutrition. The district purchases produce from family farms and educates students about food and nutrition.

Roy said that last year, New Mexico farms sold $1.15 million in locally grown fruits and vegetables to state schools.

Helga Garza, executive director of the Agri-Cultura Network, accepted the Sowing Change Award for Organizations Engaged in Creating Sustainable Food Systems. Agri-Cultura, a co-op of 45 local farms, recently celebrated the completion of the South Valley Farm Hub across from Ernie Pyle Middle School in Albuquerque.

The council awarded the Good Food for New Mexico Award to the Tucumcari Farmers’ Market.

The council also supports programs to increase fresh food access at grocery stores and farmers’ markets for limited-income seniors and New Mexico residents that qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

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