Local growers are taking on the added responsibility of continuing to supply fresh produce to New Mexicans amid the COVID-19 outbreak that has limited restaurants to takeout, strained grocery store supplies and postponed farmers’ markets.
“Farms thrive on community, and we’re all really coming together,” said Andrea Romero of Tierra Sagrada Farm in Bernalillo. “Working with the earth and having as few hands as possible touch our produce feels good right now.”
Farms and ranches are among the essential businesses exempt from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s order closing businesses termed nonessential statewide. And Tierra Sagrada is one of many businesses expanding its Community Supported Agriculture services, which allow customers to buy directly from local farms and receive produce by pickup or delivery.
Farmers say it is an ideal way to get fresh fruits and vegetables as public health professionals advise limiting person-to-person interactions and crowds.
Seth Matlick at Vida Verde Farms in Albuquerque said chefs and restaurants are in “survival mode” to comply with a state mandate to close dining rooms. That has caused a major decline in restaurant orders from local farms.
“We’re anticipating a surplus of food that we’ve already invested seeds, time and water to grow,” Matlick said. “There is a general hesitancy to go to the grocery store, so CSAs are a great way to get healthy food and support a local business.”
Typical CSA contracts between customers and farmers are annual or seasonal, but Vida Verde is adapting to offer four-week commitments. Several farms and local businesses are starting Better Together, a group CSA that will offer home delivery of fruits, vegetables, eggs, dairy products, bread and some prepared meals, so customers can receive the most products at once.
Farmers also help provide low-income individuals with fresh, inexpensive New Mexico produce.
The state’s Double Up Food Bucks program allows for use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, dollars for discounts on New Mexico-grown fresh fruits and vegetables. Double Up Food Bucks can be used at grocery stores, farmers markets and farm stands.
But the virus has jeopardized some local farmers markets.
In Santa Fe, the farmers market opened Saturday because it was deemed an essential business. Vendors spread out, wore gloves and masks and did not allow the public to handle produce.
Los Ranchos Growers’ Market postponed its opening date, and the Albuquerque Downtown Growers’ Market in Robinson Park and the Railyards Market face potential postponements. Albuquerque farmers hope the markets can continue with added safety measures. The Corrales Growers’ Market is still scheduled for April 5.
Local growers are increasing health precautions, including wearing gloves and masks, washing hands before and after tasks and sanitizing delivery vehicles and harvest crates.
“I really love growing food and feeding our community,” Matlick said. “Everything feels disrupted right now, and people are looking for stability. Farmers are adaptable, and we will continue to provide food for our community.”
Other local CSAs offering services now or in the coming weeks include New Mexico Harvest, La Cosecha, Chispas Farms, Loose Leaf Farm, Silver Leaf Farms, Farmshark, Polk’s Folly Farm, Skarsgard Farms, Bluefly Farms, Western Family Farm and Squash Blossom. Contact the farms by email or social media to sign up for their programs.
Updates about markets and CSAs can be found at the New Mexico Farmers’ Markets Facebook page – facebook.com/farmersmarketsnm – or by calling 505-983-4010.
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.