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Bridging the nutrition gap

south Valley farmer Fidel Gonzales, left, with Sayrah Namaste, third from left, and other local farmers celebrate the beginning of the Farm to Food Bank program to bring local fruits and vegetables to food banks amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy of Sayrah Namaste)

In this photo taken last year, South Valley farmer Fidel Gonzales, left, with Sayrah Namaste, third from left, and other local farmers in a local greenhouse. (Courtesy of Sayrah Namaste)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Local farms are growing and harvesting plenty of fresh produce. But the COVID-19 pandemic has meant a dramatic drop in business from restaurants and schools. The strain on grocery store supplies has also translated into empty shelves for the Roadrunner Food Bank.

The American Friends Service Committee created the Farm to Food Bank Project to bridge the gap between New Mexican farmers and food banks.

“Farmers are scrambling, especially on our small, sustainable farms,” said Sayrah Namaste, program director for AFSC New Mexico. “We need to have farms last beyond this pandemic. It’s so much work to farm, and we don’t want to see them go under. These farms don’t want their food to just rot.”

After listening to worried farmers and seeing the grim photos of bare shelves at Roadrunner Food Bank, Namaste came up with a plan: purchase the produce farmers have on hand and deliver that to the food bank, and then help farmers invest for the future.

On Wednesday, Namaste brought root vegetables from South Valley farms in the Agri-Cultura Network to the food bank. The produce was purchased with the non-profit’s funds.

“For the long term, we are purchasing seeds and face masks for farmers to eliminate some of that risk, as they are unsure if the market will be there for the food they are planning to grow,” Namaste said. “In exchange the farms have agreed to donate some of their produce to the food bank. If we buy $500 worth of supplies now, they agree to donate $500 in produce.”

Mag Strittmatter, president and CEO of Roadrunner Food Bank, said the program was key to helping “low-income and poverty stricken New Mexicans access nutritious food.”

“With so many new faces joining the unemployment lines, food banks and our statewide network of food pantry-like locations, we anticipate that hunger will remain in our state for quite some time,” Strittmatter said.

Namaste said farmers are happy to see the food go to people who need it during this pandemic, and she is excited for the variety of fresh food that will be donated as the growing season comes into full swing.

Visit www.afsc.org/story/farm-to-foodbank-response-to-pandemic to donate to the new program.

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.

 

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