Stories about acres of ripe produce plowed under before harvest and millions of animals selectively slaughtered from flocks and herds abound in the news.
With much of the processing and food service industry operating at limited capacity, there is no way to bring these products to market. This heart-wrenching and wasteful activity in our food system is due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While farmers across the country are committed to providing food for our tables, the way that they have grown accustomed to delivering the food to us has been altered by forces outside of their control. The industrial food system is broken, and supply chain disruptions brought out by the COVID-19 pandemic have illustrated the fragility of this system. Perhaps it is time for us to re-think where we get our food.
In the United States, food travels more than 1,500 miles to get to the store and then to our plates. But, our food does not have to come from thousands of miles away. Local food systems minimize the distance food travels in order to get to our homes.
We’ve heard about the need to “buy local” to support our community. Buying locally grown food keeps money in the community, helps to create jobs, supplies ingredients to local restaurants, and connects the consumer to the farmer, helping to build a strong local network. Purchasing locally grown food can have a significant impact, even if it constitutes only a small portion of your grocery haul.
Recently the federal government announced a program to make $19 billion in funding available to support industrial-scale farmers. However, it is now time to increase funding for research, programming, and marketing to expand regional and local farming operations as well. Scientists have said this is not the last pandemic the world will face. We must build resilience in our food system by growing local food availability and access.
Now is the time to support New Mexico’s food system and begin purchasing more local foods. The state has a vibrant growers’ market and farm-to-restaurant scene, but the current pandemic has made it somewhat more challenging to access local food. Farmers are still growing and harvesting in our community, but the venues to obtain their products are different. Now their food is available via online sales, Community-Supported Agriculture memberships, collaborative roadside stands, curbside at drive-through growers’ markets, and direct farmside pickup at many local farms.
In fact, in talking to different growers and representatives from local farmers’ markets, for some the current demand for local products is greater than they have seen in the past. While this is good news for now, growers are anxious for demand to increase as the production season hits its peak in the late summer months. Even more importantly, growers are hopeful that our community will sustain this level of support for local food after the pandemic is over.
We cannot continue to have food destroyed when there are so many who lack access to adequate nutrition. Buying locally will not stop industrial-scale food loss, but it does help to build resilience in our community. Investing in New Mexican farmers fosters growth in our economy, strengthens our community networks, and also benefits our environment. Additionally, buying fresh produce harvested only hours or days ago provides more nutrients in our diets. Individuals and families on fixed incomes are able to double their SNAP benefits when buying locally grown food, using the Double Up Food Bucks incentive.
The New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association provides information on local markets like the Downtown Growers’ Market and the Railyards Market, both of which have shifted to online pre-ordering and farm-to-car pickup. Edible New Mexico and Local Harvest provide contact information for a wide variety of local growers and producers.
It is clear that we do not have to get our food from 1,500 miles away but can instead look no further than our own backyards.
Natalia Tritica is a student in the University of New Mexico Sustainability Studies program. She surveyed 10 local growers and community partners for this piece. The executive’s desk is a guest column providing advice or information about resources available to the business community in New Mexico.