There is nothing more basic to life than food and water. And, yet, here in New Mexico we have among the highest rates of hunger in the country and communities that are without access to water. It is hard to imagine in the 21st century that food and water insecurity continue to have such a profound impact on our state. That is why we must take decisive action during the upcoming Legislative session to address the food and water needs of our communities.
Before the pandemic, one in four children and one in six adults experienced hunger in New Mexico, numbers that helped propel New Mexico to 50th in the nation for child well-being. Since March, the pandemic has strained our economy, food system and supply chains like never before, exposing vulnerabilities in vital support systems and exacerbating hunger.
At the height of the pandemic, agricultural producers were unable to get produce to markets. Food banks and grocery stores were unable to obtain essential goods. Food pantries and meal programs did not have sufficient PPE, staffing and resources to meet demands. And the number of people seeking emergency food assistance soared. As a result, food insecurity has grown to one in three children in just months.
Throughout this time, New Mexicans have risen to the occasion. Neighbors have helped neighbors, grassroots and mutual aid organizations have stepped in, and major investments have been made by nonprofit and philanthropic donors to help weather the storm. The state’s five food banks and hundreds of sister agencies have mobilized on a massive scale, and farmers and ranchers have donated untold amounts of food.
State, federal and tribal aid has helped provide thousands of boxes of food and helped bring water to families without access. Efforts to bring trucked and bottled water have been especially crucial in Diné communities, where 30% of homes do not have running water across the Navajo Nation. Mutual aid and nonprofit organizations further helped move food, water and other essential items to communities, and especially to elders and those most in need.
Through this massive statewide effort, hundreds of people affiliated with dozens of organizations, government agencies and businesses have come together nearly every week since March as part of our Food, Hunger and Agriculture Workgroup to help address these challenges and support efforts on the ground. This group initially came together last summer to work on policies to address structural issues in our food system that lead to the export of over 90% of the food produced in our state while our communities face systemic hunger.
Little did we know how critical this work would become. These relationships helped advance key initiatives during the last legislative session and have been crucial to helping coordinate and feed New Mexicans during the pandemic. Along the way, we have learned and grown significantly – with hundreds more participating. Among the most important things we have learned is that although our people are resilient, our food system is vulnerable.
To address the food, hunger and water issues that are impacting our communities we must take decisive action. That is why our workgroup is drafting a Food and Farm Bill for the upcoming legislative session, as it is essential to supporting the economic recovery of our farmers and addressing the basic food and water needs of our families. For nothing is more fundamental to life, to culture, to our economy, and to the well-being of our people than access to food and water. Please help us shape and support this critical legislation and support your local food banks and farmers.