Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
As many families sit down to Thanksgiving meals this week, New Mexico agencies are working to bridge the gap between local farms and residents in need of nutritious food.
The Food, Farm and Hunger initiative was funded through nearly $500,000 in state Legislature appropriations this year.
A group of 12 state agencies and dozens of community organizations is crafting a five-year plan to “measurably reduce hunger” in New Mexico.
Kendal Chavez, food and hunger coordinator for the Governor’s Office, said “it’s about time” for an “aggressive investment” toward immediate and long-term hunger needs.
“We believe that New Mexico can feed its people, and that food insecurity is preventable,” Chavez said. “Agriculture can contribute to a thriving, rural economy, while nurturing and protecting our precious resources.”
About 14% of New Mexico residents experienced food insecurity in 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Feeding America.
The groups define “food insecure” as lack of access to enough food for all household members.
Limited storage and distribution facilities, and transportation options are still major barriers to ending hunger, said Sherry Hooper, executive director of The Food Depot in Santa Fe.
“As food banks, we go into a lot of communities that have no infrastructure for the kind of work that needs to be done to feed hungry New Mexicans,” Hooper said. “Cold storage is a huge issue, not only for food banks and the food programs they provide food to, but also for our local farmers.”
Jeff Witte, New Mexico Department of Agriculture Cabinet secretary, said there is a disconnect between food products grown by regional farmers and residents who need inexpensive, healthy meals.
“At least 90% of the food New Mexicans buy is imported from out of state or, in some cases, out of country,” Witte said. “During COVID, especially, we realized just how much our (local food) programs are needed.”
The agencies and community groups want to fill gaps in New Mexico’s supply chain infrastructure.
Part of the initiative’s mission statement is to provide “equitable access to nutritious, culturally meaningful foods, and honor the wisdom of our land-based traditions.”
Supporting Indigenous farmers will help the state’s rural and tribal communities feed themselves, said Chili Yazzie, a farmer in Shiprock on the Navajo Nation and member of the initiative’s steering committee.
“The food systems that our Native people have had are long enduring, and have been sustaining our peoples for all these many years,” Yazzie said.
The group expects to release the five-year plan in the coming weeks.
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.