Between 80 percent and 90 percent of fresh fruits and vegetables consumed in the Albuquerque metroplex are raised outside of New Mexico.
Consumer demand for locally grown food is increasing. Besides private citizens, government and private institutions – such as public schools, county senior meals programs, county detention centers and hospitals – desire to use fresh fruits and vegetables grown in New Mexico in their meal preparation.
To help address the need for locally grown food, Cultivating Bernalillo County, an agricultural initiative of the county government, is calling on New Mexico State University’s Cooperative Extension Service in Bernalillo County to help train future farmers through its Grow the Growers program.
Grow the Growers is a farm training, business incubator program where participants will be supported through classroom education, in-field mentoring, intensive internships, business incubation and entrepreneurial nurturing.
Ultimately, the individuals in the county’s Grow the Growers incubator program will have access to land and water on county agricultural open-space properties to initiate their small-farm operations.
“Part of Bernalillo County Open Space’s mission is to protect prime agricultural lands,” said Lisa Powell, resource specialist with the county’s parks and recreation department. “Our mission is advanced when the entire community has improved access to year-round locally grown produce, increased economic development opportunities, and preservation of land and water and other cultural resources that would otherwise be vulnerable to commercial development.”
NMSU’s Extension service and the county are joining forces to provide opportunities for individuals desiring to farm professionally in a way that is especially supportive in the first two to three years of starting a new business.
“We have a demand for locally grown fruits and vegetables, and we have a desire to preserve open space in beneficial use,” said John Garlisch, NMSU’s Bernalillo County Extension agricultural agent. “These factors, along with an aging farming population, are what this project is trying to address.”
The first step of the program will be an eight-week core competency classroom series coordinated by the Extension agent.
“While this training is part of the Grow the Growers program, all farmers are invited to participate in the classes,” Garlisch said. “The classes will address the business side of farming, which is information any grower needs to be successful.”
The pilot year of the Grow the Growers program begins Nov. 21. The class will meet for eight weeks from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Mondays at NMSU’s Bernalillo County Extension office at 1510 Menaul NW. Cost is $10 per class or $50 for six or more classes.
Class topics will include various themes centered on business, financial and marketing, as well as growing and production techniques to help producers make decisions and operate a successful small farm business. Full class topics are found on the Bernalillo County Extension website at http://aces.nmsu.edu/county/bernalillo/farmranch/farm-business-training-.html.
After successfully completing the core competency course, those wishing to continue on to the in-field phases of the program must complete an application packet to be considered for selection. Once selected, they will participate in an internship with a fruit or vegetable producer. There they will receive hands-on experience and mentoring.
Funds from the McCune Charitable Foundation and Thornburg Foundation will provide a program coordinator who will help nurture the participants’ entrepreneurial operations by helping them reach the institutional market demands.
“Hopefully, the produce grown by the participants could potentially be sold to the county’s meal-serving facilities,” Garlisch said. “This is just the beginning of one answer to filling the need for locally grown food for the Albuquerque metroplex.”