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Auditor: Local Companies Get A Fraction Of State Food Spending

There are nearly 24,000 farms in New Mexico, and the top crops include: pecans, hay, onions, chile, cotton and corn, according to Farm Flavor.

Local government has to provide millions of meals every year to schools and to people who are incarcerated. It’s big money for whoever’s providing that food. The state auditor found it’s mostly national companies that get those multi-million-dollar food contracts.

Even though New Mexico is an agricultural state, only 12 percent of what government agencies spend on food goes to local food producers and vendors, according to the Auditor’s Office.

Sarita Nair, the chief government accountability officer there, says when they started doing the research on this, they found no one was really keeping track. "It’s the exception rather than the rule that the agency is tracking its local purchases in any area," she said.

But going local, Nair said, can have a kind of economic ripple effect. "A farmer who’s getting a direct contract to provide apples, is maybe hiring local labor, maybe leasing local land, buying local seeds or trees."

It can be hard to find state producers large enough to regularly come up with the quantities of food that schools or prisons need. But it’s a problem that’s worth overcoming for the sake of creating jobs, Nair said, and it can be done little by little.

Marisa Demarco began a career in radio at KUNM News in late 2013 and covered public health for much of her time at the station. During the pandemic, she is also the executive producer for Your NM Government and No More Normal, shows focused on the varied impacts of COVID-19 and community response, as well as racial and social justice. She joined Source New Mexico as editor-in-chief in 2021.