To Grow Local Means More Than Just Fresh Food

Jul 18, 2018

For some people, eating and planting fresh food is about more than just filling empty stomachs, it’s a way to find connection and build community. It can get expensive, but some organizers in Southeast Albuquerque are committed to making fresh local organic food available.

During the summer, the Healthy Here Mobile Farmers' Market stops in parking lots of health centers around Albuquerque, setting up tents and tables with crates of cabbage and zucchini, and jars of honey. On this day they’ve set up in front of the Women, Infants, and Children program office.

Luna Price is mixing dough at a booth where kids learn to cook. Her mom, Kessi Price said they dropped by after their WIC appointment. 

 “This is actually our first time, she seems to really enjoy it and everything’s reasonably priced,” said Kessi Price. 

Leigh Caswell
Credit Melorie Begay

Selling organic produce at reasonable prices isn’t easy though, said Leigh Caswell. She’s the director of the Center for Community Health for Presbyterian Hospital and oversees the market

“It’s not always a cost effective model which is fine we’re doing it because it’s a part of our community benefit," she said. "We believe increasing access to healthy food really benefits the community and can help improve health and that it matters to invest in that.”

The program buys locally grown produce from farmers in the area and this is why it tends to cost more than traditional grocery stores, she said. But, people are willing to pay for it and the market accepts SNAP and other food assistance programs.

"We know that people really care about where their food comes from and particularly in the communities that we work in, in the international district, and the South Valley," she said. "They really care that it’s their neighbors who are growing the food.”

The market doesn't make a profit and they try their best to make groceries affordable.

There’s another way to get around high prices at markets or stores. Maggie Siebert points to gardening as a solution. Not only because it provides food, but because the act itself can be revolutionary.

Siebert teaches an intro to gardening class at the University of New Mexico and helps run Lobo Gardens. On a social level, she said, community gardens offer numerous health benefits including relationship building. 

 “We're experiencing a lot of mental illness that has to do with a lack of connection with others," she said.  "So it provides a space where people can actually feel like they have a place of belonging with others."

Siebert says growing your own food can save people money and provide food for hungry families at a low cost. It’s these self-sustaining benefits she said, that make gardening an important part of food justice.

“Well you’re saying, 'You know what? I don’t have to buy into this anymore. I can produce my own, I can grow my own,'" Sibert said. "'I can eat healthier things, they aren’t shipped across the country, I picked this carrot today it’s fresh it tastes better.'”

Gardening in New Mexico, Siebert said, could potentially reduce food insecurity. In 2016, over 300,000 New Mexicans didn’t have enough to eat. A third lived in Bernalillo County, according to Feeding America. 

Volunteers working together to plant fresh seeds at First Nations Community Healthsource.
Credit Melorie Begay

The First Nations Community Heathsource started their own garden in June. What used to be a bare plot of land in their parking lot was a 20 by 20 foot garden with freshly planted seeds. 

A handful of volunteers were shoveling dirt, mixing soil and watering plants. 

 “I’m hoping people from the community will come in and get more involved and maybe that will bring other programs to this community and other communties,” said Monique Hardy.

Hardy’s lived around the area for 10 years and her family visits the health center. They stopped by because they wanted to support something good happening in the neighborhood.

“We need stuff like this, in not just this area but other areas because it provides fresh veggies for people that don’t have food," she said, "especially if you’re on food stamps and that doesn't last very long, they can come and access stuff.”

Kids planting starts in a raised garden bed.
Credit Melorie Begay

The idea of the garden was to create a place where people could get to know each other and eat native foods.

New Mexico often lags behind other states when it comes to health and child well-being. But if the benefits of gardening and eating well hold true, then maybe the state has a chance to catch up.