Southwest New Mexico farmers plan to branch out to new markets with the support of a recently received grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The National Center for Frontier Communities’ (NFCF) project. “Comida Buena” was one of 52 projects awarded nationwide by the USDA’s Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) for 2016. The project will benefit growers in Catron, Grant, Luna and Hidalgo Counties and target markets within a 300-mile radius.
Headquartered in Silver City, NCFC is a national advocacy voice for frontier communities across the country. NCFC Board member and public health activist, Carol Miller says, “This is the first frontier specific USDA grant that has been funded that I know of, and what comes out of it will be very applicable to all frontier communities.”
NCFC Program Specialist, Ben Rasmussen says Comida Buena will “connect local farmers to restaurants, retail and institutional food buyers in hopes of creating new markets,
over 4,300 acres dedicated to fruit, vegetable, and nut production, but 95% is exported, while the area imports 95% of its food.
Miller says, “If you look at the amount of food bought by institutional buyers, like hospitals, schools, and senior centers, right there is enough for a self-sufficient local food economy.”
A previous USDA study found that every dollar spent on local foods can recirculate up to 2.5 times. Capturing an additional 10% of the regional market share could mean a $1 million increase in market potential which translates into more profits for local businesses.
Silver Consolidated Schools District’s Director of Student Nutrition, Cindy Kendrick is committed to buying locally grown food. Her efforts include the District receiving several Farm2School grants, which provide students locally grown carrots and lettuce. helping farmers deliver to those markets, and beginning to build a robust local food economy through training education and innovative problem solving.”
The USDA’s LFPP grants focus on increasing domestic consumption of, and access to, locally and regionally produce and to develop new markets for farm and ranch operations serving local markets. The Comida Buena project was award $313,360 for the three-year project with the community investing $108,621 in matching funds.
According to the USDA, less than $500,000 of the estimated $9.9 million in annual regional retail sales of fruit, vegetables and nuts is supplied by local growers in Carton, Grant, Hidalgo and Luna counties, this figure is significantly higher when including institutional sales. The four-county region has
Comida Buena has a dozen local growers committed to the project and has been in contact with over three dozen institutional buyers who would like to increase local purchases.
Dusty Bear Farms’ Ralph Gaur is one of the local growers interested in reaching new markets. Gaur says his operation could benefit from “consultation on food safety processes and education on different methods of production.”
Comida Buena is currently registering local growers and purchasers.
Ralph Gaur (L) of Dusty Bear Farms examines his fennel crop with Ben Rasmussen of the NCFC.