By Brooke Minnich

Editor’s note: This is the latest in an occasional series on food insecurity in Northern New Mexico.

Food insecurity in New Mexico is an ongoing issue. According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap report, 1 in 8 people and 1 in 5 children face food insecurity in our state. Today, with high food prices and cuts to COVID-era SNAP benefits, this issue has become a crisis.

In times of uncertainty, how do we support resilient and sustainable communities? One simple solution can be found at farmers markets and food banks alike: local food. Farmers markets are hubs for accessible local food, and many accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps). SNAP recipients can increase their purchasing power by buying food through the Double Up Food Bucks program, managed by the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association.

Using an EBT card at their local farmers market, SNAP recipients can double the value of their purchase of nutritious produce, with 95 cents of each dollar spent at a market staying in the farmer’s pocket, compared to 15 cents of that same dollar spent at a national grocery store. In fact, every dollar spent at a farmers market has a community impact of $1.80. Beyond economics is the value of geography: Most food in stores travels over 1,000 miles and is a week old, while farmers market food travels 50 miles or less and is freshly harvested. This means the food retains more nutrition and lasts longer, creating less waste while also tasting better.

Local food is not limited to farmers markets. This year is the inaugural season for New Mexico’s Regional Farm to Food Bank program. Funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture in partnership with New Mexico Grown, the New Mexico Department of Agriculture and the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association, and administered by The Food Depot, this program allows the New Mexico Association of Food Banks to purchase locally and regionally produced foods from farmers, ranchers and other producers at a fair price.

Participation from producers is free, with the requirement that producers be part of the New Mexico Grown Approved Supplier Program. Purchased food, such as meat, beans, chile and fresh produce, will be delivered to food banks, as well as directly to hunger relief partners, such as emergency food pantries and soup kitchens, throughout New Mexico. The goal is simple: to connect hunger relief partners — and the communities they serve — directly with nutritious food from local producers.

Accessible local food is made possible by policy and found support in this year’s legislative session. The Healthy Universal School Meals measure includes increased access to local foods, and, in addition, senior centers and early childhood learning centers will receive funding to purchase local foods. On a larger scale, the Farm Bill, the omnibus federal bill passed every five years that sets agriculture and nutrition policy, is due to be renewed this year.

With a budget of $428 billion in 2018, this bill funds food assistance programs, most notably SNAP, as well as programs like the Regional Farm to Food Bank program. There is hope that accessible local food programs will be bolstered further by this bill.

Food banks and farmers markets, as well as many other community organizations, are central to keeping us healthy and connected. If you or someone you know has questions about Double Up Food Bucks or food distributions in your area, call 211 or reach out to The Food Depot or CONNECT, a city-county program to help individuals access services and programs. To learn more about the food bucks, visit doubleupnm.org, and about the Regional Farm to Food Bank program, visit nmfoodbanks.org.

Brooke Minnich is agency partnerships coordinator at The Food Depot and member of The Food Depot’s Advocacy Committee.

https://www.santafenewmexican.com/opinion/my_view/local-food-a-tool-to-reduce-food-insecurity/article_8364db9a-da1e-11ed-9c48-af7ea2d3a12a.html