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Wednesday, August 21, 2019; Silver City, NM: Southwest New Mexico school districts will be serving up more locally grown food to students thanks to a newly awarded Farm to School grant received by the National Center for Frontier Communities (NCFC).

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded $100,000 to bolster the NCFC’s  Southwest New Mexico Food Hub efforts to sell locally grown food to school districts in Catron, Grant, Hidalgo and Luna Counties. The grant also provides funding for student education about local foods, in select districts.

The Farm to School grant was one of four awarded in New Mexico. Other funded sites in the state include the Capacity Builders Inc. in Farmington, La Semilla Food Center in Las Cruces, and Taos Economic Development Corporation in Taos.  Over $9 million in Farm to School grants were awarded nationally by the USDA.

“This grant is designed to benefit our region’s frontier and remote farmers to better access existing markets by coordinates growing efforts and combining products to fill orders from our area’s school districts,” said Ben Rasmussen, Program Manager. “These school districts want to feed their students quality, locally-grown fruits and vegetables, and we are dedicated to help make that happen.”

From its headquarters in Silver City, the Food Hub coordinates sales and product transportation for over 20 frontier farmers so they can access larger and more diverse markets for their products. Last year, the Food Hub estimates it saved participating farmers over 25,000 miles of travel by consolidating food transport and leaving farmers’ time free to do what they do best, grow more food.

That extra food is now destined for the cafeteria trays of public school students in southwest New Mexico. And it is needed, New Mexico ranked first in the nation for childhood hunger, according to Map the Meal Gap conducted by Feeding America. 

Nearly all the 8,200 students in the seven public school districts throughout the four-county region qualify for free or reduced school meals.

“We like getting fresh local food for students but, in our area, it can be a little tough getting vendors to deliver to our fairly rural schools”,” said Rex Lish of Southwest Food Service Excellence (SFE) General Manager for the Lordsburg Municipal Schools District in Hidalgo County. The district covers an area larger than the state of Delaware and serves 500 children a day breakfast and lunch.

“It’s hard for farmers to faithfully deliver to our isolated schools; it requires a refrigerated truck, so there’s the matter of logistics that can prove difficult for smaller farmers,” says Lish.

Last year the district spent $10,000 purchasing locally grown food and by partnering with the on the Farm to School grant Lisha said, “We are hoping to diversify our vendors.”

The SWNM Food Hub’s refrigerated transport van and coordinated delivery model helps frontier farmers each to fill a portion of larger orders and benefit from sales they otherwise might have had to pass on before.

“I come from an agricultural background,” said Ginger Jones, Director of Student Nutrition

For Deming Public Schools District, “but I never realized how hard it was to get locally grown food into the school district.”

Jones clarified, “The food can’t come right off of the farm to the schools. Food safety regulations have to be met, and the Food Hub helps assure those safety measures and standards are in place and documented.”

Jones oversees meals for 5,400 students in 14 schools in Luna County, including Columbus Elementary School located five minutes from the U.S.-Mexico border. All the students in the diverse district qualify for free meals. 

“We offer pre-salads to all our students and have a large weekly produce budget,” Jones said. The SWNM Food Hub services help, not just with food safety standards but assuring that purchased food is documented as grown by New Mexico farmers, as several state grants like New Mexico Grown require.

Jones said the district plans to “expand funding to buy more locally grown food” by partnering on the Farm to School program.

“The food hub service is a win for local farmers, schools and the children they serve.”, said Susan Wilger, NCFC Executive Director.  “The state of New Mexico is committed to healthy food for its students and has appropriated funding to help school districts purchase local food through the Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for School Meals program. We are glad that we can play an essential role by connecting local growers with schools in an efficient and affordable way through the food hub”. 

Please visit the USDA FNS website for more information about Farm to School projects and grant awards: https://www.fns.usda.gov/cfs/grant-awards.  

For more information on NCFC contact Wilger at (575) 597-0039 or email: nrg@swchi.org or visit the website at http://frontierus.org/.

This project has been funded at least in part with Federal funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  The contents of this publication do not necessarily reflect the view or policies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Photographs: 

Live from Silver City

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