NAMBÉ PUEBLO – In rural New Mexico, access to grocery stores for fresh fruits and vegetables usually requires traveling a distance.
Several government agencies, including New Mexico State University’s Cooperative Extension Service, are collaborating with northern New Mexico pueblos to improve food access and healthy lifestyle awareness by helping to develop community gardens and providing nutrition education.
The Eight Northern Indian Pueblo Council is addressing limited food access by managing the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, an alternative to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
“The program is an alternative to SNAP with a healthier choice of USDA approved items for Native American tribes, and others who live on pueblo land, who do not have easy access to SNAP offices or authorized food stores,” said Wayne Martinez, interim director of the FDPIR program for ENIPC, which includes Taos, Picuris, Santa Clara, Ohkay Owingeh, San Ildefonso, Nambé, Pojoaque and Tesuque pueblos.
The ENIPC-FDPIR program serves approximately 1,400 income-eligible people on pueblo land within the boundaries of Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Taos counties.
Eligible participants may either receive healthy food items at the ENIPC food distribution warehouse in Nambé, or visit “tailgate sites” once a month at each of the eight pueblos.
“We are the largest FDPIR site in New Mexico,” Martinez said. “Our warehouse is like a grocery store where participants may select a wide variety of foods, including fresh eggs and produce to help maintain a nutritionally balanced diet.”
Once a month, while participants pick up food items at the warehouse, an NMSU Ideas for Cooking and Nutrition educator demonstrates how to prepare healthier meals using FDPIR foods.
“I prepare a recipe that contains FDPIR produce for participants to taste,” said Renée Zisman from the Santa Fe County CES office. “I provide recipe handouts and talk about how to incorporate more vegetables into meals.” To supplement the vegetables provided through the FDPIR program, pueblos are being encouraged to have community gardens.
A garden is being cultivated at ENIPC’s food distribution site in Nambé Pueblo, with the collaboration of Tom Dominguez, NMSU’s Extension agricultural agent in Santa Fe County; Sally Cassady, NMSU’s ICAN food system specialist; Siobhan Hancock, SNAP-Ed program manager with Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities at the New Mexico Department of Health; and Martinez.
“Because fresh vegetables and fruits spoil, it’s hard to provide produce to our clients,” Martinez said. “By teaching our participants how to cultivate their own garden, they can have fresh produce right out of their garden.”
The community garden is also an opportunity to bring people together to learn how to plant a home garden. Cassady will facilitate gardening education on soil preparation, planting seeds, and weed and pest control during the summer months.
“Community and home gardens are a way for people to improve access to fresh vegetables and fruits,” Cassady said.
Community, school and office gardens have been established at other pueblos including Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo and Pueblo de San Ildefonso through the Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities program in New Mexico’s Department of Health.
“Promoting gardens increases opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity,” Hancock said. “Besides it’s fun.”