Even before the socioeconomic challenges associated with COVID-19 appeared, the Agri-Cultura Network of Albuquerque’s South Valley — a farmer-owned food brokerage dedicated to building New Mexico’s local food economy through regenerative agriculture and food justice — wove itself into the very fabric of its community. During a normal year, Agri-Cultura increases market access for over 40 small farms and feeds up to 300 families through their sliding-scale CSA, La Cosecha, which prioritizes equitable access to locally grown, healthy, and affordable produce for low-income families. But when COVID-19 threatened the community with a 57 percent increase in demand from expanded locations in the northern, eastern, and southern parts of the state, Agri-Cultura’s assistance efforts expanded with help of three grants totalling $15,000 provided by the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association’s (NMFMA) COVID-19 Local Food Supply Chain Response Fund.
“These grants gave a safety net to farmers at the start of the pandemic to keep production going,” says Helga Garza, Director of the Agri-Cultura Network.
The first grant of $8,000 funded an additional 30 low-income, food insecure families with bi-weekly produce through their home delivery service, from May through October. And because that food was purchased exclusively from farms in the Agri-Cultura Network, the funding also provided needed income to local farmers who had lost sales because of temporarily closed restaurants and other wholesale customers. The second grant ($6,000) was used to purchase PPE (personal protective equipment), kitchen tools to help process produce for value-added products, and packaging materials for farms in the network and to fund quality control aggregation staff, which ensures public safety in the midst of a health crisis. Agri-Cultura was able to combine the third NMFMA grant ($1,000) with other grants they had received to purchase a cargo van, which ensures consistent, reliable transportation to move the farmers’ produce all over the state.
“To meet this distribution, we have been partnering with La Montañita Coop, Roadrunner Food Bank, and Delicious New Mexico,” says Garza. But coordinating deliveries with three distribution partners can be challenging, and as Agri-Cultura continues to scale up—they have started developing value-added, shelf stable products for retail—reliable transportation will be a crucial factor for ongoing success.
The network sells a wide variety of fruits and vegetables grown sustainably and without pesticides. Farmers located in Albuquerque’s South and North Valley, Belen, Los Lunas, Corrales, and all the way down to Anthony grow salad mix, arugula, mustard mix, bok choy, garlic, shallots, onions, tomatoes, tomatillos, dry beans, fresh beans, peppers,, green chile,, eggplant, lettuce, asparagus, edible flowers, herbs, fennel, radishes, turnips, summer squash, winter squash, melons, carrots, beets, sunchokes, potatoes, cucumbers, swiss chard, kale, okra, celery and much more.
“It is inspiring to see the support our community has for La Cosecha, and the fundraising efforts that make our high quality produce available to the South Valley, Southeast Heights, and beyond,” says Elizabeth Silva, manager of La Cosecha CSA. “Every week I am delighted to see how our members enthusiastically peek into their share bags.”
Part of the benefit of the Agri-Cultura Network for participating farms is that the network aggregates their produce to reach larger markets that many of the small farms could access on their own. Wholesale markets brokered through Agri-Cultura include schools, senior centers, Meals on Wheels, hospital food prescription programs, and restaurants, to name a few. The network also sells into other community CSAs and food hubs like New Mexico Harvest, the Southwest Food Hub, and La Montañita Co-op.
It’s hard to keep up with how much Agri-Cultura manages to accomplish throughout the year, much less in a single day. But despite complex logistics stretching across the state and the constant buzz of activity back at headquarters in the South Valley, the network has maintained a steady focus for over ten years, “staying true to our mission of supporting our local farm economy while also increasing food access and food justice for our community.”
This story is part of a series featuring the many farmers, ranchers, nonprofit organizations, and collaborative groups who received grants via the NMFMA’s COVID-19 Local Food Supply Chain Response Fund. The Fund was designed to reduce economic hardship caused by market disruptions linked to the ongoing public health crisis and accelerate a sustained and equitable recovery among farmers and low-income communities. As of October, more than $484,000 has been distributed to 100+ producers and groups. The tireless work and generous spirit of these individuals help solidify New Mexico’s local food system and ensure food access by those in need during an historic, global health crisis. Visit the NMFMA website to learn more and to contribute to the Fund.
By NMFMA Staff | October 2020