Amidst the normal hustle of a food pantry—through a tight maze of shelved food, refrigerators, and freezers, volunteers in a constant state of motion gather food for families and homeless clients—Bienvenidos Outreach in Santa Fe supplies fresh, local food in innovative ways. Since 1989 they not only have been providing local homeless and low-income families with food boxes, clothing, and household items, ever since they became the operators of the Eldorado Farmers’ Market in 2009, Bienvenidos has also proudly added fresh, locally grown produce—both donated by and purchased from market vendors—to their food boxes and prepared lunches.
“Our main focus is to see that our low-income families and anyone going through short- or long-term hardships have access to local, healthy foods,” says Susan Tarver, the executive director. “Access to nutritious food is the most critical need of our clients and the most challenging to confront.”
So earlier this summer, in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis that was hitting vulnerable communities the hardest and often forcing people to choose between paying rent and buying food, Tarver applied for the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association’s (NMFMA) COVID-19 Local Food Supply Chain Response Fund so that she could increase her commitment to helping clients and farmers alike. She has used the $5,000 grant from the NMFMA to purchase more than 2,000 pounds of fresh food from her farmers’ market vendors, which she then distributes to clients.
Now, more than 800 individuals are receiving mixed greens, radishes, chard, kale, potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, and other fresh, locally grown produce in their weekly boxes—as well as locally grown bison, jerky, and ground beef, among other items.
Participating farmers come from Las Vegas, Hernandez, Dixon, Taos, El Guique, Santa Fe, and other places throughout northern New Mexico. Because many of these farmers have experienced sudden financial hardships due to market disruptions caused by the pandemic, Bienvenidos is also providing each farmer in the program extra visibility through featured coverage in their newsletters that reach more than 1,000 donors and market customers each month.
But despite all appearances of a smoothly oiled, efficient food-packing machine, Bienvenidos has suffered a few pandemic-related setbacks. Volunteers have decreased in number, from a consistent 12 to only 5-6, and board members have had to step in to fill the labor gap. But Tarver is quick to point out that on the whole, it’s been a positive experience: “COVID kind of brought us together.” As a result of the crisis and Tarver’s hard work, Bienvenidos has raised more than $15,000 specifically for purchasing local food directly from farmers, and many organizations have offered additional support.
Tarver is already looking ahead to next year and fully plans on continuing with the expanded local food services afforded by the NMFMA grant: “[This project] is definitely going to be a part [of our work], because it’s right on to what we want to do, to be known as the food pantry that has fresh, local foods. I will find funding.”
Tarver’s tenacity and relentless optimism belie the exhaustion in her voice. “If this ever ends, I plan to go sleep for a couple weeks.”
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 August, more than $350,000 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. Photos by Elizabeth Evans.