A recent partnership between the Questa Farmers Market and the North Central Food Pantry has been providing fresh, local produce to families hardest hit by the recent economic challenges in Questa, New Mexico. With an $8,000 grant they received from the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association’s (NMFMA) COVID-19 Local Food Supply Chain Response Fund, the Questa Farmers’ Market has been purchasing produce directly from local farms in Taos County and adjacent counties and donating it to the North Central Food Pantry for bimonthly distribution to 200 local families.
While local families struggle to afford fresh foods, local farmers face their own challenges: the recent closures of restaurants, schools, and other businesses they relied on for sales left them scrambling for ways to fill a significant income gap.
For Gaea McGahee, the Questa Farmers’ Market manager, the harmful effects of the pandemic on both the supply and demand sides of the food system equation prompted action. For her, the partnership with the NCFP means the farmers’ market can contribute more comprehensively to the local food economy while also helping food-insecure families get the nutrition they need. “It’s not just about Sunday [at the market] and what happens on that day,” she explains. “What the farmers’ market is doing now, with this additional project, is buying produce from local farms and local producers, getting it to the food pantry and into people’s homes.”
As of mid-September, McGahee has been coordinating produce purchases from four nearby farms, including potatoes, cabbage, and lettuce from Cerro Vista Farm; greens, turnips, tomatoes, and lettuce from Red Willow Farm; tomatoes and cucumbers from Growing Opportunities; and spinach, beets, and carrots from the Taos Land Trust’s Rio Fernando Community Farms.
In addition to purchasing produce and coordinating pick up, delivery, and storage, Questa Farmers’ Market volunteers and interns help wash and pack fresh foods for distribution. Meanwhile, the North Central Food Pantry supplies the crew of volunteers who manage the labor required to keep the pantry going. NCFP staff and volunteers who live in the community and understand the needs of local households have conducted outreach through the local paper, community churches, and word-of-mouth to make sure that those who need fresh food know it is available.
The project is not without challenges. With costs ranging from $600 to $1,600 per bi-monthly distribution, McGahee expects the NMFMA grant might stretch into November, and she’s hard at work looking for additional funding to keep the food pantry partnership going.
Because of the pandemic, the NCFP moved to a strictly drive-through model to help ensure the health and safety of volunteers and food recipients. In addition to managing food deliveries to the pantry, volunteers now also pre-pack food boxes for families and load them into cars. Given the increased demand plus increased risk from COVID-19—especially for older folks—the food pantry is encouraging younger, less vulnerable community members to lend a hand.
But for McGahee, the benefits that have come out of this partnership far outweigh these challenges. “The pandemic has sharpened our focus on the things that are important,” she says, referring to the local food system and its potential to bolster the local economy while also providing healthy, locally grown produce for the community.
McGahee believes it’s all about investing in the community—making sure farmers can make a living and every family has access to healthy food: “There’s a practice that we have now in these rural places of going into cities and urban centers and shopping at big box stores. I hope that shifts. And that we see that by putting our attention and our dollars back into our community, that we are making our own local place stronger.”
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 September 2020, more than $400,000 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