It’s mid-September in Albuquerque’s North Valley. This time of year, Tres Hermanas Farm’s crop fields are normally dotted with volunteers and refugee farmers hard at work. But six months into an ongoing pandemic, the fields are quiet. And yet the farm is arguably feeding more people than ever before. Thanks to a grant from the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association’s (NMFMA) COVID-19 Local Food Supply Chain Response Fund, Tres Hermanas Farm is now implementing a culturally appropriate Food Box Project in order to provide weekly food deliveries for 30 low-income refugee families hardest-hit by the health crisis.
The Food Box Project is a collaborative effort between Tres Hermanas Farm, MoGro Mobile Grocery, the Better Together CSA, Gipsy Farms, New Mexico Harvest and others that utilizes NMFMA grant funds to identify refugee families who are facing a food crisis during the pandemic and deliver local produce provided by partnering farms directly to their homes. The project provides culturally appropriate food by customizing the box content to what recipients are familiar with: “A food box for Central African families could include corn, cassava, okra, yam, African eggplant, peppers, onions, carrots, and tomatoes,” explains Refugee Agriculture Partnership Program (RAPP) Project Coordinator, Peter Nardini, “Whereas a box for Middle Eastern, Afghani, and eastern Asian families could include muskmelons, eggplant, spinach, potato, carrots, peas, onions, legumes (beans), tomatoes, and lettuces.” Of these, only cassava and yams cannot be grown locally.
Before COVID-19, Tres Hermanas’ main focus was their refugee farm training program—the only such program in the state of New Mexico—and the more than 2,500 refugees who currently reside in Albuquerque. “The refugee and asylee populations we work with have been forced to leave their homes in search of a brighter future,” says Nardini. “These refugees come from all over the world—Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Cuba.” The farm training program is run by the Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains Refugee and Asylee Program and is one of only twelve programs nationwide supported by the Refugee Agriculture Partnership Project, a grant program housed within the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.
As part of the farm training program, Tres Hermanas organizes transportation and brings participating refugees to the farm, where they settle in for a full day of hands-on training in the field. Tres Hermanas then takes participants to several farmers’ markets—including Albuquerque’s Downtown Growers’ and Nob Hill markets, and the Santa Fe Railyard Market—to sell the produce and learn their new country’s way of selling and interacting with customers. Many of the participants come from an agriculture background, with prior experience growing crops to sell at market in their home countries. According to Nardini, the training program provides participants “the opportunity to do something that is familiar to them and that they know, as well as to grow vegetables from home that they may not be able to find here and to help them feel more grounded and connected in their community.” As refugees advance in the program, they receive increased levels of professional development, including business planning and marketing strategies.
Because of the pandemic, however, Tres Hermanas has had to temporarily stop on-farm programming and farmers’ market sales. But that doesn’t mean the farm itself is on pause—thanks in part to the Food Box Project. “As bad as this pandemic has been, it has also created many opportunities for collaboration and shows how much farms and organizations that support local farming can accomplish by working together.”
Nardini sees the Food Box Project as an opportunity to expand beyond the farm training program to better serve Albuquerque’s growing refugee community. He hopes to grow the food box program into a subscriber CSA and expand into Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); Women, Infant and Children (WIC); and Double Up Food Bucks program communities. By next fall, he anticipates having an established CSA with the food box patronage of 120 members: “We hope to create something sustainable out of this project so that refugee, asylee and immigrant families have access to culturally appropriate food boxes, in a system similar to a CSA.”
By then, the refugee farm training program will hopefully be back in full swing, and their fields once again teeming with refugee farmers working towards their dreams—and helping to produce healthy, local produce for others in their newly adopted home.
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, 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 | September 2020