Local Hero: Best Specialty Grocer
An Interview with Thomas Swendson, Founder/President
Thomas Swendson, founder/president of New Mexico Harvest. Photo courtesy of New Mexico Harvest.
New Mexico Harvest is a year-round community-supported agriculture (CSA) provider and local food hub. They work with nearly seventy farmers and producers from around the state and, over the last year and a half, have donated roughly $20,000 in local food and services to food pantries and refugee communities around New Mexico. Their members have invested over $1 million into the local food system.
From working as a trucker to becoming a farmer, New Mexico Harvest founder and president Thomas Swendson has spent much of his life venturing down the rabbit hole of trying to understand his food and where it comes from. He and his partner, Electra, recently settled in the South Valley, where they are excited to be starting their own farm.
New Mexico Harvest traces its roots as a CSA back to 1994. How did it start, and how has it evolved to what it is today?
In February of 2020, our collective members and farmers celebrated twenty-six ongoing seasons as Beneficial Farms CSA. Founded in 1994 by Mesa Top Farm, Beneficial Farms was a group of around sixty members who supported the farm’s harvest through the first growing season. By March 2020, we re-formed as New Mexico Harvest and began our journey to work with more New Mexico farmers and producers and bring the freshest food possible to members around the state.
CSAs can come in many forms. How does your CSA work?
We are not your traditional single-farm CSA. We work with nearly seventy different New Mexico farms and producers, which allows us to get a huge variety of fresh food to our customers. Each share is completely customizable, with a variety of produce, meats, dairy, bread, drinks, and so much more. You will be surprised by the diversity of local food available at our marketplace. Through our incredible network of farmers, produce is delivered to homes across the state within forty-eight hours of its harvesting. We back our work with a satisfaction guarantee and continue to evolve to better serve our membership. We also take EBT and have partnered up with Double Up Food Bucks, a program that allows folks with SNAP benefits to get two dollars worth of food for every one dollar spent!
Having worked with many farmers and ranchers of various scales for many years, you have seen and learned a lot about New Mexico agriculture. What surprises you about the state of local New Mexico agriculture right now? What excites you about it?
New Mexico has somewhere near 20,000 farms and ranches, and of those, only about 8 percent make direct sales to local buyers. This averages out to us spending less than 1 percent of our food budget on local food. As this pandemic has shown us, food security is easily threatened and New Mexico can be less dependent on the national food system. We have more than enough food to feed our communities. Luckily, we are seeing a huge outpouring of support for local food and we are excited to see our farming community thrive in the coming years. We are hoping to work with local businesses to really grow the “buy local” movement.
What lessons will you take away from this past year?
Support for our farmers and community is one of the most important parts of our business. At the start of the pandemic, many farms quickly lost revenue streams, which threatened their livelihood. Farmers markets and restaurants closed down and there were very limited outlets for farms to sell their food. We decided early on that it was our duty to pay our farmers what they needed in order to survive and thrive. We grew our farmer network and were able to procure huge amounts of food that our members benefited from. Thanks to our members and farmers, we were able to bypass the national food system and rely on our own producers to get food on New Mexicans’ tables during these hard times. Through our unity, we invested over $1 million into our local food system, supporting family-owned New Mexico businesses.
What is your vision for the CSA in five years?
We would love to see our farmer network and membership expand. We want to work with farmers to help grow their farms and begin producing for a larger portion of the New Mexican population. We want to start supplying hospitals, senior centers, schools, and grocery stores with local produce and provide as many sales outlets for local farms as we possibly can. We hope to increase our vehicle fleet and open more trade routes around New Mexico to access more farms and do whatever we can to support our farmers and our communities.
Are there some local products you’re particularly excited about right now?
Well, this is the season to be excited about a lot of things. Farmers are pulling more and more food out of the ground every day, and we are lucky enough to see it make its way to the consumer’s dining room table. There are many products we are always excited to see, particularly the authentic Chimayó red chile. Zitro Farms in Chimayó has produced some amazing red chile that has this deep red color unlike any other red chile we have seen. We are also very excited about our friends at Taos Hum, who are making some amazing hot sauces, and a great partnership with Desert Spoon Food Hub in Las Cruces—they help bring up food from farms in the southern part of New Mexico. Local spring greens are coming in strong, and our farmers are bringing their all. Throughout the winter, we brought on many new partners, farmers, and food artisans. We have some freeze-drying projects in the works, and there’s all sorts of surprises we’re still working on.
Is there anything else you want to share with edible readers?
Thank you, everyone who voted for us. We are honored and thrilled. We have a dedicated team of foodies who want to see New Mexico farmers thrive, and we are thankful every day for the opportunity to work in a “growing” industry—pun intended. Our community’s support for agriculture is a direct commitment to our farmers. Even when you support a local restaurant, you’re supporting local farmers—your impact just doubled!
If you are interested in becoming a member, give us a call or visit our website. We always love talking to new members about how everyone can be a part of the local food movement.