Developing our Local Farm and Food Economy for the Benefit of all
by Pamela Walker
The Santa Fe Food Policy Council, a thirteen-member advisory group that includes city and county officials and other citizens working on local food issues, hosted one of its occasional public forums on October 12, 2017, at the Santa Fe Convention Center. The half-day event, which concluded with a reception provided by Il Piatto, drew about seventy-five people.
The mission of the Santa Fe Food Policy Council is to help create and maintain a local food system that gives all residents access to reasonably priced locally produced food. The purpose of this particular forum, according to council co-chair Mark Winne, who opened the event, was to present and discuss data related to the 2014 Santa Fe food plan in an interactive, conversational way that would elicit ideas about achieving goals, with a minimum of “talking heads” in the front of the room. The food plan articulates specific goals toward addressing three broad categories: getting food, learning about food, and growing food.
Scheduling at least a dozen speakers to present a great deal of data during little more than three hours, however, resulted in fast-clip talking and afforded scant time for questions and answers and conversations. An abundance of printed handouts helped abbreviate some of the presentations, but even so, the talks took most of the time.
Probably the most recurrent themes among the presentations were three ongoing needs: to expand the local market for local growers to sell their produce locally; to expand access to locally grown food to people of all incomes; and to educate a broad public about growing, buying, and cooking natural, nutritious produce.
Mayor Javier Gonzales, in his remarks of welcome, said, “Santa Fe is a city of great means. Yet thirty percent of our kids will go hungry tonight. Twenty-eight percent of them have two working parents. Sixty percent of them are obese. We must challenge ourselves to solve the issues of hunger in our community.”
Rebecca Baran-Rees, project director for mobile grocer MoGro and a representative of the Santa Fe Community Foundation, discussed data documenting the size and main facets of the Santa Fe’s nearly billion-dollar food economy. She noted that for every dollar spent on local food, another eighty-cents is generated for the local food economy, just one indication of the potential for further growth.
New Mexico State Auditor Tim Keller presented data on food contracts among state agencies. He emphasized that agency heads are not nearly as restricted by, for example, accepting the lowest bid during the contracting process – a common misperception. And, in fact, if agency heads can become better informed by people working on food issues, they can potentially purchase much more locally produced food than ever before.
Kierstan Pickens, executive director of the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market Institute, highlighted how the institute simultaneously serves local farmers and local consumers, including people receiving public food assistance. For farmers, the institute offers small loans and professional development. For Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) clients, the farmers’ market doubles SNAP dollars, which helps SNAP customers buy more local food, while also helping farmers increase their sales.
What was most effective about the forum? I asked Winne, and he replied that the forum revealed two main things. “The first was the sheer size of Santa Fe’s food economy — nearly a billion dollars. The second was the latent power of public food procurement — millions of dollars in city and county food purchasing could be harnessed to fuel an even more robust food economy, and in particular, demand for locally produced food,” he said. “Our job as a Council going forward will be to promote policies that make this potential a reality to benefit farmers and consumers.”
The Santa Fe Food Policy Council meets every fourth Thursday of the month from 9 – 11 a.m., with meeting locations varying. While the council invites anyone interested to attend meetings, Winne noted that it is extremely difficult to become a council member. He said that it is easy, though, to work in one of the council’s committees, where much of the real work gets done.
For more information about the council, visit its website:
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