EL PASO, TX (KTSM) — As the pandemic drove people to order take-out and pick up groceries rather than step into grocery stores, one option to help people gain access to fresh local produce emerged in the Borderland: food boxes.
La Semilla, a non-profit based in Anthony, N.M., is continuing to offer food boxes almost all year after they first started selling the boxes. La Semilla’s farm fresh boxes contain what’s seasonally available, such as carrots, beets, squash, greens onions and spinach, for El Pasoans to pick up as part of their Farm Fresh Program. The service has flourished despite some challenges spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.
People can order a farm box on a weekly basis or access La Semilla’s curbside pick-up. Customers can also have orders delivered on Saturdays between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. Deliveries are available to residents of El Paso County, the city of Las Cruces and in other areas in Southern New Mexico. They accept WIC and SNAP and Double Up Food Bucks as payment.
“Farm Fresh as a program is really grounded in providing support and training for local farmers. It includes not only produce that’s local, not only produce from La Semilla Community Farm, but also from partner farmers,” said Michelle Carreon, Food Justice Story Teller with La Semilla Food Center.
La Semilla Food Center, which began its service 10 years ago, has a mission to build a healthy, reliant and sustainable food system in the region. La Semilla started its work with local school programs by providing education and building community gardens in the schools, but has since expanded its programs.
As urban farming becomes a bigger trend in the Borderland, La Semilla said consumers are paying closer attention to where their food comes from. And that the produce is grown locally gives their food boxes a greater appeal to buyers.
“The proximity and the relational aspect of local foods and knowing that, ‘I know that farmer’ or at least that farmer’s story and the type of farming they are doing and are trying to do,” she said.
Carreon said the Border region is special because organizations such as theirs can help lift up people of color who go into farming.
“The long history of agriculture in the region fuels the organizations (that) support BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) farmers and beginning farmers who don’t own land since that is another area of farming, whether a farmer owns the land that they are working on,” Carreon said.
She said that thinking about farming and where food comes from, what we eat, how we eat and even who we eat with is all connected to culture, family histories and language.
“We are also very connected to how policy both at the state and federal level really impacts so many things with regard to food access, food justice and building and contributing to a local food system,” she said.
Carreon said it’s important to think about what kind of produce is provided in certain grocery stores and about what produce is offered in specific neighborhood stores. Consumers should think about the where the food comes from.
“I initially think about our connections to what we are eating and not only connections with regard to the proximity the geographical location,” she said.
For now Carreon said they are working on future projects with the goal of increase visibility and connections amongst those who might not be considered traditional farmers.
“We recently this summer launched our inaugural farmer fellowship and its really to support local beginning farmers that maybe aren’t representative of the dominant narrative of what a farmer is.”
In addition to its Farm Fresh program, La Semilla offers the following programs to help educate the community about sustainable, local farming, as well as local food culture:
Community Farm: The farm serves as a public gathering space that demonstrates sustainable farming practices appropriate for the Chihuahua Desert environment, engaging children, youth and families in growing food and learning about where food comes from.
Edible Education: This program empowers students to understand how food is grown, consumed and how it affects community and environmental health. It also includes school garden and cooking nutrition education, Food Day Celebrations, Farm to Preschool and Earth Day Celebrations.
Community Education: This program creates community-based educational knowledge, sharing spaces where participants learn about connections between food, people, public health and the environment that are culturally appropriate for the surrounding communities within the Paso del Norte Region.
Policy and Development: Through this program, members of the non-profit help advocate for policies that address the root causes of hunger and inequitable food access while creating local economic opportunities. Listening to families about what is most urgently needed, La Semilla understands that hunger is an issue therefore empowering community members becomes essential in new food systems.