The AgriGate of Santa Fe County: Respecting the Land. Feeding the Soul. Honoring the Story.
By Erin Ortigoza
In our first year running a family farm in northern New Mexico, 1,200 beautiful tomato plants were buried as a result of a freak “1,000-year” rain event that flooded our lower field, just before harvest. I called it the “tomato graveyard” and can still see the bright red fruit peeking out from under layers of arroyo silt. In response, we decided to build two high tunnels (hoop houses) with the goal of recouping some of our losses through increased yield from extending the growing season in a protected environment. The high tunnels became a very important element of our farm over the next several years. But we bought them out of pocket because we didn’t know how to access financial assistance available through the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).
I recall wishing for a comprehensive, one-stop-shop for information about our local food community and for many questions that arose over the years: Who is buying local food and would they be a good match for our farm? How do we get product liability insurance? Are there organizations or people who rent out farm equipment? Will anyone buy zucchini with hail damage? We have way more cucumbers than we sold this week, how can we donate them?
Demystifying the process, at least a little bit . . .
While farming, I was working as coordinator for the Santa Fe Food Policy Council (SFFPC), an inter-governmental advisory council for the city and county. SFFPC includes private and public bodies, as well as individuals who are devoted to creating and maintaining a regional food system that provides safe, nutritious food at reasonable prices to all residents, particularly those in need. I later transitioned to work for the Santa Fe County Planning Division. We work with people to develop a vision that informs County policies and achieves goals of creating safe, healthy and sustainable communities. I was excited that my experiences from running a family farm could support local food system planning.
Years of conversations with farmers, ranchers, community members, partnering organizations and other governmental employees had made it clear that there was a ton of good work happening in our local food community. Yet there was also an increasingly notable need for communication, connections and collaboration among those folks, in order to address complex issues such as how to increase food security and access to healthy food while strengthening the local agricultural economy, protecting arable farmland and supporting a new generation of growers. None of those topics is really siloed, so why should we be? A functional agricultural forum would enhance how the local food network operates.
In 2014, both Santa Fe City and County adopted our region’s food plan, “Planning for Santa Fe’s Food Future,” and in 2016 the county unanimously approved the Agriculture and Ranching Implementation (ARI) Plan. Through work with the community and through these plans, the term “agricultural clearinghouse” became a concept, a talking point, then a goal, and now a reality.
The AgriGate of Santa Fe County is the clearinghouse of local agricultural information, an online platform designed to cultivate connections and networking opportunities in the local food community. As a centralized agricultural forum, the site will include a searchable “Food Community Map,” which is a spatial database locating food producers, buyers and agricultural resource providers in our region. It will also include a directory of profiles for each participant in order to showcase the diversity of players in our local foodshed. There is a short film on farming and ranching in the region, links to partner organizations, a food community message board, and an events and training calendar.
As we build participation in the AgriGate, Food Producers—farmers, growers, ranchers and gardeners—will have a link to the range of options and scales of market opportunities which represent the growing demand of buyers who want high-quality, locally sourced foods. And we will all get a clearer picture of the landscape of resources available in our region to help support the viability of the local agricultural economy to make more local, fresh, healthy food available to the community.
If you’ve ever found yourself asking . . .
“I want large quantities of locally grown carrots, preferably purple. Who is growing them and what’s their phone number?”
Through the AgriGate, we are cultivating increased awareness of all the amazing people, opportunities and resources in our food community:
· Local food buyers will be able to access a list of growers interested in expanding their wholesale market.
· The new farm on the block can peruse a list of local food buyer profiles to get a sense of who may be a good fit.
· Growers with a bumper crop or surplus of anything edible can send out a message and connect with people who can use it or would buy it instead of letting it go to waste.
· Community members can easily find farms that have U-pick options, work-share and volunteer opportunities or offer educational tours.
· Schools can share information and inspiring stories from their school gardens and Farm to School/Farm to Cafeteria initiatives.
We will also be able to:
· Share information about financial assistance, water conservation, season extension and value added production.
· Learn about the resources and approaches that can support carbon sequestration through soil health and the revitalization of underutilized agricultural fields and help connect people who need farmland to those fields.
· Raise awareness of emerging markets, aggregation opportunities for institutional buyers and identify gaps in our food system infrastructure.
· Find answers to important questions like, “Where the heck can I get food-grade plastic bags and wax boxes, and does anyone want to go in on a bulk purchase for a discount?”
· Learn more about gardeners who continue to grow food for their families and neighbors because it is essential to their quality of life and the living agricultural heritage of northern New Mexico.
The Power of Telling Our Stories
The AgriGate comes from a strong community effort to support local agriculture. It creates a space to highlight the heritage that traces back generations and kindles the pride that New Mexicans share. In this state, where the iconic smell of roasting green chile signals the first days of fall and catches the nostrils of every passerby within a mile, unique New Mexican food traditions unite all of us. Everyone is part of the local food community and has a story to tell. Only by acting now and making local food continue to be viable will we protect this way of life while fortifying local resiliency for coming challenges associated with climate change. Local food, while reducing carbon emissions and providing more nourishing sustenance, also paves the way for the viability of northern New Mexico livelihoods as we seek out the most sustainable ways to live in this place.
We are launching the AgriGate in October 2018. We are building on momentum; the more of you who participate, the more useful the AgriGate will be for the community. By telling your story—who you are, why you do what you do, what you offer and what you need—we are creating a versatile tool to paint a picture of our collective agricultural heritage and cultivating connections to grow our local food culture. It is only going to work if people use it, so this is a call to action for anyone in our food community who has ever had too little of this or too much of that. Please take a bit of time and reach out—join us and tell your story!
Keep your eye on agrigatesfc.com, which will be live and on-line in the next month. For more information contact Erin Ortigoza at 505.986.2452 or [bot protected email address]