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New Mexico Partnership to Receive $3 million in Federal Funds for Food Access

By Drew Goretzka

Apr 17, 2024

New Mexico Partnership to Receive $3 million in Federal Funds for Food Access

A coalition of New Mexico private and public entities will receive $3 million from the federal government in an ongoing effort to increase food access in the state.

The award, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI), will be used to provide a number of services to businesses working within the food retail and food supply chain spaces, such as loans, credit enhancement and technical assistance. In addition, the partnership will conduct new market studies to identify the strengths and weaknesses of New Mexico’s food ecosystem.

Among the entities included in the partnership are Vida Mejor Capital, New Mexico Economic Development Department, New Mexico State University, The Loan Fund and Santa Fe Farmers’ Market Institute.

HFFI, originally authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill and funded by the American Rescue Plan, is administered by Philadelphia-based nonprofit Reinvestment Fund on behalf of the USDA’s Rural Development department. Previously, the HFFI had given out grants to individual projects, totaling around $25 million. Six such projects have been awarded funds in New Mexico, including Taos Food Coop in Taos, Three Sisters Kitchen in Albuquerque and La Semilla Food Center in Anthony.

However, in 2023, the HFFI Partnerships Program was launched, offering a pot of $40 million to public-private coalitions representing a state or geographic region. New Mexico was one of 16 selected in the inaugural round.

Xochitl Torres Small, deputy secretary for the USDA, told Albuquerque Business First the study coming from the $3 million will focus on identifying gaps in New Mexico’s food supply chain. 

While producing a large amount of agricultural products, New Mexican farmers often have difficulty getting their goods to market, especially when attempting to sell, specifically, to other New Mexicans. One of the challenges, Torres Small said, is the lack of food processing amenities available in state.

“What that means is that some of the highest part of the food dollar ends up going somewhere else out of state, to whoever is adding that value to the produce that we grow,” Torres Small said. “Providing opportunities to have more shelf-stable options of healthy foods, to process it so it can be sold more easily, for example. All of those things to give more value, keep it closer to home will be a great opportunity for New Mexico.”

Other portions of the funds will be used for direct investments in the agricultural supply chain, allowing the New Mexico partnerships to help solve issues it identifies via its study.

Those receiving funds, in addition to working in food retail or in the food supply chain, will also have to serve underserved communities, Anne Misak, senior program manager for Reinvestment Fund, said. 

This includes those within “food deserts,” which refers to areas that have limited offerings of affordable or fresh food. Around 30% of New Mexicans live in one, with many encompassing rural, low-income or minority-majority communities. Tribal lands, which make up a significant portion of the state, are often used as textbook examples of the phenomenon.

Where funds are distributed to help address these areas, as well as improving food access for those living in New Mexico as whole, will largely be left up to the partnership as long as they meet certain federal criteria.

The hope, Misak said, is to keep locally grown food local, helping provide food to those without easy access to it and financially supporting the farmers who produce it.

“Our program, although focused on the retail side, supports the whole supply chain,” Misak said. “Our local markets and our local retail solutions are much more likely to have those relationships with local farmers, and be supporting that supply chain to get food that’s grown in New Mexico into the markets in New Mexico.”

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