Back in the mid 1980’s when Saturday mornings saw Albuquerque’s only farmers market, held in the parking lot of the local country music dance hall, La Montanita Co-op embarked on a journey to support local and regional growers. At the time, members of the Co-op staff would go to the Saturday morning market and invite farmers and growers to bring any extra produce to the Co-op after the market closed or bring their produce to the Co-op mid-week for a little extra income.
Since those early days, when the Co-op was just about the only place in town local growers could sell their produce, eggs and other products, the Co-op’s commitment to local and regionally grown and value added food has become legendary.
Today the Co-op carries over 1500 local products from over 900 local producers, and local food purchases and sales accounts for 20% of Co-op totals. The Co-op works to educate our member/owners, shoppers, and the larger community on the importance of local foods for their nutritional value, a safe secure food system, a strong local economy and sustainable land and wanter stewardship practices for a resilient future.
As continuous education is a Cooperative principle the Co-op Trade Initiative works with growers to improve post harvest handling and packing for the wholesale market. The Co-op also utilizes its resources to educate consumers on the true costs of local production and the importance of fair prices and just treatment of people and animals throughout the food production, distribution and consumption process. The Co-op Trade Initiative supports sustainable practices at every level of our Co-op organization.
The term and concept “foodshed” is derived from the more familiar word “watershed.” In the arid southwest where “agua es vida” the main New Mexican watershed traverses the Rio Grande Valley rift from southern New Mexico to southern Colorado. Traditional acequias and other irrigation methods water greenbelt lands that produce food throughout the rift valley. The Co-op’s Food-shed project adds ancient agricultural regions, including the Mimbres Valley in the Gila, the White Mountain area and other mountain valleys for a regional food-shed that encompasses a 300 mile radius around Albuquerque.
The term food-shed describes the flow of food from the area where it is grown and processed to the place where it is consumed. Recently, the term has been revived as a way of looking at and thinking about local and sustainable food systems. The current food system is dependent upon the unsustainable economics of transporting the majority of our food very long distances. Building a more sustainable system will decrease our region’s dependence on the long distance transport of food reducing our region’s carbon footprint. This will require that we increase regional food production and distribution.
Farmers and producers throughout this region can either sell their products direct to Co-op locations or utilize the services of our Cooperative Distribution Center’s (CDC) warehouse to expand their markets and save on gas and transport costs. The CDC also offers local producers post harvest and production cooler/freezer space and storage. We understand that our regional farmers and producers must prosper to sustain their efforts and that regionally grown and produced food will often cost more than food grown in California, Mexico or elsewhere.
La Montanita began distribution of regionally produced products in the spring of 2006. Two drivers and one truck delivered over $100,000 of meat, eggs, milk and produce from about 30 producers during this first year of operation. La Montanita engaged Whole Foods, Raley’s, Cid’s, Los Poblanos and others to build the wholesale market for this product. In January of 2007 La Montanita opened its Cooperative Distribution Center in Albuquerque. This facility and its staff provide the foundation for our work with regional producers to build a more sustainable food-shed in our region.
The Co-op Distribution Center staff is working with regional growers and producers and retail buyers towards reaching a balance between paying the producer as much as possible while maintaining a retail price in the stores that provides value to consumers.
The Co-op Trade Initiative collaborates with the New Mexico Food-Shed Alliance, The New Mexico Agricultural Task Force of the Middle Rio Grande Council of Governments, The University of New Mexico Sustainability Studies Program and others in an effort to push regional food-shed and sustainability forward into mainstream consciousness.
Journal of Sustainability—March 2008 Edition—Sustainable Sustenance: Building a Regional Food-Shed, By Robin Seydel
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