A plant is only as healthy as its soil. So what happens when the soil is sick? What happens when the soil is so sick that it isn’t even soil anymore? This is desertification, “the process by which fertile land becomes desert,”(ACCIONA) and it’s happening all over the world. Desertification is caused by a combination of social, political, economic, and natural factors which vary from region to region and is “almost always the result of multiple interacting causes” (IPEBS). So let’s talk about some of those causes.
Climate change has caused land surfaces to “warm by an average of approximately 1.4F” (USDA). As the greenhouse effect increases warming in the carbon cycle, it worsens extreme weather events like wildfires, hurricanes, and droughts and affects annual rainfall patterns. Just like these natural disasters and the changes in our water cycle have negative effects on people, they also have negative effects on soil.
This is the displacement of the top and fertile layer of soil, typically through some force of nature like wind or rain and exacerbated by activities including plowing, grazing, or deforestation. This is also a side effect of the increased natural disasters that result from climate change.
Unhealthy farming practices
Farming practices such as deforestation, overgrazing of livestock, over-cultivation of crops, overuse of fertilizers, and inappropriate irrigation can all lead to desertification. Many of these techniques are used because they provide economic benefits and because of the large social pressure to provide for a growing population. However, these practices have short lived benefits and ultimately lead to environmental deterioration including desertification.
So why should we care if some soil turns to desert? Desertification poses one of the greatest environmental challenges today and constitutes a major barrier to meeting basic human needs. There is a major connection between a degraded environment and human poverty including food access, financial insecurity, and health impacts such as respiratory illness, malnutrition, and lack of health care. In fact, desertification and land degradation causes a $42 billion USD loss in earnings each year (UNCCD).
Now I know that the list of current climate disasters can leave most people feeling powerless, paralyzed, and depressed. But here’s the good news; there are tested, creative, and hopeful methods for restoration and prevention of desertification!
Just as there are “multiple interacting causes” for desertification, there are also “multiple interacting” solutions. In order to promote prevention over rehabilitation, these solutions require management and policy approaches that incentivize sustainable resources. While these changes take place, there are also more hands on, accessible methods for restoration.
Native and natural vegetation cover
Replanting native species as a vegetation cover can act as an anchor for soil to hold on to and reduce erosion. As an added benefit these reintroduced plants are good for carbon sequestration and a crucial step in changing the feedback loop of global warming.
Understanding the chemical composition and microbial communities that make up soil also gives an understanding of how our agricultural practices affect soil.
Sustainable agricultural practices
Returning to traditional agricultural practices that prioritize soil health such as agroforestry, no or low till farming, companion planting, and cover cropping will allow the soil to continue to heal and maintain its top soil.
Policies and initiatives
Having guidelines for land use and management, creating nation wide/ global concern, and continuing education and action will all play an important role in the prevention and rehabilitation of desertification.
When people find identity in the land and come together for restoration, it can lead to local empowerment that has ripple effects which lead to human and natural flourishing.
Seeing the value of investment in the recovery of damaged and desertified environments has the ability to create jobs, boost local economies, create global concern and action, and unify countries. Understanding the natural capital of desertification management and restoration opens the door for carbon sequestration, increased biodiversity, recognition of traditional agricultural practices, and adding to climate change solutions. In other words, there is hope in the desertified soil.
I know we all try to be better people. We all try to skip the straw at Starbucks, or choose paper when asked “paper or plastic?”, or buy “organic” produce. But is buying “organic” the same as “Organic”? Is “cage-free” the same as “free-range”? What is “pasture-raised”? If the Organic certification doesn’t include any of these assurances, is buying Organic even that good? Could Organic be worse for the environment?
Third-party food certifications give us a look into what happens on the farm where our food is coming from and how it is treated before the store. Just because the food has nice green packaging and says organic or humanely raised doesn’t mean that the food is better for the environment, animal, or even truly Organic. Producers are allowed to make many loose claims that are not strictly defined by the USDA. You need to search for the USDA Certified Organic logo or other third-party certifications on your foods first. Growing certified food whether it be meat, dairy, eggs, or produce, and making sure that the animals are being humanely treated and that nothing bad goes into the products is harder. They’re more expensive to buy, they create larger emissions of greenhouse gasses, increased land, and water usage per crop, and not everybody has adequate access to these foods.
Now you’re asking yourself if you should even care because what’s good is starting to look just like the bad, don’t worry. They are more expensive because the extra care they require an increased demand for healthy food has driven up the price (thanks, capitalism) but prices are starting to drop, to combat this you can always go to a local farmer or attend farmer’s markets and get your food directly from the source. The certification is a long, paperwork-filled, expensive process that many older local farmers, although their practice is Organic, it is too costly for the farmer one way or another to get officially certified. The larger amounts of greenhouse gasses, especially in the cattle industry, because the cows are being well taken care of they produce more methane and the agriculture side produces less carbon dioxide than regular farming so not all bad. Organic produce also travels further which requires transport from fleets of vehicles. Organic food is more nutritious too with less harmful pesticides and more nutrients from the way it was produced. You just have to understand how the food was treated before it got to you, and additional third-party food certifications you often see along with “Organic” help us determine that.
Each third-party certification has its meaning and producers, like most people in the world, bend around the rules as much as possible without breaking them. So your cage-free certified egg may have been produced “cage-free” but instead, the hens live their entire lives inside a warehouse with thousands of chickens with barely a square foot of room available to each just living on top of each other. It is important to know what you are purchasing, you care about the chickens, or else you would have grabbed the regular eggs and had been on with your day. So do the chickens one better and stop supporting bad business practices by supporting them with your purchases and go buy chickens and farm your eggs! Okay, so maybe that’s not possible for everyone so let’s just take a step back and learn what some of these most popular “certifications” really mean.
As you can see there is no ONE certification that covers everything and just buying Certified Organic is not enough. The more certifications the better, the more issues they cover. Now that you have a good idea of the certifications to look for while shopping you’re ready to go! It’s worth it to slow down and take a deeper look into the food you are buying and making sure that it is not only good for you but also good for the planet. If you need help, there’s not yet an app to tell you about certifications and their standards, but try downloading the Yuka: Food & Cosmetic scanner. This tool gives you insights into dangerous food additives to avoid – simply by scanning the barcode of your food.
The industrial food system, by maximizing production and reducing cost, has resulted in depleted soils, hypoxic dead zones, polluted water, excess antibiotics in meat and dairy products, and inhumane animal practices. It is also responsible for 75% of deforestation worldwide, and as of 2021, is the cause of 1/3 of anthropogenic emissions. The U.N has stated that we have 60 harvests left. If we continue on this “business as usual model,” this means 60 years. In order to keep up with population growth by the year 2050, farmers will have to produce 50% more food to sustain life.
The industrial food system is harmful to the health and wellbeing of not only the environment but of humans as well. The International Panel of Experts of Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-FOOD) found that our current system costs the world U.S $3.5 trillion in malnutrition per year and in the United States only, by 2025, obesity will cost $760 billion a year. Along with a multitude of issues, the Industrial Food System inhibits equitable access to food in both the US and globally.
There is no better time to switch to organic, non-GMO, regenerative farming and consumption. However, this is not always feasible for everyone. A.I.R.E and Sol Feliz Farms of Taos, New Mexico have found a way to tackle, head on, issues of the industrial food system and have also addressed food access issues for the residents of Taos, with a main focus on the health and development of our youth. They are dedicated to providing education for younger generations in order to ensure a future for us all.
A.I.R.E. (Agriculture Implementation Research & Education) is a non-profit organization, working with Sol Feliz Farm that was formed to address many issues concerning the industrial food system. Reconnecting people with their land, food and surrounding ecology while tackling climate change issues and nature deficit disorder are their main objectives. The founders, Micah Roseberry and Miguel Santistevan, have focused much of their attention on the youth, as well as other age groups, through outreach programs such as presentations, research and demonstrations, media outlets, classes, farm to family food boxes, school gardens, and farmer support programs.
Significant focus is given attention to PreK through high school with another program through A.I.R.E, Growing Community Now. They provide education on sustainable farming, agriculture, diet and habits through a variety of different outlets including: The Parr Field/Secret Garden, Cooking Classes, the La Cosecha Festival, Farm Trips/Gardening and food boxes to families in need. Kids of all ages get to experience first hand what it means to make wise choices and how to do so. They are involved with planting and harvesting their own seeds and are taught how to process and consume the fruits of their labor. Families benefit as well from the food being grown within schools and surrounding gardens through the farm to table food boxes, furthering the awareness of healthy food but also granting access to those that have difficulty acquiring clean, healthy food.
Robert Martinez, a member of Rios Del Norte Coop, and founder of Martinez Family Ranch has been involved in improving food access in Taos and surrounding areas. They have been providing local beef to the school lunch program since 2014 and are an integral part of the success of the program. Rios del Norte Farm & Ranch Coop partnered with Growing Community Now and A.I.R.E. to provide food for schools and be involved in ranch to family programs They are now currently working on a zone implementation grant to provide food for 2,500 students.
There are many benefits that come along with choosing to participate in farm to school programs. Such benefits include – but are not limited to – economic development, public health and education, the environment, equity, and community engagement.
By following in the footsteps of A.I.R.E and Sol Feliz Farms our exquisite Land of Enchantment can move forward in ensuring a regenerative landscape and providing equitable access to food for our New Mexico family.
There is a distinct and important difference between a farmer and farmworker. Farmers are in the position of privilege, with a voice for executive decisions. Farmworkers, though, work hard in the varying weather conditions, don’t get healthcare or childcare, and women are especially vulnerable to sexual harassment. That being said, odds are, when you visit your produce section at the grocery store, migrant labor was sourced and exploited to get those food products to you.
Farmers rely on immigrant and migrant labor – who may have fewer job opportunities and are forced to settle for longer hours for less pay. The 2018 ‘Demographic Characteristics of hired farmworkers’ data reported that just 45% of farm laborers are born in the United States. To contrast, 84% of farm managers and supervisors are U.S. citizens. At the Rancho Laguna farm in Santa Maria, CA – which supplies berries that are ultimately sold under the Driscoll’s brand – farmworkers held a strike in May 2020 for “a long-term salary increase of $0.25 per box of strawberries picked, safe conditions, and respect without retaliation,” according to the Santa Maria Sun.
However, many migrant farmworkers fear retaliation for speaking out against negligent working conditions. The fears of losing their coveted jobs in the U.S., threats of deportation, or an entire family at the farm facing the repercussions are a few reasons why farmworkers are especially vulnerable in their work environments.
The United States has a long history of relying on migrant farmworker labor to fulfill the growing produce demand here North of the U.S.-Mexico border. The Bracero Program, initiated during World War ll, was a series of agreements between Mexico and the United States to bring Mexican guest workers to work on “short-term, primarily agricultural labor contracts,” to mitigate wartime production shortages. “Mexican nationals, desperate for work, were willing to take arduous jobs at wages scorned by most Americans.”
The Bracero Program was the foundation of labor market relationships between the United States and Mexico and, likely, contributed to the influx of migration from Mexico. Though the Bracero Program officially ended in 1964, relying on Mexican nationals for foreign farm labor didn’t stop there.
The U.S. government offers an H-2A Visa for employers to bring in non-immigrant foreign workers to the states for temporary agricultural labor, in the event of a shortage of domestic workers, according to the Department of Labor, provided that “there are not sufficient workers who are able, willing and qualified, and who will be available at the time and place needed.”
The H-2A Visa, though, doesn’t address the power imbalance created and sustained by business authority figures towards vulnerable, poor, migrant workers. Sexual violence against female farmworkers has been rampant since the inception of time. This power dynamic can be seen through the ‘Demographic characteristics of hired farmworkers and all wage and salary workers, 2018’ data studied and published by the Economic Research Service of the USDA. Of farm laborers, only 25% were female. And of the farm managers, inspectors and supervisors, 87% were male.
A 2010 research paper ‘Examining the Sexual Harassment Experiences of Mexican Immigrant Farmworking Women’, echoed these USDA data, saying “Unlike gender-segregated worksites of Mexico, women farmworkers in the United States labor alongside men, facilitating harassment from coworkers and supervisors.” For women in the fields, they often experience the effects of being female in a male-dominated industry, living in poverty, and being an immigrant. “Farm-laboring women’s distance from power places them in subordinate economic and racial positions, creating the circumstances facilitating sexual harassment.” This short quote offers perspective and illustrates the overarching relationship between gender and power.
At the 2000 UN Meeting on Gender and racial discrimination, Crenshaw said “In this metaphor, race, gender, class and other forms of discrimination are the roads that structure social, economic or political terrain. It is through these thoroughfares that dynamics of disempowerment travel.”
“Supervisory positions are commonly held by men (92%),” which is a serious risk factor when considering the vulnerabilities of female farmworkers: low-wage, low-prestige jobs, and their jobs are contingent on the men who supervise, organize and critique them. 80% of female farmworkers claimed to have experienced some form of sexual violence on the job.
Female farmworkers have responded to sexual harassment on the fields by disguising their gender identity by covering their faces with a bandanna – to mask feminine features. The issues of race, gender and immigration status are all inextricably interwoven and compound to form layers of inequality which heighten the risk of sexual violence.
Sexual violence against female farmworkers is seldom talked about because it’s not a “salacious” topic in the same way it might be in Hollywood, political or corporate environments. These are migrant women who are at their most vulnerable: working labor jobs, for pennies, in which their ability to make money and, likely, continue to shelter their immigration status to the “outside” is contingent on those men in power positions.
For centuries, women have been a critical part of agriculture and fueling the world through food. From the incredible im/migrant women who continue to demonstrate stewardship to communities and the environment, resilience and fierceness, to Dolores Huerta, community organizer and life-long advocate for farmworkers’ rights, the women of the world prevail and lead us through it all. As women continue to serve as the cornerstone of America’s agriculture heritage, and as we all recognize and empower them, it’ll be clear that they do deserve all the gratitude, love and support that they so graciously afford us.
Did you know that roughly 75% of the foods in your grocery store contain genetically modified organisms? Some of the most common genetically engineered ingredients can be found in almost all nonorganic/non-GMO marked, packaged foods and even in many of the foods in restaurants, making it nearly inescapable.
What is a GMO Anyway?
The first GMO created was a tomato in 1994. It became available for sale once it was approved and evaluated by federal agencies. A genetically modified crop is an organism whose genetic makeup has been modified by humans, in a laboratory with the use of genetic engineering, meaning their DNA is altered in a way that does not occur naturally. The image to the right shows the nine approved GM crops in the United States.
GMO seeds are not created by selective breeding, open-pollination, or hybridization, where humans have always been able to breed crops that had the genetic ability to breed, like two varieties of apples. However, unlike selective seeding, the technology behind GMOs allows us to break rules and alter the structural DNA of species that would never be able to breed in nature, like shrimp and squash.
Herbicide-tolerant crops allow farmers to use certain chemicals that will kill the weeds without killing their crops. Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world. The most popular type of herbicide-tolerant crops is “Roundup Ready” crops, in which glyphosate is the active ingredient, and is used many times throughout the season. This image shows just how intrusive this herbicide is on miles and miles of cropland.
As we know, pollen travels freely on the wind and via pollinators, and new resistance to Roundup Ready has begun to appear in unintentional species. The pollen drift and over-spraying of the herbicide have unfortunately created a new problem, leaving farmers to ask how do we get rid of these new “superweeds”? The answer: stronger and more toxic herbicides. One of the more common strong herbicides includes a product called “Agent Orange” that contains a highly toxic chemical called dioxin. This ingredient has had immediate and long-term effects that include darkening of the skin, liver problems, and chronic acne-like disease; chloracne. Dioxin has also been linked to type 2 diabetes, immune system dysfunction, heart disease, muscular dysfunction, and nerve disorders. Dioxin is in some ways even more toxic to developing fetuses, linking to miscarriages and birth defects.
The increased use of glyphosate has also been associated with affecting productive soil health. The active ingredients in Roundup kill the good qualities in soil that crops need to fight disease, utilize minerals and vitamins, and instead promote the growth of harmful pathogens. This affects not only the nutrition in the food we eat but the long-term well-being of their ecosystems.
The use of GMOs and their pesticides have had major implications on their biodiversity and overall natural balance. As states above, many toxins are released into the soil through the plants resulting in fewer bacteria in the soil. However, these bacteria are integral to the health of plants to grow on their own without the use of chemically ridden fertilizers. Once the crops have been harvested their residue is left in the soil and nutrients are not returned. Meaning that the soil becomes dry and will have essentially no nutrients. This forces a continuous cycle of dependence on GMO seeds, pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides to grow one single crop. And yet, it still does not stop there. Besides the soil issues, the irrigation system used to water the crops naturally carries all of these problems into its water source and through the air. This means that GMO DNA could end up in the compost, animal feed, byproduct, different bacteria, soil, and any other living organisms.
The focus of GMOs also means fewer weeds which therefore means less nectar. One example of this is the destruction of much of the monarch butterfly habitat in the U.S. due to the expansions of herbicide-tolerant corn and soy, layered with other herbicides. Monarch populations have declined by more than 90% in under 20 years and has lost more than 165 million acres of habitat due to the use of the ingredient glyphosate in herbicides. Glyphosate kills milkweed, which is the monarch caterpillar’s only food. The graph to the left shows just how much the use of herbicides has increased over the years and unfortunately gives context to why the monarch butterfly’s habitat has been under such extensive threats.
Herbicide-tolerant crop systems encourage the use of herbicides, reducing the overall plant diversity and limitations on habitat food sources for other vital organisms. And once it is introduced to its agricultural environment, it is sensible to assume that it will ultimately become part of a larger ecosystem. This means that the problem of environmental damage created by GMOs is much larger than the potential harm to our health.
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine called for an immediate suspension in 2009 on GM foods, stating that “GM foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health.”
So, what can you do?
1. Many Americans are unaware of what products in the grocery store include GM ingredients. So, firstly we must demand the labeling of any foods that contain GMOs so that every consumer can make their own conscious choice.
2. Because it is so hard to avoid GMOs at the grocery store, the Institute for Responsible Technology created a “Non-GMO Shopping Guide” that you can print and share with your friends and family to use at the store.
3. While all of these options are effective, the best thing you can do is to buy 100% certified organic products because these do not allow GM ingredients. You can also buy from local farmers who you trust not to use GMOs or purchase products that do not include the nine crops listed above.
New Mexico is not well known for rich soil and an abundance of water. But there are two operations in Albuquerque that are working to create healthy soil through compost, by adding nitrogen, water and carbon into the ground. Little Green Bucket and Soilutions are the first of their kind here in Albuquerque, and together they are working to keep food out of landfills and reduce emissions from decomposing organic matter.
Brad Weikel, founder of Little Green Bucket, is a pioneer of diverting food waste from landfills in Albuquerque. As he was developing his business plan in 2018, Weikel realized that Albuquerque was one of only a few comparably-sized cities in the U.S. that had no city-wide composting service. He decided to take on that challenge and has since created a residential pickup and drop off compost service for Albuquerque. Thanks to his work, over 500 Albuquerque homes are able to keep their food waste out of the landfill and save themselves the hassle of trying to compost at home. This service prevents the production of greenhouse gases that contribute to warming global climates. In addition to gathering their food waste, customers are entitled to a share of the compost that this waste creates twice a year. In fact, it is already compost delivery season for members! Many homes in Albuquerque are now seeing their food come full circle as brand-new fertilizer for home gardens and flower beds.
Little Green Bucket boasts one of the most inclusive lists of acceptable materials for residential composting in the nation. It may be surprising, but many small companies in other cities are hesitant to accept meat and dairy, or bioplastics and other materials advertised with compostable packaging. What makes Little Green Bucket unique is their partnership with the industrial compost facility Soilutions. Because of their inclusivity in the materials they are able to process, Little Green Bucket is able to accept many more items than the average compost service. Weikel highlighted some of the ways that Soilutions is different, including their year long process. This allows for any items that take a longer than average time to break down to have ample time for decomposition. He also stated that industry standard is to create 10-foot piles, but Soilutions makes 30-foot piles. This conserves water and allows for the temperature to rise quickly to the desired 130 degrees, or higher.
I also spoke to Ben Dickerson, Business Development Manager of Soilutions, and he described the problem of composting in Albuquerque. Right now, ABCWUA transports municipal biosolids from the water treatment plant to their Soil Amendment Facility. The biosolids are put through a two-week anaerobic composting cycle, followed by a three-month curing period. This short window of composting time is the reason they do not accept meat, dairy or bones. Proteins in these items take much longer to break down and are often best put into an aerobic process like Soilutions. For now, there is no city-funded composting, and what the Water Utility does is minimal. Soilutions has bridged that gap with the community and serves many businesses like La Montanita Co-op and the Downtown Growers’ Market, while Little Green Bucket handles the residential needs. Together they have diverted over 21,000 tons of food waste to date and have introduced it into a circular cycle of reuse.
The inclusivity of Little Green Bucket’s collected items is due to the practices of Soilutions and their ability to take just about any organic material. This includes items backyard composters often omit due to smell, like meat and dairy. These things are also common sources of temptation for varmints like racoons and skunks, so many Albuquerque homes are able to keep the pests away and the food out of the landfills thanks to Soilutions and Little Green Bucket. Organic fabric is another item often forgotten about. But Soilutions gladly accepts cotton, wool and other clothing materials as long as they are not mixed with polyester or other synthetics. Basically, if it was once alive, Soilutions welcomes it. It is a privilege to have such an open and inclusive variety of materials diverted from landfills.
Composting is an important step to take, especially now with the threat of climate change and rising global temperatures. There are a multitude of other reasons, though. Home composting is often a viable option. But for the apartment dweller, the one who doesn’t want wildlife in their yard, or the college student living at home whose parents won’t let them (yours truly), a residential service like Little Green Bucket is crucial to keep food waste from creating these issues. Weekly and biweekly members are able to collect food at home and have it picked up either once a week or once every other week. Drop off members collect their food waste and bring it to drop off sites for Little Green Bucket. Not only is this an important step for diverting food from the landfill, it supports a grassroots local business, and makes it possible for even more people to get involved. Whether you decide to compost on your own or utilize a service like this one, any food saved from the landfills is food that is able to become a part of a circular chain of utility, instead of the linear one that landfills illustrate.
Recently, amid the COVID 19 pandemic, some people have found themselves with more free time than they have had before. Mass shutdowns, remote learning, and working from home have resulted in people spending much more time at home. In response to being at home so much, people have been picking up new hobbies to keep themselves occupied; if there ever was a time to start a new hobby, this last year was the perfect time to do so. One of these hobbies I’ve noticed within my own neighborhood has been the creation and maintenance of small-scale and personal gardens.
Personally, I have been gardening with my family for years, and love to do it, so it’s been really nice to see a few gardens pop up in the yards of my neighbors. “Whether they’re motivated by a need for self-sufficiency, a desire to stay out of grocery stores or a loss of confidence in the food-supply chain, first-time gardeners are sprouting across the region.” It is likely that you have noticed this as well, so what is all the hype about?
With the amount of time people have been spending isolated from friends and family, it is important to focus free time on productive and rewarding practices. Small scale gardening (community or personal) has many far-reaching benefits, including a healthier growing/production process, an opportunity to create a social space while maintaining a socially distant manner, and the overall sustainability of growing your own food.
Most people have little idea what exactly what went into the production of their food. The problem with buying produce from a grocery store is that commercial or industrial farming operations often use herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, etc. and other synthetic processes, the types and quantities of which are mostly unknown to the customer. These processes not only endanger the consumer, but also the farmers, grocery store workers, and the environment. Even with evaluation from federal agencies, “many EPA-designated tolerance levels may not fully account for a range of health risks, such as hormone (or, endocrine) disruption,” and additionally, “pesticides that are sprayed on crops leave a residue on the dead plant material that settles into the soil and can run off into waterways or leach into groundwater.” Many of the detrimental effects of commercial and industrial farming are unknown or can go unregulated for years. A good way to avoid this uncertainty is to use regenerative practices in your own garden.
There are physical health benefits to planting, growing, and caring for your own garden. According to a study conducted by the Center for Disease Control, “moderate-intensity level activity for 2.5 hours each week can reduce the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, depression, colon cancer and premature death.” Gardening fits this recommendation as a moderate-intensity exercise that can assist in achieving this 2.5-hour weekly goal, while getting some fresh air and sunlight.
There are also mental health benefits from long-term planning and goal setting that come with planting your own garden. Interaction with “nature has been shown to be restorative to our minds, cognitively and emotionally,” by improving our focus and attention, reducing mental fatigue, lowering stress, reducing the risk of dementia, and much more. These mental health benefits can assist anyone, especially those with mental disabilities that affect one’s attention and mood, such as ADD, ADHD, PTSD, and more. “A recent survey by Mintel for the charity Thrive, which enables social and therapeutic horticultures, showed that among people with disabilities, a quarter listed gardening as a hobby. Two-thirds of the respondents owned a garden and 87% had access to a garden that they thought was beneficial to their health.” It is important, especially nowadays, that we find a group of people we share common values with and connect with them in beneficial ways.
COVID 19 has not only shown us the importance of finding a productive hobby, but also the importance of staying connected with our friends and family and within our communities while maintaining a socially distanced manner; gardening is great way to do both. It is an activity that can capture the attention and imagination of all; young and old, is an activity that allows us to connect with people we may not have otherwise. Additionally, sharing seeds, crops, and techniques creates an open dialogue and an educational opportunity, especially generational knowledge, for all involved. Small scale gardening creates a safe space for social interaction while remaining safely distanced from one another in the amidst of the pandemic.
For more information on starting a small-scale garden in Albuquerque, including how and when to prep the soil, recommended plants and flowers, varying techniques (in-ground or raised beds) pest management, and other tips and tricks, check out this gardening guide.
The word local is defined by Merriam Webster as “characterized by or relating to position in space.” So how can local be defined in terms of food? The USDA defines local food as “the direct or intermediated marketing of food to consumers that is produced and distributed in a limited geographic area.” In addition to this definition, there is legalese behind the term local. In 2008, the Farm Act stated that a product could be marketed as local if it was produced within 400 miles of its point of origin, or within state boundaries.
In the last 30 years, food miles, or the distance food is transported from production to consumption, has become a more prominent term and is one component to determine the environmental impact of food. Generally, local food has fewer food miles than conventional food and can be considered more environmentally friendly. However, there is not an agreed upon distance when discussing food miles in relation to local food.
Local food can also be discussed in terms of farming and fresh produce, as well as the broader local foodshed which includes grocery stores, restaurants, farms, farmers’ markets, and more. As a result, the definition of local food varies and can be different depending on the context. Specific to the restaurant industry, local restaurants, also termed independent restaurants, “serve a specific city – or even a specific area or neighborhood within a city – and is definitely not part of a chain of corporate restaurants.” This definition is synonymous with that of local food based on the exclusivity of the geographic region.
Defining local food can also be dependent on a person’s personal experience. I personally think of local food in three main ways; the restaurant or business is located exclusively in one place, the owners are locals themselves, either born, raised, or call the place home, and/or the materials are “locally sourced” or grown within the state. However, to truly comprehend what local means, and specifically within the local foodshed, I conducted an interview with a local food business to understand their perspective. I decided on a restaurant that I recently discovered and love called Tino’s Tacos, which is located in the newly opened 505 Central Food Hall in downtown Albuquerque.
Tino’s Tacos is a family-owned, authentic Mexican restaurant owned by Tino alongside his daughter Brianna. Their business first started a few year ago with the pair selling a variety of fresh produce at the Downtown Growers’ Market. Brianna said that they noticed the regular burrito guy at the market had stopped coming so they saw an opportunity to make and sell burritos instead of produce. They eventually saved enough money to buy a food truck and continued their presence at farmers’ markets across Albuquerque, as well as catering for various events. Not too long after, the 505 Central Food Hall owner reached out and asked them to rent a space in the newly renovated building based on their success at the growers’ market. They decided to take this opportunity, sell their food truck, and start working to get their new space ready.
When asked what the word “local” means to him, Tino says it is “community within Albuquerque and Bernalillo County.” As a New Mexican resident, he considers himself a local as well as his business because he started this business here in Albuquerque, which he also considers an aspect of being a local business. As mentioned, part of being local may also mean using locally sourced products; Tino says, “we try to use as much as possible, all the tortillas, a lot of the beef, whatever we can get from New Mexico, of course.” Although there is not a single producer they buy from consistently, they always try to support local New Mexico producers.
Tino’s Tacos is a great example of a local food business in Albuquerque; it is owned and operated by people in the community, the location is exclusive to Albuquerque, and locally sourced products are used in creation. The word “local” can have a lot of different meanings and is subject to change depending on its context. It is also evident that local food and local business do not have to be synonymous in their meaning, as Tino’s Tacos is a local business in the context of Albuquerque but may or may not meet the requirements of “local” for distance in their food supply chain.
In addition to 505 Central Food Hall, there are several other local food businesses and food halls in Albuquerque that value local business and creation. Some great options include Sawmill Market, Green Jeans Farmery, and Tin Can Alley. Also be sure to check out Edible NM’s local food guide for great local food options, as well as breweries and farms, in the state of New Mexico.
1. Join a CSA
2. Support your community's farmers' markets
3. Become a member of the nearest co-op grocery store
4. Start an edible [home, community or school] garden
5. Volunteer your labor at a local farm or ranch
Find local groceries, growers’ markets, farms, co-ops, and food pantries