The importance of local and regional food systems has never been more apparent than in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic severely disrupted food supply chains throughout the globe. Moreover, COVID also laid bare the many vulnerabilities and inequities in our food systems – both worldwide as well as in the state of New Mexico. At the same time, many food and agriculture actors in New Mexico find themselves at a place of collective and strategic alignment, an important stage in terms of these partners’ individual and collective evolution.
For these reasons, the inaugural funding provided in 2020 for the USDA Regional Food System Partnerships (RFSP) program could not have come at a more opportune time, as this initiative supports planning and development of more resilient local or regional food systems. Nationwide, awards totaling $2.5 million were made to 13 Planning & Design projects, and awards totaling $6.8 million were made to 10 Implementation & Expansion projects.
The New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association (NMFMA)’s “Scaling Up New Mexico’s Value Chain Coordination (VCC) Network” proposal was funded as an Implementation & Expansion project. Over the next three years, the NMFMA will strengthen and build upon successful public and private collaborations in order to develop the long-term economic viability of the state’s agricultural producers, while providing increased consumer access to healthy, local food – especially for lower-income populations. The project is building upon collaborations that have been in development over the past decade (and longer in some cases) among a wide variety of stakeholders – including farmers, food hubs, state government agency buyers, distributors, and more – across the food value chain. By project’s end, the NM VCC Network will benefit from newly developed shared resources, enhanced relationships, and improved data and management systems for institutional and other wholesale procurement, all of which will increase local market opportunities for producers.
The USDA RFSP grant also benefits from contributions from local philanthropic partners, as the forthcoming work will build upon and further scale VCC efforts that have been co-funded by philanthropy and federal sources over the past several years. This includes previous funding by USDA and Thornburg Foundation to establish the first Value Chain position in the state – at La Montañita Food Co-op as well as funding a Value Chain Coordinator at the NMFMA through Thornburg and a federally-funded Specialty Crop Block Grant being administered by the NM Department of Agriculture. For the RFSP, the $1 million award required a 25% cash match that simply would not have been possible without multi-year VCC funding currently being provided by the Thornburg Foundation.