Industry partners with Agriculture Department to provide pandemic help
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, New Mexico’s food industry has supplied tons of food to Indian communities across the state and is gearing up to provide more wherever needed.
Participants include private food producers, the Departments of Agriculture, Indian Affairs, Aging & Long-Term Services, Human Services and Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the National Guard, New Mexico State University, the Southwest Border Food Protection and Emergency Preparedness Center at New Mexico State University, the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association, the New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau and others.
The project began at the Lujan Grisham administration’s Emergency Operations Center, where many agencies are coordinating efforts to assist New Mexicans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
After learning of a need on the Navajo Nation, Marshal Wilson, assistant director of the Agriculture Department’s Agricultural Production Services Division, called Mesilla Valley Produce, which grows, packs and ships produce. Mesilla Valley Produce’s president, TJ Runyan, agreed at once to help.
“By the next morning, his truck was in Albuquerque, and food was being unloaded,” Wilson said.
Runyan said after talking to Wilson, he reached out to growers he thought would have fruit and vegetables in storage. They responded by procuring 80,000 pounds of beans, rice, potatoes, onions, watermelons and apples.
“I was pretty amazed with how quickly it happened, and I was proud of our staff,” Runyan said. “Our team is small, but we were efficient. As a New Mexico company, I’m honored to be able to pitch in and help.”
The New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau also helped. It connected the Emergency Operations Center with J&D Produce, based in Edinburg, Texas, which donated a truckload of onions, and with Colorado Farm Bureau member James Henderson, who provided potatoes.
The National Guard unloaded the food at its armory in Rio Rancho, then distributed it to five staging points on the Navajo Nation over Easter weekend.
Meanwhile, Department of Agriculture workers (who are also employees of New Mexico State University), as well as employees from the Departments of Human Services and Homeland Security and Emergency Management, were coordinating with food supplier/distributor Sysco New Mexico to procure food boxes for the San Felipe and Zia Pueblos.
“As many of you know our tribal communities are also some of our most vulnerable communities, through partnerships like these we can continue to ensure deliveries of food, water and other essential supplies to our tribal citizens throughout the state,” said Indian Affairs Department Secretary Lynn Trujillo. “Thank you to all who contributed to getting this food out to our tribal communities.”
In an ongoing effort during the pandemic, the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association is coordinating donations, purchases from small- to medium-size growers, and deliveries.
“We’re trying to not only assist with securing shelf-stable items, but to provide access to fresh produce as well,” said Michael Venticinque, the association’s value chain coordinator, who is leading those efforts.
Also, for the month of April thus far, the Aging & Long-Term Services Department delivered 27,608 food boxes to seniors and disabled adults (including 127 from Adult Protective Services).
New Mexico Agriculture Secretary Jeff Witte said these efforts prove New Mexicans and neighboring states can work together to provide food for those in need.
“In times of crisis, it’s amazing how people come together to help,” Witte said. “This is truly a situation in which New Mexicans are feeding New Mexicans. This is also a reminder of how important farmers are and a reminder of how our local agriculture community is able to provide food to New Mexicans.”