Grantee Spotlight: La Semilla
April 15, 2015
La Semilla has been working closely with both the Doña Ana Food Planning & Policy Taskforce and the burgeoning El Paso Equitable Food Policy Group to establish the availability of safe, healthy, and sustainable food at reasonable prices for all residents that fosters a link between food, health, and local economic development.
An early success for La Semilla Food Center and its Mesilla Valley Food and Agriculture Policy Initiative was a 2012 resolution passed by the Las Cruces City Council that demonstrated the City’s support for school garden programs.
From there, it’s been one victory after another in La Semilla’s efforts to formalize a Doña Ana County-based food policy, and to advance the education and planning of our regional food systems.
The Paso del Norte Health Foundation, through its Healthy Eating Active Living Initiative, has been a steady partner along the way. The Health Foundation provided funding for La Semilla to launch the Mesilla Valley Food Policy Initiative and to train teachers through professional development workshops on topics like environmental health.
“La Semilla has worked closely with the City of Las Cruces and Doña Ana County to advance food policy efforts over the past few years,” said Aaron Sharratt, director of development and administration for La Semilla. A lot of the work, Sharratt said, has been accomplished through the Mesilla Valley Food and Agriculture Policy Initiative.
Some examples of the programs that have been developed during the past three years as a result of La Semilla’s efforts:
• An Edible Education Program that teaches elementary and middle school students in Las Cruces and Gadsden schools, and students at Bowie High School, about cooking, nutrition education, and gardening. • La Semilla Community Farm, where La Semilla engages high school-age youth in similar education. The farm offers even more opportunities for hands-on learning and leadership development, especially as youth help produce food that then benefits low-income families in the region. Food from the farm is also sold at area farmers’ markets. • Farm Fresh program, which worked with Las Cruces Public School food service and area farmers to integrate local produce into classroom tastings and cafeteria menu items at four middle schools during the past school year.
“We have a very heavy youth focus in our work,” Sharratt said. “This is intentional as La Semilla is keen to foster a generational shift from the loss of cooking skills, rise of fast food, detachment from our food sources, and undervaluing of food itself that we have seen in the past few decades.”
Since it started 2010, La Semilla’s mission has been to build a healthy, self-reliant and sustainable food system in the southern New Mexico and El Paso region.
That mission became a good match for the Health Foundation’s HEAL Initiative, which emphasizes proper nutrition and physical activity as fundamentals to a healthy lifestyle and the reduction of chronic disease.
Sharratt believes the region is witnessing a rising tide of interest and change toward access to quality food. Community outreach and engagement has been a big key to the food center’s strategies.
Last October it hosted an Urban Ag visioning event that featured Gary Nabhan, an internationally celebrated nature writer, food and farm activist, and MacArthur Genius. The session drew 90 community participants who provided invaluable feedback for the development of the Urban Ag Policy Plan.
La Semilla also emphasizes access to quality foods for all people, which is why it worked with area farmers’ markets to get EBT machines at the markets so they are able to accept SNAP benefits.
“Being in classrooms, and being with youth on our farm day in and day out, we are seeing habits change,” Sharrat said. “We’re seeing families starting gardens, students giving up hot cheetos and soda, and everyone from students, parents and teachers to our local governments now having a desire to understand where food is coming from.”
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