San Juan College Harvest Food Hub receives $200k grant from state
Endowment interest will allow college to feed thousands of students a year
- The market has been open at its current location at 310 W. Animas St. just south of downtown Farmington for a little more than a year.
- It has several projects and endeavors in the works.
- For more information, visit sanjuancollege.edu/harvestfoodhub or call 505-566-3119.
FARMINGTON — Even though it is best known as a retail outlet where shoppers can purchase locally produced food, the Harvest Food Hub & Kitchen operated by San Juan College is poised to take on a much bigger role in San Juan County's local food movement over the next several months.
That's according to Lorenzo Reyes, San Juan College's vice president of workforce, economic and resource development. Reyes said when the concept of the market was being discussed, it was envisioned as an institution that would address many issues within the local food movement and connect local producers with consumers. That led to the adoption of its name, with the word hub serving as an indication of how it would be designed to facilitate the quick movement of those goods to purchasers committed to supporting those local producers.
But the vision for the facility's future has grown even more grandiose of late, Reyes said, explaining that it has gone from being a middleman, "Amazon-type" entity to an institution that now is focused on promoting entrepreneurship.
"That goes beyond what you would normally see from a community college," he said. "This is how we involve other key stakeholders."
The market has been open at its current location at 310 W. Animas St. just south of downtown Farmington for a little more than a year, but it already has made an impact. The market recently received a $200,000 award from the Higher Education Endowment Fund of the New Mexico Higher Education Department to connect San Juan College students to fresh and healthy food from local farms.
Under the terms of the award, the San Juan College foundation committed to matching that figure, bringing the total amount to $400,000.
The award from the state takes the form of an endowment, so the college only will be able to spend the interest generated from that money each year. Reyes estimated that would run $25,000 to $30,000 annually, and Jacqueline Montoya, the Harvest Food Hub kitchen manager, said that would allow the facility to serve at least 1,500 students a year.
Starting next year, Reyes said, students at the college will be encouraged to visit the Student Achievement Center, where they will be given vouchers funded by the interest money that they can redeem for prepared food boxes from the market.
Reyes said he was confident there would be strong demand for the vouchers among the college's students, including those who have moved into the new on-campus student housing facility, the Nizhoni Sunrise Suites.
Other fish to fry
The Harvest Food Hub has other projects and endeavors in the works or already underway. Montoya said the facility has greatly increased its sales of locally grown produce and meat to other entities, including school districts, senior centers and other institutions across the state.
Reyes said that is a big deal in San Juan County, where 92% of items sold locally are produced outside the county.
Montoya said the New Mexico Grown program operated by the state recently awarded nearly $200,000 in funds to six San Juan County school districts and senior centers to purchase locally grown produce. She said that resulted in her facility doing business with every school district in the county, along with senior centers in Bloomfield, Blanco and Upper Fruitland.
"My son came home from school and was telling me he ate some good cantaloupe," Montoya said with a smile. "I said, 'I know where that cantaloupe came from.'"
Additionally, the Harvest Food Hub has received two grants totaling nearly $50,000 to construct and grow its planned Harvest Garden on approximately 1,000 square feet on the east side of the building. Plans call for the fenced-in garden to have a greenhouse, raised planters, a pergola, and areas paved with concrete or covered in mulch.
Montoya said the garden will grow any vegetable or fruit that the Harvest Food Hub staff can use to teach community members or restaurants how to use. The garden also will be employed as a classroom where local residents will be taught agriculture concepts and farm-to-table cooking.
Finally, the Harvest Food Hub has received unofficial approval for a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant that will cover the considerable costs of building out and equipping its long-planned commercial kitchen in a warehouse space on the building's west side.
Montoya said that work is likely to take six to nine months, but the opening of the facility can't come a day too soon.
"I have calls weekly from people looking for a commercial kitchen," she said, explaining that she believes the facility will have no shortage of users.
The kitchen will be available for rent by entrepreneurs who cannot afford to put together their own facility, as well as social service organizations or sports teams creating products to sell during fundraisers.
The commercial kitchen is considered an integral part of the Harvest Food Hub's mission, and Montoya said that aside from balancing the scheduling demands of so many likely users, she sees no down side to its addition.
"It's exciting," she said.
For more information, visit sanjuancollege.edu/harvestfoodhub or call 505-566-3119.
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.