Local food summit returns to San Juan County in virtual, live formats

'Local Food is for Everyone!' is theme of event

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • The summit takes place Tuesday, July 13 through Friday, July 16.
  • The summit is free and open to everyone.
  • The summit concludes at 5 p.m. July 16 with a local food fair at the new Harvest Food Hub.

FARMINGTON — A cook-off, tours of local farms, a local food fair and a variety of virtual workshops are planned as the Northwest New Mexico Local Food Summit returns to San Juan County next week.

The summit takes place Tuesday, July 13 through Friday, July 16 and features a theme of "Local Food is for Everyone!" The event is designed to promote local food production and consumption, guiding participants through the challenges and opportunities of developing a local food system.

The summit is free and open to everyone.

Bonnie Hopkins, county program director for New Mexico State University's San Juan County Extension Office, said the summit attracted approximately 100 participants last summer when it was held virtually in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said she hopes to see that many people taking part this year, and she believes the mix of virtual and live offerings will allow people to feel comfortable in either format.

Hopkins said the pandemic had both positive and negative effects on the local food movement. One of the pluses was the fact that San Juan College's Harvest Food Hub – an entity that allows customers to place online orders and pick up a box each week filled with locally grown food at curbside – proved very popular.

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Heath VanRiper prepares food during an "Iron Chef" challenge outside the Farmington Civic Center during the 2019 Northwest New Mexico Local Food Summit. The event returns in a virtual and live format July 13-16.

It also may have opened the eyes of a lot of folks to the importance of having a well-functioning local food production and delivery system when they went to the grocery store and saw a lot of empty shelves, Hopkins said.

"People really made a connection with what we're trying to do," she said. "There was a lot of buy-in. … It was like a light bulb going on in people's heads. What we're doing is important work."

The conference kicks off at 11 a.m. July 13 with a virtual workshop on "Connecting the Legacy of Ag to the Next Generation of Farmers." The workshops continue at 11 am. July 14 with "The Community Role in Creating an Equitable Food System" and at 11 a.m. July 15 with "Empowering Community Development through our Local Food System."

All three workshops will be held in a Zoom meeting format. Participants can join the meetings by following the link https://nmsu.zoom.us/j/94126551668. The meeting ID is 941 2655 1668.

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Several in-person events are planned, as well. A full day of farm tours is on tap from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on July 16. Participants will begin the day by visiting the Navajo Ethno-Agriculture Educational Farm, a traditional Navajo educational farm, before moving on to Kerby Orchard, the largest commercial orchard in San Juan County. The third stop will be at the GCI farm, a you-pick sweet corn farm where participants also will have the chance to see cutting-edge greenhouse production of microgreens and hemp-growing processes.

The tour continues with a stop at Lavender on the San Juan River, where participants will have the chance to explore the fields and observe oil-extraction processes and value-added production methods. The tour will conclude with a stop at Wines of the San Juan in Blanco with a visit to the vineyards and observation of the wine-making process.

There is a $40 charge to take part in the farm tour. That price includes lunch and snacks.

One of the summit's more popular events will take place at 5 p.m. July 15 in Orchard Plaza in downtown Farmington during the weekly Makers Market. A local food cook-off featuring several chefs will take place, and summit participants can enter a drawing to serve as a judge for the event.

The summit concludes at 5 p.m. July 16 with a local food fair at the new Harvest Food Hub at 310 W. Animas St. That event will be highlighted by a grand opening celebration for the facility at 5:30 p.m.

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Hopkins said the growth of farmers markets throughout San Juan County is a sign of how the local food movement is spreading throughout the country. Those markets now exist throughout the summer and early fall in Farmington, Shiprock, Aztec, Bloomfield and Kirtland, providing residents throughout the county with access to fresh, locally grown food.

Hopkins believes a big part of their popularity is the feeling of community they helped promote during the pandemic, when nearly all other large gatherings were prohibited.

"I think that was the best part of the (Farmington Growers Market)," she said. "It was the only place you could go and have that sense of community in a safe space."

Hopkins said that was especially true among recent retirees.

"Even though there weren't the hugs and handshakes and long conversations you normally see, there was still that sense of community that's so heartwarming to me and our vendors," she said.

Hopkins said the Northwest New Mexico Growers Alliance — the umbrella organization that coordinates the farmers markets and local food movement — has accomplished most of its long-term goals in just a few years. With much of that infrastructure in place, she said the priority now is to continue to promote local buy-in and make sure consumers are supporting the local food movement financially.

"We encourage the community to get involved," she said.

For more information about the summit and to register for the farm tour, visit buyfreshbuylocalnwnm.org.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily.times. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.