A team of experts will help Farmington develop a plan

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FARMINGTON — Community agencies and the city of Farmington are looking for ways to increase the market for local food while revitalizing downtown.

Farmington was chosen by the Local Foods, Local Places program, which is spearheaded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Downtown Albuquerque Main Street Initiative used that program in 2017 for an economic revitalization project. This year another New Mexico city, Silver City, and Phoenix, Arizona, round out the Southwest region's participants.

“America’s farmers and ranchers are some of the nation’s first environmentalists,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in a press release. “We look forward to helping our community partners develop local food enterprises that support local farmers, improve public health, protect the environment, and grow local economies.”

Representatives from New Mexico State University San Juan County Extension Office, the City of Farmington, San Juan County Partnership, Four Corners Economic Development, the San Juan College Enterprise Center and San Juan Soil and Water Conservation District formed a steering committee to apply for the program.

Public participation sought

These entities will collaborate to identify ways to expand local food production, improve food access and revitalize downtown Farmington.

The public is invited to provide input during a meeting from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. June 12 at the Bonnie Dallas Senior Center in Farmington. People should register for the free meeting at aces.nmsu.edu/lflpfnm. Following the initial community meeting, there will be a focus groups meeting from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. June 13 at the Bonnie Dallas Senior Center annex, which is across the street from the main building.

The program will provide Farmington with a team of experts who will help identify local assets and opportunities to support food enterprises. The team will also set goals for Farmington and develop an implementation plan. It will also help identify resources from federal agencies to support the implementation plan.

“I think a lot of our farmers that are growing fresh produce are still working full-time jobs,” said Bonnie Hopkins, an agriculture extension agent for NMSU.

She said the local partners are hoping to make it easier for farmers to produce food for a living.

“We’ve found there’s a really big gap or hurdle between where they are in terms of production and where they could be if the market was there to support them,” Hopkins said.

While there is no money attached to participating in the program, Hopkins said the team of experts is familiar with funding sources that could help the community achieve its goals.

The Downtown Albuquerque Main Street Initiative used the program in 2017 to create a plan to turn a vacant building in downtown into a community kitchen. The building will also serve as a local food hub and provide vocational opportunities for farmers and people interested in food-related businesses. Albuquerque hopes it will improve nutrition and food access for residents and help attract investment in the struggling part of downtown.

Silver City, Phoenix were also selected this year

More than 75 applications were received this year, according to the EPA press release. Farmington is one of 16 communities selected to participate.

Silver City is hoping to identify ways to reduce food waste in its downtown area and create more garden spaces.

Phoenix, Arizona, applied for the program to develop a plan to improve access to healthy food in the South Central Light Rail Corridor.

The program also works with Native American tribes. Delaware Nation will use the program to help establish a permanent farmers market and develop trails and a community garden in Anadarko, Oklahoma.

Communities across the country were selected to participate.

The city of Hopewell, Virginia, hopes to use the program to develop a kitchen incubator in the downtown. This incubator is based on the same concept as the Aztec HUB, or business incubator. Hopewell's vision for the building is that it will help entrepreneurs start new food-related businesses that can locate in vacant buildings in the downtown.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

 

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