Before designing projects to strengthen the food supply chain, the ESHIP Rio Grande Council conducted an exploratory study about the storage and transportation capacity across the state to inform the work. They sought detailed information about storage availability, backhaul capacity, transportation variability, and how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the local food supply chain.
The survey was sent to non-profit and for-profit food distributors on September 28th, 2020 and closed on November 6th, 2020. Twenty-five of the 46 recipients completed the survey, reaching an overall response rate of 54% percent.
The report highlights the need for additional storage options, and the potential for backhaul capacity to create greater efficiencies in the transportation network. We invited some council members to discuss the results. Below is a conversation between:
- Erin Ortigoza, Local Director for ESHIP Rio Grande, NM
- Alex Fitzgerald, Economic Development Specialist for Santa Fe County, NM
- David Sundberg, Chair of the Food Policy Council and former Chef
- Eliza Salmon, Senior Manager of Research and Operations for ESHIP Communities at Forward Cities
ESHIP Rio Grande, NM Council members reflect on what must be done to solve this problem of limited storage availability
“I really think that we need some serious public investment in it. We have tremendous growing capacity in the state. But unless the storage in particular keeps up with it, then the food will either go to waste because we don't have a place to keep it and it goes bad too quickly.” -David Sundburg
“Right now, there are efforts going on at work. And that work may be okay. But it's it's certainly not equitable based upon the survey and reading of the report, it appears that there's a concentration of resources, of course, in the more urban areas, and it becomes increasingly cost prohibitive for some of the local growers and entrepreneurs out in the more rural communities to actually access the things they need to to make their business or organizations successful.” - Alex Fitzgerald
THE NEED FOR CROSS-SECTOR PARTNERS TO CREATE EFFICIENCIES IN REGIONAL TRANSPORTATION NETWORKS
“When it comes to understanding things like backhaul and coordinating those initiatives, it is hard for Santa Fe County, me as an economic development specialist, to say I will run with that and try to coordinate across all eight of these counties, right, because I have a narrower scope of what I'm responsible for and what I'm working towards. I would love to see that initiative happen and be a partner in that. But first and foremost, I feel like we need to really nail down some potential partners that are regional on their scope.” - Alex Fitzgerald
“It's a really vast region, we have two and a half million people living in, you know, something the size approximately of the bulk of New England. And so being able to transport from the southwest part of the state, where they grow a huge amount of onions and lettuces seasonally, and things like that, up to the northeast part of the state where it's socked in, in this time of year, and they're not growing a huge amount of food, but still being able to navigate those capacities, and recognize that we have a far greater ability as well as need to keep the food here in the state.” -David Sundberg
THE NEED FOR INFRASTRUCTURE THROUGHOUT A LARGELY RURAL STATE, AND HOW THE SURVEY REVEALS THE NEED FOR ESHIP RIO GRANDE’S CURRENT INITIATIVE, THE VALUE CHAIN FOOD SAFETY PROJECT.
“It is really investigating, you know, on a granular level, who and when, and where, and how much. And also, what are the roadblocks that exist? And how do we overcome those barriers? What kind of investment would it really take and what kind of partnering level? And who's the organizing facility behind it?” - David Sundberg
“The certifications, the [GAP] food safety training programs, pushing that initiative, I think is very valuable, because if we can create demand, and increase consistent markets, and the centralized hubs - Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Las Cruces - if we can create that through our institutions, I think some of the rural farmers, if they come on board, they can start to see the profitability of actually investing, in a sense, in increased backhaul capacity and increased coordination of backhaul capacity so that they can get their foods that consistent market.” - Alex Fitzgerald
The power of research to unveil large scale system issues and opportunities in the food value chain
“Just a huge majority of respondents, like over 90% said, they would be interested in creating a coordinated effort to improve the transportation capacity within New Mexico. That’s resounding. [...] Improving coordination and collaboration and communication, even if it starts with only one system of transportation, opens up an enormous world of interconnectivity across the state, and system. And this isn't just agriculture, it is food in general. And that is overarching: it is a $6 billion dollar industry in this state. That is great jobs, it's better nutrition, it's better health, it's more food security - there are so many things that it can touch, that starts with one thing, which is something that that clearly a lot of people really want to become engaged and involved with, which is the transportation piece. And I think that this is a really good starter for building that network.” - David Sundberg
“I've appreciated some of the information coming out of this survey because we now have validation. You know, I think Erin, you knew of some of these challenges. David, you probably knew of some of these challenges. I don't work on a farm or in a restaurant. So I took your word for those challenges. And then you went out to the people doing the work. And they validated some of these challenges and spoke to it. And they also spoke about the positive asset that they have, which is a willingness to collaborate. And so I think that is a very encouraging note to hear. And I think the survey was helpful, in my opinion, because it provided a sense of greater certainty that, you know, we're on the right track, we're trying to address the right things. So that these people, the growers, entrepreneurs, can get the support that they need. We could go out and develop all sorts of programming - I can think of a lot of wild ideas - but is it actually going to meet the entrepreneurs where they're at? Probably not. But this survey is one of the first steps I feel like to really help us understand what actually needs to be addressed, and what we need to work on. So yeah, I'm excited about it, I think it was a very fun project. And I'm excited to see the work we build off of it.” - Alex Fitzgerald
*Header Image Credit: Thomas Swendson of New Mexico Harvest