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An El Paso food hub and La Mesa, NM mushroom farm offer solutions to food desert issue in the Borderland

At El Pasoans Fighting Hunger, the city’s only food bank, they currently serve 150,000 food insecure people in the city.

The need to improve food equity in a region where many people face limited access to healthy, nutritious food, inspired Patsy Stallworth to open Desert Spoon Food Hub in El Paso eight years ago.

“I had retired from a public relations career in senior lifestyle communities. My daughter said, ‘Mom, I know you’re going to go out and volunteer.’ At that point, we were going out to local organic farms to purchase produce for our family meals. And Adriana’s thought was that we were lucky enough to go purchase organic produce, but did the whole city know? And were the farmers becoming sustainable because people were buying from them? And the answer was no. She said, ‘Let’s buy from these farmers and help them become sustainable, and offer it to the public.’ Hence happened: our Desert Spoon Food Box.”

The organization now has opened a physical store, Spoon Flower Grocery. The store is small but inviting, greeting the customer with displays full of fresh fruits and vegetables, chiles, salsas, frozen food, bread, and more when you walk in the door. Patsy talked about her greatest satisfaction of opening the store.

“The greatest satisfaction of this store is that there is local, organic produce and fruits, healthier option foods in a food desert neighborhood. And more than that is the fact that we’re the lead for Double Up Food Bucks Texas. Double Up Food Bucks is, if you have a SNAP card, and you walk in and you’re gonna pay with food stamps, Double Up Food Bucks offers 50% off on local fresh or frozen organic produce, ANY fresh or frozen.”

Desert Spoon follows these three pillars of food security: availability, access, and utilization. According to Patsy Stallworth, working with local farms is key.

“Well, as we all know, availability of local organic is minimal. And when we started, there was a few farms, small farms, and we knew that if we didn’t help, and help them become sustainable, the availability of that food is not gonna last. They’re gonna have to close down.

One of the farms that supplies Desert Spoon Food Hub with their fresh produce is Full Circle Mushrooms in La Mesa, New Mexico. The farm’s owner is Ximena Zamacona.

“A big advantage of what we do is we do, is we are able to grow all year-round, because we have planned and structured our facility to do that. Because we can grow indoors, we can provide that food security. We are not that reliant on the weather. It, of course, affects us, but we can supply weekly mushrooms. So that’s a huge part of food security.”

Zamacona said more opportunities are being discovered in the mushroom market.

“They are finding more and more things about mushrooms. Overall, they are a powerhouse of nutrients. Also, for people that are interested in a more vegetarian diet or reducing their meat intake, mushrooms are THE perfect ally.”

The efforts by Desert Spoon and the local farmers they work with aim to combat food insecurity in the region, especially underserved communities, according to Emily Wildau, a research and policy analyst for New Mexico Voices for Children.

“But there’s also a huge issue where you can see at a glance that it’s concentrated in communities of color. So in the South, you see that with the Black communities having higher rates of food insecurity; you see Native communities in New Mexico, Hispanic communities along the border, tend to be populations struggling more with food insecurity.”

Emily Wildau, research and policy analyst, New Mexico Voices for Children
Emily Wildau, research and policy analyst, New Mexico Voices for Children

According to Wildau, policy plays a big role in this issue.

“So there’s economic policy that plays a big role in food insecurity as well. New Mexico’s got incredibly high rates of poverty. We are, 18% of our population overall is in poverty, and about one in four kids live in poverty. And that’s tied to a variety of other factors, but ultimately far too many of our families don’t have the financial resources they need to provide basics like food for their children. And this stems from regressive tax policy, low wages, and a lack of access to higher education, which can support higher lifetime earnings and better job prospects.”

Education is a big part of what Patsy Stallworth from Desert Spoon Food Hub stresses in the fight against food insecurity.

“The fact that El Paso has a higher ratio of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure—there definitely is an education problem.

“And we’re working on it now, where we’ll go speak to where the population is, a higher percentage of the people there will have food stamps. And there’s so many other programs under food stamps that they need to know about. THAT is food equity. And it can happen.”

Resources for policy, programs, and education, are the tools advocates say can help food equity become a reality. For KRWG Public Media, I’m Scott Brocato.

Scott Brocato has been an award-winning radio veteran for over 35 years. He has lived and worked in Las Cruces since 2016, and you can hear him regularly during "All Things Considered" from 4 pm-7 pm on weekdays. Off the air, he is also a local actor and musician, and you can catch him rocking the bass with his band Flat Blak around Las Cruces and El Paso.
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  • Information from the U-S-D-A lists characteristics of regions that are likely to become food deserts. These include large or sparse populations that have limited access to transportation and low number of food retailers providing affordable fresh produce. This describes much of New Mexico, according to Emily Wildau, policy analyst with NM Voices for Children, a family well-being policy and advocacy group. In the first of a two-part series on food deserts and food insecurity, Scott Brocato talked with Wildau about the issue.
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