History

The Co-op got its start in 2009 as an idea among residents of the El Morro valley area to further the development of a local food system. Spearheaded by a Steering Committee led by local business owner Kate Brown, and with the help of the New Mexico office of the USDA and Farm To Table, we became an officially incorporated Cooperatively owned business in April 2010.

Addressing community needs for healthy food & a healthy local economy

There is a great need to increase access to good, healthy food in our region, an area formerly designated as a “food desert” by the federal government, where the nearest full service grocery store is a minimum of 50 miles away. The proposed location for the coop straddles McKinley and Cibola counties; both counties are listed among the top 100 poorest counties in the country when assessing per capita income. Like so many rural communities in the US, jobs are scarce and access to healthy food is a struggle.

From 2011 through 2013, with the support of a Rural Business Enterprise Grant through the USDA, we developed a feasibility study and three separate business plans that could potentially addresses the challenges we face in our community- those challenges facing many rural community attempting to address food-access issues. With funding from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Rocky Mountain Farmer’s Union (RMFU), and the direct support of Farm to Table and UNM’s Arrowhead Institute, we mapped the challenges facing rural cooperatives: business access to food delivery services, community access to economic resources, and lack of infrastructure to support new food-based businesses. Our current business plan distills the years of research, relationship-building, insights from experts, opportunities, and sweat, into a vision that has the support of our members, as well many of the organizations and businesses in the wider community. This plan builds upon our current community resources, and provides the essential pieces currently missing from our local food system.

Building and expanding upon existing efforts and institutions

To meet community need for locally sourced food, local organizations and individuals have worked hard to create farmer’s markets, community gardens, and other food-growing projects. The Ramah Farmer’s Market, formed over 10 years ago, pioneered efforts to support local food growers, with access to workshops, weekly market, a library of food-growing books, and a local food-growers paper-The Farmer’s Beet- distributed throughout our region.
Since then, a second Farmer’s Market has been created in Candy Kitchen, and another is being considered for the nearby settlement of Pinehill, located on the Ramah Navajo Reservation. Efforts in Pinehill also include programs to teach ancient planting practices to local Navajo families, with 50 participating families last year. Additionally, two local ranches are selling local grass-fed and organic beef to the community. Recently, community efforts won a USDA-funded initiative to develop a regional network based on local food systems, art, and manufacturing.
We are seeing significant progress toward growing our own food, while finding ways to work together to meet common goals. Yet there are important pieces missing in our developing local food network: there is nowhere to process the food that is grown, and there is no way to transport that food once it is harvested and processed. Consequently, community members must source the majority of their breads, canned foods, and other value-added products elsewhere: in either Gallup, Grants, or Albuquerque.

Accomplishments:

•The Co-op got its start in 2009 and with the help of the New Mexico office of the USDA and Farm To Table became an officially incorporated Cooperatively owned business in April 2010.
•In 2011, the Co-op was selected by New Mexico State University’s Arrowhead Center, to assist with our feasibility study.
•We received a $50,000 Rural Business Enterprise Grant from the USDA to complete a feasibility study and business plan by end of 2013.
•With the support of the USDA, Farm to Table, La Montanita Cooperative, Small Business Development Center, and several local businesses, we developed three separate business plans in our efforts to design the most feasible approach to meeting the food related needs in our community. Efforts included a community survey that reached nearly 200 families in the El Morro Valley area.
•We have our plan in hand, and are ready to sign a lease once we have the money to cover our start-up costs.
•With the help of Rocky Mountain Farmer’s Union, we can accept Member Equity Investment in the State of NM.