Sunday, November 27, 2011

Closing the Nutrition and Food Gap in Rural New Mexico

In 2009, the New Mexico Food Gap Task Force presented a report to the governor, lieutenant governor and state legislature that offered a picture of the types of challenges we face in our state to provide nutritious food to residents of rural areas.

The report, entitled Closing New Mexico's Food Gap, provided evidence that residents rural areas face greater challenges finding adequate sources of nutrition.  There are fewer grocery stores and less availability of fresh fruit and vegetables.  A growing body of evidence suggests, those with fewer food choices tend to eat less healthfully.

Case in point are Quay in eastern New Mexico and Grant County in southwestern in the southwestern part of the state.  According to New Mexico Department of Health statistics, Quay is the heaviest county in the state. Fully 71.5 percent of the county’s 10,155 residents are overweight or obese compared to the already high 59.7 percent rate for the state as a whole.

And here is a note about Grant County. 
In this region of southwestern New Mexico, residents have little access to fresh, healthy food due to communities’ isolation and limited infrastructure. Less and less food is grown locally, and trucking it in over long distances leads to higher costs—making fresh produce prohibitively expensive for many families hit hard by job losses in local industries. With one of the worst unemployment rates in New Mexico, families often stretch limited dollars by choosing high-calorie, low-nutrition processed foods.
Photo by Carlos Navarro
So how do you begin to address the problem? The Grant County Community Health Council and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation developed the Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) program to reduce childhood obesity through healthy eating and active living policy, systems and environmental change. Under the four-year initiative that began in December 2009, HKHC partners with community organizations, schools, local government agencies and individuals to improve opportunities for regular exercise and good nutrition for residents.  

Here's what HKHC-Grant County says.
Only two towns in the county, Bayard and Silver City, have full-services grocery stores, but plans include increasing local agriculture, adding cold-storage facilities for growers and the local food pantry, and creating purchasing cooperatives among stores, restaurants and schools in order to decrease costs. The goal is to increase the supply of fresh foods so that families can easily incorporate fruit and vegetables into their diets.
Growers markets are a major part of this effort. This short film, created by Frank Drysdale and HKHC-Grant County, shows how local communities can become part of the solution. The film highlights local agriculture and farmer's markets in Southwest New Mexico.

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