La Semilla Food Center Project, a regional effort designed to reduce food inequities in the Southwest United States, has made successful strides toward achieving that goal.
Using a bottom-up, multifaceted approach to improve access to healthy foods in the Paso del Norte region of southern New Mexico and El Paso, Texas, the project is educating youth on how to grow and cook food; has a 14-acre demonstration farm; is working to recruit farmers and promote the use of EBT for farmers markets; is providing healthy-eating tools for educators; and is working to establish a healthy food financing fund for the region.
Krysten Aguilar, director of programs and policy for the nonprofit, says that the broad-based approach is critical to the effort to increase access to healthy foods and thereby improve healthy eating and health among the region’s roughly one million residents, many of whom live in poverty and struggle to achieve food security.
One of the tools La Semilla is employing is teaching thousands of elementary and middle school students how to grow and cook fresh food. The project has used school gardens associated with 24 schools to not only teach students how to grow food, the skills are incorporated into school curriculums such as math, science and health.
La Semilla also provides teachers with monthly classroom cooking and tasting activities, and helps provide the supplies used in the garden and classroom. They also help to extend those education activities to the home through family-cooking activities and by getting parents engaged in the school-based student food activities.
The school- and youth-based education La Semilla is engaged in has recently expanded to include preschool age children. The project has established a farm-to preschool program, which is designed to be fun and hands-on in order to get preschoolers to try new foods, while getting local produce into the preschools to help support local farmers. They have also created a curriculum, free for any childcare provider to download and use, which provides interactive and engaging activities shaped around healthy, fresh and seasonally-available foods specific to the region.
La Semilla is now working to create a healthy food financing fund for the region, which Aguilar sees as not only increasing access to healthy foods, but also creating
access to capital that will be used, in part, as a locally based economic development tool. Once established, the fund will capitalize on La Semilla’s ongoing work to teach youth and families how to grow and cook healthy foods by creating and expanding existing food retail outlets, developing new markets for local producers and, ultimately improving health in the region.