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NMSU?s Curry County Extension Office, food bank launch Produce to People program

When Barbara Rodriguez arrives at the free Produce to People farmers market at the Food Bank of Eastern New Mexico in Clovis, she looks forward to the fresh food and knows her grandchildren will eat healthy.

Woman stirring soup
Zandy Bunch, nutrition educator at New Mexico State University?s Curry County Cooperative Extension Service Office, prepares a healthy vegetable soup at the Food Bank of Eastern New Mexico for the Produce to People farmers market. (NMSU photo by Kristie Garcia)
Woman handing a cup to a child
Zandy Bunch, nutrition educator at New Mexico State University?s Curry County Cooperative Extension Service Office, gives a sample of a healthy vegetable soup to a child at the Food Bank of Eastern New Mexico for the Produce to People farmers market. (NMSU photo by Kristie Garcia)
Woman looking at boxes of yellow squash
Clovis residents choose yellow squash at the Produce to People farmers market hosted by New Mexico State University?s Curry County Cooperative Extension Service Office and the Food Bank of Eastern New Mexico. (NMSU photo by Kristie Garcia)

?I come to the farmers market every time it happens, because it?s good for the community and it helps out my grandkids,? Rodriguez said. ?With fresh foods, I know my grandkids will eat healthy. I?ve also tried different recipes with the produce I?ve gotten here.?

Zandy Bunch, nutrition educator at the New Mexico State University Curry County Cooperative Extension Service Office, provides recipes each month as part of the Produce to People program.

?We help families of all ages by distributing food and by providing healthy recipes, food tasting and nutrition information,? Bunch said.

Produce to People began in September and is part of the Ideas for Cooking and Nutrition, or ICAN, program, which is provided by the NMSU Cooperative Extension Service.

Dianna Hernandez, executive director of the food bank, said the idea came about at a coalition meeting with Bunch and others.

?We had an open discussion about food and security,? Hernandez said. ?We receive a lot of produce and needed to figure out how to get it to people and how to get it to them fast. We came up with the idea of a free farmers market that?s also an educational event.?

Produce that has been both donated and purchased is distributed to community members on the third Thursday of each month at the food bank. At the most recent event on Nov. 19, over 6,000 pounds of produce were distributed to approximately 250 families as part of Produce to People.

In addition to food bank and extension office personnel, Curry County Farm and Livestock Bureau board of directors volunteer as well. Board member Keith O?Rear said bureau directors help distribute the produce to attendees each month.

?This is a community service, and many volunteers are needed,? O?Rear said. ?There are lots of people coming out to receive the produce, including airmen from Cannon Air Force Base. Produce to People is very helpful, because it supplements families? food supply, especially fresh fruits and vegetables.?

Christina Burgin brought her 3-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter to the most recent market for her first time. Her family recently faced financial difficulties, so she was very appreciative of Produce to People.

?We had some bumps in the road financially, a lot of different things happened,? Burgin said. ?So when my friend told us about this on Tuesday, I thought, ?Oh, thank God.? I will most definitely come back to the market here.

?The vegetables and fruit here were way better than I expected. I expected things that had been put aside, but all of it was very fresh, and it?s comparable to grocery store food. I honestly wouldn?t buy a honeydew at the store, but my kids and my husband love it.?

The recipes are also helpful, according to Bunch. At the Nov. 19 event, she prepared a vegetable soup and provided the recipe and nutrition information as well.

?I made a vegetable soup with zucchini, potatoes, carrots and onions,? Bunch said. ?People don?t always think to use zucchini in soup. The recipe also included plain yogurt and chicken broth. But the important thing is that I reiterate that they can use whatever vegetables they have on hand.?

It was obvious Burgin and her two children enjoyed the soup.

?I liked the soup recipe,? Burgin said. ?My son inhaled it; my daughter is licking the cup.?

As attendees sampled Bunch?s soup, she reminded them that fruits and vegetables should take up half of their plate. She also handed out information about hand-washing and food safety.

Bunch said the Produce to People program is beneficial to community members for several reasons.

?They?re getting foods that are out of the realm of what they usually purchase,? Bunch said. ?They?re able to try fruits and vegetables that they haven?t tried before. And it?s more enjoyable, because the environment is more of a farmers market setting than just a food give-away event.?

On Nov. 19, honeydew melons were provided. Bunch said it was the perfect opportunity for people to try something other than watermelons or cantaloupes.

The response from the food recipients has been very positive, according to Hernandez.

?They love it,? Hernandez said. ?For families on a limited income, fresh produce is usually not at the top of their shopping list, and this program connects them to fresh food.?

Hernandez said she would like for Produce to People to become a permanent event.

?It?s a great opportunity to marry education with a food pantry and market,? she said.

According to FeedingAmerica.org, 74 percent of the Curry County population is eligible for federal nutrition assistance based on income level.

The ICAN lessons are offered at no cost to limited-resource adults and children. ICAN is funded by the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.