University of New Mexico Hospital supporting local farmers through new initiative

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE)- Farmers from the South Valley are getting ready for their weekly delivery of carrots to University of New Mexico Hospital.

It’s all part of a brand new initiative aimed at purchasing local, hiring local and helping businesses in underdeveloped communities of Albuquerque.

Every Friday, members of Agri-Cultura Network drop off 15 pounds of shredded carrots at the hospital.

They’ve been making deliveries for a little over a month now. It’s also a big deal for the small non-profit made up of dozens of South Valley farms.

“This is basically our foot in the door to kind of get South Valley farmers’ products into bigger businesses such as UNM,” said Andrew Valverde, Agri-Cultura Network.

Valverde is just one of the many pieces of this very big puzzle. Before the carrots even get into his hands, they’re being grown and picked at farms.

Jedrek Lamb works on this farm at the Gutierrez-Hubbell House. His usual customers consist of local restaurants, farmers markets and schools.

Now, through a brand new pilot program called “Healthy Neighborhoods Albuquerque,” his newest customers include UNM Hospital, Presbyterian, Albuquerque Public Schools and Central New Mexico Community College.

“Farming is not easy work by any means. So to have these institutions recognize the importance of farming, just kind of validates our work,” said Lamb.

Project Carrot is the first part of the Healthy Neighborhoods Albuquerque initiative and its putting produce from South Valley farms in the salad bar at the UNMH cafeteria.

Dr. Richard Larson, Executive Vice Chancellor at UNM Health Sciences Center, says it was a big financial step for the hospital to take.

Instead of focusing on saving money by using a large national distributor, Dr. Larson says their focus is to help local, small businesses thrive.

“We have to actually come up with processes where we can carve out a small amount of our purchasing to support a local business and then if that local business grows, we can then further our purchasing for our business,” said Dr. Larson. By doing this, Dr. Larson says they’re establishing systems to hire local and purchase local in the future, much more easily.

It’s something Lamb says helps secure his business and its growth.

“With it being seasonal work and being subject to the weather, having a set customer such as the hospitals will allow me not only to hire more individuals but keep them for a more extended period of time,” said Lamb.

The next step in the Healthy Neighborhoods Albuquerque initiative is called Project Hire. It’s a joint effort between UNMH, Presbyterian, CNM, and APS to provide basic job training to high school students in order to hire them into jobs at UNMH or Presbyterian after they graduate.

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