Credit: Lewis Wilson for Unsplash

For tens of thousands of New Mexicans, hunger is a constant companion in their struggle to survive. They start each day wondering where their next meal will come from. Choosing between paying for utilities or medical care and buying food affects 61 percent of the households needing support.

A recent study by Hunger Free America has found from 2018 to 2020 there were nearly 300,000 New Mexico residents that faced food insecurity squarely in the face on a regular basis. That number includes almost 20 percent of the Land of Enchantment’s children. With those numbers, in a state of 2.097 million people, if you live here, chances are you know someone who is hungry.

According to the study, in households with no one able to work, 87 percent were disabled, retired, in poor health or acting as caretaker of another person. Fifty-three percent of the hungry households had at least one person who had worked in the past 12 months.

Households in the state needing support to feed themselves or their families often turn to emergency food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters. The Seed2Need project, started in Corrales in 2008, has made it their mission to help stock these lifesaving organizations for families facing food insecurity. Since its inception, the nonprofit organization has dedicated itself to growing fresh produce for local food pantries and soup kitchens in Bernalillo and Sandoval counties.

“Seed2Need has been a godsend to St. Felix Pantry in Rio Rancho. The fresh produce brought to us has literally saved many needy families from a serious hunger crisis this summer,” says Sister Claire Kehl.

The Seed2Need project began when Sandy and Penny Davis planted seeds in a neighbor’s horse corral. The plot they planted was originally intended to be a small garden to provide produce to Storehouse West in Rio Rancho.

The idea for the project began during the recession of 2008 when the unemployment rate was climbing and food pantries shelves were bare.  They produced 1,650 lbs. of produce their first year. Fast forward to 2022 and we see the Land of Enchantment’s locals have embraced the energy and concept of Seed2Need, growing it to heights never imagined.

Nourished over the last decade by community support, land donations and the Sandoval County Master Gardeners, like Jack and the Beanstalk the project took off to heights never imagined. They have used the numerous grants they’ve received to invest in trees, seed, equipment, infrastructure and supplies. They have also been able to hire a farm manager to prioritize tasks for work sessions and oversee day-to-day operations.

Seed to Need now has two gardens and an orchard with 140 trees located in Corrales on land donated by local property owners. Their crops include tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelons, cantaloupe, green chile, green beans, squash, cabbage and broccoli. The orchard includes several varieties of apple, peach, pear, plum and cherry.

At this point in their growth, Seed2Need has donated over 700,000 pounds of produce to food pantries in Bernalillo and Sandoval counties since 2010.

That year, the Sandoval County Master Gardeners (SCMG) decided to sponsor the project and Seed2Need expanded with a larger volunteer base. The community began to donate additional land to the project for gardens The gardens generated 30,701 pounds of produce that year. This bounty gave Seed2Need the opportunity to provide produce for several more pantries.

“The garden is magical. Not only does it provide food for many people, it also nurtures the many people that work in it. It has grown so much that it spread its wealthy spirit beyond the Master Gardeners to many others, ranging from Boy Scouts to grandchildren,” said Lydia Allen, SCMG volunteer.

Seed2Need’s growth continued through an Eagle Scout project that cleared brush and debris from one-half acre, and then additional volunteers from the community became involved, as well as community service groups, church groups, and school groups. Vendors and locals donated produce to them at the Corrales Grower’s Market.

Many locals with orchards offered gleaning opportunities to Seed2Need through donated excess fruit that would otherwise be rotting in the fields full of wasps, or breaking limbs from overloaded fruit. When fruit was plentiful, they were able to pick thousands of lbs. of apples, peaches, pears and plums for food pantries.

Based on their success in 2010 and 2011 Seed2Need was recognized by the International Master Gardeners organization, winning the Search for Excellence award in the Community Service category.

A core group of seasoned, committed volunteers fuel Seed2Need. Many of them have been participating from the beginning, others for years. However, Seed2Need says they can always use additional hands.

“Being out in the New Mexico sunshine, Sandhill Cranes or hot air balloons overhead, strangers collaborating to benefit the community, rather than themselves…what a beautiful, and painless, way to give of yourself,” said Wendy Fox Dial, a Seed2Need volunteer.

It takes a community to facilitate a project like Seed2Need. Between the dedicated volunteers from the local community and the Sandoval County Master Gardeners, they have set an example of how to reduce hunger in New Mexico one garden at a time.

Food insecure homes in the state also have gotten a lift through federal emergency pandemic spending into the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The increased food buying ability has created a 55-percent decrease in hunger in the state over the past year and a half. When that money is cut off, the hungry household numbers will increase.

If you would like to financially support Seed2Need, they accept donations via PayPal, or you can mail a check to P.O. Box 874, Corrales, NM 87048. Sign up for their newsletter to track volunteer opportunities or check out the Seed2Need Facebook page for updates about the project.

Billie and Harold Alderman, SCMG volunteers with the Seed2Need project, summed up their experience. “There are many things that you can volunteer for, but this has a specific purpose. It is the most rewarding project that we have been involved with,” they said.

Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado, and other publications. She has taught and  practiced alternative healing methods for over thirty-five years.