New Mexico’s agricultural history goes back by more than two millennia, and all the way through modern times, Native Americans have greatly helped shape the state’s ag legacy. Today, more than 7,000 Native American farmers continue the tradition. As the number of farms grows, organizations continue working to find more ways to connect growers with new markets.
One of those organizations, the New Mexico Department of Agriculture (NMDA) has worked with several native Pueblos, including Navajo, Santa Ana, Acoma, Laguna and Pojoaque, to help them bring their agricultural products to new markets. NMDA provides booth space at national and international trade shows for Native American producer groups, such as the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry (NAPI), introducing growers to retail and foodservice associations, food service contractors and distributors, plus food service representatives from the state’s casinos, hotels and restaurants.
Established in 1970 by the Navajo Nation, NAPI operates the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project as well as 72,000 acres of irrigated farmland. NAPI grows alfalfa, some grains, corn, potatoes and beans, all packaged under the Navajo Pride brand. In addition, NAPI also operates three food-processing plants and is becoming a global company through export growth.
“The New Mexico Department of Agriculture has long been a supporter of NAPI in both domestic and international marketing initiatives,” says David Lucero, director of the NMDA Division of Marketing and Development. “Our work with NAPI focuses on developing foreign markets for food and agricultural products produced on the NAPI farm.
“Representatives from NAPI have joined our staff in a number of NMDA-led international trade activities – connecting with buyers/importers/distributors in countries such as Mexico, Dominican Republic and Costa Rica – to promote the Navajo Pride brand. NAPI is a major farming operation in New Mexico and draws attention simply for its size,” Lucero says. “They produce quality products that include, but are not limited to, potatoes, pinto beans, alfalfa, corn, wheat and various minor crops. They have the capacity to supply any market they choose to enter, both domestic and international.”
In addition to NAPI, NMDA has also worked to find new markets for Santa Ana Agricultural Enterprises, located on the Santa Ana Pueblo Reservation and known for its blue corn products as well as the Tamaya Blue brand; Upland Desert Popcorn, a contract grower and processor of popcorn on the NAPI installation; and the Bow and Arrow brand, located on the Ute Mountain Reservation.
“In 2015, the NMDA partnered with the Colorado Department of Agriculture to lead a buyers delegation comprised of representatives from prominent Mexico grocery retailers and manufacturing companies to destinations in New Mexico and Colorado,” Lucero says. “This trade mission was unique in that it included a number of companies tied to food and agricutural products directly related to Native American producers.”
A Sure Bet
In its fourth year, Labatt Food Service’s Native American Beef line, a ‘Where Food Comes From’ source-verified brand, helps promote and grow distribution of beef from the Navajo and Apache Nations. Labatt, a leading food and beverage distributor, works with dozens of ranchers to provide a sustainable market for their cattle.
“For us, it’s a way for us to give back to the community we’re a part of,” says Ken Monacelli, branch manager at Labatt Food Service. “We’ve put over $3 million back into the reservation system through our program in the last two to three years. We provide a sustainable market – always at market, plus premium – for ranchers, so they get market value plus premium for their product. We also have an education arm that teaches individual families about vaccinations, genetics and humane handling. One of Labatt’s ranching partners is the Padre Mesa Demonstration Ranch, which also helps with land and water management. We also offer internships in our meat plants and at the feed yards.”
While the program recently expanded to markets outside New Mexico, including Texas and Colorado, the gaming industry remains one of its largest consumers.
A good example of this trend is the relationship between the Red Sage Steakhouse at the Hilton Santa Fe Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino and the Tewa Farm and Bison Ranch. The Pojoaque Pueblo owns both the farm and the casino, sourcing much of its meat and produce from the farm.
“The farm program is bringing in all the native produce this tribe ate before the turn of the century, such as beans and corns and peppers,” says Christine Windle, Buffalo Thunder sales and marketing director.
“The whole program has really taken off with the Pueblo,” she adds. “It’s really exciting.”