Those who live in the desert borderlands of southern New Mexico face plenty of serious struggles. Water is limited, living wages are scarce, and many live in unincorporated communities called colonias, which often lack basic infrastructure like roads and gas lines. Things are so tough there, in fact, that one might understandably presume that the only food issue on residents’ minds is whether or not they’ll have enough. Not so, argues Rebecca Wiggins-Reinhard, director of the Farm Fresh program for La Semilla Food Center in Las Cruces, the largest city south of Albuquerque. In 2010, Wiggins and two colleagues founded Semilla (“Seed” in Spanish), with plans to start a youth food policy council, a youth farm, and multiple produce stands. After their inaugural year, which included the council's launch and the gift of 15 acres to start the farm, Wiggins’ work won her an Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) fellowship -- and a visit from cookbook author, New York Times columnist, and food maven Mark Bittman. I spoke with Wiggins by phone to hear about her surprising path to food work, her plan to grow 500 foods in a desert, and what it’s like to promote local food in the country’s fifth-poorest state.
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Tracie McMillan, a freelance journalist whose work centers on food and class, is a Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University. Her first book, The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table, will be published by Scribner in February 2012. Learn more on her website.