El Morro Feed and Seed
El Morro Feed and Seed:
The Year in Review and What’s New
by Stephanie Grenadier, Manager
As most of you know, El Morro Feed and Seed became a nonprofit on January 1, 2020, under Work in Beauty, an established local 501(3)(c). We had barely settled in when the pandemic hit in early spring, and we scrambled to adjust with the creation of our online store and some very innovative adaptations that allowed us to stay open and actually thrive financially. The fact that the Feed & Seed was the busiest ever during the lockdowns and curfews let us know just how essential this little country store is to our community.
It wasn’t until 2021 that the longer-term effects of the pandemic started to affect every aspect of our functioning. In addition, the first and worst blow to our supply chain was the tragic fire and explosion that permanently closed our longtime feed provider, Oñate. Not only did we get great feed directly from the mill, but the prices were fair, and they delivered to our door. We naively took those deliveries for granted. As it turns out, no other feed mill within hundreds of miles will bring feed to this remote and beautiful location we call home.
2021 was yet another bad year for drought which brought an additional supply challenge. Our hay valued hay farmer, Tomas, was not even able to grow fescue because of watering restrictions and his alfalfa crops were not as plentiful as in past years. It turns out that he is also one of the only growers to deliver right to the store for a good price. Plus, he provided 2-string bales, which are preferred by most of our customers. We hope next year is better for him and that we can return to supplying you with his always consistent quality hay.
Our pet food source, Rio Grande, used a contracted delivery service to get our orders to us. That trucking company was bought out during 2021 and instead of charging $150 to bring us our pet food, the new owners wanted $1080 to bring us a few pallets from Albuquerque. This was not a financial possibility. La Montanita came to our rescue and now delivers our pet food with our grocery orders. Bless them!
Supply Chain Disruptions and Distribution Issues
Around late spring, we started to experience supply chain disruptions that affected our grocery orders. During the pandemic, we relied almost completely on La Montanita Coop to procure and deliver our groceries and they did a fantastic job. Without them, we could not have stayed open. But then their suppliers started experiencing shortages and now, many of our grocery items do not come in as ordered or are out of stock for lengthy periods of time.
These disruptions continue worsen with no apparent end in sight. Prices are going up everywhere and most other businesses in our area report similar shortages and problems getting supplies here in a predictable, reliable way. It became clear that we needed a new vision and model of distribution that left us less vulnerable and in greater control of our own resources.
A New/Old Model of Community Participation is Born
The week all the milk, cheese, half and half, and precious tamales did not come in, we knew we had to make a plan. When staple items aren’t in the store, most people go somewhere else and do all their shopping. We get it. We understand. So we decided, why not ask these folks already going to town to do a little bit of shopping for the store?
The shout went out to our neighbors, and we were overwhelmed by the positive and supportive response. We started holding community meetings in the fall of 2021 to coordinate shopping and communication around what was needed when. We created a group on Facebook for our volunteer shoppers and started mobilizing our own distribution team with customers.
This has been a fantastic success with grocery items, and we are just getting started. We have already had dozens of trips made by customers who check in on their way to town and ask what we need. We try to keep it to only a few items at a time, so it is not a burden and, wow, have people stepped up. Watching how this plays out behind the scenes is inspiring. We are essentially acting as personal shoppers for each other, and it is a joyous thing to behold.
It has become clear that we are all in this together and if we want to keep our local resources available, it is going to require working together as a community to re-vision a means of creating greater food security for our remote locale. And we are off to a good start.
What Went Well in 2021
This year we obtained a nursery license for the store and had our first plant and seedling sale in June. It was, by all accounts, a fantastic success. Plants grown for food can be bought with EBT and next year, they will also qualify for inclusion in New Mexico’s Double Up Bucks program, which gives EBT users 50% off all locally grown produce. We encourage more growers to participate in the coming years as this is a great resource and part of a longer-term plan to get more locally grown foods to our area.
We also fixed the barn roof, thanks to your community donations. It took a very long time because the winds of March stayed until July, but it was completed this summer and now we await the test of snow to see how we did.
As mentioned, we became part of the Double Up Bucks program that gives SNAP/EBT customers 50% off on all New Mexico grown produce and our local growers gave us a lot to choose from. We had over 50 varieties of locally grown vegetables this year, ranging from every kind of salad green, apples, pie pumpkins (plus one massive 64lb. pumpkin), chard, spinach, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, squash, garlic, onions, peppers, peas, and so much more. This is truly fantastic for such a small area and a great success we hope to continue and grow in future years.
Lastly, the community support and encouragement we continue to receive is the greatest blessing of all. We are truly thankful and wouldn’t be here without you!
What’s New For 2022
It is very clear that we need to get ahead of supply chain disruptions and become more locally reliant and resilient. One aspect of this is to continue to expand community collaboration and to truly embrace our function as a food hub, encouraging more local growers and providing greater resources and education to those who wish to participate in our food economy.
Work in Beauty provides much of the agricultural support for our area and is a great resource for new and seasoned growers. In 2021, free workshops resumed at The Learning Center in Candy Kitchen, a new hoop house was erected, and the community garden was expanded. We hope more people will join in next year as we continue to nourish our local food supply.
It is also time for the Feed & Seed to start behaving as a nonprofit. 2020 was such a crazy year that we were primarily consumed with keeping up with all the changes. 2021 brought significant enough financial challenges that we realized we need to restructure drastically and get serious about grant writing. We will need a lot of help to get to where we need to be to create greater food sovereignty and to control our own distribution and procurement of goods.
A Child is Born
El Morro Feed and Seed is in the process of becoming a legal nonprofit subsidiary of Work in Beauty, our parent company. What this means is that we will have our own board of directors, bylaws, mission statement, and identity as one tier of our local food hub. Work in Beauty provides the agricultural support, and the Feed & Seed offers storage, marketing, and distribution of locally grown foods.
Our bylaws are finished, we have a president, secretary, and treasurer, and our first board meeting will be held shortly. We are working as just the small group of officers for now until we get our bearings, and then in early spring of 2022, we will be inviting more community members to serve on our board.
We have already been working hard on submitting grants and our goals are both short and long-term. We need an immediate cash infusion to reinvest in hay and feed to make up for the losses incurred earlier in the year, as mentioned above. We also have a much more elaborate plan for the future that involves getting our own small box truck with a lift and—the dream of dreams—a food truck that could function as a community kitchen to supply us all with homemade, legally prepared foods.
Everyone now working at the store has dual roles of some kind: grant writing, forming the new nonprofit, construction, organizing shoppers, musical entertainment, community-building, and more.
Despite the challenges of this year, we are very excited to move forwards and encouraged by all the energy and enthusiasm you have shown. Most importantly, we want to thank you for your appreciation. Through all the crazy days, it means more than you can ever know when you come in and tell us you are glad we are here! We thank you for helping us with our goal of becoming the heart and hearth of our local food economy.