Across the Paso del Norte area of ââsouthern New Mexico and El Paso, Texas, La Semilla Food Center is cultivating long-term, lasting, and restorative changes in the food system. Founded in 2010, the non-profit organization focuses on real-world land-based projects and advocating for systems-changing policies.
La Semilla carries out its work through five programs rooted in the Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem: community farm, farm fees, edible education, community and policy education, and community development. These programs aim to center the experience and expertise of the communities most affected by harmful structures and practices within the food system.
âAs members of this diverse community made up of multiple social and natural ecosystems, we know that at the confluence of our relationship to the land, our distinct earthly heritage lifestyles and our practice of intersectional feminism lies the place. resilience for future generations. “RubÃ Orozco Santos, director of organizational storytelling and development at La Semilla, told Food Tank.
La Semilla advocates for safe and dignified working environments for agricultural workers in the Paso del Norte region, many of whom are immigrants from Mexico and Central America. âThe way farm workers are treated remains one of the most shameful parts of our food system,â says Orozco Santos. âThe industrial food system has always been dependent on cruelty and human rights violations.
American farm workers face increased vulnerability due to heightened political, economic and environmental threats. Economic hardship, immigrant status, language spoken, national origin, race and socioeconomic status illustrate some of the factors that contribute to farm workers being the target of systematic exploitation and exclusion.
Currently, New Mexico state laws exclude dairy workers, meat packers, hand harvest workers and child hand harvest workers to earn the minimum wage. The pressure to work as fast as possible in order to receive a higher salary favors dangerous conditions. In the USA, 49 percent of horticultural workers are denied work permits due to their immigrant status, creating obstacles to the safe defense of their labor and wage rights.
La Semilla joined the New Mexico Coalition of Farm Workers and Advocates. The community farm, based on agroecological principles, guarantees team members an hourly wage of $ 15, paid time off, workers’ compensation, overtime, parental leave, health insurance, and essential health and safety infrastructure, including bathrooms and shade.
The agroecological model of La Semilla’s mission aims to benefit workers. A fundamental tenet of agroecology underscores the extent to which equity and the social well-being of workers are necessary to create sustainable food and agricultural systems. But agroecology can also provide “a viable long-term strategy that enables crop resilience,” Orozco Santos told Food Tank. La Semilla hopes to train and support a regional network of small farmers exchanging best practices and adaptations to climate change.
A recent study in the future of the Earth, led by NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), predicts that the southwestern United States will not become drier until towards the end of the 21st century. The region will experience altered precipitation patterns and an increase in extreme weather events, such as droughts and heat waves. According to Orozco Santos, La Semilla focuses on forming geographically appropriate methods and innovations that respond to the evolving challenges of climate change. This includes supporting viable, small-scale and integrated approaches to dryland agriculture, growing drought-tolerant crops, and creating adaptive cultivation techniques.
In addition to these land-based projects, the organization works to build food sovereignty through storytelling. Orozco Santos explains that âfoodways and wordways go hand in handâ. For La Semilla, storytelling serves as a relational cultural strategy that allows the organization to increase its connection with the ecosystem of the Chihuahuan Desert. According to Orozco Santos, this practice âalso raises[s] inherently healthy and regenerative earthly traditions that have too often been underestimated, and support[s] tales of power shift to deal with past and present systemic damage.
La Semilla’s team of storytellers recently published the zine Food, Land and Us: A Look at the Paso del Norte Region’s Farm Bill. The zine discusses the complexities of U.S. agricultural policy, including “its foundation on stolen land, labor and expertise, and the stories of communities of color whose knowledge, resistance and resilience have shaped our food system today. ‘hui, “Orozco Santos told Food Tank. .
In the future, the organization aims to develop scholarships for practitioners of agroecological agriculture and food pathways. By leveraging their programs, La Semilla also hopes to advocate for a policy and infrastructure for Black, Indigenous and Colored Producers (BIPOC) and increase support for a collective agroecological farming practice Paso del Norte. Orozco Santos told Food Tank that La Semilla will continue to âfight racism and anti-darkness and support indigenous land sovereignty in meaningful and tangible waysâ.
Photo courtesy of Michelle Carreon, La Semilla Food Center