Alamogordo's Multi-pronged Community Approach to Alleviating Family Hunger and Fresh Food Deserts


Community Gardens, Food Banks and the Alamogordo Public School System all a partner in family nutrition (

In New Mexico, the struggle against food insecurity is a pressing concern. Here are some key facts:

  • Approximately 285,220 people in New Mexico are facing hunger, and among them, 90,490 are children.
  • One in seven people in the state grapple with hunger, while one in five children experience food insecurity.
  • The estimated additional amount needed annually to meet the food needs of those facing hunger in New Mexico is $168,875,000.
  • On average, a meal in New Mexico costs $3.35

The pandemic and still the post pandemic has exacerbated this issue, with one out of three New Mexico children projected to have experienced food insecurity. Some counties saw rates as high as 44% during the peak of the pandemic. Ensuring reliable access to nutritious food for all families, especially children, remains a critical goal for the state as outlined in a story from NM Voices.

The issue with food insecurity is not only the rising costs and nutritional food costs are rising fast and thus families are opting for cheaper and less nutritious options. Those cheaper less nutritious foods are feeding into America's obesity problem and the end result is a rising level of health issues that could have been prevented or could be with nutrition and exercise.  

Fitness Coach Rene Sepulveda of ReneFit New Mexico explains, "child obesity rates have doubled to nearly 20%. Nationwide, about 40% of Americans are considered obese, and another 30% considered overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When my clients fly in from Europe or Asia for customized elite training sessions so many mention the variety and large serving sizes of the food in our stores and the large portions at our restaurants. My clients comment on our national collective obesity and complain about the processed foods that are standard to the American diet."

"Fresh food deserts and affordability deserts are increasing in rural communities as well straining the health of our youth and families," Coach Rene Sepulveda continued.

The world is gaining weight, as well. Global obesity rates have tripled since 1975, and about 39% of adults worldwide are considered overweight and 13% are considered obese, according to the World Health Organization as referenced by Coach Rene Sepulveda, "part of this is driven by American culture. Some say obesity is another American export."

An enemy is ultra-high processed (UHP) foods and the next round of government dietary guidelines, released every five years, may take UHP foods head on. America's biggest food processors are gearing up for a fight, arguing that many of the additives that result in a UHP classification prevent food waste and keep prices low.

Food deserts are geo­graph­ic areas where res­i­dents have few to no con­ve­nient options for secur­ing afford­able and healthy foods espe­cial­ly fresh fruits and veg­eta­bles. Dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly found in high-pover­ty areas, food deserts cre­ate extra, every­day hur­dles that can make it hard­er for kids, fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties to grow healthy and strong.

Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, food deserts are more com­mon in areas with:

  • small­er populations;
  • high­er rates of aban­doned or vacant homes; and
  • res­i­dents who have low­er lev­els of edu­ca­tion, low­er incomes, and high­er rates of unemployment.

Otero County, New Mexico is an example. It is vast in size and outside of the main city of Alamogordo there are indeed fresh food deserts. Within Alamogordo itself, many lower income individuals consider it a "fresh vegetable and fruit desert" due to the lack of affordable fresh food options.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are three entire counties in New Mexico; Catron, DeBaca, and Harding, where 100% of the population lives in a “food desert.” 

Even in urban areas of New Mexico, certain neighborhoods have become food deserts and residents that lack transportation wind up buying food at convenience stores or dollar stores – shelf-stable food that is usually high-calorie, low nutrition, or if you want to use the term, UHP.

There are organizations attempting to help with that issue. In addition to fresh food options via foodbanks there is a local organization With Many Hands Alamogordo that is partnering with the city of Alamogordo and other nonprofits to create community gardens as yet another tool to fill the void. 

Their early very visible presence was as an early partner to the Alamogordo MainStreet, New York Avenue Alleyway Art Project. With Many Hands joined and enhanced that project, by adding a food for the people element, with raised planters as a part of a community garden concept. This showed how food and nature can be incorporated into an urban revitalization landscape and is an example for further expansion.

With Many Hands Alamogordo is a community service organization conceptualized locally by Courtney McCary-Squyres and a group of committed volunteers.

In June of 2023, after solidifying a leadership team, and gathering petition signatures of community support, With Many Hands hosted a campaign kick-off to announce to the public the Public Land for Food campaign. The vision of the initiative was to partner with the City of Alamogordo to utilize formerly blighted properties, that have been transferred to the city, as community garden and food forest spaces. These spaces would be available to the public, just as any public park in Alamogordo and residents would be able to harvest fresh locally grown produce free of charge.

With the announcement of the Dudley School renovation and the many revitalization efforts in Alamogordo’s District 5 most especially near the Chihuahuita neighborhood ; With Many Hands pursued working in conjunction with the renovations and sought the support of Joe Lewndowski project manager of the Dudley project on behalf of the Tularosa Basin Historic Society and the Commissioner of District 5, Commissioner and Mayor Pro Tem Sharon McDonald.

Being that there was a formerly abated, city owned property directly across the street from the Dudley school at 601 Maryland Ave., both Mr. Lewendowski and Commissioner McDonald provided their feedback and support of the idea and partnership and with approval of the city the program was launched.

The gardens are in the early stages of development, but this is one of many tools the city of Alamogordo and nonprofit organizations are championing to bring fresh healthy food alternative to families.

In addition, the Alamogordo Public Schools under the administration in office during the fall of 2023 expanded their fresh food initiative understanding the issue of the fresh food desert that exists for so many of Alamogordo's economically challenged families.

Via a grant federal grant of $33,654 that the APS nutrition services team applied APS expanded its focus on fresh foods. The program introduces new vegetables and fruits while combating the intake of fresh unprocessed produce, according to a news release from the Alamogordo Public School District from November 2023. It also combats child obesity by fostering better eating habits across schools in New Mexico.

Coach Rene Sepulveda who is retired as an award-winning NCAA track and field coach for 25 years, led the nation with All American's athletes that excelled in academics and athletics. He suggests; "that from a college recruitment perspective it is essential for public school systems such as Alamogordo Public Schools to offer these programs that are critical to proper development of the mind and the body. I recruited students from all over the world for the Big 12; and we looked not only at the student, but where the student came from, and what kind of support their school system lent them in developing good nutritional habits. Good nutrition in the developing years yields better student outcomes at the collegiate level."

The Alamogordo Public School system also launched and was funded for another grant that they had applied for and been approved for the Early Childhood Education and Care Department (ECEDC) after school program dinners for the 2023-24 school year. Any student who stays after school in an instructed after school program will receive a dinner composed of five snack-like items that are healthy alternatives to high calorie low value processed foods.

Within Otero County, New Mexico with the troubling economic picture of the local economy; the outlook for family nutrition is improving with the partnership efforts of local nonprofits such as the foodbanks, With Many Hands Maryland Community Avenue Garden Project, the City of Alamogordo and Alamogordo Public Schools.

There is really no excuse in a nation of abundance to have deserts of fresh fruits and vegetables for families. Let's continue to partner and solve the issue of obesity and family nutrition together.

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