Opinion: Use chess strategy in food-security crisis

By Mike Musialowski
Posted 6/15/20

One may think that a community response to the needs brought on by coronavirus should be bold and swift.I'd like to add that a lasting response could also be like a series of chess …

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Opinion: Use chess strategy in food-security crisis

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One may think that a community response to the needs brought on by coronavirus should be bold and swift.

I'd like to add that a lasting response could also be like a series of chess moves. I'm speaking specifically about the need for local food to support unemployed families.

With 38 million new unemployment claims nationwide since the beginning of the year, multiple experts are anticipating unemployment rates similar to the Great Depression. Can you envision 1 out of every 5 Taoseños out of a job?

Taos has too much talent, tenacity and tradición to simply rely on a chaotic federal government response. With winter "only" seven months away, the way to play this chess game of take-care-of-la-gente is to think many moves in advance.

The variables that a food-security chess player needs to consider include experienced farmers, land, water, seed, money, labor, tools, storage, refrigeration, markets and volunteers, to name a few. Then money, via donors, grant-making foundations (like the Taos Community Foundation), crowdfunding and some governments can support all of the above.

I propose that this game of chess is not the typical power struggle with brutal sacrifices of "weaker" pieces and carnage, but more how the various pieces represent all the contributing food-system roles how they are best moved in concert, together as a team.

First, in order to keep local farmers afloat we can use their services to support food banks such as Shared Table, St. James Episcopal Church food pantry and Enos Garcia Elementary food-to-student service. The Food Depot based in Santa Fe has been supporting many Norteño communities. All this requires money. Thankfully, donations (some of them very large) have in fact been pouring in and our community is very grateful.

But we can feed two birds with one seed if we can network with and purchase staples from as many local/regional farmers as possible. The Taos Farmers Market is evolving a coronavirus-safe strategy and needs our support in the face of reduced foot traffic. These financial angles can help meet food needs in the short term.

Second, volunteers are already the lifeblood of Taos resilience. Unpaid food bank staff are dividing up donations into over 1,500 bags every other week, more in some cases. The Taos Food Coop volunteers distribute large shipments as more people are now buying food in bulk. Folks who need summer activities can offer help to a neighbor weeding their garden while enjoying company and conversation outdoors with safe social distancing.

Third, producing food on a longer timeline is part of a broader strategy. It would really help to invest in our youth and the underemployed in our time of need. Formal training programs like those happening at Taos Pueblo Red Willow Farm, Agriculture Innovation Research and Education, Farm -to-School initiative, Not Forgotten Outreach and the Taos Land Trust as well as others are mentoring new farmers and land stewards.

Just as valuable are informal networks of families and neighborhoods where youth are invited on planting and irrigation days. "Grow a row for your bro" is an attitude of inclusion and action that many of us can take as we prepare for the large fall harvest we desperately need.

Let's hold that vision of abundance and make it happen. Homeowners really are planting "victory gardens" to reduce financial and nutritional stress while maintaining belief in ourselves in a time of crisis.

Fourth, families that have unused land with water rights can coordinate with landless farmers to increase farming "capacity." The LandLink and Brown-to-Green programs at the nonprofit Alianza Agri-Cultura de Taos are actively doing this critical work to revitalize land with huge potential. The sharing of any of these farming resources including logistics and administration represent the greatest good played out on the chessboard.

A well-played game requires integration of all these parts. Let's support reliable local organizations and the new Community Organizations Active in Disaster council to play a leadership role and back them up with our actions when we can.

I once witnessed a high school educator use the phrase "gift + issue = change." That's how we can play this game and plan for our needs in advance: Pick one of these roles on the food-security chess board, apply your natural gift/talent to that issue and watch Taos survive strong through the future.

Mike Musialowski teaches math and science at Taos Academy and volunteers for local agricultural nonprofit organizations.

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