Maybe it was the time I spent on my grandparent’s farm where I ate my fair share of strawberries from my aunt and uncle’s u-pick operation, or just my need for beauty and sustenance through food, and it’s probably a knowing that our survival depends on healthy food systems, that keeps me coming back to farming, people, and the beauty and gratitude of and for food. In 2015, I learned about Nina Yozell-Epstein’s initiative, Squash Blossom Local Food a mission driven social enterprise connecting people and restaurants to the local farmers of New Mexico. Squash Blossom’s mission is “to provide a dependable income stream for local farmers, bring healthier food to our community, and strengthen our local economy”. They are the only wholesale distributor of local produce for restaurants in Santa Fe and have an online farmers market where the rest of us can shop for our local fare.
Today, you can arrive in a new town or city and find a grocery store or restaurant on your smart phone and get dinner. You don’t need to know about water, soil, season, or the state of agricultural life at all to eat. It’s easy, and disorienting. Squash Blossom offers “Blossom Bag” subscriptions where customers can get a curated bag of local veggies weekly, with the option to add farm-fresh eggs, or locally roasted coffee, homemade jams, mustards, local kombucha, goat dairy, and more. They have pick-up locations for their Blossoms bags and deliver them to workplaces each week, such as Descartes Labs and Meow Wolf. Because of the tight network of farmers that Nina has built, all the food that is delivered to chefs and packed in Blossom Bags is harvested within 36 hours of getting to its destination. When you browse their veggie availability on the computer each week, (as it changes with the seasons), all the produce is still in the ground until someone places their order for it.
I reached out to Nina upon learning of this inspiring work, knowing I wanted to be involved, tell her story, and eat that gorgeous local food! Over the past 3 years, she’s invited me out on ten farm visits. We’ve visited orchards, ranches, fields, and greenhouses together. We’ve gone out in each season, witnessing crops at different stages. We’ve seen acres and acres of impeccable fields, some flood irrigated off the traditional acequias, some with high-tech drip systems. We’ve visited indoor microgreen operations, huge free-range chicken yards, and dark, dank, mysterious mushroom warehouses.
“I am from New Mexico, I was born and raised here, and it’s the only home I have. I want to see it thrive, I want to work for it. If we are not stewards of the land, who will be?” says Nina Yozell-Epstein, Founder, Squash Blossom Local Food. Nina sees the work of Squash Blossom as a way to protect the earth, preserve culture and diversity, strengthen the local economy, and imbue health for all eaters. When I photograph her I see the passion, the joy and the love she has for her community, nature and what she does.
“We’re all here [in New Mexico] against the odds. It’s a desert, it’s a short growing season, there is fire danger, there is drought. You don’t think of farming here, yet everything that grows here has that much more flavor, that much more spice, and that’s true for the people too. I want to protect us, I want to protect my community, and the land. Squash Blossom Local Food is about New Mexico, it’s about protecting the most delicate and vibrant aspect of our culture and community.”
Squash Blossom works with over 25 farms throughout New Mexico, ranging from 1-10 acres. Not all are certified organic, but Squash Blossom does require that their growers use organic practices, ie. not using chemical pesticides nor fertilizers. You can see a full list of the farms they work with here. You can also check out which restaurants are buying local ingredients through Squash Blossom here.
Farms are represented in this group of images:
Española Valley Farms, Española, New Mexico
Rancho la Jolla, Danny Farrar, Velarde, New Mexico
Mushroom Cultivator, Stephanie Dukette
Over twenty restaurants are participating. Look for the logo or click here to see the list.
This year, Nina’s partner, Mathew Ladegaard, started his own farm after almost a decade of working on other people’s farms around the country. He ended up in New Mexico because of his love for green chile. Nina says, “He can stay,” with a smile. They met at the farmers market a few years ago. Ground Stone Farm is just closing in on their first season, selling about 50/50 through Squash Blossom and through the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market.
Nina says, “Mat and I love to travel, and I love watching him engage with native weeds/plants/herbs/flowers everywhere we go. He has collected seeds from a handful of countries and grows them out back home. He’s passionate about unusual varieties of crops and things that will thrive in our high desert environment. We signed the lease on our land on January 1, 2018. (We rent a raw plot with no buildings nor electricity from a kind man who wanted his water-rights to be used so that he didn’t loose them, as per the new ‘aamodt’ water settlement in our valley). Mat had his first harvests ready to sell straight through Squash Blossom in April! I carry his salad mix, lettuce heads, radishes, carrots, beets, turnips, kale and chard, currently. He’s a great greens grower, and that is something I’ve never been able to have enough supply of, to meet the demand of the chefs I work with.”
Also included in these photos – artist, educator and farmer, Liz Brindley of Prints and Plants Press
Check out a recent article about Squash Blossom in UNUM Magazine
Follow Squash Blossom Local Food on Instagram
To learn more, visit: Squash Blossom Local Food online
StoryPortrait Media Testimonial from Nina Yozell-Epstein
“Genevieve is a storyteller. In order to tell a story thoroughly and truthfully, to convey the details, heart, and feelings of a place, person, business, or landscape, one must be immensely graceful. Genevieve is. She is first a listener. She approaches her work with humility and observation and is able to receive the landscape and project with such openness. She allows the story to be told to her, so that she can convey it with impeccable honesty and beauty.
I have had the pleasure of working with Genevieve and StoryPortrait Media on a number of occasions through my business Squash Blossom Local Food Inc. We have gone on numerous farm visits together across New Mexico, into people’s homes and onto their land. We have been welcomed into the most intimate parts of people’s stories, cultures and passions, and Genevieve has observed and retold these legacies with such incredible art and accuracy. I have been amazed. She makes her subjects comfortable, listens in depth, and sees the magic in their story. This is what she is able to convey. The final project is something enormously vibrant.
As a small business owner, having such high-quality photos of the work I do adds professionalism to my business, and encourages customers to engage. Storytelling is crucial for a small local business, because it shows what sets us aside from corporate America. My customers work with me because my business has values, is mission driven, is woman-owned, and offers unparalleled quality. Genevieve conveys these elements that make my business so unique and special through her photography. You can be doing all the right things, but if you don’t tell anyone, then no one will know. I can’t stress enough how important it is to share your passion for what you do in a professional way, so that people can participate! StoryPortrait Media exists to do just that. It’s an asset that all businesses should have, no matter the size, especially if yours is labor of love. Scream it from the rooftops! Let your community know what you are doing! Work with Genevieve to do this with terrific beauty!”
-Nina Yozell-Epstein, Founder | Director
Squash Blossom Local Food Inc.