Delivery of carrots by Agri-Cultura Network
Maria Reynaga, Andrew Valverde and Emma Dewey from Agri-Cultura Network deliver carrots to UNMH.
Credit: Sara Mota

Every Friday morning, a truck backs up to the loading dock at the University of New Mexico Hospital (UNMH) to deliver 15 pounds of freshly picked orange and heirloom purple carrots – all destined for the hospital’s cafeteria.

The standing order for produce grown in Albuquerque’s South Valley came through Healthy Neighborhoods Albuquerque, an initiative to grow Main Street jobs by hiring and buying locally. It’s a partnership among local “anchor institutions” to leverage their collective purchasing and hiring power to spur job growth and business development in underinvested neighborhoods. 

“Anchor institutions like ours can play an important role by keeping money circulating in the local economy,” said Richard S. Larson, MD, PhD, executive vice chancellor at the UNM Health Sciences Center (HSC), which is leading the Healthy Neighborhoods initiative. “We see this as an effective way to spur business development in underinvested areas neighborhoods, which in turn will help promote greater health and well-being in the community.”

UNMH Interim CEO Michael Chicarelli said the hospital purchases several varieties of shredded carrots through the Agri-Cultura Network, a cooperative of farmers in Albuquerque’s South Valley. The UNMH cafeteria serves hundreds of meals each day to employees and hospital visitors. “We’re looking to expand our purchasing over time to include additional types of produce,” Chicarelli said.  

Other Healthy Neighborhoods participants include Presbyterian Healthcare Services, Albuquerque Public Schools (APS), Central New Mexico Community College (CNM), First Choice Community Healthcare, the City of Albuquerque and the Albuquerque Community Foundation.

UNM worked with its Healthy Neighborhoods partners and an outside consultant to identify collaborative projects to support local purchasing and selected the steady demand for fresh produce in the UNMH cafeteria as an ideal place to start. 

Presbyterian Healthcare’s senior vice president Kathy Davis said her health system has partnered with Agri-Cultura Network for nearly five years to support local farming. “We’re very pleased to see Healthy Neighborhoods Albuquerque fulfilling its mission,” Davis said.

The locally grown carrots are shredded, packaged and delivered to UNMH each week, said Agri-Cultura’s Jedrek Lamb. “This purchasing agreement supports our farmers,” he said. “We greatly appreciate the opportunity and look forward to expanding our collaboration,” he said.

Randy Royster, CEO of the Albuquerque Community Foundation, said the carrot purchase is part of the first Healthy Neighborhoods initiative to support local businesses.  “The Albuquerque Community Foundation is excited to be a part of this initiative to support local businesses and bolster economic development in the community,” he said.

The next step will be to launch Project Hire, a joint effort between UNM, UNM HSC, Presbyterian, CNM and APS to provide basic job training to high school students in order to hire them into jobs at UNM or Presbyterian after graduation, Royster said.

Ryan Cangiolosi, the HSC’s economic development director, hailed the growing collaboration among Albuquerque’s anchor institutions.

“It has been very rewarding to work with our partners and members of the business community to help them develop new opportunities,” Cangiolosi said. “We’re proud that Healthy Neighborhoods Albuquerque is living up to its name.”