Since the closure of Trail’s End Market over a dozen years ago, Magdalena has been without a food market and has fallen into the category of a food desert. According to the USDA, food deserts are geographical areas where residents have few to no convenient options for securing affordable and healthy foods — especially fresh fruits and vegetables.

In an effort to remedy that situation, the concept of establishing a local grocery source is making headway with the Magdalena Food Cooperative Initiative. Its steering committee is now meeting monthly.

Committee member Charlie Blaylock said the idea started a few months ago, based on the need to “make food available that’s not dollar store food, something a little more nutritious and healthy.

“We were really looking primarily as a solution to not having to drive all the way to Socorro to buy groceries,” he said. “Our vision is to make food more accessible to us and everyone around us and to make it as reasonably priced as possible, recognizing that all those fresh foods require refrigerated trucking and that kind of thing,”

Prior to moving to Magdalena, Blaylock said he supervised the largest farmers market in Fort Worth, Texas.

“When my wife and I moved here, we saw there was no grocery store, and so we were kicking around the idea of what we could do to get a grocery store,” Blaylock said. “I have lots of dedicated experience managing a locally sourced supply chain. This includes fresh fruits and fresh vegetables.”

He said he learned that Laurie Ware and Osiris Navarro had started discussing trying to develop a food cooperative, and the three met in February to discuss the venture.

“Generally, the idea would be a membership coop that the public could shop at,” Blaylock said. “With that model, we can spread the labor out instead of one person assuming all the financial risk and doing all the work required to run a grocery store. Make it more of a community-oriented grocery store.”

Longtime resident Laurie Ware said the concept has been received positively by the public.

“We had our initial meeting in February. That first meeting at the High County Lodge had a great turnout,” Ware said. “There were 50 to 60 people from all walks of life and backgrounds. We got a lot of input from that initial meeting, and food quality and availability of local and regional food were high on the input. Also, driving was a huge factor. All of us drive somewhere else to buy food.”

She said the group is in the process of being assigned a co-op specialist/contractor through Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, “and from there, we will work on a feasibility study, getting incorporated, business plan, thing like that.”

The grant-funded Rocky Mountain Farmers Union boasts 20,000 member families in Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming and specializes in the co-op development process with support, value proposition, governance, and other co-op development stages.

Ware said RMFU also has attorneys that will help in the formation of bylaws and articles of incorporation.

“We have submitted an intake form and have been connected with a Cooperative Development Specialist,” she said.

As the driving force behind Tumbleweeds Diner, Osiris Navarro is well aware of Magdalena’s need for a grocery source.

“With rising gas prices and accessibility, we need to have something in our backyard,” she said. “This includes Magdalena and the surrounding area, like Datil and Alamo, as well as the nearby subdivisions.”

As the budding cooperative grows, organizers will be seeking a permanent location.

“We want a brick-and-mortar store,” Navarro said. “The building we are trying to secure for this is the NDN Mercantile, the former Salome Store.”

She envisions a store that residents can rely on for nutritious food, preferably including locally butchered beef and poultry products.

“We intend to have a kind of deli kitchen in the back,” Navarro said. “That will make fresh foods where you can pick up meals to go. Maybe nice hearty salads. Casseroles you can heat up at home. A little bakery area. That’s the vision we have for this place.

“We’re trying to work on, too, is how we can open a USDA-certified processing plant here,” Navarro said. “That would work in tandem with the cooperative; that way, we could pretty much purchase beef in our own community.”

She admitted the cooperative “will not happen overnight. It will be a long process because of how it has to be incorporated. It’s not as easy as opening a business with two partners. It also depends on how much community support we can get.”

Blaylock said the more people involved, the sooner the operation becomes a reality.

“We could be open in a year or two to three years,” he said. “It could be sooner if we had the labor and money to do it. There are grants out there for rural groceries, and Keri James could help us with that. With healthy food finance initiatives all across the U.S., we are trying to find one that fits our model.”

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