EL PASO — Natural. Healthy. Green. Whatever term you choose, organic food is a growing industry in the El Paso area.
Nearly a dozen local restaurants offer organic fare but, even more importantly, they are working with local farmers to source their foods.
According to the USDA National Organic Program, which sets national standards for organic foods, “the goal is to restore, maintain, and enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and integrate the parts of farming into an ecological whole.”
“Demand has risen,” said Ulises Córdova, owner of the Green Ingredient, 201 E. Main St. “People are being more conscious. Now, because of that, not only in El Paso but, throughout the nation, there is more demand for organic produce.”
The definition of organic is food that is free of hormones, chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, but more importantly of GMO or genetically modified organisms, Córdova said.
People choose to eat organic for a variety of reasons: health, taste, and lifestyle.
Carlos Corral, manager of the Independent Burger, 5001 N. Mesa, pointed out that people are much more conscious of the types of food they eat. “People are more aware and educated, and they are looking for more opportunities to frequent businesses that offer these types of products.”
“If you can find somewhere to eat for breakfast or lunch, or even dinner now, that supports the way that you eat it just makes it a full circle,” said Kimberly Vanacek, who joined a friend for a breakfast at the Green Ingredient.
The Green Ingredient gets much of its organic produce from Sol y Tierra, a farm located about 25 miles north of El Paso in Anthony, New Mexico.
Mario Holguín, one of the farmers at Sol y Tierra, said that two years ago, one of his uncles died of cancer. “Investigating we found out that the cancer was due to eating canned, junk and processed food. Then, I started worrying about what I ate and what I gave my family to eat.”
Farmer Joseph Hernández said that, while the organic market is somewhat small, it is growing exponentially as consumers become more aware of the effects on health.
“Because people are tired of being tired and sick and hungry and (are) getting closer to what nature is doing, getting closer and closer, taking the steps to do what nature does already perfectly,” Hernández said.
Hernández said that organic produce is not only more healthful, but tastes better, too. And there is a socio-economic side that fuels the growth of the industry.
“We, first of all, the people who work here do not work under exploitative conditions. So they work with dignity, they have a decent income, and they are getting trained to be self-sufficient. So that’s very important.
“The other thing is that we are restoring the land. We’re restoring the soil. A lot of the land that we are working with right now used to be a parking lot so we are restoring it and restoring the community. For us every inch that we acquire for farming is an amazing gain for the community social, economically and environmentally,” Hernández said.
That social, economic, and political impact is what spurs Alma Maquitico, a farm assistant at Sol y Tierra and a Fellow with the American Friends Service of New Mexico.
“Right now we have about seven or eight people working here. We have five people getting trained as farm trainees. They are from southern New Mexico to east El Paso because we don’t have a local food system in El Paso or a good partner system in El Paso, so people in El Paso come here and get trained,” she said.
“We want our farmers to be socially aware of what is going on in their community and strive to, one, be self-sufficient economically by targeting restaurants, targeting farmer’s markets but at the same time to be socially conscious and try to figure out ways in which we can provide food, training or skills in low income communities that may not be able to afford the produce that we sell,” said Ivón Díaz, the marketing assistant for Sol y Tierra. ”We want everybody to eat healthy regardless of income.”
Córdova of the Green Ingredient agrees. “We focus on healthy eating and on teaching people to eat better,” he said.
“We try to be as natural and organic as possible while also developing the local economy.”