Seed2Need founders Penny and Sandy Davis provide about 25 tons of fruits and vegetables to food banks every year.
FOR SEED2NEED FOUNDERS Penny and Sandy Davis, the revolution starts with a tomato grown in Corrales.
That’s what Penny fed a tomato-hating little boy on a formative visit to the three acres farmed by Seed2Need. The volunteer-run nonprofit, started by the couple in 2008, supplies an average of 50,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables every year to food banks in Bernalillo and Sandoval counties.
Determined to change the picky kid’s mind about the summer fruit, Penny first gave him a store-bought tomato. He spat it out on the ground. But after he tried a juicy homegrown orb, he lit up. “He said, ‘That’s good!’ ” she says. “And he ate the whole thing.”
Sandy and Penny began sowing the seeds of their farm-to-food-bank operation in 2008, at the onset of the recession. The retirees decided to plant a garden in a neighbor’s empty horse corral and donate the veggies they grew to Storehouse West, in Rio Rancho. The next year, more land was donated and the garden grew to a tenth of an acre. In 2010, the Sandoval County Master Gardeners signed on to sponsor the project and provide potential volunteers.
Over the next decade, like a staunch seedling pushing up soil, Penny says, “it really did just grow and grow.”
Tomatoes, squash, and other fresh produce make their way to five food-bank partners.
Since 2010, Seed2Need has donated more than 600,000 pounds of quality organic produce to its five food-bank partners. The largest harvests are drought-tolerant tomatoes and green chile (the heat-packing Sandía Select, to be exact, with seeds from New Mexico State University’s Chile Pepper Institute). The organization also grows squash, cucumbers, corn, and a variety of fruit from donated trees.
These days, 500 volunteers cultivate three acres of donated land throughout Corrales. They do it all—plant seeds, mulch, compost, fertilize, apply shade cloths, and harvest—as well as prune and glean for orchard owners and other locals who donate overabundant crops. Approximately a third of the farmhands are master gardeners, and the rest are an eager crew of Bosque School and Albuquerque Academy students, Scout troops, and fresh-air-loving members of the general public.
This spring, COVID-19 forced Seed2Need to cut down on volunteers and stagger farm hours. The planting process stretched from a four-hour operation with 100 people to a weeklong endeavor done in socially distanced two-hour shifts. By harvest time, Penny says, “everybody was ready to get out into the fresh air and get their hands back in the dirt.”
Penny and Sandy Davis have about 500 volunteers who help plant, grow, and harvest three acres of tomatoes, squash, and other produce.
Seed2Need’s mission is more important than ever, says Rachael Miletkov, development director at St. Felix Pantry, in Rio Rancho. “We’ve all seen the lines at the pantries these days,” she says. With food distribution issues further complicated by the pandemic, community members are delighted to take part in a simple farm-to-table system. “It’s the most nutritious, it’s the most vitamin- and mineral-packed, and it’s local,” Miletkov says. “It comes from right down the street.”
After pantry staff bag the produce from Seed2Need farms, the handoffs to customers inspire wide-ranging conversations that include recipe tips, ways to roast chile, and how to freeze tomato sauce.
For Miletkov, the gift of Seed2Need’s community-grown produce is not limited to providing good nutrition for New Mexicans in need. “We see each other. We care for one another,” she says. “Seed2Need is an incredible story, but that’s also just how we do it in New Mexico. We come together.”