Grant County, New Mexico

July 2014

For all the sweeping natural beauty of Grant County—majestic mountains, fragrant pine forests, high desert grasslands—there is also the triple challenge of poverty, isolation and infrastructure. The county covers 3,900 square miles, yet its population is under 30,000. Nearly half of all residents live in small rural communities that are distant from the county’s four incorporated towns.

In this region of southwestern New Mexico, less and less food is grown locally. Trucking it in over long distances leads to higher costs, making fresh produce prohibitively expensive for many families hit hard by job losses in local industries. A common way to stretch limited dollars is to choose high-calorie, low-nutrition, processed foods. One consequence: More than one-third of all seventh graders are obese. Obesity rates for children in other age groups are not far behind.

Despite these challenges, Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) partners in Grant County have promoted healthier, more active lifestyles for all ages by focusing on the supply of fresh foods so that families can easily incorporate fruit and vegetables into their diets. Their other key goal was to get more children and families outside and moving by increasing safe opportunities for physical activity.

The Grant County Community Health Council, part of Gila Regional Medical Center, has spearheaded the HKHC initiative. Other key partners include the Volunteer Center of Grant County, Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments, Hidalgo Medical Services, Grant County Cooperative Extension Service, Grant County Public Health Office and local government officials from Silver City, Bayard and Hurley.

The partnership organized a push for street improvements to increase pedestrian and cyclist usage, and the development of local trails. HKHC collaborators also connected local farmers to low-income children and families through farm-to-school programs and area farmers’ markets.

“Grant County is known for its strong collaboration between partners who can look at the bigger picture and think about the greater good,” said project director Tiffany Knauf. “Our motto for this work has been ‘the choices we make are shaped by the choices we have,’” Knauf explained. “Our partners have helped us bring about positive policy and infrastructure changes.”

Key accomplishments:

  • A walking school bus program was established in the Cobre School District, which included training for volunteers to coordinate groups of students that walk to school with an adult. Volunteers created a plan to sustain the program and have recruited help to run the program throughout the school year.
  • Partners worked with Market Basket, a local grocery store in Silver City, to create a “family-friendly” checkout aisle. The store also promoted healthier items, altered the store environment to encourage healthier food purchases through special displays and offered free cooking demonstrations.
  • With support from county officials and local food stakeholders, the Grant County Food Policy Council was established through a resolution by the county commission.
  • A farm-to-school pilot project connected area growers to elementary schools in the Silver and Cobre Consolidated School Districts, feeding over 1,000 children with locally grown produce.
  • Three local farmers’ markets gained access to EBT machines and now accept SNAP benefits (formerly known as Food Stamps). The non-profit Volunteer Center of Grant County created a countywide accounting system—the first of its kind in New Mexico.
  • HKHC partners worked closely with the New Mexico Department of Transportation and the Town of Silver City to successfully advocate for multi-modal transportation improvements on major roads, including repaved bike lanes, crossings and signage.

As a result of HKHC partners’ leadership, Silver City updated its Land Use and Zoning Code to provide protections for community gardens, farmers’ markets, trails and Complete Streets.