Increasing Access to Fresh Food in El Paso

The Problem

Many residents in El Paso have limited access to fresh food due to economic insecurity and lack of grocery stores in their neighborhoods. Additionally, local businesses throughout the city are unnecessarily wasting water and energy because they are unaware of the importance of sustainable practices. These include a number of small retrofits that could save money and reduce waste.

The Solution

Through the Cities of Service Resilience AmeriCorps VISTA Program, the city created two parallel programs to increase access to fresh food and increase water and energy efficiency in local businesses.

  • The Garden Grant program provided small grants to communities in low income areas to start and maintain their own gardens. These were coupled with workshops to educate them on how to grow their own food.
  • AmeriCorps VISTA members worked with experts to train Resilience Ambassadors, members of the community that educated businesses owners and helped them install new equipment to increase their water and energy efficiency.

The Results

Through the program, Cities of Service Resilience AmeriCorps VISTA members and city staff engaged more than 900 volunteers and connected with local businesses to increase access to healthy food and reduce waste.

  • Neighborhood groups and residents created seven community gardens with mini-grants from the city.
  • The groups included a public elementary school, a YMCA that rents some garden beds at a low rate to low-income families and donates the rest of its produce to a food pantry, and Candlelighters, which donates produce to families of children with cancer.
  • More than 200 pounds of fresh food have been harvested from community gardens and given to residents.
  • AmeriCorps VISTA members and experts trained 18 Resilience Ambassadors, who have worked with businesses to make small changes to save water and energy.
  • Resilience Ambassadors have helped businesses install 200 energy efficient light bulbs and install aerators to increase water efficiency.

Keys to Success

The program leaders and AmeriCorps VISTA members collaborated with other departments, including the Department of Human and Community Development, Parks and Recreation, Environmental Services, and Facilities and Maintenance, which has increased awareness of the need for green infrastructure and the benefits of engaging the community to address public challenges.

“We have worked hard to identify what’s important and what we can learn from these neighborhoods versus just coming in and saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do for you, or to you.’”

— Nicole Ferrini, Chief Resilience Officer