Desert Spoon Food Hub has branched out from its grocery delivery service in El Paso and opened the doors to a brick-and-mortar market, offering fresh produce, frozen foods and pantry staples.
Reminiscent of a neighborhood corner store, visitors at Spoon Flower Grocery can find black oyster mushrooms grown in southern New Mexico, beans from Picacho Coffee Roasters, seitan chorizo and whatever’s in season – yellow peaches, zucchini and cherries at the moment. The shelves also carry brands from outside the region, such as Planet Oat Oatmilk and Field Day Organic pasta sauce.
The nonprofit market opened in May in an unassuming, beige brick building in Central El Paso, 1714 Yandell Drive, where the team also packages online food orders for weekend delivery and pickup.
Patsy Terrazas-Stallworth and her daughters Vanessa Brady and Adriana Clowe started Desert Spoon Food Hub in 2015 as a for-profit, buyers club that sourced from local farms. They later converted the business into a nonprofit and named it after the desert spoon, the sotol plant native to the Chihuahuan Desert.
Their goal is to support local farms and make organic food more available to the community, Brady said. Some of the farms they work with do not have an organic certification from USDA, which can be an expensive and lengthy process, but practice some form of organic or regenerative agriculture. Regenerative farming focuses on soil health and, research shows, has the potential to produce more nutritious food.
Brady learned about conditions to farm in the desert, a region stricken with drought and inconsistent water supply, from her conversations with farmers.
“If you talk to them, the way they talk about their relationship with the soil and the earth, and how they’re trying to give back to future generations who also want to farm this land … that’s why we believe so strongly in this,” Brady said.
Typically, there are three ways people can buy fruit and vegetables from local farms: directly from the farm, at farmers markets or through community-supported agriculture boxes, known as CSA boxes, which work like a subscription service. The new physical shop, Spoon Flower Grocery, provides another option and accepts payments though the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, a federal program that provides low-income households monthly funds to purchase food.
The grocery store participates in the federal Double Up Food Bucks program, which matches every dollar SNAP recipients spend on fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables – a two-for-one deal, essentially.
Terrazas-Stallworth said they chose Desert Spoon Food Hub’s location to be closer to a community that may have a more challenging time buying groceries.
“This neighborhood has an older population. They depend on public transportation very often and so not being able to walk to a store is a huge issue,” Brady said.
The shop has been three years in the making, stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic. The family received a $150,000 grant in March 2020 through El Paso County’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative to open a “micro grocery store” in an area that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food, Terrazas-Stallworth said.
But shortly after the award, El Paso declared a state of emergency as coronavirus began ravaging the community. The Desert Spoon Food Hub team focused its energy on the warehouse as orders for farm box deliveries jumped. When COVID-19 cases slowed down, they returned to plans of opening Spoon Flower Grocery.
Desert Spoon Food Hub’s suppliers include Desierto Verde, which grows microgreens in East El Paso; Chuco Town Farm, which produces eggs, herbs and vegetables in San Elizario; and Growing with Sara, a more than 100-year-old family farm in Socorro. Produce with slight “imperfections,” a small bruise for example, may sell for a discounted price at the store, Brady said. Anything that doesn’t sell gets donated to homeless or migrant shelters in an attempt to reduce food waste, she added.
Since opening the mini mart, the organization has begun hosting a pop-up stand with El Paso chef Mateo Herrera, who makes tortillas, tamales and empanadas using regional ingredients such as Mexican June Corn from nearby De Colores Farms.
Desert Spoon Food Hub is also collaborating for the next five years with Texas A&M AgriLife to find ways small- and medium-sized food businesses can reach more customers in the Texas and New Mexico borderlands.
Terrazas-Stallworth said Desert Spoon Food Hub assembles and delivers around 70 to 120 farm boxes a week for customers as well as patients in Fresh Rx, a prescription produce program that connects farms to health clinics. The nonprofit also delivers 30 to 50 boxes a week for Taster Space, an educational program with fruits, vegetables and activities to encourage children to explore foods.
People can purchase farm boxes online. The items for each box are listed each week and people can add more items from Spoon Flower Grocery to their order.
Spoon Flower Grocery
Where: 1714 Yandell Drive
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Friday; and 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday