Beyond Brunch — How Farm to Table Businesses Protect Your Community’s Food Systems

Creative Startups
Creative Startups
Published in
8 min readFeb 24, 2021


Santa Fe’s Squash Blossom founder details how creative food distribution can simultaneously innovate and protect local farm traditions and food systems, even during a global crisis

A farmer holds basil leaves
Credit: Squash Blossom

With the rise of the local food movement, many of us are eager to eat at our communities’ farm to table restaurants, but we usually don’t think about the “to” in that description. We take for granted the complicated logistical process of relocating the food coming out of the field to a grocery store shelf or restaurant menu so it can eventually arrive at its final destination: your plate. The distinct and equally important aspects of healthy agriculture and eating — the growing and harvesting, transporting and packaging, and finally prepping and plating — remain a mystery for most of us.

Breakdowns in localized food distribution infrastructure and processes have dire consequences for communities. Injustices that cause hunger have grown in complexity over the last decades: climate change, corporate control of land and seeds, racism that leads to disproportionate access to both farming and food, necessary pandemic lockdowns and limitations. All of these point to the urgent need to support our farms, distributors, and food retailers who are on the ground directly feeding our communities.

Food leaders nation-wide have been hard at work to find solutions. Seattle adopted a Food Action Plan in 2013 that included farm to table initiatives meant to increase access to opportunities to both grow food and eat healthy, especially within the city’s schools (much like Farm to Table New Mexico who is working to provide such programs regionally). Activist organizations like Food First have been fighting for decades to increase awareness of and fight against the injustices rampant in our food system and more recently have been putting a spotlight on the essential nature of all food work during the pandemic, despite their non-essential status. The need for innovative food entrepreneurs, like the ones that Creative Startups supports, who find creative solutions to support their local food ecosystem is at an all time high.

The city of Santa Fe has stepped up its investment in the local food industry, including partnering with Creative Startups to develop the Santa Fe Food LABS pre-accelerator, an intensive program for food entrepreneurs looking to jumpstart or pivot their business. Rich Brown, the city’s Director of Community and Economic Development, stated that “through the 2020 LABS graduate cohort, we’ve seen more than a $300,000 rise in revenue to the city, which turns into tax dollars and new jobs.” Mayor Alan Webber similarly affirmed the importance of accelerator programs, expressing that creative entrepreneurs “are nimble, agile, and resilient, and are what Santa Fe is all about.” In the Food LABS accelerator, Creative Startups’ mentors and faculty, like Nina Yozell-Epstein of Squash Blossom, share their expertise, ensuring that the next crop of entrepreneurs is successful and that the movement grows.


A farmer holds squash blossoms while standing amongst their crops
Credit: Squash Blossom

When Nina started Squash Blossom in Santa Fe, she aimed to ease some of the challenges plaguing her community’s food system and bridge the gap between local farms, restaurants, and consumers.

“The main question driving Squash Blossom’s mission was ‘how do we get more local food into the marketplace?’ We are driven by the goal of providing a reliable income stream for farmers, bringing healthier food to our community, and strengthening our local economy,” says Nina.

Squash Blossom is a social-enterprise company that works with over 25 local farms to distribute their crops to restaurants and consumers. The process is deceptively simple: once a week, Nina communicates with farmers to determine what produce is ready for harvest. She then lists these on the Squash Blossom website, which local chefs can use to order the ingredients they need for their menus wholesale. She also curates a weekly Blossom Bag, a CSA-type subscription service that allows Santa Feans to purchase fresh produce directly from the source. Through Squash Blossom, farmers are able to harvest produce to order and eliminate waste.

“It’s a lot of moving parts, a lot of communication and logistics. Most of the farms I work with are very diversified. They have many different crops, so it takes coordination,” says Nina. “Farmers face a lot of challenges. It’s everything from late frosts to surprise hail storms to droughts, fires, or pests. Farmers work harder than anyone. They’re always busy and always challenged, so by doing this piece of marketing, sales, and distribution, we can take a lot off of their backs so they spend more time in the fields.”


When Covid hit, the farm to table process changed for everyone. The need for local produce increased drastically as grocery store supply-chains were disrupted. Customers pushed empty carts down empty aisles and began to really worry about where they were going to access their basic needs. Small-scale farms suddenly saw a boom in demand, while, at the same time, their restaurant orders dwindled and their access to public markets was limited. Like all successful entrepreneurs, Nina knew that Squash Blossom had to quickly evolve.

Credit: Squash Blossom

“Restaurants used to be the majority of our clients, while we also did the Blossom Bags. We had about 25 customers for the bags in the winter and 50 in the summer. Then the moment the pandemic hit, the restaurants halted, and the demand for the Blossom Bags skyrocketed. In about a week to three weeks, we had to turn our business completely upside down. Because the lockdown happened in March, which is our slow season, we were only at 25 bags a week, and that went up to 225. It was shocking.”

Nina quickly hired more staff and rented additional space in warehouses. She explains that the logistics for selling more subscription bags were entirely different from selling wholesale to restaurants. Chefs ordered produce by the case, which required less storage than Blossom Bag produce. The subscriptions also required more time to put together. Squash Blossom began to set up delivery services and contactless pick-up. But, to Nina, this sort of fast-paced change is all a part of being a successful entrepreneur.

“A lot of being an entrepreneur is about trying to stay on your toes and not getting too attached to the solutions that you think are the right ones because the world keeps changing.”

“One thing I’ve noticed over this last year is just how agile you have to be,” says Nina. “A lot of being an entrepreneur is about trying to stay on your toes and not getting too attached to the solutions that you think are the right ones because the world keeps changing. The pandemic continues to change things for our businesses and for the needs of our community.

“Working with food, it has to be a job that you want to work forever. Whether it’s a restaurant or farming, it’s something that’s going to require a lot of time, blood, sweat, and tears. You have to do it because you love it.”


The love at the center of Nina’s work has to do with telling the story of healthy eating and New Mexican food.

According to Nina, “New Mexico has such a unique cuisine and culture, and it’s really connected to the earth. You can’t love New Mexican food without loving New Mexican farming.”

She explains that, with New Mexico’s regional agriculture, each area has its own heirloom varieties of crops specific to the people and place across generations.

“I live in Nambe, and we grow our own chile that has been saved from the families in this valley. To eat them, you open up a pod, shake out the seeds, soak the pod in water, and then make your red chile sauce. And you save those seeds to replant next year,” says Nina. “It’s a simple system that has been going on for generations. It’s a really strong and alive lineage that hasn’t been lost, and that’s something so special about New Mexico that I’m proud of.”

“For me, being able to use wild plants that are endemic to the area here, that is, I think, the closest thing to what my ancestors have eaten from this place. So it feels like a lost heritage that I’m rediscovering.”

Many New Mexican farmers and chefs share this pride, like Johnny Ortiz, founder of the Shed Project, a unique restaurant in Northern New Mexico that serves very intimate dinner gatherings meant to connect patrons to the food and culture of the area. His dishes are made completely with ingredients foraged or grown by him and his collaborators. To Johnny, farming and foraging are about connection.

Wild plums ripe for foraging
Credit: Johnny Ortiz

“I’m from Taos Pueblo, and the Pueblo’s food culture is actually based on what visitors like the Spanish or Mexicans brought to the area, and there really isn’t a huge food culture that’s based around the land of this place anymore,” he explains. “So, for me, being able to use wild plants that are endemic to the area here, that is, I think, the closest thing to what my ancestors have eaten from this place. So it feels like a lost heritage that I’m rediscovering.”

Nina expressed that, with Squash Blossom, she gets to tell the stories of the farmers she works with, helping her customers have a direct relationship with the farmers so they can support the local food system and preserve its culture.

“The farmers we support are entrepreneurs and business owners. The more we support them, the more we can keep our money local and take care of people who are trying to make a living that’s aligned with their values and with their history. It does really powerful things for a community and for our local economy.”

If you are a food entrepreneur in Northern New Mexico looking to benefit your local food system like Squash Blossom, apply to the Creative Startups Santa Fe Food LABS today! Whether you are just beginning to develop your business or are looking to innovate in light of Covid-19, our Creative Startups expert mentors will work with you, covering concepts like customer discovery and development, business formation and structure, cash flow projections and creating a sales pipeline.

Join us for our Spring 2021 LABS Pre-Accelerator for Northern New Mexico Food Entrepreneurs by applying here by February 28th. We hope to see you there!

Credit: Squash Blossom



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