Do you know how far you are from your food?  

Not the walk across the kitchen to get to the refrigerator, but rather how far away is the dairy your milk came from? The cut of beef? That jar of honey? 

If you shop at Farm To You by Bomvida in Belen, you’ll know exactly how far those radishes traveled. 

When Chris and Yanna Whitson were thinking about opening a store featuring locally-produced food, they thought it would be five years or more down the road. After buying their Belen farm in 2020 and being greeted with what Chris describes as harassment and hostility at some local growers markets, the motivation to strike out on their own and help other local producers was even stronger. 

Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photos 

Chris and Yanna Whitson, founders of Farm To You By Bomvida, review invoices from producers and growers they carry in their Belen and Albuquerque stores. One of the fundamental tenants of their business practice is their no-quibble approach to what growers and producers charge them for their products. 

The Belen store opened in November 2022 and has increased its offerings to more than 40 farms and producers throughout central New Mexico, including many based here in Valencia County.  

They opened a second store in Albuquerque on Menaul Boulevard just before Christmas of 2023. 

“There was a lot of harassment at a local market. People would call the health department and report us, get law enforcement involved and block our reserved space,” Chris said. “When you’re new, it’s hard. You maybe make $30 a day, sometimes less than $20. We were running into other farmers who have been doing this for a long time who were having a hard time.  

“You spend two days getting ready, then the wind blows, it’s hot and then there are the monsoons. Even in the big markets, like Albuquerque’s Downtown, there’s a small handful killing it. The rest are barely making it.” 

Trying to find a better, more beneficial way of selling, Chris and Yanna offered to buy other growers products and sell them at markets, which allowed that. 

“We were bringing a mini grocery store to the market and we started adding more and more,” he said.  

By the end of 2022, Chris said the main market they sold at had become untenable, so he and Yana began brainstorming about how to replace the revenue they were losing. 

All of the products offered at the Farm To You stores includes the distance to the food or product. All of the items sold are grown or produced in central New Mexico, including many from within Valencia County. 

Several products sold at the Farm To You stores are produced by Bomvida Farms, owned by founders Chris and Yanna Whitson, including goat milk soap and gluten free baked goods. 

“I grew up in retail, so I said, ‘Let’s look at opening a store.’ When the markets close, where do people go? Those two things culminated and we started looking for space,” he said. 

With Albuquerque locations wanting leases for three and five years, Chris was hesitant. 

“I wasn’t sure we could keep going. These are small farmers, not manufacturers delivering on a fixed schedule.” 

He came across a vacant storefront on Main Street in Belen where Al’s Mini Mart used to be. There was only one occupant in the small strip mall, and on a gamble, he reached out to the owner, Benny Hodges. 

“I told him, ‘You don’t know me but people think I should open a store for local foods with farmers I have relationships with,’” Chris said. “He offered us a six-month lease and said if it doesn’t work, no penalties, you can just leave. It turns out we were right.” 

The store broke sales records month after month and grew from 18 farmers to 46 growers and local food producers. Chris says nearly 100 percent of the revenue gets spent locally in the central New Mexico area. Both stores lease from a local landlord and hire locals. 

The concept for a store, Chris said, was to draw a circle around a decent-sized city that represented an hour drive, and within that circle there would be someone making healthy foods. 

“You’re not going to have avocados or papayas and you don’t absolutely have to have things like that,” he said. “We’re talking about butter from raw milk, eggs, someone making sausages, breads, desserts, and you might be giving those things to your neighbors. They’re eventually going to say, ‘You should sell this as a business. It’s really good.’” 

Most small producers, when encouraged to go into business, see all the dollar signs, bureaucracy and red tape needed, Chris said. There’s USDA certifications, packaging, maybe the overheard of retail space. 

“If they spend $100,000 or get a loan to make that happen, then they have to sell so many (to recoup the costs). Where are they going to sell that much? We can give them information about how much we can sell. We can tell them we can easily sell X pounds and give that person some comfort that we are already a big enough market for them,” he said.  

“That’s the economic hole we’re filling. People can at least explore the idea with some assurances. It will give them an idea of what kind of uphill battle they’re facing and they’re not facing it alone.” 

Chris Whitson, one of the founders of Farm To You, said one of the reasons they only carry locally produced honey is because many people use honey as a way to combat allergies, since homogenized honey from most retailers won’t contain local allergens. 

When new customers come into the stores, they are given a bit of a tour, with employees explaining what makes them different from a typical grocery store, which includes the distances the food travels to get on the shelves.  

There are greens from Rocket Punch Farms, 1.3 miles away; tomato sauce made in Isleta, 29 miles away; and coffee from 41 miles to the south in Socorro. 

The other difference is Farm To You doesn’t haggle with farmers, Chris said. 

“If they say this is what is costs me to make this, then that’s what it costs. We add some to the price, but we’re not going to nickel and dime our producers,” he said. “We have the conversation with customers (about price). If you want this, this is what it’s going to cost. If you are on a really tiny budget, this is not the place to do all your grocery shopping. If you come in and get $10 of something, that is still helping.” 

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Farm To You in Belen carries a variety of staples such as beans eggs and bread, as well as several beverages made here in Valencia County, ranging from sparkling water, raw milk and yodel, a drinkable yogurt. 

Chris said there is the criticism that local growers can’t grow enough to feed everyone. 

“If you need out-of-season food, you’re not going to find it here. That’s another thing I tell customers. You’re on the ride with the farmer. It’s seasonal.  

“If it doesn’t grow well or ever here, you aren’t going to find it. We’ve had customers trying to adjust what they eat to what’s locally available,” he said. “People are coming around to trying to eat what is locally available. That’s not just a benefit to the farmer but we’re not having to ship food across the ocean. We don’t technically have to do that. We’re just being very picky.” 

Farm To You by Bomvida is located at 707 S. Main St. in Belen, and is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week.  

The store accepts cash, credit/debit cards, SNAP/EBT, Apple and Google pay, Venmo and Paypal. 

For more information about Bomvida Farms and the store visit bomvida.com or their Facebook page, Farm To You by Bomvida. 

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.