Wallace Center’s work in Increasing Farmer Success in Local Food Markets in the Deep South: Mississippi and Alabama is designed to strengthen the capacities of limited resource and/or historically disadvantaged farmers, farmer groups, and supporting organizations in order to facilitate farmers’ success in accessing new markets for fresh produce and by further developing relationships and connections to markets, that support longer term growth and stability for family farms. Increasing Farmer Success has made direct financial investments into farming businesses in Alabama and Mississippi and delivers tailored technical assistance and capacity building for farmers; strengthens regional partnerships; and develops and supports a southern regional learning network focused on sustainable agriculture.
With Mississippi and Alabama’s increasing demand for healthy, regionally-produced food, and communities facing some of the highest rates of obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related diseases in the United States, farmers have the potential to strengthen the economic stability of their operations, as well bring significant economic, health, and other social benefits to their communities. But the Deep South’s existing agricultural system has left many farmers at a strategic disadvantage in terms of access to resources, information, financial investments, and markets.
With this project, Wallace Center is addressing barriers faced by limited resource and historically disadvantaged farmers in meeting demand from institutional and wholesale buyers, who in turn have the capacity to increase community access to healthy food. These barriers can include infrastructure and knowledge for production, aggregation, distribution, and food safety standards, among others. The Center’s approach focuses on strengthening values-based food supply chains or food value chains. Food Value Chains are integrated food supply chains that efficiently move products to market and are based in strategic alliances between farms and other supply chain partners that offer differentiated food products and distribute rewards equitably across the chain. For more on food value chains see www.agofthemiddle.org/papers/valuechain.pdf.
Food value chains are distinguished from traditional food supply chains by how they operate as strategic partnerships among businesses and how they differentiate their products on the basis of food quality, geographic location, and environmental and social attributes.
The Wallace Center is working to understand how the Deep South can capitalize on its agricultural and region-specific knowledge and expertise as the basis for growth, while identifying gaps in local and regional food systems infrastructure and unique market opportunities to meet increasing demand for healthy food.
Increasing Farmer Success began by building on the body of knowledge around existing value chain infrastructure in the region, presented in the report Increasing Farmer Success in Local Food Markets in the Deep South. With this detailed value chain analysis as its foundation, Increasing Farmer Success brought together a value chain working group of Mississippi and Alabama nonprofits, for profits, farmers, universities, agencies, and technical assistance providers. Together, this informal learning community built on learning from the report and worked with the project team to develop a programmatic and grantmaking strategy informed by knowledge of the region and its needs and assets.
A diverse group of community-based partners in the region are working directly with farmers to build capacity, community connections, and market access. Increasing Farmer Success is delivering a broad range of technical assistance and training and capacity-building opportunities to these organizations and their farmer communities including investments, tailored face to face and online workshops, in-field demonstrations, learning materials, and forums for networking and knowledge sharing. The approach strengthens existing value chains and farming operations, while facilitating emerging models for new partnerships that deepen regional knowledge and expertise over time.
Increasing Farmer Success grantees include:
- New North Florida Cooperative, which developed farm-to-school markets for historically disadvantaged farmers in Mississippi’s Holmes and Attala Counties. The project established a mobile processing unit; trained farmers in crop production, management, food safety and other topics; and distributed fresh, processed produce from 40+ farmers to local school districts through its new food hub, the Holmes County Food Hub.
- The United Christian Community Association launched the Deep South Food Alliance, a network of limited resource and historically disadvantaged farmers that worked across Alabama and Mississippi to train farmers and link them to markets through the development of a food hub. The group developed demonstration farms; provided farmers with training and technical assistance; and established a revolving loan fund for farmers to develop on-farm infrastructure.
- Tuskegee University, which developed a new marketing cooperative for limited resource and historically disadvantaged farmers, and installed six cold storage facilities for farmers to aggregate fresh produce in Alabama, increasing their market opportunities in the region.
- Food Bank of North Alabama, which connected limited resource and historically disadvantaged farmers to markets through the work of a local food broker; linked these farmers to credit, training, and mentoring opportunities; and engaged a multi-stakeholder working group (the Farm Food Collaborative) to create market linkages and to conduct a feasibility study/business plan for utilizing the food bank as a potential food hub.
- Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network, which started through this project, launched a Sustainable Agriculture Comprehensive Training Course Series featuring training on a variety of topics, farm visits, and individualized technical assistance for farmers. In addition MSAN developed a statewide database of sustainable and organic producers and is developing a localized crop planning tool, among other projects.
- Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network, which created 12 “crop mobs” at small farms across Alabama to train more than 100 beginning farmers and historically disadvantaged farmers on a variety of topics including high tunnel irrigation and high tunnel crop production; beekeeping, organic seed production, diversified vegetable production; and diversified organic fruit production, rain-fed irrigation, and chicken keeping, among others. ASAN also hosted multiple Regional Farm Forums around the state to enhance connections and collaboration with local farmers and partners.
- The Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network (MSAN), a new organization supporting sustainable initiatives in Mississippi, and the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Working Group are partnering to advance the region’s activities around sustainable agriculture and food systems development. As a long term strategy, the two organizations are working collaboratively with partners across the region for coordination, movement building, and knowledge sharing.
- The Food Bank of North Alabama is piloting a new model that will build on its existing infrastructure, knowledge, and partnerships to develop a food bank-based local food hub–a first in the region. The effort brings together local farmers and buyers to coordinate supply and demand, and strategize how to bring more fresh, regionally-produced food into their community.
- School children in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas are now reaping the healthy food benefits of the Holmes County Mississippi Food Hub, launched by the New North Florida Cooperative with support from Increasing Farmer Success. The hub, which takes farm-fresh food and handles aggregation, distribution, and processing in a form that schools can use, is only the second such operation in the state, and has served over 243,000 students in 274 schools, across seven districts in three states. Students have enjoyed over 168,000 pounds of collard greens, turnips, sweet potatoes, and squash sourced from the Cooperative.
- Alabama Cooperative Extension Service has developed two demonstration plots on integrated pest management and vegetable production for farmers, with support from Increasing Farmer Success. The IPM tactics for demonstration include trap cropping system and organic insecticide usage for tomato production. Farmer field days attracted farmers from across the region to learn about IPM and more sustainable farming practices.
Learn more about how Increasing Farmer Success’s investment and support of community-based partners and regional value chains bring economic, social, and environmental impacts to farmers and communities in the Mississippi and Alabama regions.
Devona Sherwood, Program Officer