A fleet of cruiser bikes recently arrived to the Delta Fresh Foods Initiative's new youth center. The old trailer classrooms will soon house a food pantry, fitness center, and tutorial room for Mississippi Delta youth.
Manney Sicard, age 37, kept seeing people working in the garden behind his apartment. The lot had been another three-story apartment building like the one he lives in, but it had burned, and the vacant lot had quickly attracted weeds, then shadows, then illegal trash. It was not something worth looking at from Manney’s window.
Scherri Greene comes out of the shade. The west wind immediately pulls her jet-black hair from behind her ears. Her eyes tighten to meet the sun behind narrow eyeglasses. She greets her brother, Gary, and his son as they drive in. But they don’t waste any time getting to the boat ramp to put another round of nets into Preacher’s Eddy. The June hogs might be here.
Ms. Mattie Coleman has converted her 50-acre family farm into a demonstration garden to teach monthly workshops for neighbors in Goodman, MS. One lesson: building an affordable hoop house to extend growing season and protect crops from crop-dusting pesticide fallout in mono-crop-heavy southern Mississippi.
Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture Production: Goodman, MS
Jane was a natural community organizer and a visionary. For a time she worked with a handful of farmers in the Jocko area to organize the state’s first Community Supported Agriculture. She led an effort to get the state’s first organic certification program. She knew most of the farmers.
There’s a surprising, but only because it's so un-American, sense of keeping things small, growing food for the families in their neighborhood, that seems to motivate refugee farms. To call that quaint would be taking an American view where the success of business relies on the ability to scale up. So Chipotle might look like a big contract, a great new account. A boon for the business. But then the food wouldn’t be staying in the Bantu community. It’s hard to say whether that’s what they want.
County residents have access to one of the nation's few remaining county-supported community canneries. In late summer and fall locals can and jar soups, beans, greens, tomatoes, and apples, some bought at markets, others grown in backyard gardens. In Franklin County they call this form of food security, "puttin' up for the winter."
One day, in the first year of the Little Earth United Tribe neighborhood’s shared garden, Rooster showed up with ten tons of bananas. He was an area landscaper and he had the rotting bananas in a semi truck.
Because Dorothy Grady-Scarborough is a nurse in Shelby, MS, her community's obesity and diabetes epidemic arrived to her daily. So she started growing food, and raising rabbits and chickens in her backyard. Then she started organizing the community, bringing people to her yard for workshops in hoop house construction and healthy growing, cooking, and eating. Now she's working on an after-school health initiative for youth.
Mississippians Engaged in Greener Agriculture (MEGA) : Clarksdale, M
In the country song, "I Never Picked Cotton," the protagonist kills a man who tells him to “go back in his cotton sack.” The farm and its back-breaking work have been something to run from, to strive to leave for many rural people, especially in the South. Buying a Super Value meal at McDonald’s, for far too many rural Americans, means you’re not a hard-scrabble farmer anymore, regardless of the increasingly publicized health costs of a fast-food diet.
"All the bank saw were dead roses," Derek Cunningham says of the 70-year-old former flower nursery in downtown Lynchburg. But he and others converted the massive greenhouses into urban gardens. The business sells roses to the public and produce to restaurants and through a CSA.
More Hmong people now live in the Twin Cities of Minnesota than anywhere else in the world. They fled their ancestral, agricultural homelands during a 1970s Communist uprising. Now some Hmong like Vince and his mother have created farm-based small businesses outside their new hometown.
A willow tree grows on a corner lot in the Haddington Neighborhood of West Philadelphia. It stands twenty-five-feet tall and thirty feet wide, as shady and rain-proof as a gazebo. Lisa Barkley is in her 50s now, but she remembers climbing the willow tree as a girl.
Cody is 19. Three years ago he was that kid sitting alone in the Olympia High School cafeteria every day. The kid who didn't talk and expected to do everything wrong, because that's what most people told him; that he was wrong. His childhood was not privileged: father in prison, drug-addled, absentee mother, and his own defense mechanism propelling him toward violence, gangs, and drugs. Unfortunately, we've all heard that story before.
Before we climb back in the car to return to the market, Socorro points out a long, ground-hugging vine. She says she pulled a watermelon from the vine last year and brought it to her church. She says it was huge and that everyone there wanted to learn how she grew it.
West Oakland has over fifty bodegas. Until recently, the community of 25,000 residents had no traditional grocery store. Fifty-three liquor stores and no grocery. In some places in the country, a bodega corner store like Bottles is a place to stop for ice or a drink or a pack of chips on a road trip. In West Oakland, however, Bottles was the grocery store, especially for forty percent of the population who lack an automobile.
Back in the church basement, the kids and their mothers finish up the meal. Princess brings out the large white posters covered in neat rows of red-ink notes taken by the discussion leaders. Infants sit on mothers’ laps and one lightly taps on the piano in the back, watched by a YFMP volunteer. The young kids share what they talked about, followed by the teens, and the moms, in a sort of new, vital food chain.
Ray Boston, aka Razor, walks over in gray dress slacks, white shirt and tie, and blue cardigan sweater. He smiles as he asks the young women working the stand if there are any insects in the $1 pint of okra.
Pennsylvania Horticultural Society : Philadelphia, PA
This story comes straight out of the "American Dream: Immigrant Version" folder of a campaign-speech writer. But it's true and it’s told just as Maria told it to me while we walked under her family's fruit.