Community uses soil to fight food desert

Editor’s note: This is the second story of a two-part series examining food insecurity, its consequences and solutions, in one of Mississippi’s most food insecure counties. Read the first story here.

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These fertile lands produced a bounty for more than a century, but now, residents in Mississippi’s Delta region lack healthy food options.
Justin Sellers/The Clarion-Ledger

Along U.S. 49 in Holmes County, “Farmers Market” appears in big red letters peeling off a white gas station structure.

It advertises “candy, chips, cookies, ice cream” — none of which can be found there now. A little rundown mart sits empty behind it with thick chains holding its doors closed.

The defunct market serves to illustrate the food scarcity in one of the most poverty-stricken, yet agriculturally rich, counties in the poorest state in the nation. The building, owned by the Mileston farming cooperative, is also a reminder of promise in a community striving for food sovereignty despite few resources.

In Holmes County, almost half of residents live in poverty and a third are “food insecure” — they lack access to the amount and type of food to keep them healthy and active, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As a result, almost half of residents are also obese. A lack of healthy food options in the area is partly to blame. 

Calvin Head, the co-op leader, said they stopped operating the farmers market store to focus resources on the packing center, a white shed next door that houses farming equipment and was recently certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Two other deteriorating structures with the same white paint and red trim line the highway next to the shed and defunct market. They serve as an after-school classroom and day care.

The 13 active farmers in the cooperative — which began in 1942 with help from the Farm Security Administration after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal — live within five miles of the little cluster of buildings, the co-op’s center.

Seventy-five years ago, the government purchased nearly 10,000 acres of ground south of Tchula. Over 100 black families moved to the new community and began farms and other cooperative enterprises, including a school.

The co-op played a significant role in the civil rights movement by housing workers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The farm families became some of the first black Mississippians to register to vote.

Decades later, the cooperative is…

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