Few things please more southerners than fresh, locally grown food – fondly recalled from a time when family gardens, steers, hogs and chickens fattened for slaughter and consumption were a way of life, even in the small cities and towns like those across Northeast Mississippi.
The Appalachian Regional Commission, drawing on its 13 states’ heritage of locally produced food, has initiated a competitive program to promote local food as an emerging, for-profit market, with financial and professional assistance from ARC to help producers make the most of what they grow in sales to accessible markets.
ARC Federal Co-Chairman Earl Gohl, Mississippi ARC Executive Director Mike Armour, and ARC Chief of Staff Guy Land (a native of Eupora) promoted the local food possibilities in a tour of ARC’s Mississippi region last week.
ARC has allocated $200,000 to be awarded in a competition from entities and organizations in the ARC region who submit proposals to start or enhance local food production business.
The Mississippi counties in Appalachia are: Alcorn, Benton, Calhoun, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Clay, Itawamba, Kemper, Lee, Lowndes, Marshall, Monroe, Montgomery, Noxubee, Oktibbeha, Panola, Pontotoc, Prentiss, Tippah, Tishomingo, Union, Webster, Winston, and Yalobusha.
The delegation found they were preaching to the choir at their Mississippi stops,, which included Tupelo, wit a thriving Farmers Market, and Calhoun County,, where sweet potato production is profitable and nationally recognized.
ARC’s goal is to link producers and help make distribution and marketing better and easier, while providing at least some financial backing for facilities and equipment.
One of the possibilities, interestingly, is canning kitchens, similar to centers that operated decades ago for families who canned and preserved their produce at facilities usually associated with agricultural extension work and sometimes located on campuses of agricultural high schools.
ARC and the EPA are promoting local food systems this year with a grant program of $200,000 in technical assistance and implementation for four ARC communities. Preference will be given to those in the early stages of developing local food systems. (For information on the competitive grants, visit www.arc.gov/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=390.)
A listing of local farmers markets in Mississippi is available at http://eatlocalgrown.com/directory/tag/state/mississippi