Earlier this month, a leader in Mississippi Delta Council’s Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Program (BRFDP) and U.S. Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, was featured in #fridaysonthefarm, an online learning project of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
Andrew Key owns and farms four acres and is building the business, Key Family Vegetables in Crenshaw, MS. NRCS and the Farm Service Agency (FSA) provided technical assistance funding, which in October 2015 enabled him to put a hoop house on his property, as a conservation — and farming — best practice. NRCS explains that “A number of soil health practices can be used in high tunnels -including cover crops and crop rotations – to prevent erosion, suppress weeds, increase soil water content and break pest cycles.” Mr. Key also qualified for a micro irrigation practice to support production. The hoop house enabled him to extend his growing season immediately. “Perhaps the best thing about high tunnels is that they help farmers like Key provide communities with healthy local food for much of the year – food that requires less energy and provides communities with greater food security.”
His experience working with NRCS and the Farm Service Agency, as well as with all the community organizations and resources working in the region to support local food production, makes him a leader in the local farm community and a mentor in the our BFRDP program. In this 2017 season, he and other Mississippi Delta small farm growers have increased production exponentially. They are selling direct-to-consumer at farm stands and multiple markets in the area, as well as in aggregated contracts with institutions for groceries, prisons, and schools.
You may not have ever met a man so passionate about his work or so enthusiastic about getting the product to his customers. Mr. Key is growing just about everything this season on his land and in the hoop house he worked with NRCS to obtain. By early June, he was selling green peppers, cabbage, and yellow squash, and in a few weeks he’ll have three kinds of watermelon (Jubilee, Black Diamond, and Crimson Sweet).
Last week, a friend working in Washington, DC showed a photo of that squash to a colleague from Biloxi, MS who said that he’d love to get vegetables like that. The friend said he’d have to get himself to the Delta for such gorgeous produce.
As Mr. Key often tells his friends and customers, “Dig dat.”