The following article By JESSE Wright appeared in the Press Register on Thursday, August 22, 2013:
New endeavor has already received grant from US Dept. of Agriculture
Tuesday afternoon a handful of farmers from the Delta spread their vegetables out under a tarp on Highway 49.
The Crossroads Farmer’s Market was open for business. The market is ambitious—with its location set almost out of town and with its long hours set from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday— but Donald Green has even more ambitious plans for the project.
Green, who is the executive director of the Mississippi Delta Council for Farm Workers Opportunities, said the farmer’s market is the first step in a project that’s part training facility and part food store.
Green certainly has the space to pull it off. The Crossroads Farmer’s Market is located in front of the MDC building, a 50,000 square-foot warehouse next door to the chamber of commerce, and Green says he envisions a permanent storefront there that will sell vegetables, fruit, and value-added foods like salsa, cakes, jellies and other ready-to-eat foods. All of this will be cooked in a commercial kitchen that he’ll be installing later this year. The project is also intended to help beginning, low income and minority farmers become financially stable and empowered with skills and credentials that will allow them to sell products anywhere in the state.
One farmer, who drove all the way up from Humphreys County, said he’s happy to be part of the project. Earnest Banks had sweet potatoes, okra, squash and some herbs for sale—all grown in gumbo soil, he said—and he’s eager to see what people want.
“We’ll show them a little of everything and then we’ll concentrate on what people want,” Banks said.
In addition to the farmer’s market kickoff Tuesday, Green also announced that his group and a partner organization, the Mississippi Delta Southern Rural Black Women in Agriculture, have received a Value Added Producer Grant by the US Department of Agriculture.
Green said he expects to have the kitchen installed within 12 month. He has owned the warehouse since December, 2006, and Green admits the project is slow-moving, and that’s just fine by him.
“It won’t be a fast-moving project, but it’ll be a sustainable project,” he said.
But, he added, he has some farmers in place and the food, and that’s important.
“They have the skills to get out of poverty,” he said. “But they’re still in it.”
This is because many of the farmers don’t have access to markets and they don’t have the financial skills to properly price their products. Green wants to help farmers overcome these obstacles and make money from their livelihoods.
“The demand is there,” he said.
Green’s organization already works with a processing plant in Marks that packages peas, okra and other vegetables—mainly from African American farmers—and he said he’ll work with that plant to process foods grown around here. That plant is selling to regional stores as well to giants, like Walmart, which distribute Delta-grown peas across the state. Green is also going to get his growers trained to understand what it costs to grow and transport their food and what they should charge for it in order to make a profit. Also, Green will train them to operate EBT machines so they can sell to people with socalled food stamp cards.
He also wants to focus on women in agriculture.
Green says rural women still have skills like pickling and canning, and can make money from these skills if they can get state certifications and learn to market their products at farmer’s markets.
“We want to be the catalyst that shows women how to profit from those skills that have been passed down,” Green said.
Earlier this year, state law changed to make it easier for people to sell certain foods made in their home kitchens, but the kinds of foods they can legally sell and the amount of food they sell are limited without having access to a commercial kitchen. Green hopes that if he can offer a state-certified commercial kitchen to his farmers and their wives, they can produce whatever they like and then sell as much as they like in the storefront on Desoto, or anywhere else in the state.
“These are the hardest workers,” he said of women. “While their husbands are sweating out on the farm, they’re working inside the home and this program will give them a chance to support the household economy by doing the things that they do every day, like canning.”
Green said he’s still looking for vegetable farmers to sell at his market, and if anyone is interested, they should drop by and talk to him. Green added that the farmer’s market hours could still change, as the site gets established.
“We have to get a feel for which days are best for our customers,” he said. “This is still a work in progress, and we’re trying to figure out what’s best for our future.”
Jesse Wright is a reporter for the Press Register and can be reached at 662-627-2201 or at [email protected]