Mississippi Jobs and Local Food Systems Tour Highlights Farmers Markets, Product Promotion Efforts; Includes Announcement of “Livable Communities” Assistance for Appalachian Food System Development
|ARC's September 2013 Jobs and Local Food Systems Tour in Appalachian Mississippi included a visit to Calhoun County's Bruce Farmers Market, a "Mississippi Certified Farmers Market." The certification is part of a branding program developed by the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce to promote marketplaces for the state's products. Shown are ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl Gohl (center) and ARC Federal Office Chief of Staff Guy Land (right) with a participating vendor. (Photo by Sheila Freely for ARC)|
Continuing ARC's ongoing Jobs and Local Food Systems Tour launched in March 2013, Commission officials visited Appalachian Mississippi September 12–13, highlighting the state's farmers markets and efforts to promote local food products. Mississippi is one of ten states officials have visited as part of the Region-wide tour thus far, examining the potential of local food systems to create economic opportunity and grow jobs in Appalachia.
The Mississippi tour kicked off with a visit to the Tupelo Farmers Market on September 12. Sponsored by the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association, the market is open three days a week and features a wide array of locally grown or made food products. It has been designated a "Mississippi Certified Farmers Market" by the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce as part of a branding program helping create profitable marketplaces for the state's farmers and food producers. During the market visit, officials announced the 2013 Livable Communities grant competition sponsored by ARC, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The 2013 Livable Communities program will provide technical assistance and implementation support to up to five Appalachian communities to help them develop local food systems as a means of diversifying their local economies. Joining in the announcement with ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl Gohl were EPA Office of Sustainable Communities Program Manager Ed Fendley, Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association Director Debbie Brangenberg, USDA Rural Development Acting Area Director Barbara Proctor, and Mississippi ARC program manager Mike Armour. (See the WCBI-TV local news segment on the Livable Communities announcement and the ARC Jobs and Local Food Systems Tour.)
|ARC officials were joined by EPA Office of Sustainable Communities Program Manager Ed Fendley (shown speaking above) at the Tupelo Farmers Market on September 12 for an announcement of the 2013 Livable Communities grant competition sponsored by ARC, EPA, and USDA. The program will provide assistance to up to five Appalachian communities to help them develop local food systems as a means of diversifying their local economies. (Photo by Guy Land/ARC)|
Gohl, Fendley, and Proctor then participated in an ARC-hosted roundtable discussion in Tupelo on current and potential efforts to develop northeastern Mississippi's local food systems. The discussion expanded on themes that had emerged at the March 2013 Missisippi Food Summit co-sponsored by ARC and in subsequent consideration of next steps for growing Missisippi's food economy. Contributing to the roundtable were a range of state and local stakeholders, including researchers, educators, restaurateurs, farmers, economic development officials, and congressional staff. Among the issues raised during the discussion were the need to increase awareness of local food systems' economic potential and to create marketing cooperatives and networking opportunities for farmers.
Tour participants later traveled to the nonprofit Mississippi Sweet Potato Council's office in Vardaman to learn about northern Mississippi's sweet potato industry and its role in the local food economy, as well as the council's marketing and grower-education efforts. In conjunction with that meeting, the group toured the nearby Sweet Potato Sweets, a fast-growing small business that produces an array of baked goods using sweet potato as a primary ingredient. In addition, participants toured the packing facilities at family-owned sweet potato grower N&W Farms.
The Mississippi tour also highlighted approaches taken by farmers markets in Bruce and Corinth to increase sales for local producers. On September 12, participants visited Bruce Farmers Market on the town square, which has incorporated musical attractions into the market's offerings to help draw customers. On September 13, officials toured the Corinth Farmers Market, a grassroots effort among local producers that includes two market locations.
ARC launched the Appalachian Jobs and Local Food Systems Tour in Asheville, North Carolina, on March 20 at a conference of the Appalachia Funders Network, an informal association of national, regional, and local foundations that has identified local food systems as a priority for funding. The tour has since then included visits to Pennsylvania, Maryland, South Carolina, New York, Ohio, West Virginia, Alabama, and Georgia, in addition to Mississippi. Future visits will focus on Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky.