From 0 to 35 in MS

I have worked with markets and farmers in Mississippi for a dozen years and have found more barriers to getting regional food accepted than in most other areas of the US, yet also have met some of the most optimistic and capable people  working on it there.
What’s interesting is that in going from a deeply (still) entrenched commodity/plantation culture of farming directly to a new economy of small family farming for markets and restaurants can mean that some of the middle steps can be skipped, which is beneficial to innovative growers.

In other words, the situations is similar to what has happened in many non-industrialized or colonized countries in regards to technology; having skipped the landline era, the new users adapt much more quickly to the technology of mobility*.
I can see this leapfrogging in play for sustainable farming in the Gulf States with new farmers pushing the envelope with pesticide-free and heirloom varieties at markets and in CSAs, rather than  being influenced by the less inspiring midcentury distribution system that hardened growers’ experience into growing the hardiest and tasteless products to ship.
The area around Oxford MS is one that is ready for takeoff. The small farmer markets offer organic products at a higher rate than the New Orleans farmers markets for example, and the average age of the vendors seems markedly less than the US average, to my unscientific eye. The chef quoted in the article below is a pal of mine and had been the Board President of the New Orleans-based Market Umbrella before Katrina, and now is a leader in the regional food movement in Oxford. He offers his knowledge to the markets and farmers around the area as well supporting the leading agricultural advocates, Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network (MSAN), which was founded with Wallace Center support a few years back. Corbin and MSAN are good example of the quiet revolution happening up there.

Additionally, the folks in Hernando MS (north of Oxford, closer to Memphis TN) are leading the state in innovative healthy living strategies and thinking deeply about how to expand regional farming to support those strategies. Their weekly market is large enough to attract serious attention from regional funders and even policy makers, and I have hopes that they might soon attempt to create a year round market.

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Regional food sez Real Pickles

Sustainability is the balance of the positive and negative environmental, social and economic demands in any sector and across sectors. In the food work we do, regional systems have a better chance to address them together and yet we spend little time defining those demands. In that framework, local food systems by themselves can grow overly ‘muscular” and crowd out others nearby or focus on demand more than supply (or vice versa) or spend too much energy fighting to build systems for every process that could be shared instead.
In that important work, this blogger wrote a very good piece about the regional and sustainable approach to food that is worthwhile to share:

Those of us in rural areas – rich in agricultural resources – thus have an inescapable responsibility. As we do the necessary work of helping to overhaul the food system, we must consider what part we can play in feeding the populations of places like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. While it is surely tempting (and so much simpler) to focus inwardly and exclusively on how to feed merely ourselves, that is not, in the end, the way to build a better food system. It is essential to be actively promoting and supporting our local farm economies – and, at the same, we need to thinking more broadly.

Resiliency
There’s another strong reason why we need to think regionally as well as locally, one that undermines the notion that it would even be possible for any one town or small state to securely depend on its own agricultural resources. It has to do with things like weather and pests – those unavoidable factors that make farming inevitably risky and unpredictable. Factors which also threaten to make farming even more unpredictable as a result of climate change.

Regional food