There’s a quiet but constant community of growers across Mississippi. Driving through Louisville, MS you’ll catch glimpses of enormous backyard plots, overflowing with mustard greens and stretching tall with okra. Heading north through the Delta the expanse of cotton and soy fields leave you even more impressed by the occasional family and community garden oases. Along the Gulf coast, neighborhood gardens are a staple. In Jackson, the capital city where I’ve been serving with FoodCorps at the Mississippi Roadmap to Health Equity for a year and a half, you don’t have to dig deep to be amazed by the rumbling local food movement.
When I arrived in Jackson in August of 2011, I moved right into my apartment, a schlep from the nearest grocery store in a neighborhood with a lot of vacant homes and broken windows. My bike ride to work, down a street with more potholes than pavement, seemed safer than alternative routes, with sharp-toothed dogs and oversized vehicles. It was easy to fear the amount of work waiting for me as a sustainable food activist, and even easier to grow an oversize ego imagining how I would spearhead the local food revolution!
The teachers, artists, volunteers, community advocates, restaurateurs and neighbors who introduced me to what Jackson really has to offer, quickly checked my misperceptions. After a few weeks spent getting to know the new area I started to describe the beauty of Jackson as “opportunity to contribute positively on every corner” and after a few more weeks it became obvious that I wasn’t the only person to see this opportunity.
Volunteers from many walks of life offered contributions to our new school gardens: bus drivers brought extra seeds, local artists painted garden art on scrap materials, nearby fruit growers donated trees and bushes. Local non-profits committed to helping with work days, architects designed raised beds and neighbors of the gardens offered a watchful eye. It took a few months before I realized that all of this interest stemmed not only from enthusiastic curiosity, but also from experience.
Most adults in Mississippi are familiar with the process of growing food because of their grandmas’ backyard gardens, their families’ farms in the country, the state’s unsettling agricultural and social history. And as in many other places, most adults in Mississippi will agree that the climate of food has become increasingly unhealthy as more and more people steer clear of agricultural lifestyles, and lean on convenience foods to support an urban lifestyle. A number of people around the city are working to heal our connection to the land and food production, through community-oriented agriculture—and others are excited to contribute materials and assistance.
The opportunities in this city, solely in terms of food justice, have resulted in the mayor’s city garden initiative, a handful of neighborhood gardens; tons of backyard and front yard gardens, flocks of wandering chickens, new health-focused restaurants, sunflowers and squash sprouting out near stop signs where people have dumped extra seeds, discussions on how to collect compost by the cit,; and a wide variety of new school gardens that are receiving more and more attention from local community members.
It’s an exciting place to support the work of FoodCorps service members and the setting is ripe for other efforts: healthy food trucks, Farm to School sourcing, vegetable rooftop gardens (field trip sites for our students!) resulting in a reinvented, conscientious, good food system.
By Abi Phillips, FoodCorps Fellow in Mississippi.
FoodCorps is a nationwide team of passionate leaders who work to connect kids to real food. As a “Seed Funder,” Annie’s is enabling FoodCorps Fellows to support, guide, and mentor service members who then go out to teach kids about what healthy food is and where it comes from, build and tend school gardens, and bring high-quality local food into public school cafeterias.