Just outside of Meridian, Mississippi, a meandering country road takes you out into the wooded hills of Zero Community. This past June, our Southern SAWG team was hosted there by farmer Danny Daniels (pictured below). When we arrived at the Zero Community Volunteer Fire House and community center, we were greeted by pouring rain and a welcome sign. Mr. Daniels and his family had secured the community center and filled it with fresh vegetables and a table full of cherished family photos from the farm.
Danny Daniels was born on this land and he speaks openly of how this land has saved his health as he has battled a rare bone disease. Danny has undergone four operations and was recently in a wheelchair. He has farmed all his life and now credits farming for his ability to get up out of the wheelchair and lead an active life. The doctor says he does well because he stays active.
Working with the local NRCS District Conservationist, Kelvin Jackson, and support from Southern SARE, we were there to provide training on organic practices and high tunnel management. Our audience was composed of NRCS professionals, Alcorn State University professionals and area conservationists, along with a few local farmers. This diversity made for an interactive workshop with many great minds addressing some complex questions. We opened with a classroom session and then went out into a sunburst to visit Danny’s high tunnel and vegetable crops.
Above: Kelvin Jackson, NRCS; Walter Jackson, NRCS; Danny Daniels, farmer
As a result of the NRCS Cost Share Program on High Tunnels, Danny has one large high tunnel growing organic tomatoes, along with two and a half acres of field vegetables. Working closely with his local MS NRCS office, Danny is learning organic practices and how to operate under the high tunnel. He has struggled with pest control and tomato disease, but he credits NRCS District Conservationist, Kelvin Jackson, with changing his whole farming attitude and thinking process. Working through the paper work and process to receive his high tunnel opened up a new world of farming to him.
Hearing the inter-generational story from Danny Daniels and his father, Edwin, working this land and the struggles of holding a family farm together was heartwarming and a good way to start our training session.
Above: Danny's father, Mr. Edwin C. Daniels.
In 1920, Grandpa and Grandma Daniels bought a 60 acre plot of land and built a small house and got started farming. Edwin C. Daniels was born in that house and Danny and his wife still live in it today. They raised three boys up on the land, growing all of their own food. Danny remembers his mother and grandmother always drying apples on cloths near the dining room window; churning their own butter every week; milking cows early morning. He learned farming - planting watermelons and to cover up peas with his feet from his grandfather Thurman. Danny tells a story about his grandma, “Grandma Necie lived to be 100 years old. When she was 90, a tornado came down through here and took the roof off the rest of the house, except her bedroom. She was laying in the bed, doing just fine.”
Then the boys all went off to fight in World War II and the folks had to stop farming. When the boys returned home, the "land was all grown up and everyone had gone off to town for work". In 2007, Danny and his wife bought his share of the farm and started the arduous task of reclaiming the land, clearing and cleaning it to put it back into vegetable production. He is not a young man, but he kept at it. Now Danny Daniels is known as the “tomato man” in his community and enjoys growing local food for his neighbors.
You can watch a short video of Danny Daniels and his NRCS partner, Kelvin Jackson HERE