Hope for the Future of Sustainable Agriculture
The Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) has received several grants to conduct professional training events for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS, formerly the Soil Conservation Service). These trainings address the principals and techniques of small-scale organic production--such as ours at Dripping Springs--for these government folks, who are now charged with administering organic program money through their offices, and may never have worked with small organic producers before. The training team consists of myself- Mark Cain from Dripping Springs; Andrew Williams, retired NRCS and activist farmer from Alabama; and Dr. Mark Schonbeck, soil scientist and author of numerous articles on organic production from VA; as well as supporting personnel from the SSAWG office in Fayetteville--executive director Jim Lukens and program specialist Pamela Kingfisher. The trainers were 'on the road' around the state of Mississippi last week, with 4 separate training events around the state, meeting with groups of farmers and NRCS personnel on host farms. At each site, the objective was to have as much information exchange and creative thinking as possible about how to improve production, soil quality, pest/disease control, marketing, and outreach.
While on the road, our SSAWG team had valuable time to consider and discuss how to best further sustainable agriculture and the economic well-being of its producers. One concept that always excites those who are unfamiliar with it: Community Supported Agriculture. The name really says it all--a community of producers and consumers that join together and create a novel form of food security and economic empowerment. Many of you are right there on the forefront, trusting us with your dollars to grow healthy, diverse veggies and fruits for your families.
Last week, our SSAWG team received an unexpected invitation from a young organic grower in nearby Tupelo, MS to come visit his new 26-acre farm right near downtown. Will Reed calls his place Native Son Produce, now in it's 4th growing season with some 10 acres of organic vegetables. Will and his wife run a 174-member CSA program and sell at various farmers markets in the area.
The Reed's represent some of the best hope for the future of sustainable agriculture. Here are young folks who have returned from their world travels to where they grew up to do what the 'experts' tell them is impossible: to grow and market organically in the Deep South. Not only are they producing, but within just a couple of years they have developed a loyal local clientele demanding healthy organic food through their CSA and market customers...and this in an area often considered a cultural backwater. We were so impressed by Will's commitment and entrepreneurial spirit, and left with the feeling the Reed's are sure to be successful. They will no doubt help to steer the food culture and health of their community for years to come... by Mark Cain, Dripping Springs Garden.