NCAT Participates in Alcorn State University Small Farmers’ Conference

The NCAT Gulf States staff were pleased to participate in the 2019 Alcorn State University Small Farmer’s Conference. Sponsors, vendors, organization representatives, farmers, and members of other diverse groups traveled from all over Mississippi to attend the three-day event held at the Tunica Arena and Expo Center in Tunica, Mississippi, April 1 to 3. Each day was filled with activities designed to highlight sustainable opportunities in agriculture.

The conference opened with a sustainable agriculture panel discussion with Gulf States Regional Director Rock Woods as moderator. The panel featured four farmers and ranchers from around the state who utilize a range of sustainable practices on their farms, as well as USDA representatives from agencies that offer programs to support local growers.

NCAT Gulf States agriculture specialist Felicia Bell, who is also the owner and operator of RD & S Farm, participated as one of the farmer panelists. She shared with attendees some of the challenges of being a small-scale farmer when the market is dominated by large, industrial-scale producers.

After fielding many questions from the audience, keynote speaker Archie Tucker, USDA director of the Southeast area began the second half of the day with his presentation. Following that were short course lectures on bequeathing property to heirs and estate planning, land and property rights, and cooperative development.

Asha Tillman and Liz Broussard at the NCAT-ATTRA table.

There was an array of vendors and exhibitors on the second level of the arena where NCAT’s Liz Broussard, Mississippi Food Justice Project coordinator, and Asha Tillman, NCAT agriculture intern, tended to NCAT’s booth. They were able to meet farmers and distribute ATTRA publications on a variety of sustainable agriculture topics.

Felicia Bell speaking about value-added production.

On day two of the conference, participants were given the option to attend one of four demonstration and learning sites: Agricenter International & Landmark Food Pantry of Memphis, TN; an “On the Bus Tour” of several locations; Alcorn State University Vegetable Processing Center of Marks, MS; and ”Women in Business” at Tunica Roadhouse Casino of Tunica, MS. There were nearly 60 participants at the Agricenter International site where Felicia Bell facilitated a discussion on the theme, “Value Added Products.” She shared information on how to expand your farm’s market with value added products, and information on the Mississippi cottage food law. Other topics included innovative growing and harvesting agricultural techniques, farming in urban areas, and sustainable models for horticultural and agronomic crops. This site visit ended with a visit to the Landmark Farmer’s Market & Food Bank where participants toured the gardens, high tunnels, aquaponics systems, and food pantry. Landmark operates Happy Tea Company, a homegrown collection of herbal and medicinal teas. Landmark is fueled by community partners, agritourism, youth training, and urban development.

At the Alcorn State University Vegetable Processing Center Liz Broussard and Rock Woods facilitated a “Meet the Buyers” panel which served to connect farmers and buyers. Restaurant owner Cole Ellis of Delta Meat Market talked about the importance of the vegetable processing center, which enables him to purchase more locally grown produce. Another buyer, the Coahoma County School District food service director Mrs. Eddie Johnson, was adamant about using local foods in the school systems’ lunch program. She also expressed the need for specific foods such as cabbage, kale, and sweet potatoes. The highlight of this site was not only having farmers meet buyers and knowing who they could sell to but also giving producers ideas on what crops have a high demand.

During the bus tour, a farm overview and operation presentation was given on farm planning and risk management (decision making process) at the first stop, Williams Farm of Tunica, MS. Participants and presenters were also able to engage in conversation in the areas of: Conservation Innovation Grant Programs (CIG), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), livestock fencing, land shaping, and row crop production. Lunch was held at the Alcorn vegetable processing center where participants joined for a demonstration and discussion on marketing and row crop production. The last stop was at Jim Langley Farms where participants observed demonstrations on high tunnel production and tomato production.

Attendees could choose from an array of breakout sessions on the third and final day of the conference, including: meeting buyers, facilitated by NCAT staff; regional marketing opportunities; NRCS soil health measures; learning about the Mississippi Small Farm & Agribusiness Center; J.A.B.E.Z Community Engagement Project (J.A.B.E.Z. stands for Job skills training, Alternative credentialing, Business development, Economic empowerment, Zeal for life) discovering value in forestland, and expanding production with value-added products.

The close of the conference was celebrated with an awards ceremony and dinner. An award was presented for the small farmer of the year to Primus (Earlene) Wheeler of Jubilee Farms in Jackson, MS, and attendees were able to show off their finest rags with a western cowboy theme. Overall, NCAT’s Gulf States staff were honored to have had the opportunity to help facilitate the conference and highlight the sustainable approach to agriculture.

Sponsors of the conference were: Alcorn State University Extension Program and School of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, Mississippi Forestry Commission, Mississippi Farm Bureau, USDA Agricultural Research Services,USDA Farm Production & Conservation, USDA Rural Development, and Natural Resources Conservation Service, Mississippi Association of Cooperatives Southeastern Agroecology Project, Square “O” Consulting, Monsanto, Federation of Southern Cooperatives Land Assistance Fund, and National Center for Appropriate Technology