Strengthening local food systems has been a priority for Delta Directions since its inception in 2008. We organize and participate in a variety of projects designed to increase Delta residents’ access to nutritious food and to support the creation of a healthy, sustainable food system in the region. In addition to descriptions of our current initiatives and projects, a number of Delta Directions publications on food systems issues can be below. Summaries of our past projects can be found here.
Ongoing Initiatives and Projects
Clarksdale Community Food Assessment
Partnering with the Ole Miss Transactional Civil Legal Clinic, Delta Directions led a team of Harvard law school students on a fact-finding trip in the Delta. The team surveyed low-income residents in Clarksdale in order to assess the community’s access to healthy food and to identify opportunities for increasing access to healthy food in the region. After establishing which issues community members found most important, students researched policy initiatives designed to address these issues. The Ole Miss clinic and Delta Directions will use this research to plan new projects and next steps.
Delta Farm to School Network
The Delta Fresh Foods Initiative, Delta Directions, the Delta Health Alliance and the Community Foundation for Northwest Mississippi came together to create the Delta Farm to School Network. Farm to School refers to any program that connects schools to local farmers. It is an opportunity to nourish kids and communities and to restore the connection between children, food, community, land and place. Across the county, and now in Mississippi Delta, F2S programs are serving healthy, local meals in cafeterias, improving student nutrition, and educating children about health, agriculture, and food systems. The Delta Farm to School Network currently has Farm to School programs in five different Delta school districts and plans to expand to more.
Delta Fresh Food Initiative
The Delta Foods Initiative (DFFI) is a diverse coalition of community stakeholders committed to establishing sustainable, equitable community food systems in the Mississippi Delta. Members of the group include growers, consumers, health and agriculture educators, food retailers, healthy food advocates, and more. Since its creation in 2010, DFFI has developed into a strong network of committed members who seek to build supply and demand for fresh locally grown food in the region by bringing together other national and local partners; providing training and technical assistance for sustainable growers, consumers, and advocates; and engaging the next generation in building community food systems. Delta Directions took a leading role in creating DFFI’s Farm to School program in 2011 and works with the organization on a range of other projects as a member as a member of its board.
Delta Regional Market Alliance
As farmers’ markets continue to grow and thrive in several Delta Communities, this project seeks to facilitate networking and mutual assistance among market managers and to foster emerging farmers markets in the region’s food deserts. Organized by the Delta Fresh Foods Initiative, the Alliance promotes and strengthens local markets through networking, technical assistance, and publicity throughout the Delta.
Estate Succession and Land Loss
The number of black farmers and landowners in Mississippi has fallen steadily over the last century, due in part to the state’s inheritance laws. Despite a growing awareness that these laws make estate succession difficult for many black landowners – and the emergence of estate law reform movements in other southern states – no organization in Mississippi has addressed land loss in a comprehensive way. Building on research conducted by Harvard and Ole Miss law students, Delta Directions will release a guide to property law issues aimed at historically disadvantaged farmers this fall. The Ole Miss Civil Legal Clinic and other local partners will use the guide to assist historically disadvantaged farmers around the state, providing them with information on estate planning and when appropriate, individual counseling. Delta Directions will also convey research findings from the report to the Mississippi Food Policy Council along with recommendations for policy change.
Farm to Institution Farmer Directory
Schools and other institutions interested in purchasing from local farmers often have trouble finding farmers from which they can procure products. Delta Directions is assembling a directory of farmers interested in selling to local institutions. The directory will list the products available from each farmer, their location, and how far they are willing to travel to deliver their products. In addition to a written PDF directory, Delta Directions will offer an online map showing the location of each participating farm.
Farm to Institution Marketing Guide
Delta Directions and the Mississippi Delta Project’s Food Policy Initiative are working together to produce a step-by-step guide for farmers interested in participating in Farm to School. The guide will address and clarify relevant legal issues and regulations to help farmers sell their crops while being confident they are following state and federal laws. The guide will also provide information for farmers hoping to sell to other institutions, like hospitals and colleges.
Food Policy Initiative of the Harvard Law School Mississippi Delta Project
Since March 2009, Harvard Law School student teams have worked on legislation and advocacy related to food policy in the Mississippi Delta region through the Mississippi Delta Project’s Food Policy Initiative. Participating students are supervised by Delta Directions and the Senior Delta Clinical Fellow, based in Boston, Massachusetts. Students work on a range of projects that focus on two primary goals: (1) improving access to healthy foods for Mississippi residents, and (2) spurring economic growth for small farmers and local food produces. A number of the Iniative’s publications, including legal guides, legislative recommendations, and policy briefs, are listed below.
Fruit and Vegetable Farmer Survey
Delta Directions applied for, and received, a grant from My Brother’s Keeper, Inc. to conduct a survey of fruit and vegetable farmers in Mississippi. The survey will gauge interest in, and potential barriers to, the marketing of healthy foods in communities experiencing health inequities in Mississippi. The survey results will help organizations in Mississippi seeking to assist fruit and vegetable growers reach local consumers.
Mississippi Food Policy Council
In collaboration with the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program, Delta Directions created the Mississippi Food Policy Council in 2010. The Council includes various stakeholders such as farmers, farmers market managers, health educators, health professionals, and advocates from around the state. Delta Directions remains an active member of the organization, and the Mississippi Delta Fellow provides ongoing support through research projects, technical assistance, and by serving as the Chair of the Farm to School Subcommittee. See below for some of the short handouts and in-depth research Delta Directions has drafted for the Council.
Reducing Regulatory Barriers to Direct Marketing
Delta Directions is working to reduce burdensome regulations impeding farmers that want to market animal-based products directly to consumers. Easing these regulations will not only increase the amount of animal-based products sold at markets, but also the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables sold. Animal-based products can make farmers’ markets more successful, allowing them to expand and reach great numbers of people. Eliminating Mississippi’s uniquely restrictive regulations would bring the state in line with food safety practices in other states while encouraging the growth of its farmers markets.