Today, a quarter of African American owned farms in the country are in Mississippi and Alabama. Their owners have a wealth of know-how, but are disconnected from lucrative markets because their farms are small, in low-population areas, and without access to capital. They are “land rich and cash poor.” More than half of these farms earn less than $2,500 per year, and many aren’t in full production. But put to more productive use, they represent a real opportunity for the region.
In 2011, several organizations rooted in the region: The Southern Rural Black Women In Agriculture Initiative, MileSton Cooperative, The Cottage House, The United Christian Community Association, and Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network, began working with local farmers to to create DSCAN.
From 2012-2015, McIntosh SEED (Sustainable Environment and Economic Development) and Rural Support Partners stepped up to help strengthen the new collaboration, bringing local partners and farmers together to listen and think: What are our shared dreams? What is working and what is not? How can we produce for larger markets? Working together, how can we make that happen?
The Network farmers work land that stretches across the Black Belt—the midsection of Alabama and Mississippi named for its dark, fertile soil. They had been selling produce direct to consumers, mostly in local farmers markets or roadside stands. What they lacked was access to larger institutional buyers. The growing local foods movement in the United States offers these farmers a huge opportunity.
DSCAN went to communities across the region to identify potential buyers in restaurants, schools and grocery stores. They asked: What products do you want? How do you want them delivered? What standards or certifications must we meet? Armed with this knowledge, they identified three “hot spots”— places where real demand was emerging for products they could produce. DSCAN also mapped the pieces of the value chain they had in place—every step it takes to get products to larger markets. They looked for gaps in the chain especially ones they could address better together.
To date, DSCAN has organized 35 small minority farmers and created entry points to wholesale markets. From 2012 to 2014, they generated over $266,000 in sales of collard greens, turnips, cabbage, sweet potatoes, and pinkeye peas to high-end restaurants, schools, groceries, and wholesale buyers—a 200% increase in sales across two seasons. These results have led them to engage a market developer who is seeking larger deals and coordinating the value chains to meet demand together. As a result, farmers are collaborating for the first time to grow and deliver produce for regional and national grocery store chains and wholesale distributors.
Source: WealthWorks: Deep South Community Agriculture
More information: Travis Green Ph: 202-736-5804