The demand for local food has been on the rise nationally, but the agricultural system of the Deep South region has left many farmers at a strategic disadvantage in terms of access to resources, information, financial investments, and markets. In Mississippi and Alabama, many farmers earn $10,000 or less annually in farm sales, while 12-14% of the population remains food insecure, and unemployment rates range from 7-10%. These communities have some of the highest rates (and in Mississippi, the highest rates) of obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related diseases in the United States.
Between 2011 and 2014 the Wallace Center provided grants and technical assistance to the Deep South through its Increasing Farmer Success in Local Food Markets in the Deep South: Mississippi & Alabama project. This work is designed to strengthen the capacities of limited resource and historically disadvantaged farmers and farmer groups to meet the fresh produce supply needs of local/regional wholesale and institutional markets, institutions, and foodservice buyers; and facilitate farmers' success in accessing new markets by developing supply chain relationships. The project focuses on addressing barriers that these farmers face including access to information about production, aggregation, distribution, food safety, among other issues.
This handbook is intended to serve as a resource guide for farmers, aggregators, and distributors of sustainable food to build or strengthen a values-based food supply chain for their products in the Deep South. To that end, it is a compilation of resources and tools related to farmer training; farm operations; financial management and business planning; market access; and business planning with a focus on Mississippi and Alabama. Anyone involved in local food production or sourcing is encouraged to utilize this handbook, and to share it with others that may also find it useful. Through this and other technical assistance efforts, the Wallace Center seeks to build capacity for sustainable food systems and healthy communities to thrive in the DeepSouth.