The Alabama Blackbelt Community Food System Project

Project Overview

CS08-067
Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2008: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Southern
State: Alabama
Principal Investigator:
Andrew Williams
The United Christian Community Association

Commodities

  • Animals: poultry

Practices

  • Sustainable Communities: community development

    Abstract:

    The project demonstrated that a community could produce food locally and naturally and train its youth and young adult population in the process. This project demonstrated that while local food production is not a priority in many rural communities, these communities can develop food production systems with the following:
    • community leadership or gatekeepers are identified, empowered, and provided financial and technical assistance to start food projects;
    • youth, young adults, and seniors involved in the process;
    • community residents enjoy food produced in the community at a reasonable cost; and
    • project participants earn wages for project work.

    Introduction

    The United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service found that during the 1990’s rural areas received unprecedented economic growth. Poverty fell from 17.1 percent to 13.4 percent and the rural per capita income increased from $16,506 in 1993 to $21,831 in 2000. However, by 2001 a recession caused rural income growth to slow and poverty to increase. In essence, while rural citizens may have experienced some economic growth, research suggests that the all-important issue of food security remained a threat to the sustainability of rural areas.

    In 2002-2004, the United Christian Community Association (TUCCA), a faith based 501 (c) (3) tax exempt organization located in the rural Taylor Community of Marengo County, Alabama began to address some of these needs by facilitating a process to demonstrate alternative sustainable agricultural production systems on their 44 acres demonstration farm. Yet, the Taylor Community still lacks an adequate food system to address the need for food security and cultural sustainability. With an African American population of 140 people, residents of this Blackbelt community must travel at least 12 miles to the nearest grocery store and prepare for a 35 mile journey to a larger national chain marketplace.

    This community, like many other rural communities, has lost part of its culture of actively producing safe and healthy foods for families. As a result, at least two generations of people have little to no knowledge of healthy food processing and production. These communities and their youth are unaware that the December 2006 Current Population Survey Food Security Supplement reports that 21.8 percent of Black households have food insecurity and that regionally, the food insecurity rate was above the national rate in the South by 12.3 percent. As a result, this project proposes to help overcome this problem by:
    • Developing a demonstration community food system model to educate 200-300 elementary school students from schools within a 15 mile radius of the TUCCA demonstration farm by conducting field trips to the site so students can observe and participate in food production, packaging, processing, and storage.
    • Encouraging 5-10 small, limited resource and socially disadvantaged farmers to become active producers of vegetables and meats.
    • Establishing a centralized location at the TUCCA multi-purpose complex to store products for customers to purchase at a reasonable price.
    • Meeting with 5-10 communities to encourage the establishment of their own community food system.

    When this project is complete the following outcomes and milestones are expected:

    • African American students from surrounding rural communities in the Blackbelt become aware of safe and healthy community level food production and become educated on the need for such production; thereby bridging the agricultural generational gap.
    • A community food system demonstration site impacts and supports community education and outreach through delivering first hand participation and observational workshops.
    • TUCCA establishes a centralized location to make products available to community residents and customers; thus encouraging entrepreneurship, community innovation, sustainability, and ultimate private enterprise.

     

    Project objectives:

    Objective # 1. Develop a community food system project team consisting of youth, young adults, and seniors. This team will guide the project process and report progress to the TUCCA board of directors. This team will develop project implementation plans as well.

    Objective # 2. Select a group of farmers willing to participate in the project by utilizing existing personal and project resources. TUCCA will provide a small production base at its demonstration site to aid the project process.

    Objective # 3. Develop a centralized location on TUCCA property to store a supply of frozen and fresh vegetables for public sale. This will include a small freezer, cooler, and sales facility that will be open at least one day per week. To ensure community access to the products, a call in order system will be implemented and scheduled pickups will be designated. This objective will not utilize resources from the project fund request. TUCCA will complete this effort from existing funds.

    Objective # 4. Provide an opportunity for youth and young adults to receive hands on training in the production, harvesting, processing, packaging, and marketing of the farm raised product. This objective will be completed through tours, workshops, and field days.

    Objective # 5. Develop and complete a project evaluation and outreach concept that will be available detailing the community food system process, the pitfalls, and lessons learned. At the end of the project, information will become available to potential entrepreneurs the model as a small community business.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.