Development of the East Alabama Black Belt Farmers' Market and the Black Belt Brand of Sustainable Agricultural Products

Project Overview

FS21-333
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2021: $13,060.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2023
Grant Recipient: East Alabama Black Belt Farmers' Cooperative
Region: Southern
State: Alabama
Principal Investigator:
Collie Graddick
East Alabama Black Belt Farmers' Cooperative

Commodities

  • Vegetables: greens (leafy)

Practices

  • Crop Production: water management
  • Farm Business Management: cooperatives, farmers' markets/farm stands, market study
  • Pest Management: weed ecology
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems

    Proposal summary:

    Cooperatives are widely recognized as a means for people to gain economic advantages they could not achieve individually. Drawing from successful examples of cooperatives in Alabama, Georgia and elsewhere, the East Alabama Black Belt Farmers’ Cooperative (EABBFC) was organized in February 2020 by 7 local farmers and the Tuskegee Bullock / Barbour Counties Alabama Extension Educator.  They collectively own over 1,000 acres of land with approximately 200 tillable with 15-20 in vegetable production. Each farmer is in the process of developing their farm business plan and all the farm plans are being combined into the co-op’s business plan.  Presently, they’re planting 16 different vegetables delivering to 5 grocery stores. They have intentionally limited participation in the cooperative due to the pandemic situation.  As they move through and beyond the pandemic, the goal is to recruit and expand members and partnerships.

    The objective of EABBFC is to increase and improve the sustainable farming practices of its members and other Black Belt farmers. The first EABBFC project is to participate in the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and Mission Alabama’s “Farm to Food Box'' Initiatives.  The project involves producing 30,000 – 40,000 pounds of collards for spring 2021 distribution to food selves and other community service organizations. 

    The project will involve comparing 2 varieties of collards (Georgia collards and a Bonnie’s variety) using 3 different types of mulching (plastic, hay straw and pine straw) for weed control and water conservation. The demonstration will be 3 acres with 6 half-acre plots (2 varieties using 3 types of mulches). With this project the EABBFC will also explore the possibility of developing and marketing the “Black Belt” brand of greens and eventually other agricultural products. 

    This project addresses Sustainable Agriculture in several ways by providing training through Educational Classes and Workshops in the areas of Sustainable Fruit, Nuts and Vegetables Production, Leadership Development, Conservation and Natural Resource Management, all of which will improve the quality of life and economic well-being of the region

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Develop 3-acre research and demonstration site comparing 2 varieties of collards using 3 different mulching materials.

    Lead workshops on Cooperative organizational structure & business planning for our farmer to expand their leadership capacity and skills. 

    To develop a business plan in order to secure better financing, space, transportation and equipment which will generate more sales, income and equity for our members. 

    Train our growers in Farm Planning, Business Planning and In-Field Crop Growing through Workshops and One-on-One Sessions. The farmers will participate in five free workshops and five one-on-one sessions, including two pre-season business and crop planning, two in-field sessions during the growing season and one post-season evaluation.

    Conduct meetings with prospective customers to determine fresh and frozen vegetable purchasing volume, specifications and pricing. Catalog and list requirements for selling to processors, buying clubs, public/private/charter schools, and other institutional buyers.

    Partner with Tuskegee University to launch an aggregation & processing site and identify target markets that want to buy our value-added vegetables.

    Support our farmers to apply for the USDA’s crop insurance program for produce so that they will be protected in the event of a weather or pest disaster.

     

    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.