Getting Good Food Out of the Fields and Onto Tables
Calvin Head was born and raised in Mileston, Mississippi, a small town on prime agricultural land in the Mississippi Delta. Mileston was one of dozens of resettlement communities created by a New Deal program aimed at lifting sharecroppers and tenant farmers out of poverty through the model of cooperative living. At the heart of this community was Mileston Cooperative Association, one of the oldest black farmers’ cooperatives in the state.
The cooperative still exists today and is now run by Calvin, whose primary goal is to create economic and community development opportunities through farming, with a particular focus on young people. The youth that work for him help to prepare the soil, harvest, and then package the produce grown on the farm.
“There was a massive outward migration among youth who didn’t have opportunity so they left the community,” he said, explaining the focus on involving youth. Teaching youth how to farm is also particularly important given the fact that the number of Black farmers has dropped from nearly 1 million in 1920 to less than 50,000 today, in large part due to structural racism which has prevented them from accessing credit through federal government programs. He also says that many young people were facing serious health problems, mostly as a result of a poor diet.
For 12 weeks this summer, Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) partnered with Mileston Cooperative Association to distribute Good Food at Home produce boxes to families that face access barriers to affordable, healthy and sustainable food in Coahoma County, Mississippi. 39.6% of Coahoma County residents live under the Federal Poverty line — more than double the national trend. Not only can many families not afford healthy produce, but large retailers have closed their local stores, leaving families without access.
Using their refrigerated truck, each week Calvin and his team transported hundreds of boxes containing locally grown cabbage, okra, sweet potatoes, and corn - among other items. “It was great to see people’s faces as they were waiting for the produce,” Calvin says about driving up to one of seven sites where families could pick up their boxes.
Three of those sites were run by Eddye Johnson, Food Service Director for Coahoma School District. Eddye has worked for the School District for 48 years and is passionate about educating children in particular on the importance and benefits of eating healthy. “If you eat right, you feel better and you stay out of the doctor’s office,” says Eddye, who at 69 years old only visits the doctor once a year for her annual physical.
Eddye says many of the participating families were able to try new foods they had never cooked or eaten before, such as squash and collard greens. “Your program is a compliment to what we’re doing at the school,” she said.
In total, 350 families accessed over 255,000 servings of local, Delta-grown produce over the 12 weeks of the program. 97% of the participants said that the program helped them stretch their food budget and 88% said there are more vegetables they enjoy eating as a result.
As one participant put it, “This program was a blessing to my community. My family and I are so grateful for you all. The produce was fresh and needed.”
Since 2020, PHA has provided more than 34 million servings of fruits and vegetables to families in 31 cities across the country. It’s one of the many ways we are fighting for food equity, to ensure that every American in every zip code has access to nutritious and delicious food.
Our work in the Mississippi Delta is one part of our work to establish Good Food for All around the country. We hope you’ll learn more about our work and join the movement!