Rootswell - PHA's Work in the MS Delta
2022 Progress Report
Working alongside the community and local stakeholders, PHA’s Rootswell campaign is working in the Mississippi Delta to increase the affordability, accessibility, and visibility of fruit and vegetables.
Did you know that Mississippi has some of the highest rates of food insecurity, obesity, and poverty in the country? The Mississippi Delta — a geographic region that includes the northwest part of the state and where 30% of residents live below the poverty line — is particularly affected by lack of access to good food. What you might not know, though, is that there are many people in the Delta working tirelessly to change that.
And because Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) is on a mission to ensure that everyone in every zip code is able to find and afford good food, our work begins where it is needed most. This program is a stakeholder-led initiative that seeks to promote health and advance a sustainable and equitable food system in the Delta. This year, we’re focusing on:
- Building awareness and demand for locally-grown produce
- Transforming retail stores to prioritize good food
- Supporting farmers markets
- Engaging and empowering Delta youth as food change-makers
The people of the Delta - farmers, grocery store owners, community leaders, artists, entrepreneurs, families and others - are the key to food systems change. At PHA, we’re working hand-in-hand with the community every day to empower this change. Here are just a few of their stories.
Stakeholder Spotlight: Robbie Pollard
Robbie Pollard, a Mississippi native, started gardening in 2012 after feeling burnt out from a long career in IT. “Leaving IT brought me back to agriculture, to the land, and to myself,” said Robbie. “My grandfather was a farmer and that’s where I started my first raised bed and garden on my family’s property.”
After attending different farming workshops held by Growing Power and The Alliance of Sustainable farms, networking with older farmers and folks from the Alcorn State University Extension Program, and watching YouTube farming videos, Robbie taught himself how to farm sustainably in just a few short years.
In 2014, Robbie started the Happy Foods Project, a healthy food initiative that’s part of his farm, Start 2 Finish Farms, LLC. The Happy Foods Project started out as a healthy food truck/mobile market that delivered local produce, fresh food like salads, fruit cups, and wraps to areas in the Mississippi Delta that didn’t have access to healthy food but has grown to be so much more.
Stakeholder Spotlight: Al Jones
After 30 years of service with the Mississippi State Government and a brief stint as First Sergeant in Desert Storm, Al Jones and his wife Mary opened J’s Grocery in 1997 to fill a need for groceries and household essentials in their Clarksdale, MS community. After eight successful years of running J’s Grocery on Ritchie Ave, they opened a second store in 2005 on Madison Ave.
“Most of the people in this area walk,” said Al. “They come to see me from the housing units across the street, the elementary school, or the community hospital. Before I opened J’s Grocery, they had nowhere to buy fresh food or groceries. I know you can’t get rich by running a business like mine, but you sure can make an impact on your community.”
Al wants to make his impact even greater by using his store as a model of success for other stores in under-resourced communities like Clarksdale. In the coming year, Al will be doing just that by working hand-in-hand with Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) to renovate and reformat the layout of J’s Grocery in an effort to prioritize produce, grab and go items, and healthier products. He hopes that other small grocers in the area and beyond can learn from him and work collaboratively to create access to good food in their communities.
Stakeholder Spotlight: Doris Haynes Miller
Doris has always had big dreams and been unstoppable in achieving them. She graduated from high school a year ahead of schedule, and then attended Jackson State University, where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing. She moved to Europe and lived there for nearly 9 years, during which she pursued a Master’s Degree in Human Resource Management and later worked in Social Service with the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of the Army. However, her love of family and community brought her back home to the Mississippi Delta.
After losing her father and other close family members to cancer, Doris became passionate about addressing the health disparities that exist in the Mississippi Delta. And she quickly realized that one critical group of stakeholders was missing from the conversation around food and health equity: young people. “We have young people in elementary school who are suffering from high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes,” said Doris. “Young people just don’t have the opportunity or necessary education to eat healthy here. We need to help them understand how important it is to eat healthy.”
Doris is doing just that through her work with the Alcorn State University Extension Program, where she is creating and identifying activities to get youth involved in farming and agriculture. She’s also providing technical assistance to historically underserved and resource-limited farmers. At PHA, Doris is working on giving young people a voice with the goal of empowering them to eat more vegetables and fruit to lead healthy lives. She’s also connecting them with avenues to teach them how to create healthier twists on traditional Southern recipes.
Rootswell Partner Spotlight: Novo Nordisk
To transform the food landscape in pursuit of health equity, Novo Nordisk has committed to funding our work in the Mississippi Delta to make fruits and vegetables more affordable, accessible and visible through community-centered change focused on empowering young people.