Rootswell - PHA's Work in the MS Delta

2023 Progress Report

Rootswell is helping locally grown produce find its way into local kitchens and onto families’ tables — demonstrating a healthier way to live fully and joyfully in the Mississippi Delta.

Although this region of northwest Mississippi has long experienced high rates of poverty and food insecurity, the tide is turning.

Farmers, grocery store owners, community leaders, and others are building a new food ecosystem, and PHA is standing with them through Rootswell. Through this brand, we are shining a light on the work already underway in the Delta as well as sourcing funding and other resources for small farms and businesses to continue to improve access to good food.

Supporting Local Food Equity Leaders

One example is in Clarksdale, Mississippi, the home of grocery store owner Al Jones.

Al and his wife Mary opened J’s Grocery in 1997 because they saw a need for groceries and household essentials in their community. “Most of the people in this area walk,” Al explained. “Before I opened J’s Grocery, they had nowhere to buy fresh food or groceries.”

Al Jones, owner of J’s Grocery entering his store. Photo credit: Rory Doyle.

This year, Rootswell is collaborating with Al to renovate and reformat the layout of J’s Grocery and prioritize produce, grab and go items, and healthier products. With building enhancements, equipment purchases, and a new interior design, the revitalized J’s Grocery will increase the availability and variety of fruits and vegetables in the neighborhood.

A concept drawing of the exterior of J’s Grocery, as it is intended to look post-revitalization.

For Al, that’s what it’s all about. “I know you can’t get rich by running a business like mine,” he said. “But you sure can make an impact on your community.”

Food for Health

In November 2023, we launched an innovative “produce prescription” program in the Delta for community members ages 18 to 25, a group that rarely — if ever — receives support from this kind of campaign.

Food for Health is providing 169 participants with weekly packages of locally-sourced, fresh fruits and vegetables over the course of 24 weeks. The program also uses text messages and emails to connect participants with online cooking demonstrations, nutrition classes, and easy recipes using that week’s ingredients.

One college student was especially grateful for the support. “College is expensive enough,” they said. “I’m a commuter student with no meal plan and transportation costs. This really helps my family.”

Good Food at Home

Last summer’s Good Food at Home initiative in the Mississippi Delta relied on local farmers to provide the produce — creating a virtuous cycle with benefits for the whole community.

One of the farmers behind this campaign was Calvin Head, a native of Mileston, Mississippi. The town 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.

Calvin Head at his farm in Mileston, MS

The cooperative still exists today and is now run by Calvin, whose primary goal is to create economic and community development opportunities through farming.

Last summer, Calvin and his team loaded up their refrigerated truck with hundreds of boxes containing cabbage, okra, sweet potatoes, corn, and other fresh, local produce. In total, 350 families received over 255,000 servings of Delta-grown produce over the program’s 12 weeks.

A community member receives a Good Food at Home produce box in Coahoma County, MS

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.”

Fall Farmers’ Market

Fall 2023 Farmers Market in Clarksdale, MS In November 2023, PHA co-sponsored a hugely successful Fall Farmers’ Market in partnership with Higher Purpose Co. in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

Eight local farmers gathered with a bountiful harvest of fresh fruits and vegetables — and thanks to grant funds, PHA ensured that no farmer left with unsold produce. PHA also sponsored cooking demonstrations where local ingredients were the stars of the menu.

“I’m glad to be a part of this event. You can definitely count me in next year. We sold out of everything!” remarked Tommie Meeks, a Coahoma County farmer.

We believe in a just food system for all and that food is the foundation of equity. We believe that community grows itself with the right tools.

Today, we plant a seed. Tomorrow, we feast.

Our work in the Mississippi Delta is made possible by our partner, Novo Nordisk.

All Partners

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    Ahold Delhaize USA

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    Dole Packaged Foods

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    Learning Care Group

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    Nurture Life

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