DFFI outreach includes all of Bolivar County, yet for this particular project the group focused on three neighboring communities of Shelby, Winstonville, and Mound Bayou. These communities were selected because DFFI leadership is based in the three communities and has a history of outreach in the area. The three communities are about 5 miles apart running along Highway 61. There is a longstanding history of community organizing in the region and DFFI sought to build on past experiences to create an opportunity for meaningful social change.
Mound Bayou is the oldest historical black town in the US founded by two former slaves, Isaiah Montgomery and Benjamin Green, who designed the community based on the principles of self-reliance and autonomy; strong points of pride for the community even today. In addition, Mound Bayou opened the first Federally Qualified Community Health Center (FQHC) in the nation in 1965 led by Dr. Jack Geiger, Dr. John Hatch, L.C. Dorsey, and Andrew James. The health center, which is still in operation today as the Delta Health Center, was founded on the principle that “health centers could serve as important instruments of social change” (Ward 2016
). In its early days, the Center was one of the first in the nation to implement a Healthy Food Rx Program in which healthy food was prescribed to patients in an effort to promote food as medicine, but chiefly as a means to provide healthy food access. The Center was the focal point for community organizing around the need to address the social determinants of health and poverty and malnutrition in the region (Hollands 2018
). Part of this comprehensive work included the establishment of the North Bolivar County Farm Cooperative in Mound Bayou that cultivated 600 acres of produce to feed the community, and creating jobs for farm cooperative members (Hollands 2018
). This groundbreaking public health initiative was a model rural health program that combined civil rights, health, and social justice. Vestiges of this project are visible in the continued existence of the Delta Health Center yet the large-scale community projects around health and access to healthy food have dwindled. DFFI sought to reinvigorate this earlier project and model the Good Food Revolution on this work with the hope that food systems initiatives could serve as important instruments of social change. Several of the original partners from the 1965 initiative, including the Delta Health Center, are partnering in the DFFI project. The North Bolivar County Farm Cooperative became the Alcorn State University Demonstration Farm and is one of the partners in the DFFI Good Food Revolution initiative.
Below is a brief description of each community.
Research Design and Data Collection
In 2017 DFFI received funding from the Bolivar Medical Center Foundation to address healthy food access in the region. DFFI board members met to determine the best use of these funds. They sought to expand upon the model work in the 1960s described above and to develop a food system in the three communities that promoted food production, healthy food access and consumption, and job creation. To determine what the community experienced in terms of food insecurity, and what community members wanted in terms of food sovereignty, DFFI reached out to the Mississippi Food Insecurity Project (MFIP) Director at Mississippi State University. MFIP seeks to document food insecurity in the state and to provide research tools and opportunities for communities seeking to address hunger through community-based initiatives. Through a series of meetings with DFFI and MFIP, a project design was developed to survey community members to provide a baseline of hunger in the area, train youth ambassadors to collect data, and bring together key stakeholders and partners to identify a mechanism to meet the DFFI outreach mission. MFIP recommended using a modified USDA survey that was being utilized in Ohio with a team of researchers who had been using the survey instrument to understand hunger in the area. With permission from the Ohio team, MFIP tailored the survey for the community’s needs (see survey at http://foodmapping.osu.edu/about-the-survey/
The project focused on three key elements: survey data collection and analysis; youth training and leadership development; and community outreach and community building. The survey data collection and youth training components provided overlapping and symbiotic opportunities to build resiliency through youth development, youth investment, and youth commitment to the project.
Recognizing the positionality of the three authors of this research and our relationship to the study is very important. All the authors are white females conducting research in predominantly African American communities; two are based at a nearby university and one is a founding member of DFFI and has served as the Executive Director (ED) since 2012. The core values of DFFI to build an equitable, sustainable local food system in the Mississippi Delta through social justice are also the personal core values of each author. The ED of DFFI has also served as a community organizer, program director, and administrator for DFFI focusing on grassroots network building and partnership development alongside strategic opportunities to facilitate projects that foster sustainable change and honor the places and the people in the communities where DFFI works. She has been instrumental in all aspects of this project and recruited one of the other authors through their mutual work on the state-wide food policy council. The two authors from the university are both founding members of MFIP (discussed above). The long-standing, recognized work of DFFI in the three communities provided much-needed trust and reciprocity that the university researchers benefitted from as ‘outsiders’ to the community and facilitated their roles as researchers and trainers of the youth ambassadors.
In September 2017, twenty-three community youth from the outreach area were selected by DFFI, in partnership with community leaders. The youth and four DFFI board and staff members were trained in community-based participatory data collection by MFIP. Community-based participatory research is a method that trains community members to undertake research to address social problems and provide mechanisms to make meaningful social change in their communities that is informed by research (Strand et al. 2003
). DFFI sought input from MFIP to identify mechanisms to demystify knowledge and use systematic understanding of need in the community to create change and address the problem of food access in their community. DFFI sought to empower the community through skills-development and utilization of research to inform decisions that would move towards transformative social justice for residents.
The training involved providing background information on food insecurity, food access, and understanding the food environment. Participants received an overview of Institutional Review Board (IRB) standards and the importance of anonymity and confidentiality during data collection. Training in survey administration and the emphasis on rigor, accuracy, consistency, and thoroughness was also covered along with professionalism in data collection. Special emphasis was placed on the role of the interviewer as developing a social relationship. Building community capacity and community outreach is a significant part of this project and youth participants were encouraged to consider themselves key leaders in their community toward building sustainable communities. The youth took on the title of Good Food Youth Ambassadors (GFYA). Finally, a certification in training was provided to note their training completion and skills development at the end of the training series.
The Good Food Youth Ambassadors (GFYA) created teams of two that practiced together and fine-tuned their survey data collection skills. On the days of data collection, the GFYA teams went out with community partners into each targeted neighborhood. Four Saturdays in September and October 2017 were designated as data collection days in the three communities.
Data collection was overseen by a trained community leader who was familiar with the neighborhoods in each location and who assisted in identifying neighborhood characteristics (public housing, Section 8, economic differentiation, if any). Social media blasts indicating the dates that survey teams would be in the community were sent out through the GFYA networks, and other community members. Flyers with the Good Food Revolution logo, along with key information about data collection and contact information, were disseminated prior to each day of data collection, and were also given to each household who participated in the survey. All GFYA wore a deep green t-shirt with the Good Food Revolution Logo on the back on the days of survey data collection. The symbolic, visual representation of local youth walking in pairs throughout the neighborhoods with clipboards and green t-shirts was noteworthy amidst the backdrop of routine Saturday activities.
Based on the demographics of each of the three towns in the study outreach area and the remarkable homogeneity within and across the three sites, the project aimed for a 15% household sample from each location (see Table 1
). The survey took between 20 and 25 min to complete. DFFI provided each survey participant a $
10 gift card to Walmart to honor their time. Data collection took place over four Saturdays with a debriefing on the last day. The total number of surveys collected was 211 (15 percent of households in total). Each survey took about 20 min to deliver. The survey administered was based on Mapping the Food Environment
, a survey created and used in Ohio by The Ohio State University, as well as the USDA Food Security Survey Module (Ohio State University 2018
). The survey included questions focused on food access, food patterns, neighborhood environment, health conditions, food security, and participant demographics and background. The Ohio State Survey was modified to be sensitive to regional terminology and several survey questions were modified to reflect the resources available in Mississippi (for example, questions about use of a taxi to get to food store were eliminated since there are no taxis in the area; also, names of grocery stores were modified based on available shopping outlets in the area, or left open-ended for respondents to list where they shop). Questions regarding solutions to local problems were added to measure interest in community gardens, farmers’ markets, mobile food trucks, or the construction of grocery stores. These questions were created specifically for DFFI and generated by the youth ambassadors and the DFFI staff who are from the area and who received survey data collection training; the questions were based upon the resources available and areas where capacity building was already taking place. Data from the 211 surveys were entered into an Excel spreadsheet by a member of MFIP. Data was then analyzed using SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences software program) and translated into frequency tables for each question by a member of MFIP.
In tandem with data collection, DFFI met with key stakeholders in the three communities, including local church leaders, elected officials, and community members. A Good Food Revolution Advisory board was created that included farmers, food insecure community members, elected officials, leaders, key stakeholders, a Youth Ambassador, and DFFI staff. Central to all of the work of the Good Food Revolution was the desire to create community buy-in and trust to ensure the long-term success of the project.
The survey collection and final report allowed an understanding of need in the area, but also engaged with community members to ask their response to possible solutions. Many community members being surveyed expressed delight to see youth involved in the study and actively engaged in community- building.
Survey participants responded overwhelmingly that they would support a mobile market if provided (89 percent). Further, 34 percent of respondents indicated locally grown food was very important to them; 24 percent said important, and 26 percent said slightly important. Only 17 percent said not important at all. The majority of respondents (69 percent) also indicated that organically grown or food grown without chemicals was important to them.
While nearly one-third (29.5 percent) of the entire county reports food insecurity and 32.6 percent of children are food insecure, of those in this study, 43 percent identified as food insecure. The health of residents is affected by the food insecurity, with 37.5 percent of adults reporting a body mass index of 30 or higher and 16.5 percent reporting a diabetes diagnosis.
In December 2017 the final report was prepared for DFFI and then shared during a Town Hall meeting with community members in attendance. Based on the survey findings and community discussion, DFFI Board members decided to create a mobile market to provide fresh, local food for the community.
The North Bolivar County Good Food Revolution worked with a network of growers through MEGA, a key partner in the project. In addition, a key partner became the Alcorn Demonstration Farm in Mound Bayou who worked to scale up their food production to meet increased demand and to establish a mobile market for the three high-needs communities to access healthy, affordable food. To continue youth participation, a youth farmer training program developed at the demonstration farm. In July 2018, ten GFYA youth and three DFFI staff attended and received training at the 2018 Rooted in Community Youth Summit in New York City.
In March 2018, DFFI held its first annual North Bolivar County Farm to Table community gathering at the Lampton Street Church in Mound Bayou. The convening brought together community members, farmers, youth ambassadors, elected officials, and community organizers to share the research findings and celebrate the project. A mobile market was purchased and demonstrated at the event and GFYA shared their experiences and were hosts at the event.
Several youth ambassadors were identified and trained to operate the market, and the community leader who was trained to help lead the survey data collection with the youth served as the market manager. The mobile marked launched in June 2018. Healthy food cooking demonstrations were implemented at mobile market designated locations including church kitchens based in each community. DFFI received USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) authorization for use at the mobile market.
The mobile market operated from 30 June through 24 November 2018. Sales for the market started off strong but declined as the season changed and produce availability declined. Eight cooking classes were held during the market operation, three of the cooking classes were held in conjunction with local festivals. Seventeen GFYA have continued with the project. In October 2018 DFFI held a Town Hall meeting with over 100 in attendance to discuss the project and the first season’s results. Community feedback and input provided guidance on ways to tweak and change the program focusing on expanding days and locations for the mobile market and better ways to attract SNAP EBT recipients to the market. The Alcorn Demonstration Farm committed to expanding their youth ambassador grower program utilizing the high tunnels at the farm for season extension production and greater crop variety.