Scenes from the 1st Annual Rural America Small Farmers Conference below (stay tuned for updates on  our next conference)

By William Moore

Daily Journal |

VERONA – More than 120 small farmers from across the region gathered at the Mississippi State Research & Extension Center to not only network with each other, but also to learn about programs and assistance.

“We wanted to introduce the local farmers to the state stakeholders,” said Carolyn Jones, director of the Mississippi Minority Farmers Alliance who sponsored the first Rural America Small Farmers Conference.

“We feel Northeast Mississippi has been overlooked,” said Jones, an Okolona farmer. “That was the reason we wanted to host this conference.”

Participants got to hear from a number of experts in a host of fields during four morning sessions. It also gave farmers a chance to meet with other farmers and possibly join a local cooperative.

Carolyn Rogers is with the Four Corners Cooperative in Houston. By joining forces, small farmers can have the impact of a big farm.

“There are a lot of opportunities out there, but it takes a community working together,” said Rogers. “We have 17 members and farm about 2,700 acres. The goal is to bring in 10,000 acres.

“We are looking for both farmers and land owners. There are people out there who have land but don’t have farm equipment. There are people who have the equipment but don’t have the land. We help put them together to make the land useful and productive.”

The MMFA was created in June 2013 not only to assist farmers, but also to work to maintain minority-owned farms while bringing more young people to the business.

“We work with counselors at schools to get out information,” said Jones. “A lot of young people have negative connotations to farming. We show them the business side of farming and food production.”

One way they did that was by donating a parcel of land along Highway 45 in Okolona for a youth community garden.

“We made them aware of the different healthy foods they could raise and let them decide what to plant,” said Jones.

Area farmers helped the youth plant and maintain the garden. The bumper crop of fresh fruit and vegetables was shared with the elderly in the community.