By Peggy Miller
Winston County Self Help Cooperative hosted their 4th Saving Rural America and Youth Conference for 2011 on Friday and Saturday, February 25 and February 26, 2011. A crowd of more than 300 began pouring into the Louisville Coliseum around 10:00 a.m. on Friday morning registering with high expectations for this year’s event. After polling some of the participants throughout the day, it was unanimous that last year’s conference was great, but this year’s was even better. Yes, this year’s conference exceeded their expectations! “At-a-boys” go out to our planning committee, headed up by Nancy Woodruff. I would definitely say, “A job well done.”
This year’s theme was “Building Healthy Communities through Healthy Food: Getting Everyone on Board.” I think those who attended the conference left with not only the challenge of fulfilling the theme, but also with the attitude to get on board. Friday’s event was kicked off by none other than WCSHC’s President, Frank Taylor leading the way by giving the purpose of the conference. Following Frank with cheerful and inviting greetings were Winston County Supervisor, Mrs. Gloria Turnipseed (also a WCSHC member) and City of Louisville’s Mayor, Mayor Will Hill.
Speakers, Presenters, Exhibitors, Vendors, and others alike were all heavy hitters. Starting in the lineup was Dr. Allen Williams, Chairman of Association of Family Farms. Dr. Williams spoke on Quality Food from Small Family Farms, covering the future of food, radical changes in the food industry, trends that are occurring now and how we as food producers can contribute, as well as how it impacts the end user i.e., the consumers. He shared with us of some of the Consumer’s main concerns which include healthiness of food, food prices, food availability, and the issue with water shed or water density in food. Along with the caution of misleading labeling on food, Dr. Williams left us with a bottom line that as Producers, it is important to know the Consumer and to meet their needs. We can be participants, but also be able to tell the story regarding the healthiness of the products that we are producing. Later during the afternoon, Dr. Williams conducted a workshop Titled, “Grass Fed Beef and the New Food Paradigm.”
Radio personality, Phil Harrison from Louisville radio station WLSM (107.1 FM) introduced Candidates for Commissioner of Agriculture, Dannie Reed, Max Phillips, and Cindy Hyde-Smith. They were charged with addressing the topic, “What I can do as Commissioner to help small farms and ranchers improve the physical and economic health of people in rural communities.”
Vendors and Exhibitors on hand for this year’s event were Kid’s Market (Fund Raiser for Youth Projects); Mississippi Fire Wise (MS Forestry Commission); Winston County Diabetes Coalition; White Cloud Jewelry (Authentic American Indian made); Natural and Organic Foods; Handmade Quilts by Mother Ozola Eichelberger; Society of St. Andrew; and Federation of Southern Cooperative.
Our workshops got started right after our “brown bagged” lunch, covering topics promoting farming for health, becoming conscious consumers, and adding value and quality to our lives and our children’s lives. Bill Evans covered a workshop on “Marketing Outlets for Local Growers” and another on “Organic Growing: Transitioning to Certified.” Piggybacking on Marketing Outlets for Local Growers was Southern Cooperatives from Epps, AL. Anyone interested in learning about mushrooms were enlightened in “Mushrooms for Local Markets and Good Health”, a workshop conducted by Dr. Lashunda Anderson from Alcorn State University. Milk and Honey farm owner, Andrea Dinep was on hand to provide information about the health benefits associated with drinking goat’s milk. Accompanying Andrea were her son and daughter and two of their favorite goats. It was hard to say who were more adorable, the kids or the goats (some of you will catch that later). The Dinep farm is located in Starkville, Mississippi and will have goat’s milk available to sell around June of this year.
A Local Growers Panel was headed by Rev. Willie Matthews, a member of WCSHC. Sitting on the panel with Rev. Matthews were local farmers and also members of WCSHC, Mr. George W. Miller, Mr. Dee Dotson and Mrs. Mary Coleman. Not only did they share their success stories but they addressed questions from the audience, such as the best place to plant English peas, when to fertilize fruit trees, when to spray for worms, and the advantage of using solar fencing to keep deer out of gardens. In addition to passing on information that will help others to become successful famers on the local horizon, Mrs. Coleman shared some of her delicious recipes for cooking up the garden that you grow and the correct way to freeze your vegetables. Some of the men folk attending the forum offered to buy the okra she had for display. Others yearned for an invitation to dinner. Her recipe for Fried Corn seemed to be a show stopper. I plan to try her method for preparing okra for freezing, this spring.
Workshops in the lineup for promoting Wellness and Healthy Food were Diabetes and Healthy Food by Dr. Sharon Denham, (Director of Strengthening Communities to Prevent Diabetes); Nutrition and Health by Michael Buehler, MD (President of Gaining Ground); Obesity and Healthy Food by Patrice Buisson, RD, LD (Home Training Dietician, UMC); and Immunity and Homemade Probiotic Foods by Nancy Woodruff, HHP (Louisville, WCSHC).
To help promote healthy eating at an early age, our workshops geared specifically toward Children and Healthy Foods were Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools by Dr. Alison Buehler (Gaining Ground of Starkville, MS) and Natural Foods for Healthy Kids by Blue King Robinson (retired manager, Rainbow Whole Foods Grocery, Jackson, MS).
Our workshops centering on Value-Adding Health for Local Markets were Financing for Local Food Producers by Shelia Freely, Gerald Mills, and Fred Rainer (USDA, Rural Programs, Winston County Economic Development, MDA); Regulating Local Meat Processors by Dr. Byron Williams (MSU Extension); and A Community Engagement Process for Improving Health in Rural America by Dr. Bonnie Carew (MSU, Rural Programs).
After learning about healthy farming and growing healthy food, everyone was more than ready to sit down to a fish dinner accompanied by sides of pasta salad, coleslaw, hushpuppies, and cold drinks prepared by the Coleman Sisters, a real crowd pleaser to say the least.
Another crowd pleaser and leading the entertainment for the evening was a local youth musical group who performed under the direction of WCSHC member, Linda Stephens. Their music was made by self constructed instruments such as scrub boards, spoons, shakers, and other percussion and string type instruments. They provoked the imaginations for some and took the memories of others back into the days of our ancestors, reminding us of how innovative they were back then.
Second in our lineup for entertainment was our fashion show organized by Mrs. Robin Matthew (WCSHC member). Fashion show participants included children as well as adults. All of the children sported some type of hat of head dress. But it was the adults who stole the show. The men sported their overalls with accessories that included hats (straw, cloth, & sombreros), rakes, weed whackers, and hoes. However, Linda Stephens won first place recognition in her sizzling western attire, cracking her leather whip as she entered onto the run-way; luckily no one felt the sting from her whip or her outfit (but it was hot). Placing second and third respectively were Walter Coburn and Little Miss Madison Fowler from the youth group.
Wrapping up Friday’s entertainment were the “Mighty Disciples” a gospel group from Louisville, Mississippi. They performed three hand clapping, toe tapping selections that had some in the audience on their feet.
Last but not least, and closing down for the evening were some of our local candidates whose names will be on the ballads for elected offices during upcoming elections in Winston County.
Saturday’s events got off to a great start with a smoking breakfast at 6:00 a.m. and poetry by Linda Stephens. I don’t know of any other place in Mississippi where you can get this combination (grits, eggs, and ham with a little culture on the side). They always say, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” And that led us into another one of Frank Taylor’s famous “Fire in Your Belly” motivational speeches. Following Frank was Clifton Peters from Alcorn State University who presented information on USDA scholarships and the criteria that must be met. These scholarships are available through all historical black colleges. Anyone accepting one of these scholarships also becomes a federal employee at that time. Saturday’s workshops were just as informative as Friday’s and consisted of “Pasture Management and Beef Cattle Herds” by Dr. Lemus (MSU); Carbon Sequestration by Amadou Diop (National Wildlife Federation); Organic Growing: Transitioning to Certified by Bill Evans; Recordkeeping by Kelvin King, Business Management Specialist (Alcorn State Univ.); Bull Selection by Mr. Marks (MSU); Personal Finance: Wealth Creation; Forest Management by Sandra Ford and Bill Kitchings; Soils by Delaney Johnson (NRCS); Heifer Development by Katie Pfeiffer (MSU); Cost Share Assistance by Wilson Murray (NRCS); Canning by Mother Ozola Eichelberger and Mary Coleman (WCSHC members); Office of Small & Disadvantaged Business Utilization by Joe Ware, Deputy Director (OSDBU); Improving Feeder Calf Value by Mr. Simons (MSU); Loans by Terrick Boley (FSA); NRCS Programs and Practices by Walter Jackson (NRCS); and Heifer International Update by Emily King and Roger Jones.
Once the workshops concluded, the Coleman Sisters served up another appetizing meal of grill chicken, hamburger steak, mashed potatoes, collard greens, candied yams, and corn bread (Southern cuisine at its best). We were then addressed by USDA’s Assistant Secretary for Administration, Mr. Pearlie Reed and then Mr. Quentin Robertson, USDA Washington D.C. Mr. Robertson’s “What’s Going On In Washington D.C. brought us up to date on the government’s interest in correcting the issues that took place during the Civil Rights Movement with small farmers by settling class action law suits and their plan to strengthen farmers in Rural America.
Wow, that pretty much wraps up one and a half days of information, facts, science, knowledge, food, entertainment, shopping, and fun; something to inspire all Farmers. Winston County Self Help Cooperative extends their gratitude to all speakers, presenters, exhibitors, those who made donations, and all participants. We look forward to next year’s Saving Rural America and Youth Conference and hope to see you all there. You don’t want to miss it!