Fourteen people representing the six groups that form the Mississippi Food Justice Collaborative gathered for their first in-person meeting in Jackson, Mississippi on December 13, 2016. The groups that make up the Collaborative include the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), Asian Americans for Change, FoodCorps, Mileston Cooperative Association, Mississippi Farm to School Network, and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
The project is funded by a grant of more than $2 million from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) of Battle Creek, Michigan WKKF was founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal pioneer Will Keith Kellogg and is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work, and life.
The first meeting of the Collaborative was to introduce partners, discuss the changes partners would like to see in the communities they serve, and share strengths and resources that they have to support each other in these efforts. This meeting also helped the partners understand where they are now and gave them a baseline that will allow them to evaluate the changes and growth they observe in their communities over the next two and a half years.
The morning activities were designed to spur conversation between the partners about their experiences with food justice issues within their communities, what is being done to increase food access, and to look at how history has contributed to current food injustices. Food Justice project coordinator Liz Broussard said participants were encouraged to share memories and stories of their unique experiences, to assess their current situations, and to explore how they will move forward together toward a better food system.
After hearing different stories from the other members of the collaborative, Calvin Head, director of the Mileston Cooperative Association and a produce farmer himself, said that he was struck by how many similarities there were between the different members’ experiences. He observed after the meeting, “Rural communities are all in the same boat and all have the same needs for the most part. With such a diverse group, you wouldn’t anticipate those results.” He had expected that people from the different organizations would have had different observations and experiences in relation to food justice, but, he said, “the similarities were overwhelming.”
Marlena Nip, Mississippi FoodCorps Fellow, was excited to be at what she felt was “a truly diverse” table of people. As a newcomer to Mississippi, she was also glad to have the opportunity to meet people from all over the state whose missions are in line with that of FoodCorps. Throughout the day, she heard stories from those born and raised in the state and said it “enhanced my understanding of Mississippi. There is so much history here that is not told a lot of the time.” She is hoping to connect FoodCorps members with the members of the Mississippi Food Justice Collaborative in the future for trainings or professional development opportunities.
It was the first of many meetings this special group of individuals will be having as they all work within their own regions and populations to increase access to and knowledge about healthy food, moving forward to collaborate and support each other as they strive to improve the overall health and well-being of their communities.