Showing posts with label Mississippi Delta. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mississippi Delta. Show all posts

Friday, June 13, 2014

Feds create small program to promote local food

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack introduced a new federal assistance program this week called "Local Foods, Local Places." The Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Delta Regional Authority are investing a total of $650,000 to help local communities "create more livable places by promoting local foods," according to a White House release.

The goal is to "boost economic opportunities for local farmers and businesses and foster entrepreneurship," improve access to healthy local food, "revitalize downtowns, main street districts and traditional neighborhoods by supporting farmers’ markets, food hubs, community gardens, community kitchens and other kinds of local food enterprises and by providing people with affordable choices for accessing those amenities, such as walking, biking or taking transit," the release says.

Vilsack said in a USDA release, "Buying locally is one of the best things a community can do to grow its economy. Partnerships like Local Food, Local Places help rural leaders develop strategies for promoting farm products grown by people right in their own communities. The demand for local food is growing rapidly nationwide, creating more opportunities for American farmers and ranchers and growing the entire country's rural economy." (Read more)

All communities are eligible to apply, but those given particular attention include areas served by the Appalachian and Delta agencies, as well as federal Promise Zones and USDA StrikeForce counties. Application letters are due by July 15. (Read more)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Organizations use Promise Neighborhood grants to improve education in distressed communities

Berea College, the Delta Health Alliance, and Renewal Unlimited Inc. have been awarded Promise Neighborhood grants, which go "to colleges, universities, or non-profits that serve as lead agencies in partnership with school districts and other community-based organizations in distressed communities," reports Rural Policy Matters, a publication of the Rural School and Community Trust.

For the past 15 years Berea College, just outside the East Kentucky Coalfield, "has implemented federal pre-K–12 education grants in the region" through Berea Promise Neighborhood, RPM reports. "Berea has expanded its college and career-readiness programs and built on its family engagement experience as the basis for expanded academic work with schools. It has formalized partnerships, set up its data system, built out its work into elementary schools and implemented early childhood partnerships, and piloted a variety of programs, in health, wellness, safety, and arts and culture." (Berea College map: Promise Neighborhood serves nine counties and 10 school districts in Eastern Kentucky)

The program was designed "to increase academic performance and college readiness;
to increase high school graduation rates and college-going rates; and to build and enrich a college-going culture in the schools and communities we serve," according to the college. Last month Berea hosted the Rural Education Summit, which "addressed issues surrounding rural poverty and the need for rural-centric responses" and "offered tours to sites in rural Kentucky to see the Berea Promise Neighborhood in action," Rural Policy Matters reports.

Delta Health Alliance, based in Indianola, Miss. left, "has extensive experience providing health interventions and education in the Mississippi Delta," Rural Policy Matters reports. Vice President for External Affairs John Davis told RPM, “Delta Health Alliance has a strong track record reducing infant mortality and low birth weight with health care, home visitations, and other work with expectant and new mothers. It starts with getting them here healthy.”

The alliance also "expanded pre-birth through five supports and led efforts to have Indianola certified as an Excel by 5 community—meaning it has achieved standards and provides supports to reach the goal that all children are ready to learn in school at age five," RPM reports. "It also formalized partnerships  and began working directly with the Indianola school district and other partners to establish and expand after school programs."

Renewal Unlimited Inc. has pre-school programs, family resource centers and other family and education programs in a five-county region of central Wisconsin including Adams County (Wikipedia map), which, "with a population of about 20,000, retains an agricultural economic base, supplemented with light manufacturing," Rural Policy Matters reports. To read the entire article in RPM's December issue, click here.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Mississippi Delta's population keeps falling, dramatically in several counties

Last year the number of people living in non-metro counties, the most common definition of rural America, declined for the first time since the Census Bureau began estimating populations. Population losses aren't anything new in the Mississippi Delta, where demography and economics caused 16 counties to lose between 10 to 38 percent of their population from 2000 to 2010—and 12 lost 50 to 75 percent since 1940, The Economist reports in a recent post on its "The Economist Explains" blog. (Commercial Appeal photo by Alan Spearman: Greenville, Miss., lost more than 7,000 residents in 2000-10)

The unnamed blogger answers the question, "Why are so many people leaving the Mississippi Delta?" Where the region differs from many rural areas is its history of agriculture and slavery and the mass migration of African Americans, who fled the South for the North in the middle of the 20th Century. "The Delta was built not just on agriculture but on slave labour—and lots of it," says the British magazine. "Slaves cleared the brackish, heavily forested floodplain and turned it into arable land. Slaves planted and reaped the cotton fields. After America's civil war, ex-slaves and their descendants provided a vast pool of cheap labour. Railroads into the Delta opened up new markets, but they also carried away workers looking for more opportunity to Chicago during the Great Migration, to military and defence industries during the second world war and to the industrial Midwest and north-east when America's car and steel industries were thriving."

Agriculture is still a major commodity in the Delta, "but farms that once required hundreds of people have become mechanised," The Economist notes. As an example of struggling population, the news source cites Issaquena County, which in 1860 had a population of 7,224 slaves and 587 whites. The current population is 1,386, with 40 percent of those people living below the poverty line. In all, the county has 10 private non-farm business that employ only 99 people, which The Economist says is "a tax base that nightmares are made of and that functional schools and services are not." (Read more) Oddly shaped Issaquena County is the second southernmost county in the Delta (see map of Delta counties). 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Clinton tells Delta allies good policy needed for rural growth; easier to avoid partisanship at local level

Former President Bill Clinton said he has high hopes for continued economic progress in the area served by the Delta Regional Authority, which he helped create during his presidency, reports the website for the Mississippi Delta Grassroots Caucus, a private support group for the federal agency region.

“There is never going to be enough government money to take a poor region of America out of the dumps all by itself,” Clinton said this month at a caucus meeting. “You’ve got to have private-sector growth. In order to have private-sector growth, you’ve got to have good government policy. You have to have government and the private sector, and increasingly all these great foundations working together.”

The closer to the grass roots, the less national politics complicates things, Clinton said: “All of the debate in Washington tends to be about what I would call macro-economic policy. But real life is lived in what the economists would call microeconomic policy. The more you go to the micro, the more jobs you’re going to create and the more bipartisan cooperation you’re going to have, because there is no other Republican or Democratic way to locate a plan, to start up an agricultural project,” and to do all the other range of economic development activities, the caucus website reports.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Tourists in Miss. can sleep in plantation shacks

Photo: P.F. Edwards, Garden & Gun
Entrepreneurs in Clarksdale, Miss., have found a way to market rural poverty with the Shack Up Inn, a collection of authentic sharecropper shacks, Tracy Thompson writes in her book, The New Mind of the South.

In a book excerpt in the Daily Yonder, Thompson says the inn is on "the site of the old Hopson Plantation a few miles outside of town, retrofitted with some modern necessities like indoor plumbing, heat and air conditioning, and then rented to tourists traveling down Highway 61 on the Mississippi Blues Trail."

The Shack Up Inn website says that visitors can "immerse yourself in the living history you will find at Hopson. Virtually unchanged from when it was a working plantation, you will find authentic sharecropper shacks, the original cotton gin and seed houses and other outbuildings. You will glimpse plantation life, as it existed only a few short years ago. In addition, you will find one of the first mechanized cotton pickers."

The inn is a hit with the musical and literary set, but there have been few African American visitors, writes Thompson. More than 40 percent of Clarksdale residents lived below the poverty level in 2007-11, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report. The population is 79 percent black.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Community newspaper in Kentucky tackles poverty in a series that it says will last all year

The Todd County Standard in Elkton, Ky., started a year-long series last week about the county's growing poverty rate. It's an issue that most community newspapers might shy away from, but the Standard is again proving why it has been judged the best small weekly newspaper in the state for six straight years. The county is not in Appalachia, as you might expect, but in southwestern Kentucky and the edge of the territory covered by the Delta Regional Authority.

"While our prospects for being able to attract manufacturers and the regional concept that has brought water, economic development and perhaps a regional job training center offer Todd County several ways to overcome poverty, the sad reality now is that we are in a state of crisis and we need to admit it," the paper opined. "With one of the highest rates of uninsured people in the state; with children in poverty on the rise; with one in three families on some sort of government assistance; with 40 percent of children born between 2007 and 2009 to mothers who do not have high school diplomas; with 61 percent of school-age children on free or reduced lunches there is more than enough information to make us concerned."

The paper will study Todd County's poverty to inform the public about it and discuss ways in which it can be addressed. The first two stories in the series appeared in the Jan. 9-15 edition, and cover babies born to mothers without high school diplomas and high rates of children receiving free or reduced-price school lunch. "Poverty is not a plague," the paper writes. "It is curable. It has been cured in other places, but the only way it can be cured is for people to become aware of its severity and then to care about poverty's demise." For the editorial and the stories in the first installment of the series, click here.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Box Project celebrates its 50th year of personal outreach to those in rural poverty all across the U.S.

Marilyn Kriegl of San Francisco, right,
and Willie Mae Bush of Mississippi,
paired through Box Project (BP photo)
The Box Project, a grass-roots program of the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi, still holds promise for relieving rural poverty as it marks its 50th year. The project, writes Henry Bailey of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, was "designed to link needy families in the Delta and other areas with sponsors across the country." Originally focused on the Mississippi Delta, and based in Hernando, Miss., the Box Project has expanded its outreach efforts to include rural areas in Maine, Appalachia including West Virginia, Kentucky and the Native American reservations of South Dakota.

An example of its work: Tim Holston grew up among the dirt roads around Itta Bena, Miss., and faced bleak prospects. But as a youth, he received the first two books he ever owned from his Box Project sponsor, Marcia Cook of Concord, Mass. -- and now he's completing a doctorate in computer science. His sister has already graduated.

The Box Project began with an airline conversation, and in the living room of a woman from New Hampshire. On a 1962 flight, Virginia Naeve met Coretta Scott King, the wife of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Bailey writes, "The conversation turned to conditions in rural Mississippi and what might be done to help families in the Mississippi Delta, one of the worst areas of rural poverty in America. 'Mrs. King gave Virginia the name of a specific family she knew needed help,' Tom Pittman, president of the Community Foundation, said. 'Virginia returned home and began writing letters and sending boxes of clothing, food and supplies that the family desperately needed.' Soon, neighbors heard of her actions and were giving her boxes to send to Mississippi too. Other families in poverty were added to the mailing list, and things kept growing until Naeve got the simple idea of matching up sponsor families directly, and the Box Project was launched. Since that modest start, it's grown to a network that has directly helped more than 15,000 recipient families." (Read more)

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Mississippi Delta doctor frustrated by state's resistance to health-care reform

Many health-care pundits have pointed out the irony that some of the areas that reform could help the most are the areas fighting it the hardest, and at least one rural health advocate is worried about that tension. Anne Brooks, left, a Roman Catholic nun who has run a health clinic in Tutwiler, Miss., for 27 years, "sees the nation's new health care law as a potentially happy turn in a long, hard journey," Noam Leevy of the Tribune Co.'s Washington Bureau reports. "But there's a good chance this story will end with another difficult twist in the road for Brooks and for Tutwiler," as Mississippi Republican Gov. Haley Barbour has "joined a lawsuit filed by GOP officials in several states seeking to overturn the law." (Los Angeles Times photo by Lance Murphy)

Barbour "campaigned on a promise to cut the health-care safety net to balance the state budget," Leevy writes. "Shortly afterward, Mississippi began requiring Medicaid recipients to submit to in-person interviews once a year, making it the only state with such a sweeping rule. In Tutwiler, the closest registration office is in nearby Sumner. It's open one day a week, on Tuesdays, from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., as well as the third Wednesday of month." The governor said the federal health-care overhaul "would prove disastrous" for Mississippi.

Four in 10 patients at the Tutwiler Clinic have no insurance at all. "When someone brings me a basket of squash, I'm happy," said Brooks, who received a medical degree at age 44 from Michigan State University's College of Osteopathic Medicine. In 2008, she collected $552,572 for delivering medical care, just over a quarter of the clinic's expenses, Leevy reports. The rest of her funding comes from private donations and grants. Brooks  told Leevy she's doubtful Mississippi leaders will take advantage of the federal help. "I just know I have to see my patients," she said, "It would be nice if someone could figure out a way to pay us for doing it." (Read more)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Delta doctor using Iranian idea for rural health aid

A Mississippi Delta doctor is looking to an unusual place for a solution to the rural health care crisis: Iran. Dr. Aaron Shirley, right, who has spent his career serving the Delta's rural poor, visited Iran in May to study "a low-cost rural healthcare delivery system that, according to the World Health Organization, has helped cut infant deaths by 70 percent over the last three decades," Bob Drogin reports for the Los Angeles Times. (Times photo by Carolyn Cole)

The Delta has the nation's highest infant mortality rate. While Iran and health care rank as two of the most controversial political topics, Shirley and a colleague are in Washington today to ask for funding to open an Iranian-style "health house" in in 15 Delta communities. Both the U.S. and Iranian government have given quiet support to the little-known initiative, Drogin reports. Mississippi ranks at or near the bottom of most major health care indexes. "The system is broken," Shirley told Drogin. "It's time to try something new."

Iran's 7,000 health houses serve essentially as rural medical outposts staffed by community health workers, Drogin reports. The Mississippi plan calls for "training nurses' aides in each community, and then sending them door to door to help with basic needs," Drogin writes. Health workers would refer patients to clinics or hospitals for more advanced care and follow up with home visits.

The ongoing political struggle between the two countries remains an obstacle. "People will be skeptical at first because of Iran," said Paula Lang, chief nursing officer at Patients' Choice Medical Center of Humphreys County, told Drogin. "But I think they will embrace the concept when they see how it works." Erleen Smith, an 80-year-old retired Delta cotton worker, told Drogin: "I ain't never heard of Iran. But we could sure use somebody's help." (Read more)

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Mississippi Delta Grassroots Caucus has a consensus in a poor region that still has a long way to go

The annual conference of the Mississippi Delta Grassroots Caucus in Little Rock developed a consensus for cooperation, bipartisanship and "maintaining a we-can-do-it attitude," writes Constance Alexander in the Murray Ledger and Times of southwestern Kentucky, part of the Delta Regional Authority's territory.

"Funding of $30 million is also crucial," Alexander writes. "Being proactive is essential, particularly in areas like health care and infrastructure. Housing needs and transportation also demand initiative, with sub-prime loans and the current economic downturn presenting problems of immediate concern."

For economic development, "Thinking outside the proverbial box and taking holistic approaches is advised," Alexander writes. Other strategies include "developing and promoting education as a process of lifelong learning, from pre-kindergarten to post-retirement [and] taking charge of change through innovation, creativity and technology. Moreover, the importance of broadband cannot be ignored, as entrepreneurship relies on access." The group also agreed to take steps toward "energy independence, including alternative fuels, and sustainable and renewable fuels."

Alexander reports, "Speakers and panelists included corporate executives and Washington, D.C., operatives, as well as elected officials, university administrators, community organizers and program officers from a range of non-profits. The common ground they share is the stark reality that the Mississippi Delta region has a poverty rate 55 per cent higher than the rest of the nation, a plight as dire and entrenched as that of Appalachia." The headline on her story is "Still a long way to go." (Read more)