I love to think, talk, and learn about food – and I LOVE to eat it! Mississippi’s traditions of barbeque, Delta tamales, greens, grits, okra, green tomatoes, and hush puppies are as rich as the thick gravy that generously covers the flaky “cat head” biscuits (so named for their large proportions – the size of Fluffy’s head).
But even with some awareness of this important history and culture, I did not anticipate that it would play such a central role in our time in the Delta region of Northwest Mississippi.
We were working with the Tri-County Workforce Alliance’s – a program looking at workforce development in the health fields and the community at large. We visited numerous health centers, hospitals, the community college, and other community development organizations to learn more about how these different agents are all working together under this alliance to improve their communities’ overall well being. But through the discussions of health and jobs and services, food kept coming up. From WIC offices to nutrition and cooking classes to local gardens and agricultural cooperatives to a farmers’ market initiative, healthy fresh foods and the local food economy were at the heart of every conversation around health and community economic development.
A very exciting example of this mindset was demonstrated in Mound Bayou, Mississippi at the newly-rebuilt Delta Health Center. They are cooperating with the students at two public land grant universities – Alcorn State and Mississippi State Universities – to develop what they are calling an “Edible Arranged Landscape” around the grounds of the new building. This means that the facility is surrounded by beds of vegetables, herbs, berry bushes, and fruit trees, which will be available to distribution to the local community. Behind the building is a 12-acre lot that is currently being prepared for cultivation, as well.
This is an innovative way that community healthcare providers in the Mississippi Delta are transforming the way that people in this area are able to access and consume nutritional, fresh, locally-produced foods. The Delta Health Center is not simply attending to people’s medical needs, it is truly nourishing the strength and well being of the community.