Pontotoc Progress

Ask the Master Gardener

By Betty Crane, Ph.D.

Question: What are some current venues for agriculture branching out through the MSU Extension?

Answer: The MSU Extension Service offers varied services for, not only farmers and gardeners, but for those curious about farms and local foods. They have even offered workshops on agritourism, farmers' markets, and local foods. Remember the first "farm to table" talk that piqued your interest?

A few years ago interest led to other venues based in agriculture in towns around the state. Visitors to Mississippi farms wanted to "see how food is grown," said Rachael Carter, Extension Center for Government and Community Development. For example, Leilani Rosenbaum described an agribusiness in Poplarville, Shroomboom, Inc., a place where visitors could walk a trail in an enchanted forest while learning proper mushroom identification. Learning there included knowing wild edibles, different from their deadly look- alikes; they provided some harvesting techniques, as well. Shroomboom, Inc., works with seasonal produce through the Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network.

“Agritourism ... provides our farmers and landowners with a unique opportunity to demonstrate the importance of agriculture, while educating consumers on where their food comes from,” reinforced our past Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Cindy Hyde-Smith. In our area agritourism describes the Wise Family Farm with fun activities for fall family outings.

Then, there are farmers' markets that, according to one writer, are growing in Mississippi. Farmers' markets are either directed by MSU Extension in some towns or by the community in others or by the vendors themselves in some cases. There are more now than ever due to the desire to buy locally and maybe to alleviate the high cost of groceries. Marie Rogers, MSU Extension, Itawamba County agent believes that produce is the freshest and bought from the friendliest vendors. The Aberdeen farmers' market coordinator said that the markets help preserve community and the farming experience while Courtney Crist from the MSU Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion, mentioned that growers are entrepreneurs and "creative in agriculture, art, and food, sometimes with less burden of ... a larger business." Furthermore, costs and wages stay in the community. There's a minimal risk taken there in some of the agribusinesses (Carter). At the Columbus farmers' market, Best said that "people get to know farmers and find out how they make their products." They are of all sizes with the largest in Jackson, near the fairgrounds, open three days a week in season and on Saturdays all year. The smallest may be the annual one-day market in Crystal Springs, part of the Tomato Festival on the last Saturday in June.

People here are talking. There's interest in rural economic development with local agribusinesses selling produce and farm products at our Pontotoc Farmers' Market. Now we can leave there with a half-gallon of locally made chocolate milk and another of golden cream-topped milk from Southern Cultured Creamery. Others walk away with fresh purple hull peas from the Millers' gardening work. A jar of fig preserves made a nice "happy" from Aldridge Farms for a friend nearby. Valley Road honey? A must buy from the last booth as we walk down the hill.

There is an ad on television that shows a boy wishing for fresh fruit that can show the "food desert of many communities in Mississippi without access to healthy food." Some of that problem may be solved with at least some seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables.

Having learned how to write argument essays through a food-themed writing class in Oxford, young people may see the value of growing and buying produce locally. Even a course book "Tomatoes" was based on research into variables of the corporate growing of that fruit for profit in Florida sands. With such education, we might expect an interest in investment in local farmers' markets--creating future agribusinesses and agritourism here.

BETTY CRANE, PH.D., is a trained volunteer with the MSU Extension Service. Have a question for the Pontotoc Master Gardeners? Visit the Pontotoc Extension office or call 662-489-3911. Would you like to learn and become a Master Gardener? The next Master Gardener training begins August 15.