USDA Rural Development Mississippi hosted a Small Farmer Intensive (SFI) workshop on March 20th and 21st at the McKenzie Arena, 1320 Seven Springs Rd., Raymond, MS 39154, from 8:15 am to 4:30 pm. The goal for this 2-day meeting was to provide fruit and vegetable (limited resource, socially disadvantaged, beginning and women) farmers, cooperatives and food hubs in Mississippi and Arkansas with substantive instruction from USDA’s agencies, tools and needed business insight to make them competitive to access new markets. The SFI fully supports President Obama’s focus to revitalize rural communities by creating opportunities and community development. Further, USDA is working aggressively to ensure that our programs and services are accessible to all of the people we serve.
The first day of the workshop included various activities. Participants learned from companies such as C.H. Robinson, Whole Foods and Walmart about what they require from individual farms and/or cooperatives to become fruit and vegetable suppliers for their retail markets. The Agricultural Marketing Services and Food and Nutrition Service presented market opportunities from their agencies as well. Later that afternoon, the Farm Service Agency, Rural Development, and Risk Management Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Food and Nutrition Service and Agricultural Marketing Service discussed how their programs can assist farmers in accessing both industry and government markets. Day two was geared exclusively to women and was lead by the White House Project. This interactive session provided women with the tools needed to breakdown and map out important components of their successful venture. After the session, teleconferencing and coaching was provided to the women who attended to ensure that they are networking, able to access better resources, with the goal of advancing leadership and success of women growers. “These two-day intensive workshops provide hands-on agriculture training which help build thriving economies in rural communities,” said Mrs. George, Mississippi State Director for USDA Rural Development.
In conjunction with the Small Farmer Intensive Workshop, March 20, 2012 was National Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) Day. Events were held nationwide to showcase successful REAP projects. During the Small Farmer Intensive Workshop, Mr. George Jones, Mississippi’s Business and Cooperatives Program Manager highlighted a REAP project and the REAP report during his presentation. The REAP Program provides grants, loan guarantees, and a combination of grants and loan guarantees to rural small businesses and agricultural producers. REAP also provides grants for feasibility studies for renewable systems, energy audits, and renewable energy development assistance for agricultural producers and rural small businesses. “REAP is Rural Development’s most successful and competitive renewable energy and energy efficiency program. In 2011, grants and loan guarantees funded projects in all 50 States and territories,” said Mrs. Trina George, Mississippi State Director for USDA Rural Development.