Conservation Innovation Grant Helps Food Hub Improve Operation
Every day in schools across America, students indulge in their school lunch, which often features corn, broccoli, and sweet potatoes. Food service managers strive to include the freshest, healthiest food items on lunch menus and often integrate the crops of local farmers in recipes. The Holmes County Food Hub in Durant, Mississippi is working to provide nutritious food to students in school districts across the southeast.
The Holmes County Food Hub was established in 2013 to train small limited resource farmers on vatic processing and to inform them on how to market to their local school districts. The hub grows, processes, and distributes a variety of crops, such as corn, greens, broccoli, sweet potatoes, watermelons, and butternut squash.
Glyen Holmes, Executive Director of the Holmes County Food Hub, envisioned the operation after learning about opportunities for growers to market their crops and work alongside food and nutrition programs.
He sought out ways to improve his operation, which also has a location in Florida, by partnering with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). He informed the Assistant State Conservationist of Management and Strategy, Michael Carr, of the vision of the co-operative and then decided for the Holmes County Food Hub to apply for a Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) offered by NRCS.
Conservation Innovation Grants are awarded by NRCS to producers who plan to adopt and develop innovative conservation approaches and technologies on their land. The grants are funded through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
"In many areas of the state, farmers are not aware of the technologies and conservation practices that are being implemented, particularly the new ones, that are research proven and available for farmers to use,” said Walter Jackson, State Grazing Land Specialist.
"Conservation Innovation Grants give farmers in a particular location an opportunity to demonstrate this type of technology and also to show it to other farmers in that particular area.”
The Holmes County Food Hub was awarded a CIG in 2014 and the funds have benefited their operation by creating summer jobs and increasing their markets.
“The Conservation Innovation Grant enabled us to hire personnel and put on demonstrations to bring small famers in to expose them to new, proven technology for this area, which was plastic mulching and subsurface irrigation,” said Holmes.
Due to climate change caused by El Niño, the technology provided by CIG helps small farmers, like Holmes, use drip low-cost irrigation to irrigate inexpensively and with low water volume.
"If it hadn’t been for NRCS and the CIG program, we would probably be at least two and a half or three years behind our objectives that we had set in terms of market development and the ability to network with farmers outside of Holmes County,” said Holmes.
The Holmes County Food Hub works with the National Farm to School Program through the Department of Defense’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. This partnership allows the hub to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to school districts in Mississippi. They also have networked with junior colleges in Mississippi and the Attala County Self-Help Cooperative.
Portia Holmes, Glyen’s wife, serves as Associate Director of the food hub and handles the daily operations from scheduling deliveries to ensuring that her husband has clean clothes and food to eat while working
She is also thankful for the CIG funds because they have helped the hub to meet the supply and demand of service requests, necessities for equipment, and payroll for employees.
The Conservation Innovation Grant keeps everything going run smoothly,” said Holmes. “We can make that six month in advance decision. It just helps so much with the planning and organization of what we’re trying to accomplish. We can think in advance instead of day to day.”