Small farmers' assistance

MARENGO COUNTY, Ala. (WTOK) - Efforts are currently being made in West Alabama to help small farmers there, which could soon also help others in East Mississippi.

Making farming more profitable for small farmers is one of the main missions for the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network, which is also known as ASAN for short. Established more than ten years ago, the organization host meetings throughout the state exploring ways that it can help farmers.

As for West Alabama, ASAN officials say the region is a leader when it comes to helping small farmers get their products to larger markets.

"I think in the Black Belt it's a really strong model because there aren't a lot of large urban centers," says ASAN's Executive Director, Alice Evans.

She says the fact that there are not many urban areas within the Black Belt region is why the Deep South Food Alliance was established about three years ago in the town of Linden in Marengo County.

"They're able to cut, chop, bag and they have cold storage there," says Evans. "They also have a loading dock so that they can bring a truck to pick up all of those farmers' products rather than somebody having to go to all of these different farms individually. So, they're able to access much larger markets that way."

With about twenty farmers partnering with the Marengo County food hub, alliance officials say the demand for products from those farmers is increasing.

"We get a lot of demands from institutions, and a lot of people are trying to buy local and utilize locally grown products," says Deep South Food Alliance Coordinator, Andrew Williams.

He says all farmers who supply food for the food hub must meet certain guidelines.

"That's because we have to have a certain kind of product," says Williams. "The produce has to meet safety requirements and that kind of thing. So, we help them to help us."

Alliance officials say they are taking steps to expand their scope, and to also work with small farmers from other states.

"Right now we're dealing with Alabama, but in the near future we're going to deal with: Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida as well," says Darryl McQuire with the Linden based Deep South Food Alliance.

Alliance officials say farmers who partner with the effort generally drop off different produce anywhere from one to three times per week. For more information about the food hub in Linden call 334-216-1344.