Saving Rural America program aims to teach children where their food comes from

By Gwen Sisson

With America moving to a more consumer lifestyle it is understandable that a four year old may believe that all his food comes from the grocery store.

But the Self-Help Farming Cooperative of Winston County is taking on the initiative to “Save Rural America” in a variety of ways, which includes educating children by helping them understand that farmers grow the food Americans eat everyday.

At the Seventh Annual Youth Conference sponsored by the Winston County Self Help Cooperative, children from Head Start and second graders from Fair Elementary participated in a variety of activities to help them make the connection from “farm to plate.”

Jean Harper, WCSHC Youth Director, said this year’s conference “allowed the next generation of consumers to observe farm practices up close and ask pertinent questions about how plants produce vegetables.”

Jennifer Sellers is a FoodCorps Mississippi service member who also works with the Winston County Self Help Cooperative to help organize lesson plans and activities that involve teaching children about healthy food, engages children in growing school vegetable gardens, and helps connect farmers with the Louisville Public Schools System to help get more local produce into the cafeterias. This falls in line with farm-to-school initiatives across the country.

Second grade students from Fair Elementary and teacher at the recent conference.

Second grade students from Fair Elementary and teacher at the recent conference.

Jean Harper with Headstart students and teacher at the recent conference.

Jean Harper with Headstart students and teacher at the recent conference.

Headstart students and teacher at the recent conference.

Headstart students and teacher at the recent conference.

Headstart students and teacher at the recent conference.

Headstart students and teacher at the recent conference.

Headstart students and teacher at the recent conference.

Headstart students and teacher at the recent conference.

headstart class 1 headstart class 2

Second grade students from Fair Elementary and teacher at the recent conference.

Second grade students from Fair Elementary and teacher at the recent conference.

Second grade students from Fair Elementary and teacher at the recent conference.

Second grade students from Fair Elementary and teacher at the recent conference.

Second grade students from Fair Elementary and teacher at the recent conference.

Second grade students from Fair Elementary and teacher at the recent conference.

Sellers said she felt the biggest “take away” from the event for the students “is what agriculture actually means and how important it is to our society.”

“I was able to see that the lessons I have been teaching in class have paid off,” Sellers said. “I think the greatest example I saw from this was the activity Crystal Blair of the Winston County Extension Office provided.  She had a chart with cut-outs of fruits and vegetables and asked the children whether they come from a bush, under the ground, a tree, or a vine. My second graders nailed it!  They unanimously told me, just to give a couple examples that peanuts grow under the ground, tomatoes come off a vine, and blueberries grow on a bush.”

Within the seven months Sellers has been working in Winston County as the FoodCorps service member, she said she has seen a dramatic improvement in the children since the beginning of the school year.

“When I first started, I asked the question, ‘Where does food come from?’ and as I expected, a majority of students would tell me ‘Wal-Mart!,’” Sellers said. “ It helped me understand that most of my students don’t think to hard about where there food comes, which is common for the upcoming generation in America.  For my four-year-old group, it has been important for me to help them understand that food comes from plants, gardens, farms, and most importantly, farmers.  I also make sure to remind my second graders that every time they sit down to eat and say their blessings; they need to always thank a farmer. Like the bumper sticker on the back of my SUV reads, I remind the children ‘No farms, no food!’”

Frank Taylor, president of The Winston County Self Help Cooperative, said the organization was founded in 1985 to help serve small farmers and landowners create income from their natural resources. Taylor said today, the co-op consists of 82 adult members and 119 youth members. The cooperative assist members with obtaining services United States Department of Agriculture such as farm and home loans, conservation practices and community development plans. Additionally, WCSHC provides educational workshops focused on financial literacy, health and homebuyers.

Taylor said currently four of the original members of the organization continue to participate, including Mary Hannah, Bobby Hardin, Dee and Omerio Dotson  It was Taylor’s aunt, Omerio Dotson, who encouraged his involvement in the organization in August of 1989.

“I was asked to volunteer for a year, but this experience has lead to a lifetime of working to help save rural America,” Taylor said.

Taylor said WCSHC has grown expansively over the 29 years of existence by adding millions of dollars to the local tax coffers.

“The cooperative provided families with cattle, swine, orchard trees, fence and others resources needed to build a stronger Winston County,” Taylor said. “The cooperative has received national awards for its leadership capacity and inspire others live their dreams in rural America.”

For those concerned about preserving Winston County and restoring the local economy, Taylor said consider joining the Winston County Self Help Cooperative to help save rural America. For more information, visit www.wcshc.com or 662-779-2400.