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NRCS Helps to Keep Native American Traditions Alive

The 567 federally-recognized Native American Tribes are unique in their own way—from their languages and family structure, to their clothing and food. Tribes are working hard to revive their roots to help reconnect their heritage to the land, rekindle their spiritual bonds and cultural traditions, and raise awareness amongst future generations; especially tribal youth in line to inherit the land.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) works with the tribes like the Choctaw Indians, comprised of nearly 10,000 members across the United States, to farm and harvest hickory king corn and other heirloom white varieties, and process them to make hominy. Hominy is made from dried corn kernels, but it is expensive to purchase. NRCS provides the tribe with technical assistance to help transform idle land into a hominy-making enterprise–enabling the tribe to provide their own locally-grown, fresh produce, and cut their expenses by growing the corn.

Gulf of Mexico Communities Depend on a Healthy Gulf

The Gulf Coast ecosystem is vital to our nation and our economy, providing valuable energy resources, abundant seafood, extraordinary recreational activities and a rich cultural heritage.  This ecosystem was significantly injured by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill—the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history—and has also suffered from harm caused by hurricanes, subsidence and other human actions and naturally-occurring events.

With the historic settlement of the litigation with BP, there will be up to $16 billion available for ecosystem restoration in watersheds across Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas through the RESTORE Act, the Natural Resource Damages Assessment process and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

NIFA Programs Key to Reducing U.S. Household Food Insecurity

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) opened its doors on Oct. 1, 2009, created by the 2008 Farm Bill.  NIFA begins its eighth year as USDA’s premier extramural agricultural science agency by examining its role in helping reduce hunger in the United States.

As a nation, we are making great strides in combating food insecurity—the limited access to adequate food due to a lack of money and other resources. A recent household food security report issued by USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) shows the lowest figures on record for food insecurity among children.

Funding and leadership from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) support many food and nutrition assistance programs that provide low-income households access to food, a healthful diet and nutrition education. Three such programs are the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI), Community Food Projects (CFP), and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP).

Mississippi Farmers Expanding Opportunities with Up in Farms

“Not today,” said Mr. Leonard Keyes as he and Dr. John Stanley surveyed the plot of land on Keyes’ farm in Mize, Mississippi. “Too dry.” Stanley stood beside him holding a tray of squash transplants and nodding his head in agreement.

Earlier that morning, Stanley, sourcing manager for Up in Farms Food Hub, had visited the farm of Mr. James Gregory about 30 miles down the road in Florence. He’d brought Gregory some of the same transplants—some nice-looking seedlings from Standing Pine Nursery in Byram. John had stood beside Gregory, too, and surveyed that plot of land. “Not today,” said Gregory. “Too wet!”

Cultivating Heritage, Freedom & Self-Determination

USDA invited A-dae Romero-Briones, member of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), to be a guest author for this blog. The NOSB provides critical support to the USDA and the organic community.  We thank the NOSB for their commitment to the organic community, and the integrity of the organic label.

In 2012, members of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (MBCI) established Choctaw Fresh Produce to help overcome employment and health challenges on their reservation.  Today, by creating jobs and producing healthy foods on tribal lands, Choctaw Fresh Produce is also helping empower and transform their tribal communities.

The MBCI is a Federally-recognized Indian tribe of approximately 10,000 members that reside in eight reservation communities on 35,000 acres of trust land across ten counties in east central Mississippi.  The MBCI are the descendants of the Choctaw that refused to be removed from their ancestral lands and relocated to land in what is now Oklahoma.  Prior to the mass relocations known as the Trails of Tears that began in 1830, the Choctaw were dedicated to agriculture, hunting, and trade over what is now most of Mississippi.

Stronger Economies Together: Helping Rural Counties Excel through Regional Approaches

Regional Rural Development Centers (RRDCs) play a unique role in USDA's service to rural America. They link the research and educational outreach capacity of the nation's public universities with communities, local decision makers, entrepreneurs, families, and farmers and ranchers to help address a wide range of development issues.  USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) provides core funding for RRDCs and integrated research, education, and extension activities.

By Rachel Welborn, project manager with the Southern Rural Development Center at Mississippi State University

How can rural communities compete in an ever-expanding global market?

Rural counties across the country are finding innovative ways to capitalize on their local strengths.  Through a guided process, more than 400 counties in 38 states are discovering new ways to work together to grow their economies.

Good Land Management Helps Clean Waterways, Wildlife Rebound

You've seen those markers on storm drains that say: “No dumping. Drains to river.” Or to a “lake” or “creek.” It’s a reminder that what we do on the land has a direct impact on a body of water somewhere.

Many of our nation's farmers, ranchers and forest landowners are taking steps to ensure they're sending cleaner water downstream. The positive outcomes of this stewardship abound. From Oklahoma to Mississippi, we’ve seen once impaired streams heal. And in waterways from Montana to Minnesota, we've seen struggling species rebound.

Creeks, streams, rivers and lakes all provide critical wildlife habitat for many species.

Students Intrigued Enough to 'Worm' Their Way into Ag Science

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

The goal of USDA’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions National Program (HSINP) Future Scientists Program is to enhance the scientific knowledge of teachers, helping them to become more effective in encouraging student interest and progress in science. Teachers in the program attend two-day summer institutes at Agricultural Research Service (ARS) labs nationwide, where scientists introduce them to various research projects. ARS researchers share scientific knowledge with the teachers, who then share it with their students to encourage them to become future scientists.

One of the catalysts for this lofty goal is a tiny, inconspicuous and innocuous caterpillar—the corn earworm that wreaks havoc in corn fields nationwide as an agricultural pest.  This program began in 2003.  I brought 10 teachers into the ARS Southern Plains Agricultural Research Center (SPARC) in College Station, Texas, for a summer institute that included teachers studying in corn research plots searching for corn earworm caterpillars in 100-degree heat! It was the first time I made caterpillars the focus of this program.

Celebrating American Agriculture: All USDA Foods are Local to Someone

March is National Nutrition Month. Throughout the month, USDA will be highlighting results of our efforts to improve access to safe, healthy food for all Americans and supporting the health of our next generation.

Fish and fowl, sowing and reaping, nutrition and agriculture… certain words and concepts naturally go hand in hand, and March is a month to celebrate both the foundation and purpose of the American food system. With March designated as National Nutrition Month and March 15 as National Agriculture Day, the time is ripe to reflect on healthy eating goals and to express gratitude for the farmers, fishers, and ranchers who provide the foods to fuel our nation.

USDA’s Food Distribution Programs work at the intersection of nutrition and agriculture. Each year, USDA purchases more than 2 billion pounds of food worth nearly $2 billion from American farmers and distributes the food to schools, food banks, Indian Tribal Organizations, disaster feeding organizations, and other charitable institutions and feeding organizations. The programs benefit both ends of the food chain by supporting local agriculture and the economy while also providing a nutrition safety net for vulnerable Americans.

Helping Small Farmers in the South Go Organic

Rock Woods, Gulf States Regional Director for the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), knows the importance of persistence. Rock wanted to help more farmers in the southeast learn about organic certification, but he also knew that farmers are busy. That’s why Rock and NCAT launched a sustained engagement and outreach effort to reach potential organic farmers, and his persistence paid off!

NCAT is one of 13 organizations that the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) National Organic Program (NOP) partnered with to create educational materials that support the sound and sensible initiative to make organic certification more affordable, accessible, and attainable.