Sow Reap FeedBy NIKKI ROWELL,
Traveling through the streets of North Jackson, you’d probably never guess that off Northside Drive a small farm is nestled in among the busy streets and all the hustle and bustle of the city.
Broadmeadow Farm is part of the organization, Sow Reap Feed, whose mission is to bring fresh, healthy produce to the food insecure in Jackson.
The idea was sparked when Northsiders Keith and Lauren Elliott were still living in Nashville and began growing their own small garden.
“We ended up with a lot more produce than we could use ourselves,” said Elliott, a Madison native.
So, we decided to start looking around for places to give away their excess food.
“We realized quickly that those places had a lot of shelf stable foods, but the people who were getting the food were never getting fresh produce,” he said.
The couple’s focus shifted to growing excess produce on purpose to give away and only keep a small amount for themselves.
In 2014, they moved back to the Jackson metro for Lauren to finish up some things for school and decided to stay.
“Mississippi is one of the leading states for food insecurity, so we thought, ‘Let’s try to implement this thing we were doing in Nashville here in Jackson,’” he said. “So, we did. We started growing in our backyard.”
Then, a friend offered up some growing space on a five-acre plot of land.
In 2017, the property off Northside Drive, which is now their current location, came available.
“It’s great geographically where we are,” he said. “We’re situated right between the Broadmoor and Broadmeadow neighborhoods. Demographically, we have the people who can help and those who need help, and we’re the bridge between those two.”
“We get folks from both neighborhoods out on the farm either to help out or take produce home,” he added.
Leigh Anne Blalock got connected with Sow Reap Feed through volunteer efforts. She was pursuing her interest in nutrition at Mississippi College, where she studied kinesiology and nutrition.
She began working with the organization full time in November.
“We bring in groups of 15 to 20 people on the weekends and let them work outside,” Blalock said. “We recently had a group with a summer camp that helped paint the chicken coop.”
Sow Reap Feed has a full farm operation.
“With Leigh Anne and I being the only two staff, when you’re running a farm, you have to have a lot of farm hands,” Elliott said. “We take all kinds of different volunteer groups, from a couple of people to large groups.”
“They get out here and plant, harvest, work on the chicken coop,” he added. “We had a group that helped us build fencing. We utilize as many volunteers as we can for as many different projects as we can.”
Right now, Sow Reap Feed is shifting the way they distribute their produce. In recent years, they donated bulk produce to local agencies in Jackson.
From there, those agencies would distribute that food or prepare meals for delivery.
“We are stepping away from that model a little bit and going to a one-to-one distribution model, where we are building relationships with about 50 families in the community,” Elliott said. “So, when we harvest food, we are putting together a package with mixed vegetables and taking those to their homes weekly.”
This way, they are connecting with residents of Broadmoor and Broadmeadow.
“I think in this two-mile radius, there are 14,000 people that are dealing with food insecurity,” Elliott said. “Food insecurity is the lack of consistent access to the type of foods you need to live a healthy, active lifestyle.”
Sow Reap Feed is designed to be a supplemental food program to help these families stretch their food budget and inject healthy options into their regular diet.
Access to food is not only the main concern. Sow Reap Feed is making the effort not only to ensure these families have healthy foods, but also helping them with preparation of those foods.
“Someone might not quite know what an eggplant is, much less how to prepare it and feed it to their families,” Elliott said. “What we realized quickly is that the answer to food insecurity isn’t access to food. That doesn’t necessarily resolve the situation.”
The farm gives them the chance to see how these foods are produced, get familiar with them and also learn how to prepare them.
Sow Reap Feed has also partnered with local chef Hunter Evans to create basic recipes, in addition to tips for storage, prepping and cooking these items.
“We realized that education about food was as important as having access to the food,” he said.
Monthly, the organization hosts a big meal that they call “The Gathering.” On the farm, they harvest, prepare and serve a large meal for the community.
The gardens stay busy throughout the year as they grow whatever is in season.
“We have a good spring crop of tender, leafy stuff,” he said.
In the summer, they have squash, tomatoes, peas, beans and much more.
In the fall, they get back to the root vegetable and leafy greens.
They also have a hoop garden located in Ridgeland, so they can extend their summer seasonal vegetables by planting late in that covered bed.
For more information about Sow Reap Feed, or to get connected to volunteer, visit their website at sowreapfeed.org.