The Southeastern region of the United States between central Alabama and Georgia is known as the “Black Belt” because of it’s fertile black soil. However, this rural area has some of the highest rates of poverty and unemployment in the South. One Congressional nominee, Don Chamberlain, from Selma, Alabama proposed the idea of transforming this region into organic farms to feed people in nearby cities. Although Chamberlain didn’t win the election, his idea resonated with local farmers, entrepreneurs, and residents.
One enterprising couple, Randy and Debbie Brown, recently bought a small farm that will grow organic vegetables all throughout the year in tunnel hothouses. They are growing spinach, kale, parsley, and cabbage for their first winter season. Southern Fresh Produce is teaming up with them and other farmers to build hothouses on small, rural plots to supply markets, schools, and restaurants in the area with locally-grown organic foods.
The current goal is to build an operational network of 11,000 organic farms in the Black Belt throughout Alabama and Georgia. Not only will accomplishing this goal supply local residents with safe, healthy foods, but it will also create jobs by enabling residents to become independent entrepreneurs with small tracts of land. According to Tuscaloosa News, each hothouse will cost between $50,000 and $85,000 to set up, depending on available well water and irrigation systems.
At this time, a large amount of the organic produce sold in the Black Belt is shipped in from Mexico and California. Growing organic produce locally will cost less for shipping and provide a much-needed boost to the local economy. This project will also serve as an excellent training tool for young people who are interested in agricultural careers.
Alabama’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries, John McMillan, commented that this organic farming project will have a great impact on the whole state, as organic fertilizer will used processed manure from chicken houses and catfish processing plant waste throughout the region. “If people are buying products from out-of-state, their dollars are leaving the state,” McMillan noted. “What we’re seeing here is something where our dollars will stay here.”
The Organic Trade Association reports that over 80% of U.S. parents purchase organic products for their families. Consumers around the country are choosing organic foods and products for health reasons and to avoid toxic pesticides, genetically-modified crops, antibiotics, and growth hormones. Clearly, the demand for organic products is rising, which is incredibly promising news for people in the Southeastern Black Belt region.