Comparative case studies of resilient local food systems for summative evaluation

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La Lucha Space

Comparative case studies of resilient local food systems for summative evaluation


La resiliencia es una lucha.

Resilience is a struggle, a long term process.

—Don Alfonso, farmer from San Juan de Rio Coco, Nicaragua


Prepared by

Resilience Project

Deltanetwork, 920 Hwy 153, Almyra, AR 72003

Meadowcreek, P O Box 27, Fox, AR 72051




La Lucha Space is a nonprofit organization working in Conway, Arkansas, and with farmers in surrounding counties to create a viable, sustainable and resilient local food system.  La Lucha Space seeks to increase locally grown produce to create an abundance of fresh, healthy, local food for the community. The food they produce is donated to the hungry and used in their programing (children’s garden club, festivals, etc.). They seek to facilitate aggregation of healthy food from local farmers.

The Resilience Project is creating an evaluation system for La Lucha Space.   Our main focus is on the resilience of La Lucha Space as an organization.  Recently, La Lucha Space received a grant from the Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) of USDA/AMS.  This report provides a foundation for the process of summative evaluation of La Lucha Space progress toward resilience specifically as a result of LFPP funded activities and as an organization as a whole.



Effective evaluation is not navel-gazing


Many evaluation efforts focus solely on one organization, or even one project of one organization, without explicit reference to any comparative systems.  However, comparing a system to similar systems enables a much more rigorous evaluation.  Many projects and organization, especially those conducting projects unique to their area, need a broader perspective.  By focusing so intently on making their project succeed without changing perspective.  They get stuck.  Can’t see forest for trees.


Need to get out of their mindset.  See new ways of doing things.


Especially needed is the wisdom of others who have trod similar paths in the past.


Methods for using comparative case studies as foundation for evaluation of resilience of local food systems, e.g., the system of La Lucha Space


Case study is now recognized as an important research approach for agricultural systems (Abatekassa and Peterson, 2011; Bitsch, 2005) and in the social sciences (Yin, 2014). Today, numerous agricultural journals publish several case studies every year. The cases produced for this study will primarily be used to generate a theoretical framework applicable to all local food systems in similar areas.


Few published cases have involved study of integrated production, processing and marketing businesses (i.e., local food systems) in the South. One recent example is the Maumbe and Brown (2013) study of Acres of Land winery in Kentucky. Kentucky along with North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina have been relative hotbeds of entrepreneurial agricultural activity in the last 20 years. One prominent 2015 index put two of the Southern states (South Carolina and Virginia) in the top half of all US States in presence of local food systems. North Carolina was 28th, Kentucky 29th and the other nine Southern states are ranked in the lowest 11 states. All the lowest ranking Southern states are decreasing yearly relative to the rest of the nation, according to this index. Those four high ranking states are also similar in geography and demography to regions of three Southern states (AR, TN, and MS) which have not experienced high levels of creation.  Our reason for choosing these three states is their geographic, demographic and agroecological contiguity with the local food system La Lucha Space belongs to.


We used standard case recruitment and selection methods (Lauckner et al., 2012) to choose the subjects for our case studies. In addition to being from one of the three states with low LOVA creation (AR, TN and MS), the primary selection criteria were that the enterprise must integrate sustainable production, processing and marketing, must have lasted for a minimum of five years, must have arisen and be located in an area where few such enterprises (also known as locally-owned value-added enterprises or LOVAs) have developed, and must be whole-heartedly willing to participate in all aspects of the study. 


A multiple case study design was chosen to study our topic from several perspectives and contexts (Yin, 2014). We examined systems in three states where integrated agricultural system managers worked independently in different contexts and communities, providing the opportunity to identify common and distinct processes.


We used a case study protocol that outlines the key information to be gathered from each case and primary sources (Yin, 2014). Initial issues for exploration were extrapolated from project leaders' experience, previous ecological resilience research, and related literature. These initial issues were points of departure to guide interview questions and preliminary analysis. The initial researcher-identified issues evolved and be influenced by issues raised by the study's participants. Particular issues were developed and explored in each case to guide data collection and analysis for the individual case descriptions. The emerging issues from each case were then examined to identify shared issues, which then directed the cross-case analysis. Regularly revisiting and refining these issues during data collection and preliminary analysis provided an emergent theoretical structure from the data collection processes.


Consistent with standard case study design, data collection methods in this study included in-depth semi-structured interviews, document review, direct observation and participant observation. Information was gathered from the inception of the initiative to the time of data collection in order to capture process changes. Partners in the local food system of La Lucha Space were also interviewed according to the same methods.


Data analysis occurred in two stages following the method of Eixenhardt (1989).   Stage 1 involved the independent, in-depth analysis of each case. Stage 2 involved a cross-case analysis of the four cases. In stage 2, each case's main processes were compared to explore how different contexts and processes varied across the cases. The key issues that are identified for each case (as described previously) were re-examined to distill common issues that were addressed differently across the three cases. Finally, case-specific issues were identified that affect all cases.  The result of the cross-case analysis, combined with meta-analyses from the ecological and community development literature, was eight qualities of ecological resilience.  Each final case study then examines in detail the presence of each of the eight qualities. 


Case studies were finalized after each case has been reviewed by as many active practitioners as possible. This process enabled refinement of concepts and relationships from all cases. These cross-case processes enabled development of a theoretical framework applicable to all cases.  Eight case studies of resilient local food systems in Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi were developed and analyzed.  They provide eight unique perspectives relevant to La Lucha Space as it moves toward resilience.


Eight case studies of resilient local food systems

The eight case studies we examine in relationship to La Lucha Space are:




  1. Oxford, MS - Memory and Revolt
  2. Beat 4 - 40 Years a Cooperative
  3. Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Coalition - A Study



  1. -Sewanee, TN - The Food System Revival
  2. Chattanooga, TN - Growing the "Sustainable Blue Collar Town"
  3. Long Hungry Creek and Nashville: biodynamic farm network


  1. The Hardin Family -The Glue That Can't Un-glue
  2. -Little Rock, AR - Little Rock in a Large System







Oxford, MS - Memory and Revolt


Memory, Revolt and Resilience in an Emerging Local Food Network

Abstract. This study examines the evolution of a local food system in Oxford, Mississippi, through the lens of ecological resilience. It draws on Holling’s (2001) theory of panarchy, remembrance and revolt to analyze the interactions between layers of organization within Oxford and how their relationships may or may not result in ecological resilience. Based on interviews, observations, and supplementary research, this paper proposes a model of eight causal factors of ecological resilience: modular connectivity, local organization, ecological integration, increasing physical infrastructure, redundancy, complementary diversity, conservative innovation, and periodic transformation. The case of Oxford is used as an illustration of how this model can be applied at multiple scales to examine a system’s or an individual actor’s resilience. This study is one in a series of eight case studies of causal factors of ecological resilience of local food systems in areas of the Southern United States recalcitrant to development of local food systems.

I. Introduction

Ecological resilience is emerging as a framework for understanding how local food systems can adapt to unfriendly environments and withstand or evolve with unexpected obstacles. Holling, one of the foremost scholars on ecological resilience, characterizes resilience as a panarchy, where overarching, slow-changing systems interact with the smaller, more rapidly changing systems within them through the processes of remembrance and revolt.  Overarching systems, which take longer and more energy to change, provide “remembrance,” or tradition and stability, to the systems it envelops. Smaller systems, which at the smallest scale is composed of individuals, perpetuate “revolt,” or the introduction of constant adaptation and change. Through the interaction of the two extremes, systems may achieve a balance between stability and adaptation. Or, to use Holling’s more poetic words, systems may both remember and revolt.

Oxford, Mississippi, itself a city of extremes, provides a stark illustration of these two processes and the need for balance between them in its attempt to establish a resilient local food system.

Oxford, Mississippi was established with the hopes of becoming a cultural mecca of the South. When the city was chartered in 1837, its founders expressed named it in honor of Oxford, England, in the hopes that their town would become a cultural center of Mississippi. In 1841, when Oxford won the vote to host Mississippi’s first university, that dream became reality.   It is now home to the University of Mississippi, affectionately nicknamed “Ole Miss.” The town’s population of approximately 21,000  is largely comprised of transient college students. Like other college towns, this gives Oxford a slightly progressive edge. Outside of its college population, Oxford is also a renowned literary hotspot and prides itself on that rich history. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Oxford suffered immense destruction and the loss of many lives. It took decades to recover. In its recovery, Oxford has established a culture of education and a vivid memory of Southern resistance. This is evident in a mere glance around Oxford’s central square, which is lined with stunning architecture, high-end boutiques, and cutting-edge restaurants.

However, despite its lavish centerpiece, Oxford is a city divided into the extremely wealth and the prevalent poor. A third of its population is below the poverty line, and most of the city is a food desert by federal standards. There is also a divide in the Oxford food shed between large-scale agriculture and small-scale independent farms. Many find Mississippi’s regulations concerning agriculture frustrating for small farmers. “All the legislation that has been made in the state is geared towards large, corporate farms and it would seem has also been geared to eliminate the smaller operations,” one interviewee told us. Other interviews echoed this opinion. Despite Mississippi’s legacy as part of the agricultural heart of the United States, local food networks face many obstacles, both culturally and structurally. According to the opinion of some interviewees, Mississippi’s history with agriculture has actually fostered the control of large-scale agribusinesses over state farm regulations.

Even with these constraints, a pioneering local food system is emerging in Oxford. The city’s creation of a local food network is a story of remembrance and revolt. As Oxford’s small farmers and vendors struggle against state policies that favor conventional agriculture, they incite change within the system. Above them, at the city scale, Oxford’s municipal government makes slow changes while trying to steer the local food movement that will include both the wealthy and the impoverished. Oxford’s panarchy is epitomized by the story of two farmer’s markets, Mid-Town Market and Oxford City Market, who respectively represent the extremes of remembrance and revolt. Oxford’s resilience is dependent on the balance of these two movements.

This article is an assessment of the ecological resilience of Oxford’s local food system. It is one of nine case studies of resilient local food systems in areas recalcitrant to development of local food systems in the Southern United States. Ecological resilience is a measure of 1) how much change a system can undergo before fundamentally changing; 2) the extent to which a system can self-organize; and 3) an increasing capacity for adaptation.   A resilient system goes through four phases based on natural cycles: 1) growth (r); 2) conservation (K); 3) release (Ω ); and 4) reorganization (α). 

Past literature on ecological resilience has identified indicators of resilient systems. This study seeks to further the discussion by examining the causal factors underlying ecological resilience. We argue that there are eight components that must be present in order for a system or individual enterprise to be ecologically resilient: modular connectivity, local organization, ecological integration, building assets, redundancy, complementary diversity, conservative innovation, and periodic transformation.  This article contains a description of interviews and information we gathered in Oxford, followed by an analysis of the eight components of resilience and their presence or absence in both the work of individual actors and the overall local food system of Oxford. Finally, we conclude with reflections on Oxford’s overall ecological resilience.

II. Revolt: Individual Change in Oxford’s Panarchy

At the basis of the panarchy, individuals perpetrate the most radical changes. This is certainly true in Oxford, where individuals and their enterprises are making the most radical changes. Within the local food system, farmers are at the heart of changing agricultural practices and the way a community thinks about food. This is very much the case in Oxford, where a handful of farms, such as Yokna Bottom Farms and Brown Family Dairy, have begun to change the city’s local food landscape. Vendors can also be change agents. Liz Stagg’s small grocery, known as The Farmer’s’ Market, the first local food market in Oxford. The store aims to support local farmers while providing fresh food to the Oxford community in an affordable way. To gain insight into individual-led changes in Oxford, we interviewed Billy Ray Brown of Brown Family Dairy and Liz Stagg of the Farmer’s Market.

Brown Family Dairy

Local food systems require local farmers.  Since Oxford is widely known as a literary hub, it’s fitting that a ground-breaking producer of local Oxford food is a writer’s son.  Billy Ray Brown is Oxford’s own local dairy producer. He is the son of Larry Brown, an acclaimed writer who published an essay about his son’s struggle to become a cattle farmer in a book called Billy Ray’s Farm. Billy Ray wanted to be a rancher for as long as he can remember, and worked as a farm hand for years before finally managing to get some land of his own. It’s in part because of his father’s literary reputation that Billy Ray has attracted so much attention, including from the New York Times.  However, Billy Ray’s true legacy is in bringing local milk back to Oxford.

For the past couple of decades, Mississippi has been losing dairies. According to Billy Ray, fifteen years ago there were a thousand dairies in the state. Now there are only a hundred. But the miracle, Billy Ray explains, is that for the first time in a long time, that trend is reversing. Billy Ray started a diary himself when he saw some organic milk for sale in a local grocery store and asked the clerk if it sold well. To his surprise, the clerk told him it was flying off the shelves. Though Billy Ray had been striving to start his own beef cattle business for years, it was in that moment he realized that a dairy might be his most viable business opportunity. Though local milk has been a huge hit, as Billy Ray suspected, he has little interest in receiving an organic certification. In fact, he has mixed feelings about the term “organic,” which often means little in regard to the welfare of the cow. Instead of certifications, he lets the transparency of the farm speak for itself. Families and local school children take trips to the farm to see how it works, and Billy Ray typically welcomes passersby who have stopped at the farm out of curiosity.

Though Billy Ray can only sell his meat and milk in Mississippi since the closest USDA-inspected plant that will make his meat legally saleable across state lines is in Tennessee. The restrictions on where Billy Ray can sell prevents him from directly tapping into business from Memphis, but most of his milk, pork, and beef is sold at a market in Hernando, a Mississippi suburb of Memphis. Business from Oxford alone is not yet strong enough to keep the dairy running.

Direct marketing is the only option for a small-scale dairy farmer like Billy Ray. His farm is only 60 acres, which has a maximum carrying capacity of about 40 cows. To sell the milk commercially on such a small scale would be to go broke. As the price of milk declines relative to cost of production, farmers have to milk more and more cows just to maintain a steady living. Billy Ray attributes his own ability to sell locally to good geography: he is in a place with the demand for it. “If we wouldn’t have had a market, it wouldn’t have mattered,” Billy Ray explained. “But luckily we were in an area where people supported it, and they have bought the milk from us.”

The market is only part of how Brown Family Dairy has tailored their methods to their surroundings. They are also working to adapt to their ecological surroundings. Right now the farm milks 16 Jersey cows, which have among the highest butterfat of dairy cows. One of Brown Family Dairy’s latest experiments in adaptation to the heat of Mississippi is cross-breeding Brahma and Jersey cows. Pinky, only a week old at the time of our visit, is the first of these crosses. “With that Jersey in her, she’s going to be a tremendous milker,” said Billy Ray. “She’ll be able to take the heat. But it’ll be her offspring, and her granddaughters, that I want. We were talking about controlling the environment? Well you know, that brahma, it doesn't matter if it’s 120 degrees. The hotter it is, the more she likes it.” Brahma cows also have close to the same buttermilk content as jerseys, which would make Pinky and her offspring ideal milking cows.

Billy Ray also uses rotational grazing to even out the burden and benefits of the cattle on the land. In this practice, he separates the pasture into multiple paddocks and moves the cows to a new paddock each day, keeping them there long enough to eat all the types of vegetation, but not so long that the grasses are eaten down too far to grow back. The different types of grasses, legumes and forbs provide a variety of nutrients to the cows. He and the family also personally comb the pasture for weeds that might be harmful to the cows, to the extent where they all know the property inside and out. Billy Ray tastes every batch of milk to check the quality before bottling it.

Billy Ray got into dairy because he realized it’s what would make a more livable income, but he still keeps beef cattle, in addition to hogs. “I do like being diversified too,” he said. “The dairy cattle’s like you getting paid every day, and the beef cattle is like you getting paid once a year, but it’s a big check, and you can start paying back the bankers with that, and the dairy kind of buys the groceries.” While it would be possible for the Brown family to live modestly off of the dairy alone, Billy Ray said he likes the security of having multiple sources of income. “I think being diversified is not a bad idea. And I worry…what if something happened here? Some government thing changed, what if somebody drank some milk and got sick? I’m just being realistic here. I’ve always thought about that.”

A major obstacle has been the glass bottles he uses. Though Brown Family Dairy milk costs seven dollars a gallon, three of those dollars cover the glass bottle it comes in. Customers can return their glass bottles to get their three dollars back or to get three dollars off their next bottle of milk. However, over the past five years, 13,000 of these bottles have gone missing. Billy Ray finds that people often want to keep their first bottle or two, and then start bringing them back. However, it’s about $2,500 to buy a new pallet of bottles, which come from Canada, and since there’s a high demand for the bottles, Billy Ray has to anticipate when he might run lot so he can order the bottle early. If there’s not enough money to buy the pallet, he might have to sell a calf. Brown Family Dairy accounts for this by making sure the customer always covers the price of the bottle.

Getting into dairy has helped Billy Ray make the profit he needs to support his family, but his original start in farming came from the support of older dairy farmers who took to Billy Ray’s passion with their own enthusiasm. “When I started, I had six acres rented…or seven. And an old man in the community just helped me,’ Billy Ray told us. “These old men were all running to help me, helping me pull pasture. I was just a kid, I didn’t know. My daddy, he didn’t know.” Through his connections with an older generation of retiring dairy farmers, Billy Ray began to buy cows and land, as well as inherit the wise advice of those who had been in the business.

He is already beginning to think in terms of the next generation. When we ask how big he plans to grow Brown Family Dairy, Billy Ray said it will depend on his kids. Right now they're young, and they love the animals. He pays them two dollars an hour in exchange for the work they pick up around the farm, but he’s conscious of not working them too hard. Though the growth of the farm hangs on whether the Brown children want to become more involved with the farm as they get older, and despite that cattle have been his life’s passion, Billy Ray is unwilling to push his children down a path they don’t want to go.

However, keeping the farm running even as it is requires extra help. It’s incredibly difficult to find a good farmhand, Billy Ray told us. Those who want to get into farming usually want their own farms, so getting hired help at all is competitive. Luckily, after one bad experience, Billy found Will, his sixteen-year-old farmhand. Billy Ray thinks that if his children decide not to go into farming, he would be able to help Will get started with a farm of his own.

Aside from the difficulty of finding helpers, Billy Ray found that eking out a new type of dairy market is mainly met with enthusiasm, both from the USDA and other dairy producers. “These big companies, they don’t want to see nobody like me,” said Billy Ray. “But since we’ve started, five more [small-scale dairies] have started in that state. And a lot of them came up here to see what we’re doing.” Most of those that have followed in Billy Ray’s footsteps are dairy farmers who used to sell commercially, but realized that in order to survive, they would need to adopt a new economic model—selling locally.

The main reason that any of these farmers, including Billy Ray, are able to succeed in selling local dairy products is because there’s a demand for it within the community. “If it weren’t for the customers, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking,” Billy Rays says. At the farmer’s markets, customers come rain or shine, often from as far as half an hour or forty-five minutes away. “You think about this certain person that buys this milk,” Billy Ray continues. “And it’s not. It’s a wide variety of ages, it’s a wide variety of races, it’s a wide variety of income, it’s all over the board. And the number one thing, I honestly believe, is knowing where it comes from.” 

“The Farmer’s Market” in the City

The same philosophy holds true for many vendors that Billy Ray sells to. It certainly does for one of Billy Ray’s vendors in Oxford, Liz Stagg, who runs The Farmer’s Market, Oxford’s first local food store. “The Farmer’s Market” began ten years ago, when Liz Stagg and her husband moved to Oxford. They had worked in food service for ten years in North Carolina, where her husband was a chef and she was a server. Liz grew up in Louisiana, where her family always grew a big garden and her extended family owned large farms producing row crops like sugar cane. This first sparked Liz’s interest in food and gave her an understanding of farming. When the opportunity arose to buy an empty storefront in Oxford, Mississippi, Liz and her husband decided to launch their own farmer-driven local food store.

Since they didn’t know much about the area, Liz immediately started connecting with the community to find farmers and discover what the community wanted. Liz fills orders, connects with customers, and handles issues within the market, while her husband makes his own sausages and meats to sell at the store. It took a lot of time and effort to develop the Farmer’s Market as it is today: a small wooden store at the fringes of Oxford filled with ripe fruits, piles of vegetables and potatoes, eco-conscious soaps and toiletries, and a section of imported international foods to meet the needs of the diverse range of customers the Farmer’s Market serves.

At the core of the Farmer’s Market are the relationships Liz has built with both her customers and her farmers. Liz tries to take most things that farmers offer to sell her and to experiment with new items that are brought in whether it’s five pounds of extra okra from a back yard, acres worth of beans, or soap from a small scale producer. She’s even willing to pay a higher dollar for the first purchase, though whether she continues buying at that price is up to her customer’s willingness to pay. However, if something doesn’t sell, Liz is sure not to buy it again. The diversity of Liz’s clientele makes it difficult to say what will sell and what won’t. Some of her customers balk at a seven-dollar watermelon weighing forty pounds, where others find it a marvelous deal. The Farmer’s Market must constantly find the balance between matching the price point of farmers with customers’ expectations.

Liz works to overcome this and other challenges by offering unique products that can’t be found anywhere else nearby. This is especially important in Oxford, where students come to University of Mississippi from all over the world. Liz tries to provide items from home that international students would otherwise have trouble finding. For instance, a recent addition to the store has been the plantain-based fufu flour, which some students from Uganda had been unable to find anywhere closer than Memphis. Items like fufu flour, local milk, fair trade certified coffee, and other affordable yet high quality products make her store worth stopping by. The Farmer’s Market strives to eventually become a place where customers can get all their weekly necessities, including household items like toilet paper and cleaning supplies, but at the moment it must still work to convince customers that it’s worth the extra trip on top of their accustomed trip to a big box store.

However, relationships at the Farmer’s Market are about more than buying and selling. Liz tries to make interactions personal. Some of her customers have been coming to her store through the entire ten years they’ve been open. At this point in her business, Liz has seen children grow up, marriages turn to divorce, death, and new born children. Sometimes mothers come in, leaving their children in the car, and Liz watches the children through the window checking on them. From pointing regular customers to new items she knows they’ll like, to carrying heavy watermelons out to peoples cars, Liz seeks to make the store a warm experience, not just an errand. “If you treat people with respect and kindness,” Liz said, “in large part people will do the same for you.”

Relationships with farmers are just as important to creating a robust supply chain for the market. Sometimes, Liz finds that this means being a resource for farmers during their hard times. For instance, Liz and her husband have been supportive of Billy Ray since his farm began five years ago. Liz doesn’t claim any credit for getting him going, but when Billy Ray was having doubts about starting the business, she was on the phone with him encouraging him to do it. “If he needs something, he’s got it. If we need something, we got it,” Liz told us.

Billy Ray provides the store with both milk and meat. Liz tries to source beef and pork completely locally, a demand that Billy Ray can’t fulfill all by himself. Most of her meat at the Farmer’s Market comes from a plant in Kansas City, Missouri that offers her a high quality at a doable price. Her husband processes the meat into sausages at a second location they’ve obtained across the street. He combines knowledge he gained growing up in a Sicilian family with a taste for experimentation that results in unique, high-quality products.

Through its local, unique, and high-quality goods and its personable owners, the Farmer’s Market has garnered a lot of popularity. Until recently, the only advertising the store had was word of mouth. However, it came to Liz’s attention recently that some people who had lived in Oxford for years and looking for the goods she sold are only just now hearing about the business. To start spreading the word to other potential customers, Liz and her husband have created T-shirts and a new logo to jumpstart an ad campaign. They also have a presence on Instagram and Facebook, and will soon start running some print ads in Oxford. The store is close to Oxford’s central square, but one of Liz’s main struggles right now is that the Farmer’s Market can’t be open as often as customers would like it to be.

Liz’s efforts are complemented by the two other farmer’s markets that have cropped up in Oxford. The Mid-Town Market was among the first traditional farmer’s markets in Mississippi. It has flourished as a new market for Oxford’s farming community and as an additional way to fulfill the growing demand for local food in Oxford. However, in 2011, a grant for Mid-Town Market resulted in the creation of Oxford City Market, and since then the relationship between the two markets has been wrought with friction. The story of the two markets lends sharp insight into the emergence, obstacles, and resilience of Oxford’s local food system.

III. Memory versus Revolt: A Tale of Two Farmer’s Markets

The story of Oxford’s farmer’s markets is a dynamic one. Mid-Town Market, Oxford’s traditional market, hosts the same handful of vendors that it has for years, and tries not to let farmers overlap too much in the goods they sell. In the past two years, its dominant voice has been challenged by Oxford City Market. The City Market, legally owned by the City of Oxford, revolts from Mid-Town’s model. It attempts to make space for as many farmers as possible, regardless of overlapping functions, and actively works to change the clientele the market serves. We interviewed actors with a variety of standpoints in the struggle between memory and revolt in Oxford’s farmer’s markets.

 John T. Edge, Founder and Director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, who was involved in the creation of both farmer’s markets, has been a mover and shaker in the Oxford local food movement since the 1990s. The Southern Foodways Alliance was the first regional cultural studies center in the United States. From its home base in a former observatory at the heart of the University of Mississippi campus, the SFA reaches into the nooks and crannies of the Southern states to find the stories of individuals and their relationship to food. The SFA then records these stories and posts them in a free online archive. It also stages events, publishes written works, creates mini-documentaries, and conducts an annual symposium with pricey tickets that sell out quickly. At these events, up-and-coming chefs see and hear stories of farmers and other food producers. “Chefs buy into those stories,” said John T. “In telling their story, we help build value in them because we see value in their stories.”

One of the primary functions the SFA serves in collecting and showcasing stories is to drive cultural tourism. They seek out places and communities that are rich in human resources and poor in economic resources. Essentially, the SFA drives cultural tourism. However, despite its emphasis on localism and community, the SFA does not necessarily document the stories churning in its own neighborhood. Oxford is a college town, and as a result, it already has a lot of people telling its story, John T. told us. And although the SFA does not usually collect Oxford’s stories (with the notable exception of a piece on Liz Stagg), it has been instrumental in writing them. 

John T. and the SFA helped launch Mid-Town Market, the city’s first farmer’s market. More recently, in light of diverging visions of who the market should serve, the SFA also played a role in starting the Oxford City Market. The Oxford City Market is more focused on food access equality and accepting food stamps, SNAP and EBT, John T. tells us. He believes that inclusive farmer’s markets are necessary for the local food movement to continue to grow in Oxford. “We are surrounded by poverty,” he told us. “This is not that wealthy of a community either.”

Daniel Doyle, Executive Director of Mississippi Agricultural Network, has also played key roles in Oxford’s local food movement, and was influential in the creation of Oxford City Market. Daniel, originally from Massachusetts, attended the University of Mississippi and remains in Oxford. Daniel’s deep involvement in the local agricultural scene began when a professor at the University of Mississippi asked him to help start an organic farm in Oxford, which would come to be known as Yokna Bottom Farm. The professor was frustrated at the lack of local organic produce in Oxford, despite a wealthy and collegiate potential market. On land purchased by the professor, Daniel launched a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture. However, Daniel struggled to find a space to distribute his shares.

At the time, the only available farmer’s markets were Mid-Town Market, located just outside of Oxford’s central square, and a market in Taylor, Mississippi, Although the market in Taylor was further away for most customers, Daniel chose not to sell at Mid-Town because the market did not accept the format he was trying to sell (that is, CSA shares), and because he found the market to be chaotic, in an unattractive location, and mainly used by wholesale growers with no interest in organic agriculture. However, neither location was optimal. Daniel and some farmers in similar situations began to imagine a new farmer’s market, potentially located in an open green space on University Avenue.

After two years of building momentum, a Mid-Town Market Board Member and city employee Katrina Hernandez offered to set up a meeting between Daniel and Mayor Pat Patterson to pitch the idea. The Mayor was won over by Daniel’s idea, and recommended Daniel talk to Rob Boyd of the Oxford Parks Commission to get final permission. By this time, however, Daniel was preparing to move to a nearby city, and sought someone else to run the potential farmer’s market. In his meeting with Rob Boyd, Daniel brought along Michelle McAnally and passed off to her the contacts and information necessary to get a new farmer’s market off the ground.

Michelle McAnally created a council to help create the farmer’s market, which was mainly comprised of a broad selection of local stakeholders. Critically, though, this group of stakeholders did not include a representative from Mid-Town Market. Michelle had once been a vendor at Mid-Town herself, and left because of frustrations with the market. Without Mid-Town Market at the table, friction quickly escalated between Mid-Town and what would come to be known as Oxford City Market.

In 2011, the City of Oxford accepted a grant of $61,258 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to start a local farmer’s market.  Initially, according to one interviewee, the grant was going to be used to help Mid-Town Market build the necessary infrastructure to accept EBT and WIC. Allegedly, Mid-Town did not want to become a market which EBT and WIC recipients frequented, and turned down the money. However, the grant still needed to go toward a farmer’s market, and so Oxford City Market was born.

As these events unfolded, Michelle McAnally had left Oxford City Market, and the city appointed Katie Morrison to manage the market. Katie set out to form more positive  relationships with both the farming community and Mid-Town Market. She reached out to Daniel Doyle, who had just moved back to Oxford, to ask for his help building relationships with the web of farmers he knew and to seek his advice on how to proceed. Katie also worked hard to create partnerships with Mid-Town by opening the Oxford City Market on days that wouldn’t conflict with Mid-Town’s, offering to sponsor dual advertising, and encouraging farmers to sell at both markets. However, Mid-Town has not reciprocated these efforts, and this past year Katie has worked less on partnering with Mid-Town and focused more on satisfying the needs of customers and farmers at Oxford City Market.

One of the aims of Oxford City Market is to both provide space to as many farmers as possible and to be a source of fresh food in a food desert. One of the ways City Market brings in new customers is by accepting EBT and WIC. When Katie Morrison was appointed manager, one of her first orders of business was to contact both the EBT and WIC programs to see how this could be done. WIC responded that it had redistributed all of the funding for Lafayette County to other counties after Mid-Town Market turned it down. Eventually, Katie was able to recover some WIC funding for Oxford City Market with the understanding that WIC vouchers were not to be used of accepted at Mid-Town Market—although as Katie pointed out, this is something she has no control over. EBT has been remarkably easier to instate. The use of EBT has become more fluid at the market as people use their cards to purchase tokens to spend at the market, instead of setting up an EBT machine for each farmer. Katie is also hoping to bolster WIC and EBT participation by asking the local hospital to sponsor a matching program, where if someone spends five dollars on their EBT card, they could purchase $10 of produce. However, with limited funds and help, Oxford City Market may need to direct its attention to more pressing issues.

Oxford City Market is now facing two imminent struggles. The first is the question of location. City Market originally began in the green park on University Avenue that Daniel Doyle had originally set his eye on. However, while Michelle McAnally was still acting as manager, City Market was asked to leave the space because it had failed to gain state approval to use the park. According to Katie, this site also has insufficient parking space. Currently, the market’s large tent sits on a donated site right off of Highway 6, a main thoroughfare in Oxford. This area has developed dramatically in recent years, but it contains few grocery stores or public parks among the gas stations and retail outlets. Though Oxford City Market sought to be a fresh food resource in the western part of Oxford, it is not very accessible for pedestrians and cyclists. The market must also figure out what to do with the large tent Katie initially purchased for vendors. Although the tent did help foster feelings of inclusiveness at first, as Katie had hoped, the market soon grew too big for all farmers to fit under it, and it became a divider between original vendors and newcomers. The tent has also created flooding issues during rain and created an enormous patch of dead grass. On top of all of this, the developer has plans to sell the lot.

The other impending obstacle is the question of funding. The market brings in about $10,000 a year in vendor fees, drink sales, and t-shirts. The vendor fee is $10 a day for farmers and $20 a day for craft vendors.  Despite this, Oxford City Market is not yet financially self-sufficient. Katie feels it will be important to have paid staff to grow the market past where it is now. She has the support of some volunteers through the season, mostly retired or college age students who have availability on Tuesdays through the school year. During the summer, she has had a few high school students volunteer time. Even the tables farmers use during market were donations--contributed by the University of Mississippi which was going to throw them out.

In general, Oxford City Market has strong ties to the University of Mississippi. Its volunteers include not only university students, but also professors and their families. Most of its instigators, such as John T. Edge and Daniel Doyle, are connected to the university as well. Though Ole Miss, like most college campuses, can be isolated from the community around it, it’s harboring its own largely student-driven local food movement internally. While the effects of the changes on campus as of yet seem mostly limited to university life, the growing enthusiasm of students and faculty have provided an eager volunteer force for the City Market.

Although the Oxford City Market is controlled by the city under Buildings and Grounds, the market itself receives little funding from the city, with the exception of Katie’s salary. This stands in contrast to some of the more successful markets in the region, such as the Hernando, Mississippi market, approximately an hour away, where the city provides substantial funding, attention and support. The Hernando Market, as Billy Ray informed us, is considered a much stronger market for most farmers. As grant money comes to an end, the Oxford City Market will have to establish a way to become financially independent or garner more support from the city government. To do this, Katie has finally received city approval to create an advisory board to help find funding and contribute to the weighty decisions facing the market.

One of those decisions is how to continue to be an inclusive market with such limited resources. Farmer’s markets often struggle to find the balance between serving farmers and serving customers. A key difference between Mid-Town Market and Oxford City Market is how they handle this balance. In Mid-Town City Market, a small number of farmers are given priority over both other farmers and customers. The number of farmers allowed to sell produce was kept small for decades in order to reduce competition with those already selling. According to one interview, farmers are also not allowed to sell anything that the farmer’s market manager is already selling. While the reduced competition worked well for the handful of farmers that were allowed to sell at the market, with most of the produce sold by 9 A.M., many customers were frustrated. By deciding not to provide access for EBT and WIC recipients, Mid-Town Market does not prioritize serving a large or diverse range of customers. Since the opening of Oxford City Market, however, Mid-Town has become more receptive to new farmers selling at the market.

Oxford City Market, on the other hand, tries to incorporate as many farmers as it can. It also seeks to attract a diverse customer base by advertising in multiple venues and languages, and by accepting EBT and WIC. Oxford City Market also actively works to make sure that EBT and WIC users know about Oxford City Market. However, building and maintaining an inclusive market takes a lot of energy, and it isn’t always successful. The market sometimes finds that striving to incorporate all farmers means that farmers selling the same types of goods may be competing with each other. While this generally results in a better price for the customer, it sometimes means that farmers’ sales are low, especially on slow days. Reaching out to EBT and WIC recipients can be time-consuming and challenging. Despite how much of the early grant money went into advertising the Oxford City Market and its acceptance of EBT/WIC, Katie has found that more effort is necessary. Next year, City Market will receive two Garden Corps members whose main task will likely be to foster more participation from residents who use EBT or WIC. Inclusivity is not an easy path, but Katie maintains that it’s at the heart of Oxford City Market’s mission.

Despite the obstacles, the immediate future of Oxford City Market looks promising. The city will continue to provide a salary for the position of farmer’s market manager, and an advisory board is in the making. A new canning series has also started that builds awareness of the Oxford City Market around the city as Katie’s friends conduct classes in a variety of kitchens. There is also the hope of including more culinary professionals to conduct cooking demos on site, though the current weekly time of the market, from 3 P.M. to 6:30 P.M. on Tuesdays, may be an inconvenient time for customers to stop and watch a demo. Nevertheless, it is one of many potential innovations, or revolts, that the City Market brings to the table.

Oxford was one of the first cities in Mississippi to have a farmer’s market, largely thanks to the support of John T. Edge and the SFA. At the time, the Oxford community wasn’t paying attention to the food growing just outside of town, and Mid-Town Market helped change that. However, practices at Mid-Town have sunk into a pattern of remembrance, serving the same cluster of farmers and customers each week. Inciting revolt, the SFA became involved once again to help create Oxford City Market, with the hopes that it could meet needs of sectors of the Oxford community that Mid-Town has not reached out to. According to John T. Edge, Oxford City Market entered the scene with the intention of serving the entire Oxford community. What that looks like, however, is something that is still under contention. In the time since the Southern Foodways Alliance was founded in 1999, Oxford’s interest in local food has rapidly grown and blossomed. “I’ve seen a lot of change, and I’ve seen an awareness change,” John T. Edge told us.  “But I haven’t seen that much policy change in how we function as a community. I think there’s good work to be done.”

IV. The Next Wave: Local Food Infrastructure

Policy change may well be the next step for Oxford. Good Food for Oxford Schools, Oxford’s emerging Farm to School program, is evidence of this. As of this year, Oxford has seven Farm to School programs throughout its network of public schools, and four of these schools also have gardens. Sunny Young, Program Director of Good Food for Oxford Schools, runs her own consulting business implementing Farm-to-School programs in Mississippi. Aside from Oxford, she works in Tupelo, Clarksdale, and the Choctaw Nation, though of these Oxford is the furthest along. “It was ideal to be partnered with Oxford,” said Sunny. “They really wanted to see this work happen here.” She began discussing the possibility of a Farm-to-School program with Oxford in early 2012, when the USDA was issuing the first Farm-to-School grants. They applied for a grant by May, and Sunny moved to Oxford that August. Lynn Wilkins, a member of the Oxford community known for her grant writing skills, helped them write the application. Plus, adds Sunny, Mississippi has an edge over most other states in applying for grants. Oxford was awarded the grant, and in January of 2013, the Oxford’s first Farm-to-School program took off, right in the cafeteria of Della Davidson Elementary.

Della Davidson was the first school to be included, and as a result, its program is the most developed. That being said, it is still a young program. Last year local food was typically served only once a month, which the school advertised as “Harvest of the Month.” Sunny and Lauren would buy surpluses from farmers, such as watermelon or collard greens. While the food was being served, the farmers were given their own table in the cafeteria to talk about the food with the students. Della Davidson also has a garden, although not much of the produce for the program comes from the few small plots outside the cafeteria windows. They’re mostly there for the kids to learn about food in a hands-on way, Sunny said, and to get them excited about produce.

Students play a crucial role in the success of Oxford’s Farm-to-School program. Students and their teachers primarily run the gardens, and now they’re starting to get involved in the kitchens, too. Della Davidson partners with the University of Mississippi’s Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management to allow students to do cooking demonstrations.  The program’s promotion is also in student hands. The school depends on children to bring information back to their parents about how school lunches are changing, and to ask to buy school lunch. The school has noticed significantly more students buying lunch on farm days. “We think that kids won’t eat fruits and vegetables, but I actually find it very easy to convince a kid to eat fruits and vegetables, especially if they helped cook it or grow it,” said Sunny. “We think that kids won’t eat fruits and vegetables, but I actually find it very easy to convince a kid to eat fruits and vegetables, especially if they helped cook it or grow it,” said Sunny.

The program sees schools as a key way to making Oxford healthier as a whole. Another part of Sunny and Lauren’s job is community advocacy and education. The school hosts canning and cooking classes to engage other Oxfordians on the skillset needed for a healthy diet. It also seeks to get parents involved. Sunny and Lauren tell us that since parents usually make decisions about when their children can buy lunch at school, it’s critical for them to know when local food is being served. Right now 50 percent of students at Della Davidson are on free or reduced lunch, and therefore are first exposed to local food at their schools. The current challenge, said Sunny, is to attract kids who have the option to bring or buy lunch. And that means appealing to their parents. “We found out that word was not getting out to parents in the way that we thought it was,” Sunny told us. “That’s something we need to work on for next year, making sure parents know.”

Getting parents involved with school lunches is just one of many changes involved in creating a Farm-to-School program. By drastically changing not only the ingredients of the menu, but the menu itself, Sunny and Lauren are finding that implementing the program has been a struggle between selling things that kids want to buy and providing local, fresh, and increasingly seasonal meals. To cope with this, they set up an area for all kids- even those who bring their own lunches—to taste-test local and healthy items that are on the menu for the day. Since starting the taste-tests, there has been a dramatic rise in participation. “It’s easy to change menus and test things out, but it doesn’t always work out,” said Sunny. “It’s a constant balancing act of how do we keep customers and supply these new school meals.”

When the grant money ran out at the end of the school year, Sunny and Lauren raised $60,000 from the Oxford community to keep the project going. To Sunny and Lauren, their success in meeting that goal was evidence of the community’s support for Farm-to-School. “It was a lot of individuals,” Sunny told us. The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation also contributed a significant amount, and much of the funding was raised through events. This money has lasted them through most of the year, Sunny said, and will run out in November. The school is applying for the second stage of the Farm-to-School Grant, which should come in December, just in time to keep the program going.

Sunny ultimately hopes that the yearly costs for the program will be taken on as part of the school district’s budget. The position of Program Director of Oxford’s Farm-to-School program, which Sunny now holds, would ideally be made a paid staff position by the district. “We really want to prove our value to the school district,” Sunny said. “This is a project of the school district.” Lauren Williams, who has a Master’s Degree in Health Promotion, is currently in training to take over the position of Program Director next school year.

The next step towards this goal, besides garnering support from parents, is to network with farmers. As we conduct the interview, Sunny and Lauren are in the process of requesting information from farmers. They have reached out to farmers via radio, newspaper, news, social media, the school district website, Extension agents, farmers and markets. Often one of the biggest challenges for a Farm-to-School program, said Sunny, is convincing farmers that it’s worth their time. “We would like the farmers to see us as a viable client, as someone who will spend their money on your food and not just expect donations,” Sunny said.

Della Davidson is still very much a young Farm-to-School operation, but it is a pioneer for Mississippi. The challenges the school aims to tackle next, such as marketing to parents, establishing relationships with farmers, and enticing kids to eat healthy are among the many trials of sparking the seeds of change in a culture. Though the program is still a work-in-progress, it seems already to be changing Oxford’s next generation’s attitude toward food.

V. Assessing Resilience in Oxford’s Local Food Movement

To examine interactions between the different levels of remembrance and revolt in Oxford’s local food movement, we applied our model of ecological resilience. We argue that there are eight components are causal factors in ecological resilience, and that the components can be applied at multiple levels.

Complementary Diversity

Complementary diversity is a wide array of resources and activities that work in harmony with each other to provide multiple venues of success to an enterprise or system. At the individual actor scale, complementary diversity is heavily present in Oxford. Brown Family Dairy harbors diversity in several ways. Billy Ray cultivates his field in the style of rotational grazing, with a wide variety of grasses. He also uses multiple breeds of cattle and simultaneously manages a beef business, a pork business, and a dairy. Although the dairy brings in the most money and the farm could potentially survive on that alone, Billy Ray admits that in an industry as fickle and susceptible to disaster as dairy, having a backup business is an important security. Similarly, selling Brown Family Dairy milk is just one of the many points of income for Liz Stagg and Frank Coppola at The Farmer’s Market. In addition to selling local dairy and produce, The Farmer’s Market sells international foods that are high in demand among Oxford’s diverse college community, but often hard to find. Frank also makes his own unique blends of sausages from local meat. Though Liz says that The Farmer’s Market is not yet a “one-stop shop,” it fills a wide variety of needs that are relatively underserved in Oxford. The Farmer’s Market also tries to maintain a diverse clientele through the goods they provide and their affordability.

Oxford itself has also recently tried to make its farmer’s markets more accessible to a diverse range of customers. This includes opening up Oxford City Market, which strives to be inclusive to people using EBT and WIC. Despite this, City Market is relatively young, and the full fruition of its efforts have yet to be seen. The Oxford City Market itself is diverse not only in the clientele it serves, but in the vendors it incorporates. It tries to make space for all farmers rather than maintaining strict loyalty to a small handful of consistent sellers. However, by being too inclusive, a market runs the risk of no longer being complementary in its diversity by generating too much competition. That is, there is a balance between diversifying and cultivating complementary relationships with vendors that both Oxford City Market and Mid-Town Market ought to seek.

 Modular Connectivity

Relationships are at the heart of the success of not only both farmer’s markets, but between all vendors and producers in Oxford’s local food network. Modular connectivity refers to a network of relationships that allows for local food to be produced and distributed efficiently (connectivity), but in which each enterprise retains enough autonomy to operate outside the support of the system if necessary (modularity). To return to the example of farmer’s markets in Oxford, Oxford City Market and Mid-Town Market present two extremes of modular connectivity. Oxford City Market has tried to incorporate all possible farmers in the surrounding community, and has not only worked closely with city government, but is in fact run by the City of Oxford. Though the market thrives in terms of connectivity, it has primarily relied on grant funding obtained by the city to pay its manager. As a result, the modularity of the market is at risk. Mid-Town Market, on the other hand, is extremely modular. It maintains a tight core of a handful of select farmers who sell every week. Mid-Town also turned down the opportunity to work with the grant that launched Oxford City Market.  However, for what it has in modularity, Mid-Town Market currently lacks in connectivity. The market is less connected to city decisions, the wide array of farmers surrounding Oxford, and the potentially diverse customer base that comprises the Oxford community.

Direct relationships between farmers and local vendors are also beginning to emerge. From our interviews alone, it was clear that Brown Family Dairy has a tight connection to The Farmer’s Market. Billy Ray’s dairy is not only sold there, but is regarded as a friend by Liz and has received the encouragement of the market since he began Brown Family Dairy. Billy Ray believes that relationships to customers is what has made his milk so successful. The farm is open to curious passersby and tours for local schoolchildren. Although Billy Ray told us that he doesn’t wish to be a full-time tour guide, he thinks that the transparency of the farm is what makes it worth buying for most people. Brown Family Dairy also runs an active Facebook page, keeping loyal customers up-to-date on the latest happenings among the cows and the farm. Liz Stagg also attributes much of her business to the relationships she forms with clients and farmers alike. Farmers see The Farmer’s Market as a reliable ally in trying to sell their produce or other goods. Customers often develop a personal relationship with Liz, who they may see at least once a week for years. Liz has been known to take a personal interest in their customers and develop relationships of trust, such as by allowing customers short on cash to come by later and pay for their groceries in full, or by watching kids left in the car from the shop window.

Ecological Integration

Ecological integration describes the extent to which an entity or system works with its ecology rather than against it. Ideally, if ecological integration is an active practice, a farmer or system will need to do less and less work over time to achieve the same results. At the individual scale, this is somewhat present in Oxford. The strongest example of ecological integration is the Brown Family Dairy, which uses the rotational grazing method. In the rotational grazing method, the farmer slowly cultivates pastures by weeding out grasses that are harmful for cows and nurturing a variety of grasses that cows will eat. The Browns use also grazing to aids the growth of the grasses by only allowing cows on one paddock per day and giving each paddock time to recover. The cow manure in turn fertilizes the grass. In this way, the cows and the grass contribute to each other’s growth.

At a larger scale, the city of Oxford’s ecology has deeply shaped is current status as a leader of Mississippi’s local food revolution. Oxford, located in northern Mississippi, has far more hills than the rest of the state. One participant suggested to us that this might be why Oxford and its surrounding area has little legacy of large-scale agriculture. As a result, the city’s emerging local food movement does not face as much resistance from a strong culture of “big ag” as other areas in Mississippi.

Local Organization

The City of Oxford is actively seeking to increase its resources for supporting local food networks. The most substantial and recent evidence of this is the grant the city obtained in 2011 to create a new farmer’s market. The Oxford City Market is another venue, in addition to independent entities like Mid-Town Market and The Farmer’s Market, where the Oxford community can access fresh food produced locally. By welcoming Sunny Young and the Good Food for Oxford Schools Program, the city is also making large-scale changes that would allow for more local autonomy from conventional public school food distributors and more support for local farmers.  By making food a part of the educational agenda, Oxford has the potential to instill local food as a cultural value.

Even before the advent of the city’s local food movement, Oxford was known for its food culture. Its restaurants make it a popular tourist destination and has caught the eye of famous chefs like John Currence, a prominent chef from New Orleans who opened the wildly popular Big Bad Breakfast, a part of the City Grocery Restaurant Group, in Oxford in 2008.  Chef Currence, a friend of the late writer Larry Brown, now serves Brown Family Dairy milk at his diner, among other local ingredients.   During his years on the Board of Directors of the Mississippi Restaurants Association, the organization created a culinary education program in Mississippi public schools. Chef Currence has also helped establish a local farmers’ cooperative to make distribution from local farmers to Oxford chefs easier, and serves on the Southern Foodways Alliance’s Board of Directors.  Especially since Chef Currence’s involvement, Oxford has become an emerging destination for Southern food tourism.

The SFA also contributed to this transformation. The SFA rarely directly highlights Oxford’s own local scene, but both the organization and its founder, John T. Edge, have been influential resources in asserting the need for local food in Oxford. John T. played a prominent role in establishing both Mid-Town Market and the Oxford City Market. The annual Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium, hosted by the University of Mississippi, is a gathering point for chefs and food critics from around the South, drawing further culinary attention to Oxford. The SFA has helped Oxford view food as another point of pride in its reputation as a cultural center.

The remaining issue, however, is that this apparent cultural transformation may only be reaching the wealthy. Oxford remains a heavily divided city. It holds both an extremely educated, wealthy population, as well as a poverty rate that exceeds Mississippi’s overall poverty rate.  For the most part, the culinary movement that has seized Oxford takes place in high-end restaurants and cafés. Until the recent creation of Oxford City Market, Mid-Town Market was the sole farmer’s market in Oxford, and it did not accept WIC or EBT as payment. In order for Oxford to be truly locally organized and autonomous, the entire community must be free from dependence on large-scale agriculture and shipped foods. The City of Oxford is beginning to address this gap through both the Oxford City Market’s acceptance of EBT and WIC and the Good Food for Oxford Schools Program. It also attempts to leverage the increasingly renowned culinary scene for overall food access by establishing Oxford Restaurant Week, in which each restaurant diner has the opportunity to vote for one charity. The city grants the charity with the most votes $5,000. Good Food for Oxford Schools is one of the recipient candidates.  In this way, Oxford simultaneously champions its culinary culture, eggs on support for local businesses, and to a smaller degree donates to a local food cause. Using support for Oxford’s culinary culture to even out its access gaps is an example of the innovation in the changing of Oxford’s system as a whole.

Conservative Innovation

Conservative innovation refers to both the innovation that allows a system to adapt to evolving circumstances and conservation, or the ability to learn from past knowledge and traditions. At the individual level, both Brown Family Dairy and The Farmer’s Market demonstrate a degree of conservative innovation.

Billy Ray Brown has discovered that to exist as a small-scale cattle ranch, he has a higher-value product by switching from beef to primarily dairy and selling locally. He has seen older dairy farmers on the brink of going bankrupt convert to selling locally as well in order to raise the value of their product ad turn their businesses around. In this way, Brown Family Dairy is a leader in small-scale dairy innovation. Billy Ray also experiments with cow breeding to adapt the cows to Oxford’s climate. His new calf Pinky, a mixture of Jersey and Brahma, will generate more cows like herself that produce high-butterfat milk and can withstand the Mississippi heat. However, Billy Ray is also draws heavily on the knowledge of cattle he gained through years of working as a farmhand and his relationships with older dairy farmers who were eager to see the business survive.

Similarly, the Farmer’s Market holds fast to its value of supporting local farmers and the Oxford community. It has a traditional business model in which items are sold for a profit. However, in order to remain loyal to its values, the store has adopted some innovative practices. They allow farmers to sell surpluses there, and will allow for trial sales of unusual items. If the items sell poorly, then they won’t be accepted at the store again, but Liz Stagg finds that what will or won’t sell is often quite unpredictable. In order to both serve the Oxford community and make enough of a profit to live on, the store also offers niche items like international foods and unusual local sausage blends. While it still isn’t a one-stop shop, the Farmer’s Market remains competitive by selling innovative goods and items that otherwise aren’t sold in the area.

At the city level, Oxford is innovating through its use of new programs like Good Food for Oxford Schools and Oxford Restaurant Week to weave local food into the city’s infrastructure. Oxford City Market, though still running on a fairly conventional farmer’s market model, is responding to the city’s call for more equal fresh food access by accepting EBT and WIC. Since it is often complicated for each individual farmer to have their own machine and ability to accept EBT/WIC, the market has established a system where customers can buy tokens at the main desk with cash, cards, or EBT/WIC, and then spend those tokens at the individual farmer stands. Oxford City Market also allows for a constantly changing and expanding pool of farmers, and in this sense, it is extremely flexible. By contrast, Mid-Town Market is highly conservative in its approach. It draws on a continuous, non-changing pool of farmers. While it may benefit the two individual markets to learn from each other to become more balanced in conservative innovation, the presence of two extremes within Oxford may help to make the city as a whole both conservative and flexible.


The presence of two farmer’s markets in Oxford also contributes to the city’s redundancy. Despite the negative connotations redundancy has garnered in its typical use, ecological redundancy refers to multiplicity or repetition and ability to reproduce itself of a system or enterprise. In the case of Oxford’s local food vendors, the creation of the new Oxford City Market gives customers choices between the two types of markets, covers more locations where fresh food is accessible, lets customers go shopping for farm-fresh foods up to four days a week, and allows several more farmers to sell locally. Redundancy is especially important in the case that one market should fail, in which case Oxford would otherwise would be left without a farmer’s market. Redundancy is also a factor to consider in the resilience of the two markets’ individual models. While Oxford City Market allows for an abundance of farmers, who may even sell the same item, Mid-Town Market limits the number of farmers that can sell and tries to ensure that farmers do not sell overlapping goods. In this sense, the City Market practices redundancy more strongly than Mid-Town Market.

Redundancy is also a point of concern for Oxford’s individual farmers. As Billy Ray Brown indicated, the number of dairies in Mississippi has seen a drastic decrease in the last fifty years. As of very recently, though, this trend is beginning to reverse. Another redundancy problem that farmers face in the Oxford area is the difficulty of finding farmhands. Billy Ray discovered through experience that the demand for reliable farmhands is much higher than the pool to draw from, since most people interested in agriculture ultimately want their own farm or ranch. Though he has many years before retirement, Billy Ray is also beginning to consider whether his children will be interested in continuing the family businesses. Reliable farmhands, like the one Billy Ray currently has, are other possible candidates for replacing retiring farmers. Given the expresses that go into accumulating land and equipment, redundancy is an especially delicate dilemma for aspiring and aging farmers alike, and often involves the delicate question of  transfer of assets that have already been built.

Increasing Physical Infrastructure

While farmers may begin with different levels of physical infrastructure, in order to achieve ecological resilience an enterprise or system must constantly be working to increase its physical infrastructure.  For example, at Brown Family Dairy, Billy Ray Brown pieced together his own milking parlor out of scrap parts and a cement foundation. Another asset is the quality of the grass pastures Billy Ray is slowly cultivating, and the new breeds of cows he develops. If Billy Ray passes on his farm to the next generation, the assets he accumulates will be the core of the value of his farm. The Farmer’s Market has made similar investments in its infrastructure, including the transformation of a nearby building into a butcher’s shop, where Frank Coppola, Liz Stagg’s husband, can prepare sausages for sale at the shop. Of the individual actors we interviewed, it seems that building assets is a common practice contributing to their resilience.

This is less true in the case of Oxford’s farmer’s markets. Oxford City Market in particular faces a struggle with inadequate assets. Right now, it is still reliant on grant funding and fundraising to pay its manager and to operate. It initially invested a great deal of the original grant in a large tent, which ultimately damaged the ground it was on and created drainage problems within the market. It also lacks a permanent location, which may pose a serious challenge to its future existence. If Oxford City Market is to survive, it will need to transform its practices in a way that allows it to increase assets and secure a permanent, stable location.

Periodic Transformation

Transformation is perhaps the most distinctive component of ecological resilience, since change, or reorganization, is one of the four phases that composes the adaptive cycle. It is also reminiscent of revolt. However, it is crucial to talk about transformation as “periodic.” Periodic transformation is revolt tempered by remembrance, and it is the balance that Oxford will need to become ecologically resilient.

The two farmer’s markets in Oxford capture this struggle. Mid-Town Market, though originally a pioneering effort of the local food movement in Oxford, has sunk into a constant, but unchanging, pattern. It acts as a venue for a small group of farmers that does not change, and serves only the clientele that can afford its prices and reach its location. Its model is in no danger, but nor is it seeking to change or expand the range of who it serves. The Oxford City Market was created to incite revolt within Mid-Town’s tradition of remembrance. It attempts to serve a variety of farmers and customers alike, and is experimenting with payment methods in order to accept WIC and EBT. However, it lacks a stable workforce, constant funding, or even a permanent location. Should the two markets begin taking lessons from each other, they might both find the delicate balance through periodic transformation.

Infrastructurally, the City of Oxford is beginning to seek a slow transformation as well. As John T. Edge indicated, what is perhaps most needed in Oxford right now is well-supported policy change. Good Food for Oxford Schools is an example of this change. As Holling predicted, the largest overarching system in Oxford has been the slowest to change. However, it is transforming, and whether it continues to be stable in its change will depend on the constancy of its commitment to the Good Food program and its support, financially and otherwise, for cultural change.

VI. Conclusion: “We’re not preserving any damn thing.”

It is perhaps surprising that Oxford, a city with deep respect for cultural heritage, could be so full of revolt. However, given the fertility of Oxford as a hotbed for local food, its transformation may be considered a slow one. The city has a powerful volunteer force of students and professors, a commitment to the cultural celebration of food, and a desire to be the leader of progress in Mississippi. In order for this change to come about, Oxford’s wealthy and educated elite must work with its surrounding farming community and come to understand its value. Some of the unsung leaders in Oxford’s local food movement has been not the organizers, who are almost exclusively associated with the university or city government, but the farmers and vendors themselves. Individuals have been the key instigators in revolting from tradition in Oxford, and the goods they provide are the sources that farmer’s markets draw on to fill their stalls and the Farm to School Program will desperately need for sourcing.

 The lingering question of Oxford’s resilience is whether revolting actors and systems can find enough stability to keep their projects alive and well, without falling into the trap of stagnation. This is the question that echoes through both of the city’s farmer’s markets, its individual enterprises, and its infrastructural changes. Oxford is embarking on a cultural transformation, and the success of that transformation will require all sectors of the community—rich and poor—to view local food as accessible and culturally significant.

 “We’re not preserving any damn thing,” said John T. Edge with a small chuckle. In Oxford, a city steeped in Southern culture, changing tradition is a daunting task. However, for all its legacy of remembrance, it is also a city of revolt, which it will perhaps prove through the ecological resilience of its local food movement. 



40 Years a Cooperative:

Resilience in Rural Mississippi


Abstract.  Beat 4 is the longest lasting of all the local food systems we studied.  By the standard of passing the test of time, it is certainly resilient.  However, this case illustrates how a system can endure by having extremely high levels of some of the qualities of resilience, but when external support ends, the low levels of other qualities make continued resilience questionable.

Introduction.  Beat 4 might seem like a strange name for one of the most long-lasting small farmer cooperatives in Mississippi. The “Beat” system was developed to break up the state of Mississippi into regions for the purpose of organizing black farmers to combat a long history of racism. Beat 4 originally encompassed several counties but later adjoining counties organized their own cooperatives. Beat 4 now mainly serves farmers right around Macon, Mississippi.  Beat 4 and cooperatives like it were designed to address serious social issues that plague the Mississippi Delta communities. There is a striking correlation between the epidemics of health and economic insecurity and concentration of black farmers.  Beat 4 and its sister cooperatives in Mississippi have a powerful opportunity to both assist black farmers and improve the health of their communities by providing healthy fresh produce.

Ecological public health: connection of farmers to healthThe maps of obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes show a striking commonality with maps of socially disadvantaged farmers.  Southern states have the highest obesity rates in the nation with MS being the highest.  Rural food deserts are concentrated in Mississippi and other Southeastern states.  Diabetes has reached epidemic proportions in the United States--worst in a cluster of 644 counties in 15 largely southeastern states, making up America's "Diabetes Belt."  While sixty percent of Americans are obese, the distribution is not shared equally among different socioeconomic classes, races, states, or localities and is associated with food deserts. Minority populations living in food deserts are more vulnerable to many other diet related diseases, including heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes[1].  In fact, Census Bureau  and Centers for Disease Control data show that preventable diseases related to consumption of unhealthy foods, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, are highest in many of the same counties with the highest numbers of socially disadvantaged farmers (see maps at end of case study).

The number of overweight and obese persons is generally lower in areas where there are markets offering healthy food choices[2]. In other words, the availability of nutritious foods has a positive influence on people’s dietary patterns and health status[3]. High intake of fruits and vegetables is linked to better cardiovascular health, including lower risk of stroke and coronary heart disease and healthy dietary patterns, including fruit and vegetable intake, are associated with a lower risk of type two diabetes.  Children are especially at risk.  Nutrition during childhood and adolescence is essential for growth and development, health and well-being[4].  Further, eating behaviors established during childhood track into adulthood and contribute to long-term health and chronic disease risk[5].

Almost two-thirds (60%) of overweight children have at least one cardiovascular risk factor (e.g., hypertension, hyperlipidemia)[6] and the prevalence of type 2 diabetes mellitus is increasing in youth[7].  These trends most seriously compromise the future health and productivity of the socially disadvantaged populations and add to their health care costs.

Lack of socially disadvantaged youth involvement in agriculture has accompanied this rise in childhood health problems from lack of healthy food.  The Beat 4 Cooperative vividly illustrates.  Leadership is extremely concerned about the future of their cooperative due to the lack of interest of the young in their community.

Providing healthy local food. Increasingly U.S. consumers are recognizing the importance of local, healthy food.  This trend is a powerful opportunity for socially disadvantaged farmers living in areas where healthy food is needed most.   In a 2005 U.S. consumer survey, 72 percent of respondents believed that geographic characteristics such as soils influence the taste and quality of foods and 56 percent were willing to pay 10 to 30 percent more for local grown (in their state) (DeCarlo et al., 2005).  A national survey in 2008 reported that nearly nine out of ten Americans (89 percent) would like to see food stores sell more fruits and vegetables that come from local farms, and over two thirds (69 percent) said they would pay slightly more for such produce (Deloitte, 2008).  Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists see opportunity in these new trends impacting our food system.  One recently reported raising $8.5 million for a multi-city local food systems venture (Grant, 2013).  Another 2014 report cited $850 million recently invested in new food ventures[8].

Twenty years ago, Beat 4 was one of less than 1,700 farmers markets existing in the country.  This number rose to 2,756 in 1998, to 5,274 in 2009, and in summer 2013 stands at 8,144, according to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. In 2005, there were 1,144 community-supported agriculture organizations (CSAs) in operation, up from 400 in 2001 and 2 in 1986, according to a study by the nonprofit, nongovernmental organization National Center for Appropriate Technology. By 2009, one estimate was 3,637[9], but the number could be much larger.  In early 2013, one database estimated that there are more than 4,000 CSAs in the U.S.; some estimates even place the number of CSAs as high as 6,000 nationally[10].  The number of farm to school programs, which use local farms as food suppliers for school meals programs, increased to 2,095 in 2009, up from 400 in 2004 and 2 in the 1996-97 school year, according to the National Farm to School Network. Data from the 2005 School Nutrition and Dietary Assessment Survey, sponsored by USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, showed that 14 percent of school districts participated in Farm to School programs, and 16 percent reported having guidelines for purchasing locally grown produce.

Unfortunately, regions with high numbers of socially disadvantaged farmers reside are among the lowest in the nation in development of healthy local food systems.  One prominent 2013 ranking of prevalence of local food systems[11] ranks Mississippi in the lowest of all states and declining relative to other states.

A University of Texas study documented the impact of introducing farm stands in low-income communities with limited access to fresh and quality fruits and vegetable on residents’ consumption.  The study found that introduction of farm stands significantly increases fruit and vegetable consumption[12].

Beat 4 cooperative has an opportunity to bring a significant increase in fresh local vegetables to Macon, MS and beyond. This has been the case over the course of history as black cooperatives have brought significant advantages to its members and surrounding communities.

History of socially disadvantaged groups led to establishment of cooperatives.  There is a deeper history to Macon, and Mississippi that helps set the context for how the cooperative came to be and why it still exists today. Beat 4’s creation was in response to the challenging nature of the area for black farmers. With the more affluent whites unwilling to work with black farmers, the cooperative was a necessary tool to bring much needed income to rural farmers. This has been the case since the ending of slavery with many black farmers remaining on plantations as sharecroppers due to the challenge of owning land for themselves[13].

Immediately after the Civil War, diminished civil rights presented challenges in creating unions or cooperatives, though some emerged despite the restrictions. As early as 1862 some aid was given to freedmen who desired to own their own farms. Union Generals would divide plantations owned by confederate leaders so that freedmen could own land. These cases were the exception to the norm though with many freedmen going to work as sharecroppers, under tenancy, or as wage labor in the fields. Conditions for farmers saw improvement with the help of the Freedmen’s Bureau that acted as a negotiator between farmers and land owners. The Bureau helped in the creation of independent housing and fair wages and exchanges between the two parties. In addition to the Freedmen’s Bureau the Union army was crucial after the war to constructing schools and many churches that were critical social and educational centers.  Often membership in black churches helped farmers to stick together and resist pressure to sell cheaply by creating group marketing opportunities. These coordinated efforts fueled resentment among white society.

Prospects were worsened by the Jim Crow Era of the 1890’s with concerted efforts to dismantle much of the work done by farmers and government agencies since the withdrawal of troops in 1877. Then came the New Deal period (1900-1945) during the Depression that brought about the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA). The act mandated the minimum price for cotton and restricted acreage of production. This brought about mass displacement of many sharecroppers and tenant farmers, both black and white. Black farmers were most negatively impacted during the AAA enforcement period. On average where whites were displaced, the percentage of black farmers was double[14]. The government did develop two programs to assist displaced farmers, the Resettlement Administration followed shortly by the Farm Security Administration (FSA). One of the more successful measures taken was to take farmers with good credit and place them contiguously on large tracts of land. Many of these groups were the beginning of future cooperatives. These cooperatives were actively supported and promoted by the FSA. Cooperatives included traditional farm supply purchasing, marketing and joint ownership of machinery and breeding stock.

These developments saw a dramatic increase in the number of cooperatives and unions that helped pave the way for Beat 4 in the mid-seventies. In a 1947 survey only 16 percent of the 25,543 cooperatives organized under FSA had gone out of business and a few of them remain today. These cooperatives made it possible for farmers to market and sell their produce and create more opportunities. The challenge for many cooperatives was a lack of education and tacit knowledge of creating and operating a cooperative along with continuing racial intolerance. Cooperatives formed during this New Deal period (1900-1945) were helped in large part by Extension Agents from counties and Universities. These agents, with the help of other organizations, helped to foster more formal and particularly visible cooperatives.

 With the onset of black cooperatives, white retailers and business owners were known to simply not sell or trade products with these cooperatives. Sometimes these cooperatives would have to ship their products long distances to be processed in lieu of local services, something that would have been impossible for individual farmers alone.

Late in 1967 the Federation of Southern Cooperatives (FSC) was formed by representatives from 22 cooperatives across the South. Its director was highly involved in adult literacy and creating concrete tasks for cooperative members to help develop their own economies. FSC encompassed a comprehensive range of services for rural community development. They offered training, consulting, research as well as capital for land and business project development. These services have been made possible by grant funding and private foundations. FSC has played a large part in development of Beat 4 by providing grants, knowledge and administrative capacity since the cooperative formed in 1974.

Bringing it home to Macon: As we understand the past and the larger picture of black farmers in America, we can begin to look at Macon, MS and its development. This study focuses on 8 Causal Factors of Resilience and we will be inspecting Beat 4’s cooperative through that lens.

Macon, a small town in rural Mississippi has been home to the Beat 4 Cooperative since 1974. The Beat 4 cooperative is a black cooperative but it has, and does, work with white farmers who want to work with them. We see elements of Complimentary Diversity[15] with the cooperatives inclusion of whites into the cooperative. One of those white farmers is Larry Miller and his family including his father who helped to create the original cooperative in 1974. Since then, the Miller’s (a Mennonite family) have been critical contributors to the development of the cooperative. Neither Larry Miller nor his father ever served as president of Beat 4 cooperative, rather they worked closely helping to write grants and administrative backing. Their involvement reflects the involvement of outside facilitators (often Extension Agents) that aided heavily in the development of cooperatives through the early twentieth century.

In early years Beat 4 functioned as an unofficial wood cutters cooperative, but over the years transformed with the needs of its members. The cooperative has followed this sequence of change in focus: wood cutters, hog farmers, cattle farmers, and now they include cattle with a new primary focus of vegetables. Through the years they have gone through many phases of transformation[16], changing their organization as needs arose. This transformation has been an element of black cooperative activity in the South since the end of the civil war. When Larry Miller’s father moved to the area in the early 1970’s he began working with the father of Jessica Fox who is now the cooperative’s president. The two men worked with Larry and other members of the community to unite the small scale producers in the area who were primarily selling out of their truck beds. They made a circuit to pick up okra, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and peas to sell in the market in Macon. This relationship began as a gentlemen’s agreement, with no official standing as a cooperative or recognizable structure. As time passed though, it became apparent that unifying as a cooperative would bring more legitimacy and structure to their loose organization. More funding, and opportunity awaited them if they were to merge officially as members. We see again elements of Conservative Flexibility and Transformation as the cooperative realized the positive impact of legitimizing the cooperative. These two causal factors of resilience are often complementary in systems that illustrate spiraling up[17]as transformation and careful innovation can lead to prosperous new enterprises.

They soon changed from being a wood cutters union to focusing on hogs, purchasing livestock through small grants from the USDA. This promised to make the farmers more money than harvesting wood alone. Increasing complementary diversity[18] the farmers merged the two enterprises. It is a challenge to house hogs, though, and the Miller family worked with members to build pens for them. Without this aid, it is unclear whether the hog farms would have been created. It is a fact that most black farmers were, and are, small land holders without much financial backing or savings. As Beat 4’s members received grants to purchase livestock, they lacked the capitol to purchase and build proper fencing to support the new livestock. It is through modular connectivity[19] that the farmers were able to achieve their goals of raising hogs. The farmers remained modular as they retained wood cutting while reaching out and connecting to the resources that the Miller family provided. This instance of connectivity yielded great success but not every attempt to connect with the surrounding community had been successful. In early years the cooperative created pick your own berry farms but most of the white populace was unwilling to venture into rural areas onto black farms.[20]

During the phase of the cooperative focusing on hogs, they were prosperous enough through membership and grant funding to build a community center, and to create the basis for a small Credit Union. In channeling their membership dues into real and lasting infrastructure the cooperative built Assets into their community. Assets is a key component in the causal factors of resilience as it enables groups to maintain more security against shortages or changes in the market. The community building and credit union offered a multitude of opportunities to the cooperative. Originally the credit union was run out of the back door of a local church and funds were only available two days a week. The Credit Union’s critical role for the members: supplying loans where other local banks wouldn’t. The reluctance of local banks is one small piece of the larger problem that cooperative members have faced since, and before, its inception in 1974. Finances have been a struggle for the black community for decades with banks rejecting loans to update or build their farms. Larry Miller recounts their battle with local banks to stop pay day loans in the area because the rates were so destructive and they encouraged a cycle of increasing debt and lack of delayed gratification—which is crucial to asset building. Pay day loans discourage the individual from putting off unnecessary purchases for the sake of saving for larger investments. A bank employee once said to Larry Miller that normal loans would make it “too easy for blacks to become more self-sufficient”. The Credit Union often was the only way for members to extend credit to build their farms. In recent years with the reduction in factory work, much of the funding fell out of the credit union as members lost their income. They have since merged with Hope Credit Union which serves Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee. The Farmers Market, community center and Credit Union sit close together on the same road just outside of Macon on the main highway 45.

The history of Beat 4, as with most of its sister cooperatives, resides solely in the memory of long-time members and supporters such as Larry Miller.  Their stories are full of racial conflict from local government officials and members of the white community reluctant to interact with the black community. Since the height of Civil Rights activism aggression has been calmer, but not extinguished.  Jessica Fox was hired as a Vista Volunteer to help with a resurgence of church burnings in the Macon area through AmeriCorps. These burnings reached their peak during the 1980’s with over 5,000 churches burned across the South. During the 1990’s when Jessica was hired the resurgence only reached a fraction of that number totally slightly more than 500 across the South. The intolerance swung both ways with whites burning black churches and blacks burning white churches. The larger issues leading to this aggression have yet to be fully resolved.

Larry Miller has done his part since the 1970’s to promote the rights of blacks in Macon and Meshulah. Their home was a safe haven not only for locals but also for integrated groups traveling through the South who often were turned away from hotels and restaurants. This occurred once during the summer when an integrated group of women were traveling and called to ask if they could stay the night. A reporter following the women told Larry that the article written about their stay with the Millers, “was fantastic!” and the newspaper also received 13 cancellations

Larry and his wife have lived close to Macon in Meshulah, MS since the early 1970’s. Larry arrived during the Vietnam War era as a conscientious objector and was assigned to work in a local hospital instead of combat duty. Larry renewed his assignment after developing relationships and a sense of belonging in the community. The couple chose to stay and work in the area, specifically for the rights of colored children. To them, “feeding children is a non-negotiable issue” and they have made it their life’s mission to resolve the problem. As the couple settled into the area they both studied to become teachers with the intention of teaching in the Macon school district. Larry was due to begin teaching but the district that had once communicated with Larry the intention to hire him didn’t alert him of the new teacher orientation. Furthermore when Larry found out about the date of orientation through the local grapevine, he showed up and the administration told him that there was a mistake in the minutes of their meeting: His name had been replaced by someone else’s. The minutes were never corrected and Larry and his wife struggled to make a living cutting wood on their property through the winter. Larry and his wife eventually were allowed to work in the public schools but only after the hiring of a black superintendent.

During their time in Meshulah, Larry Miller and his wife would allow children from the Choctaw reservation to come to their home to shower. The landlord of the children’s homes told the Millers they had to stop because “the children and their families might start to expect showers in their own homes”. Race is an unfortunate reality that has painted the development of the cooperative and continues to affect it even now. The Miller’s went on to adopt two half black children and housed multiple orphaned Choctaw Indian children in a converted school house turned dormitory. This raised the attention of local institutions who were reluctant to work with them based on the color of their children and the Naïve Americans whom they housed. The idea that blacks and Indians were sleeping together under the same roof was an idea that many found reprehensible. Ironically the building had originally been an old plantation school teaching etiquette to girls and boys all of whom were white. According to Larry the Cooperative was a crucial aspect in making the political and social changes that they’ve made during their time in Macon. Had they been alone, it would have been a much different story. The couple remark that they were often “radical and outspoken” raising criticism from the community. Not only would they have had trouble making a living in Macon, they tell us it would have been tremendously difficult for their children to have a functional childhood.

The Miller children are now fully grown and they are working in government agencies to provide financial assistance through WIC or other aid work. Their children said they, “learned everything we know from you both”. The Millers always took their children to group meetings and work in the market, always integrating them into their work. Their willingness to include their children in their outreach is the reason that their children have carried on in social work today. The Millers have created redundancy within their own family, their children proud to carry on the work of improving social conditions.

The cooperative served to support not only the Miller’s and their children as they struggled to fit into the social norms of Macon’s white locals it was an immeasurable aid to the black community. Larry recounts a close knit network in the black community that were key to making the enterprise work in the first place. He and his wife aren’t sure if the methods employed so many years ago would work today, but at that time, the black community was very receptive to them despite their differences. One of the few struggles that Larry remembers is the debate of what to put on the Farmer’s market sign. As Larry led the grant to purchase the sign he wanted to simply have “Famers Market” so that the letter would be big and easy to read from the road. Members of the cooperative wanted to put “Beat 4 Cooperative Farmers Market in Noxubee County” which would make it illegible from the road. It took the better part of a year to agree on shortening the sign to Macon Farmers Market. Larry admits that he, “didn’t do his committee work” and “moved too fast” losing sight of the need for a collaborative process. In a way Larry was too modular, and lost connection with the group weakening the resilience of the cooperative for a time. Larry remarks that he often became too “success driven” and would become so afraid of losing a grant that he would fail to include the rest of the cooperative.

A variety of different programs were employed by Larry and the board including assisting cooperative members in building their own greenhouses. The greenhouses were one of the more popular programs as all the materials were paid for and it created lasting value and more assets[21] by enabling farmers to extend their growing season and supplying warmth through the winter. In the past there was also an active youth component to the cooperative. The youth would work with Larry and other members of the cooperative through the growing season. They helped older farmers raise their production while also learning for themselves to grow a small crop that they could sell at the end of the season. Larry tells us that this was a great innovation for the youth who learned real skills from senior cooperative members and also made money, the first time for many.

It was mandated by the cooperative that the youth save part of their income in the credit union for school clothes. The cooperative hoped that this would help teach them to save their money and maybe help them make larger purchases in the future such as, Jessica Fox pointed out, a car to go to college with. This is another example of asset building through delayed gratification as the youth were required to put their money away for months at a time. It was only after withholding the money and receiving it at the end that they could see the value of their savings. The youth would also travel extensively with Jessica Fox to SSAWG conferences around the country. Jessica tells us that they couldn’t go unless they were actively contributing during the growing season though. This proved to be a great motivator for them as most of the youth had never been to another city, let alone out of state to another part of the country by plane. Many of the youth have moved on after high school to larger cities to go to college and find better jobs. Larry, and later Jessica Fox, report that they still come back and help during the summer and contribute financially when they can. In this way they instilled a level of redundancy[22] in the system with the youth who continue to invest in the cooperative. One of the youth went on to become a college football star and he has offered help regularly both in time and financial contribution since then. The youth would also travel extensively with Jessica Fox to SSAWG conferences around the country. Jessica tells us that they couldn’t go unless they were actively contributing during the growing season though. This proved to be a great motivator for them as most of the youth had never been to another city, let alone out of state to another part of the country by plane. 

The youth component along with the greenhouses and hog farming has diminished over the years sometimes due to lack of funding, or lack of participation by members. Both the greenhouses and the hog grants ran out and the youth aspect has ended due to the hesitance of member to include present day youth and culture. Jessica Fox explains that some of the cooperative members feel that the youth get out of hand during the meetings. According to the Millers, Macon has lost its best and brightest, the ones who would be willing to start their own businesses or take ownership over the cooperative. This problem is seen across the nation in rural areas that can’t offer the income, or the lifestyle that youth want. Moreover most of the cooperative members don’t have young children anymore. This is an indicator of lack of redundancy when an organization or group isn’t fostering the next generation. When Jessica Fox was operating the youth program she had young children herself and was motivated to create opportunities for them and other children.

Jessica Fox’s father was president of the co-op for many years and Jessica didn’t become involved herself till the early 90’s as a Vista Volunteer. Her position as a Fire Burning Vista helped black churches recover from arson. While working as a Vista Volunteer she became more aware of the cooperative and followed in her father’s footsteps by joining. She continued her work as a Vista Volunteer, but now working for the cooperative. This is redundancy in action as her own father was president of the cooperative, though it took her working for another organization to see the value of integrating the two. In this way she demonstrated conservative innovation by merging her work as a Vista Volunteer with her work in the cooperative, amplifying the capacity of the two separate organizations. In order for her, and anyone else, to join she had to be producing something for the cooperative. She began with and continues to grow a variety of vegetables. The greater part of her work for the cooperative consisted of helping develop administration and programs for the youth. She worked extensively with Larry Miller in developing grant initiatives to expand the outreach of the cooperative and offer more opportunities to its members including daycares, youth outings and a raised bed gardening program. Her first mission was organizing day cares for members during the late 1990’s. She later went on to become youth coordinator for the Southern district of SAWG (Sustainable Agriculture Working Group) which consisted of 5 southern states. She isn’t sure exactly how she became the youth coordinator for the southern chapter of SAWG, but was inevitably introduced to the national youth coordinator Savannah Williams who has since moved on to other work. Jessica’s work with the youth was paid for many years through a large multi-million dollar grant through the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives and partially through her affiliation with SAWG. This allowed her and the youth to travel and build gardens in Macon and surrounding communities.

During this time Larry Miller was working with members of the cooperative to fund the building of the Farmers Market that now sits right off Hwy 45 before you enter Macon. A modest sheet metal building, it was built with 6 bays to receive produce from farmers who back up their truck beds. When the youth were constructing their raised beds though, they blocked off a number of these bays, detracting from the use of the building. In a way the cooperative actually reduced the overall asset of the building by limiting its capacity to receive produce. Within the walls are shelves to hold produce, a small wood stove, an almost complete kitchen, and a pea sheller situated in the back for members and non-members to use during harvest. The sheller is free to use for members, but non-members pay $3 a bushel to use the machine.

The building took years to fund but today is paid off and owned by the cooperative. They pay $1.00 a year to lease the land from the city and it is agreed that if the cooperative ever stops selling produce the property reverts back to the city. Current market manager John Williams still plans to invest into the building despite the risk. The building has no insulation and so generates massive amounts of heat in the summer and is bone cold in the winter. The modest fees that members pay plus the revenue they generate from sales isn’t enough to build the infrastructure the building so badly needs. The kitchen that sits behind the cash register remains close to completion, but they lack funding to finish the project. John and Jessica had hoped to create a certified kitchen so their members could make value added products like jellies, frozen produce, salsas and other prepared items but that hasn’t come to fruition yet. This project is one of other half complete projects like insulating the building, purchasing coolers for the produce, repairs for the building, and reviving the raised beds that surround the building. In the past the way that these projects were made possible was through grants.  Unless Beat 4 devises another way to finish these projects, they will remain incomplete.

Jessica and John both remark that in recent years, grant funding seems to have run dry. Once the cooperative was operating with the help of a large grant through the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives (MAC) that paid multiple staff members and funded multiple projects. Without this grant MAC has whittled their paid staff to only a few people working in Jackson, MS. Before, when there were more employees MAC could more easily apply for multiple grants and network with other organizations. Now, with everyone working volunteer hours it’s challenging to get as much done.

The lack of renewed funding has perpetuated another issue for the cooperative: a failed community housing project. The apartment building was made to house 20 families and act as a networking hub for those that lived there. From that hub the intention was to build the base for a farming community who could work and live together. The structure was built from grant money and Jessica Fox explains that no one was there to oversee the construction of the site. With no one to check the quality of the work, the building wasn’t fit to pass inspection when the time came to bring families in. The apartments all had to have renovations to pass residential building codes and the cooperative doesn’t have the funds to complete the work. Now, the building sits mostly vacant and the cooperative sees no other choice than to sell it to get out from under their obligations.

Beat 4 attempted to increase resilience by increasing physical infrastructure but they neglected two key aspect of that quality of resilience: maintenance and lack of match between infrastructure and skills of staff.  Physical infrastructure does not contribute to resilience when poor maintenance, or its’ corollary, shoddy construction, is permitted.  It was permitted because developing and maintaining the infrastructure was not within the skill set of the Beat 4 staff.

One recent grant that has provided a stimulus to the cooperative is a $75,000 grant from Heifer International to purchase cows for their members. Enacted 10 years ago it has tripled their membership and brought significant financial success to its members. The program is one that as it builds on itself, continues Building Assets[23] for its members. The cooperative initially bought enough heifers for their members to have 5 heifers and a bull to continue breeding within the cooperative. New heifers must be given back to the cooperative once they are old enough to be bred and given to another member to continue the cycle. Their cows are Black Angus and bulls that are born are for the farmer to use as they will. Often these bulls will be sold once they reach enough weight for the market and the money goes back to the farmer. The sale of the bulls often goes to pay for feed for their remaining cattle and building more infrastructure on their farms. 

Though the heifer program has increased their membership, there have been farmers who only wanted to raise cattle which is strictly against their guidelines. Since they began the Heifer project, members have had to be proactive to ensure that new, or prospective members, are willing to contribute vegetables to the cooperative as well.

Steering the Boat: The functions and formulas of a board. Jessica Fox has been the president of Beat 4 cooperative for 6 years. She says that she, “I don’t rely on my own know how, I rely on rules of order” from the rule book she brings to board meetings. This helps keep things consistent when problems come up. Her time on the board is based has relied on nominations and ballot votes when her term is up. The positions on the board are given by nomination and vote, then the newly elected member pulls numbers one through three to determine if they will retain their seat for one, two, or three years. This is a model for periodic transformation[24], creating consistent turn-over of management within the board. They have annual board meetings to elect new members and provide an opportunity to change rules. The affair is usual informal with a potluck dinner and time to socialize afterwards. It is a yearly meeting, while also providing an opportunity to celebrate.

One thing that Jessica Fox hopes to change in the next board meeting is the exclusion of surrounding counties. She realizes that by restricting the amount of farmers involved in Beat 4, they’re having to make sacrifices. Right now they have approximately 35 members by Jessica’s count, and those 35 members aren’t producing the kind of volume that the cooperative needs to support itself. Often, Jessica and John Williams (the market manager) have to make due by ordering produce from outside the cooperative. This both uses up the limited funds of the cooperative and places a strain on both Jessica and John to fulfill the orders.

In order for farmers to become members of the cooperative there is a process they must follow. Often people respond to ads that are posted once a month in the local paper to attend their monthly membership meeting, or they come in by word of mouth. Either way there is an interview process with existing members to explain why they want to become part of Beat 4. Most often it is during this process that potential members can determine if Beat 4 is the right cooperative for them. Furthermore there are dues that must be paid through the year and you don’t become an official member or receive the benefits of the heifers from the cooperative until you have participated for six months. Fees include a yearly $25 membership fee and a contribution of one bushel of produce every day you sell at the market. Membership also enables you to use their pea sheller for free, where non-members must pay $3 a bushel.

Meeting Demands of the Market. When Jessica orders from outside of the cooperative for extra vegetables she does the best she can to only order as much as her customers will buy. She does this by posting an ad in the paper with her phone number asking people to pre-order items. She takes these orders over the phone and strategizes with the grower for that amount. The cooperative does not maintain a website that could be used for this purpose so all orders are made over the phone. She and John have hopes of using the certified kitchen to process extra produce that comes in. Until then, whatever comes in that surpasses her customer demand becomes waste. The cooperative doesn’t bring in much extra money each year after electricity, repairs and taxes. If Jessica can expand the coverage area of the cooperative, she stands the chance to bring in enough growers to provide the basis for an expansion of their market.

One such expansion is the connection to local schools which John Williams has been working hard to create. Less than a quarter of a mile from the farmers market sits the high school where students have recently begun to build raised beds and produce some vegetables. The super intendant of the school has interest in working with the cooperative, but with the limited amount of produce that Beat 4 can supply, the school simply can’t leave their foodservice contract. For the school to be able to purchase from Beat 4 the cooperative would need to provide items like flour, salt, milk and other base items that the school requires. Additionally, the growers would need to change the kind of produce they grow.

Right now, most members grow staples for the area like tomatoes, purple hulled peas, squash, zucchini, and sweet corn. These crops are primarily summer crops and wouldn’t be available during the spring and fall when schools are in session. This is a large barrier for members who tend to be set in their ways, reluctant to grow something different and at a different time. It will take this kind of Conservative Flexibility[25] to make the shift to provide for schools and larger institutions. If they were willing to make the shift, the cooperative stands to prosper from the partnership.

This is a prime example of the need for either expansion into other counties, or to bring new farmers into their cooperative. Most of their farmers are aging and their desire to make innovative changes is dwindling. Inspiring a new generation of farmers may be the only hope for the future.

Beat 4: New Generation. John Williams has hopes that Beat 4 will be renewed by a younger generation. Right now there is a church group that has asked to use the raised beds left behind by Beat 4’s youth years ago. They haven’t begun working the ground yet, but the woman leading the youth group has high hopes for bringing the children there. This connection could bring a whole group of youth who could again grow produce to then sell in the farmers market. They also have the option to use the credit union like the youth before them, if they choose to use the asset within their community.

Another youth group voicing interest in farming in Macon are the high school students that operate the high school’s garden. Many of them have spoken with John Williams about how they, “think they would like to be farmers someday” as they’re learning the value of growing their own food. So far these two groups are the greatest hope for a younger generation taking on the mantle from Beat 4. Redundancy[26] is a key element of any resilient system and Macon seems to be short on it, for now. Jessica Fox made it clear that the cooperative has always found a way to keep going. Over the years when they ran out of funding they would hold a dance or fundraiser, “always finding a way” through their challenges. It is unclear how they will move through this challenge though.

While the cooperative needs new members, they are also looking to bring a new generation of shoppers. Many of their customers are older and with limited income. In hopes of expanding their customer base Beat 4 has gone to great lengths to provide EBT and WIC programs as well as a credit card machine so they aren’t limited to cash transactions. It is a challenge to attract customers to the market as supply is often inconsistent and hours fluctuate. Moreover they face the same challenge as many farmers markets of having a limited variety of products. Beat 4 provides primarily fresh vegetables, but until they can offer milk, grains, or other staple foods many people will continue to go to larger markets that offer variety and convenience. Time is a precious commodity of younger generations who often have children and don’t have the time that retired residents have. This is something that John Williams is well aware of and he hopes that they can bring more young people in to buy their produce. He realizes that they are challenged with the cultural palate of younger residents. Many people would prefer to buy processed, salt filled, convenient foods either because they like them or they don’t know how to prepare fresh vegetables. This is another reason that Beat 4 is working to provide a commercial kitchen, so that they can prepare foods and also provide cooking and canning classes for people that don’t know how to use their produce.

Into the future. Beat 4 has built many Assets over its remarkable history that are key to the success and future of the current day Beat 4. Members are able to leverage the tools and concepts that were the basis and building blocks of the past. Their community center and farmers market stand to be renewed as commercial and meeting centers for farmers around Macon. Until they can find a way to leverage those spaces, it is unclear what will become of the buildings. Moving forward it is a matter of inclusion and innovation that will spell the biggest successes for Beat 4. Inclusion of a new generation’s ideals and practices and innovations in farming, seasonal planting, and technology. With many older farmers in the cooperative reluctant to change their ways, it reduces their ability to institute conservative flexibility[27] as the ability to innovate and incorporate new ideas in reduced.

Their board and internal structure are well suited to rotate members, though only being able to make significant changes to the rules and regulations of the cooperative limits their capacity to respond to change with great speed or efficiency. This limits their capacity to innovate with new opportunities or to include new concepts that could support the cooperative moving forward.

The age of their members is also of concern as noted above, for without a new generation to take over operations it is unclear who will continue the work of the last 40 years. Their new Heifer program and the desire to expand their membership to include other counties does offer opportunities to expand their capacity and perhaps increase redundancy. If Beat 4 can expand to incorporate larger customers like the Macon High School it could profit greatly as most of their customers are of an older generation. The consistency of a purchaser like the high school and the variety of products they require would also enable them to expand the offering for other customers.

As Beat 4 President remarks though, “we will always find a way.”  The history of Beat 4 says they will continue to show resilience, but changes in Beat 4 augur differently.  Longtime member Larry Miller has since focused believes that the cooperative was losing focus and wasn’t attracting or engaging the youth like they used to. He has since continued the summer program for youth out of his own home, though he continues to work with the cooperative, attending Beat 4 meetings and renting their coolers to store milk for the children.

Beat 4, like many mature organizations, is in the K phase of the adaptive cycle.  This holding pattern, as we observe from ecological resilience research, cannot last.  No system can remain still. Beat 4 will either recreate itself to expand, or through lack of funding and initiative fall apart.








Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network:

Connectivity and Redundancy in the Ecological Resilience of Mississippi’s Local Food System


Abstract. Mississippi harbors a strong culture of industrial agribusiness. Though agriculture is the state’s main industry, it provides little food for in-state consumption. Within the last ten years, Mississippi has seen a surge of small-scale farmers interested in growing organically and selling locally. This is a case study of the rise of Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network (MSAN), a web of sustainable farmers interested in improving or creating local food systems in their own communities. We use the case of MSAN and the farmers involved in it to illustrate how connectivity and redundancy are critical to the creation of ecologically resilient local food systems.


I. Introduction

Mississippi is an agricultural hub of the United States. It also has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation. It seems counter-intuitive that a land so rich in natural resources could also be so impoverished. Many have credited the current food system with creating this contradiction. The commodity crops that dominate Mississippi’s production prove to have little to no profit margin for farmers, and do not produce the foods Mississippians want or need. An abundance of cheap commodity crops are exported, and Mississippi communities import high-cost, low-quality food.

Not all farmers accept this system. The last ten years has seen a rapid increase in the number of farmers who grow healthy food and sell locally. Native Son Farm in Tupelo, Mississippi and High Hopes Farm in Cedar Bluff, Mississippi are two such farms. The emergence of farms like these have in turn generated the momentum to create Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network, an organization that connects farms with sustainable missions to consumers, markets, and each other.

Though agriculture is Mississippi’s top industry, it is not growing a healthy local food supply. Ninety-two percent of the state’s agricultural output is composed of just ten crops, not all of which are even edible. Mississippi is home to industrial agriculture giants such as Tyson Foods, Inc., Georgia-Pacific, and Borden, Sanderson Farms, and Wayne Farms.[28] Some of our interviewees fault Mississippi agricultural policy for making the state too friendly to large-scale agri-business at the expense of small farmers. Since most of these industries do not produce edible crops and are not intended to be sold locally, even highly agricultural Mississippi communities often lack a local food system. As a result of exporting cheaply-produced crops and importing low quality food for consumption, Mississippi has one of the highest obesity rates in the country at 12.4 percent, as well as the highest poverty rate in the nation.

Meanwhile, farmers in Mississippi spend $2.3 billion a year to import fertilizers, pesticides, and other inputs. Even though farmers are producing more than ever, and spending more to do it, the average net cash income per farm has decreased from $29,000 in 1973 to $6,141 today.  Based on 2007 U.S. Agricultural Census data, 42 percent of farms in Mississippi actually lost money.[29] While farmers spend more and more on inputs and receive less and less money for growing commodity crops, they become less profitable.

The dilemma farmers are facing weighs heavy on the overall economy of the state. Agriculture employs 29 percent of Mississippi’s population and generates $7.4 billion per year statewide. However since most of the products grown are commodity crops, most of farm income actually comes from federal payments. Furthermore, these crops are mainly exported. As a result, approximately 90 percent of food that is consumed in Mississippi is from out-of-state, and the $6.5 billion spent on that food each year leaves Mississippi’s economy. On top of economic loss, imported foods and poverty contribute to Mississippi’s diabetes epidemic, which, at 12.4 percent of the population, is the highest in the country. Treating diabetes costs Mississippians about $2.7 billion each year. Through the current agricultural system, Mississippi loses $8.5 billion annually.[30] By creating local food systems, Mississippi could help its farmers generate better profits, make communities healthier, and contribute to an ecologically resilient state.

This study examines strides that are being taken to make Mississippi’s food system more ecologically resilient. It is one of nine case studies of resilient local food systems in recalcitrant areas in the Southern United States. Ecological resilience is a measure of 1) how much change a system can undergo before fundamentally changing; 2) the extent to which a system can self-organize; and 3) an increasing capacity for adaptation.[31] [32] A resilient system goes through four phases based on natural cycles: 1) growth (r); 2) conservation (K); 3) release (Ω); and 4) reorganization (α).[33] 

Though there is ample literature on ecological resilience, past studies have primarily focused on indicators of resilience. The nine case studies propose a causal model of ecological resilience composed of eight factors: modular connectivity, local organization, building assets, redundancy, complementary diversity, conservative innovation, ecological integration, and periodic transformation. This case study, which examines how networks of farmers are arising to create healthy local food systems, and specifically the Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network (MSAN), considers how local food systems may alter the state’s resilience. In particular, it focuses on the modular connectivity and redundancy we observed through a series of interviews and on-site observation.


II. Two Case Studies in Connectivity


While conducting interviews with farmers throughout Mississippi, there were repeated claims that current Mississippi agricultural policy provides more support for large-scale conventional farms than small-scale or sustainable agriculture. While some organizations, such as MSAN, have emerged to address Mississippi policy, individuals are also working to provide more opportunities for small farmers and support one another. The cases of Native Son Farm and High Hopes Farm illustrate how individual farmers can contribute to the ecological resilience of Mississippi’s local food system, and how farmers working together as a network can contribute even more.


Native Son Farm


At the fringes of Tupelo, Mississippi, Native Son Farm aims to build community around local food. The farm was launched in 2010 by Will Reed, a Tupelo native, and his wife Amanda.  It has grown from three-quarters of an acre to over 20 acres. They grow a variety of vegetables and fruits for a 250-person Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) network. On their Certified Naturally Grown farm, the Reeds are attempting to raise demand for local food in Mississippi.

The Reeds see it as their most fundamental mission to serve the people and land around them in an environmentally responsible way. “We have values that we’re not going to compromise,” Will said. “We’re not going to use synthetic chemicals or pesticides or herbicides.” Another value of Native Son Far is giving back to the community. Though they have found little demand for local or organic food within Tupelo, they are trying to generate demand for their product by incorporating consumer education into their business model.  Groups from local schools often come to help out on the farm as a form of volunteer service. The University of Mississippi also uses land on Native Son to conduct agricultural research. In giving back to their community, the Reeds have also received.

Native Son has had some advantages in getting started. Will’s family backed the initial purchases of land and equipment for the farm, and Will feels that being a Tupelo native has helped him establish himself in the community despite his unconventional product. However, for all of the good fortune the farm had, it is now facing extreme obstacles.

The first of these obstacles emerged in 2013, when the farm, which is Certified Naturally-Grown, was accidentally sprayed with 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D). Thousands of tomato plants were damaged and considered inedible by the farm’s standards. The same year, there was an infestation of crickets. Will and Amanda tried using cricket traps, but found them ineffective. Native Son chose not to use synthetic chemicals, and as a result, the farm incurred $1,300 of loss from cricket damages. A tornado also tore through Tupelo in the April of 2014. Though the Reeds consider themselves lucky in comparison to some of their neighbors, the storm tore up some crops and damaged the irrigation system. Hardest of all, three days before the tornado, their young daughter Magnolia was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in her chest. Since Magnolia’s diagnosis, Will and Amanda have spent most of their time away from the farm at the children’s hospital in Memphis.

However, with each new challenge, Native Son found support from family, friends, community members, and fellow farmers. After the tornado, a network of volunteers, interns, and farmers helped Native Son get cleaned up again in a matter of days. Volunteers and interns also continue to run the farm in Will and Amanda’s absence, with occasional help from family, friends, and nearby farmers.

Being connected to other farmers has played an enormous role in the success of Native Son. During the first winter of their leap into farming, the Reeds attended a conference of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (Southern SAWG). There they found inspiration, advice, and information, as well as connections. Before attending Southern SAWG, Will thought Native Son was one of the only organic farms in his area. Now, however, Native Son is well-connected to nearby farms with similar missions. Will also acts as Chair on MSAN’s Board of Directors, and other MSAN members have helped Native Son by working directly on the farm or networking the Reeds with other farmers who have similar missions.

Will said that he sees other local food businesses in the area not as threats but as allies who help raise awareness of the benefits of eating local. Sam McLemore, from Bountiful Harvest Farm in Starkville, works at Native Son about three and a half days a week. Beaver Dam Farms, in Cedar Bluff, distributes Native Sons’ CSA shares in their area. Yokna Bottoms Farm is another connection Native Son holds. Will credits Daniel Doyle, now statewide Coordinator of MSAN and the first manager of Yokna Bottom Farms, with networking them together.

Now that Magnolia has fallen sick, these other farms, family, friends and volunteers have helped out around the farm and raised money for Magnolia’s treatment. It seems without a doubt that Native Son has faced one hardship after another, with Magnolia’s sickness being the latest and most tragic. In spite of this, the web of connections Native Son has made within the community of Tupelo, among other farmers, with interns, and with family has acted as a net to protect the Reeds from hard falls. “I don’t know that I’d say we would not be in existence without these other people, but I think it definitely makes us a lot stronger and it makes it easier for us through hard times,” Will told us.

Though still a young enterprise, Native Son is already embracing several of the eight components of ecological resilience. By concentrating their efforts on building local demand for their product, Native Son is perpetuating local organization. They are also building assets, or cultivating more non-monetary resources, by continuously focusing on their soil health, accumulating more land over time, growing their CSA from 15 people to 250 people, and investing in more equipment over the years.[34] Complementary diversity, or a variety or practices and products that build off of one another, is present on the farm as well. Native Son keeps some chickens in addition to their fruits and vegetables, and uses fertilizer from its chickens to naturally enrich the soil. It grows a variety of crops as well and rotates the plots to balance out the toll crops can take on soil. This is also an example of ecological integration, or using elements of the naturally-occurring environment to enhance the farm’s functioning. Other examples of ecological integration at Native Son include using crops to enhance soils and reduce erosion (known as cover cropping) and crop rotation. Redundancy, or creating multiple actors that fulfill the same role, is also somewhat present at Native Son. Though the farm is young and the Reeds do not yet have a plan to pass on their farm, by training the various World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms volunteers (WWOOFers) and young interns that work on the farm, they contribute to creating a new generation of sustainably-minded farmers.

Native Son also practices conservative innovation, or innovation tempered by conventional practices and knowledge. The Reeds show their creativity in their attempt to tap the new local food market of Tupelo, Mississippi, and by creating demand through consumer education. In learning from other organic or local farmers, Native Son is also practicing conservation. When they announced their plans to start a small organic farm in Mississippi, the Reeds were given just about every form of discouragement. They were told that the land would flood, that their crops would be eaten by animals and pests, and that there was no market for local organic food in Mississippi. “It turns out all those obstacles have really been opportunities,” said Will. “Being where we are in Tupelo, Mississippi, I do not feel we could be in a better place for doing this, for our family. People see our commitment to what we’re doing. As far as keeping the energy going, we don’t stop. We don’t stop working, and we don’t stop trying to improve things, and don’t stop trying to make things more professional.” Turning barriers into opportunities has spurred innovation at Native Son Farm. It has also helped the farm adapt and transform to changing situations.

Periodic transformation is certainly present at Native Son. Periodic transformation is occasional change in structure in order to adapt to changing conditions. While a farm or enterprise would ideally institute these changes intentionally, the transformation at Native Son Farm has largely been forced by unfortunate circumstances. Critically, though, the farm has adapted its structure (e.g., largely managed now by volunteers and interns) instead of shutting down while the Reeds are away. The Reeds have also created transformation within their farming community by helping to found Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network, an organization that has made vastly increased connectivity for other farmers like themselves.

Modular connectivity describes an actor or system that has many beneficial relationships to other actors or systems, but is not dependent on those relationships for survival. Native Son Farm and the network it sits in is a strong illustration of connectivity. Although there was little demand for a local CSA in Tupelo, and although everyone told them that sustainable agriculture simply couldn’t survive the harsh conditions of Mississippi, the Reeds found a web of farmers who shared a similar vision. Starting with Southern SAWG, Will and Amanda discovered that sustainable agriculture was happening in Mississippi. They also found a community of farmers and organizations that were eager to be a resource to young farmers. Less than five years later, the Reeds have become a resource themselves. They train volunteers and interns, as well as hire farmhands from within the community. They have been eager to help other farmers in the area, culminating with the creation of MSAN. Since Will grew up in Tupelo, he has a relationship with the people of the town too. “We have created something that is more resilient than just capitalism, trading vegetables for dollars,” Said Will. “We’ve had over a hundred volunteers on our farm since we got relocated to Memphis for Magnolia’s health, and people have donated money to us…We have worked hard to do this as sustainable as we can do it. People in our community are glad to have a farm there. They want to see us survive.”

High Hopes Farm


The Wrays, of High Hopes Farm, are a member of that same network. Through MSAN and Southern SAWG, they have not only sought resources for their sustainable ranching business, but also acted as a resource for young farmers. Like Native Son Farm, High Hopes is an illustration of the emerging web of sustainable agriculture in Mississippi, and how the strength of individuals multiplies when joined together.


In 2008, Johnny and Deb Wray moved to Cedarbluff, Mississippi to begin what they call their second career: High Hopes Farm. High Hopes is 30 rolling acres of pasture and forest devoted primarily to raising grass-fed beef cattle free of antibiotics. Though Johnny had worked with his grandfather on a farm growing up, neither he nor Deb had raised beef cattle until they decided to retire and invest their resources in developing a piece of land that Johnny had bought in 1980. That land is now their home and pasture, barely a mile from where Johnny’s grandfather used to farm.


To feed cattle a nutritional grass diet, the Wrays use rotational grazing. Rotational grazing is a farming technique where animals are systematically moved to fresh land on a regular basis. In the case of High Hopes, the Wrays’ land is divided into paddocks. Cattle are brought to fresh paddocks every day, and each paddock is filled with a variety of different grasses. Johnny likes to experiment with cultivating different types of grasses and asking for customer feedback about the taste differences in the beef. To avoid harmful herbicides in the beef, the Wrays weed the paddocks by hand. In the case of rotational grazing, weeds are considered anything that might be bad for the cattle, or that the cattle refuse to eat. Since pulling weeds out by the roots halts their spreading, weeding becomes less and less work over time. The Wrays also keep some forest around their land to provide shade for the cattle against the brutal Mississippi heat. In this way, ecological integration is critical to the success of the Wrays’ farm.


The operation is small, but not for lack of demand. One of the Wrays’ biggest struggles is filling all of the orders that come their way. High Hopes beef is more expensive than conventional beef, but the Wrays try to maintain the balance between keeping the operation financially sustainable and keeping it affordable. However, for high-quality, grass-fed and antibiotic-free beef, there are plenty of customers who find the product worth the price tag. Most of their sales are made in Starkville, Mississippi, though some customers come long distances to visit the farm.  The farm holds local control as a value. By selling locally and supporting other local farmers, High Hopes supports the agricultural autonomy of Starkville and other nearby towns. Luckily, the farm is also within close range of a processor, which can be a huge obstacle for ranchers. By contributing to local autonomy, High Hopes aids Starkville’s modular connectivity. Modularity in particular refers to being independent enough of connections to withstand sudden isolation from those connections.


High Hopes is also a center of connectivity within the Starkville area. According to the Wrays, High Hopes Farms sells more than just meat—it sells an experience. The farm does tours for school kids regularly, and is open to any customers who wish to visit or volunteer. The Wrays also host an annual fatted calf party for their customers and friends. As a result, a sense of community has formed around High Hopes. The Wrays have gotten to know many of their customers personally and developed relationships with them. Although the Wray’s enterprise is more or less unique in the area, many community members want to see them succeed. Johnny Wray told us that one of their greatest struggles has been finding a network of other farmers with similar missions who he can consult for advice, such as on how to treat sick cows without the use of antibiotics. However, one nearby veterinarian has taken an interest in High Hopes’ mission and has tried to learn more about antibiotic-free treatment in order to help the Wrays out. The Wrays have also received support from making connections at Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network, of which they are a part, and from Gaining Ground Sustainability Institute of Mississippi (GGISM). GGISM, a Starkville-based center for education, research, and outreach on sustainability, has helped the Wrays immensely with marketing High Hopes Farm.  The Wrays now have to worry about marketing their products less and can focus on production and coordinating sales.


In turn, the Wrays hope to provide support for others—especially young farmers with a similar mission. Johnny and Deb know firsthand how difficult it can be to break into farming without a support network, especially when farming in an unconventional way. Johnny feels that neighboring states not only provides better policies for small farmers, but also provides more grants. As far as Johnny is aware, Mississippi has nothing like that.

On the contrary, the Wrays, like several other of our interviewees, feel that Mississippi state policy is extremely friendly to agribusiness and often even antagonistic to small farmers. They also question the lack of transparency in industrial agriculture. In 1998, Mississippi instituted a law against the Disparagement of Perishable Agriculture or Aquaculture Food Product.[35] The effects of this law have been compared to the “ag-gag” farm protection bills that prevents journalists and other media from investigating industrial agriculture facilities.[36] Though the Wrays choose not to be certified organic, they consider complete transparency to be their mark of quality. They also try to compensate for what they feel are large obstacles facing aspiring sustainable farmers in Mississippi by acting as a resource.

Most notably, High Hopes has used some of its extra land to host Beaverdam Fresh Farms, run by Ali Fratesi and Dustin Pinion. Beaverdam specializes in poultry, pigs, and tomatoes. The Wrays were customers of Beaverdam, so when Dustin and Ali began searching for land, Johnny and Deb offered to host them. The chickens have been a beneficial addition to the Wray’s rotational grazing cycle, further enhancing the farm’s ecological integration. Chicken tractors are moved into a paddock after steer have been there. The chickens eat grub and spread out the manure with their scratching. Their own manure adds nitrogen to the paddock, resulting in a healthier pasture. Johnny told us that he’s already seeing a difference in the health of the grass and soil. Dustin and Ali keep their pigs at High Hopes in the Wrays’ eight acres of woods, and grow tomatoes on another property. They help bring the farm more complementary diversity. “Beaverdam is a wonderful model of a small farm with many different products to sell, so that throughout the seasons you have a product for your customers,” Deb said. In turn, the Wrays are contributing to the redundancy of sustainable farming in Mississippi.

The Wrays’ vision is a community of small farmers, making good use of the rich land around them. However, according to the Wrays, the State of Mississippi is far from friendly to that vision. In terms of beef cattle, the Wrays find it frustrating that there is no longer a processing plant in Mississippi they can bring their steers to, although there used to be one just 60 miles away. Mississippi also has an on-farm processing limit of 1,000 birds, whereas most states have a limit of 20,000.[37] Dustin Pinion and Ali Fratesi have launched a petition to change that.

“Actually, we wish we had 100 or 150 acres so we could hold three or four Beaverdams here,” said Johnny. “All of them would be doing something different. Someone could have a CSA or two, and we’re trying to get a beekeeper. We’d love to have someone do sheep. But having just 30 acres plus eight acres of woods, we’re a little limited on that.” The Wrays told us that it can be hard to get land when you’re starting out as a young farmer, and their partnership with Dustin and Ali is one way they can contribute to the next generation of young farmers. “We’re really committed to farming and trying to get young people into it,” Johnny said. “I don’t think Mississippi is a terribly farm-friendly state, at least as far as agriculture. It certainly is for agribusiness.”

High Hopes is a strong example of how connectivity can make sustainable farming in an otherwise recalcitrant area more accessible. Their own connections have helped them find a bountiful local customer base, market their products, and connect with other farms with a shared mission. The Wrays said they would ideally have several other sustainable ranches nearby, to both help support the demand and to compile knowledge with. They also deeply care about the future of agriculture in Mississippi and explicitly seek to get more young farmers involved. For the Wrays, connectivity, and the desire to be even more connected, has begotten redundancy. In order to help create the network of sustainable farmers they wish surrounded them the Wrays have provided land for Beaverdam Fresh Farms. This powerfully contributes to the redundancy of sustainable farming in the Starkville area. Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network, which the Wrays also participate in, has a similar strategy.


III. Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network


Mississippi Agricultural Network arose out of the need for sustainable farmers to connect. According to Daniel Doyle, statewide Coordinator of MSAN, for the last 60 years legislators have taken advantage of Mississippi’s high agricultural value and prioritized corporate farms over small farmers. It is in part because of the poverty of the state that legislators are often willing to change whatever policy necessary to accommodate corporate interests and mass-agriculture. As a result, sustainable farming struggles to thrive in Mississippi. The culture of industrial agriculture has made many communities in Mississippi less receptive to organic or locally-sourced foods. MSAN works toward being a resource for farmers who are challenging tis culture.

In order to support agricultural resilience, MSAN sets four core actions for itself. One is that it amplifies the voice of farmers by creating forums for political advocacy, idea and know-how exchanges, and equipment sharing. It also facilitates connections between farmers by keeping a database of both farmers and consumers in its network and locally-specific agricultural knowledge. Another goal is connecting farmers with both markets and consumers. Finally, MSAN uses workshops, events, forums, farm tours, demos, and mentorship programs to spur the growth of sustainable farming in Mississippi.

As part of their programs, MSAN identifies working models of what they consider sustainable agriculture throughout the state. However, every model they find is less than ten years old, and most are less than five. Daniel Doyle sees this at least in part as a testimony to how recently attention has shifted toward sustainable farming in the South. He has also observed that most of these farmers are college-educated young people that actively seek to create a culture shift toward resilient agriculture. Will and Amanda Reed are an example of this trend.

The Reeds started Native Son Farm with the intention of contributing to a more ecologically responsible food system. To some degree, they have had to create Tupelo’s local food system themselves. However, through networks like Southern SAWG and MSAN, the Reeds have become connected to several other farmers with similar missions. These are some of the farmers who have helped Native Son bounce back from disaster after disaster. During Magnolia Reed’s treatment, MSAN has helped raise support from other organizations, such as the Whole Foods in Memphis, Tennessee, which is providing food for the Reeds while they stay with Magnolia at the hospital. Including efforts from MSAN, about $30,000 has been donated by the community for the Reed family, plus food and help on the farm.

The Reeds are also an example of the educated young farmers that are among the leaders of sustainable farming in Mississippi. Though Native Son is still young, Mississippi State University nominated Will as an expert on sustainable agriculture. As part of this partnership, the university currently uses parts of Will’s fields to test crops and breeding. Though Will told us that he has yet to see how farms like Native Son benefit from partnering with universities, it seems that universities are taking an increasingly large role in Mississippi’s sustainable agriculture scene.

MSAN has several connections to the University of Mississippi, affectionately known as Ole Miss. Daniel Doyle is one such a connection. Although Daniel does not at present work for the university, he attended school there. After graduating, a professor from the school recruited him to launch Yokna Bottoms Farm, one of the first organic CSAs in Oxford, Mississippi.  The MSAN Board of Directors has several ties to Ole Miss, including a few professors who are on the board themselves. MSAN also draws from the ever-growing pool of students at Ole Miss interested in local food for interns.

Ole Miss is located in Northern Mississippi in Oxford. The region is widely seen as a leader in Mississippi’s local and organic agriculture movement. During one of Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network’s (ASAN) regional forums, Daniel Doyle asked speaker Viktor Kahn his thoughts on why Northern Mississippi is rapidly becoming a hotbed of sustainable agriculture, while most of Mississippi still holds fast to industrial agriculture. Viktor Kahn theorized that since both Mississippi and Alabama are characterized by very flat land, rich soils, and abundant water, large-scale mono-cropping has become a part of the culture. However, Northern Mississippi is fairly hilly, and as a result, it never drew as much industrial agriculture, and had to fight that culture less than other parts of the state.

MSAN itself has its roots in Northern Mississippi’s Hill Country. The foundations for it were laid eight years ago with an alliance between Yokna Bottoms Farm, Native Son Farm, Isis Garden, and Sam and Lauren McLemore’s Bountiful Harvest Farms. The four farms had heard about each other through local news and attended conferences like Southern SAWG together. After years of discussing the need for a sustainable agriculture group for Mississippi farmers, MSAN was finally incorporated in 2013.[38] Its purpose is not only for farmers to stay connected to and share resources with each other, but also to act as a voice for sustainable farmers statewide. The organization’s first move was to hold listening sessions in every region of Mississippi to introduce farmers to the network and understand how it can better serve sustainable farmers throughout the state. After eight years of working together, the four farms that primarily launched MSAN are still working to improve resources and community for sustainable agriculture in their region. One potential next step is launching a Hill County co-operative where farmers in Northern Mississippi can buy items in bulk and share the costs. MSAN helps coordinate groups of farmers seeking to buy in bulk together, but there is not yet a formal co-op.

Through their programs, MSAN pushes for changes in Mississippi agricultural policy that are friendlier towards small-scale and local farmers. They also introduce aspiring or beginning farmers to a web of other like-minded farmers to share information and resources. Programs such as group purchasing and equipment sharing makes farming more financially accessible to young farms. For those wanting to advance their skillset, MSAN provides workshops, forums, demos, and tours. In this way, MSAN perpetuates the redundancy of local food systems across Mississippi.

MSAN and its farmers also highlight the importance of connectivity in building ecologically resilient local food systems. Native Son Farm and High Hopes Farm have both strived to be a network and resource for other farmers, and both have been the better for it. While Native Son helped establish MSAN and continues to act as an agricultural learning center for young interns and volunteers, it also continues to thrive in part because of its connections. The same volunteers and farmers that Native Son has helped in the past now continue to run the farm as the Reeds are away in Memphis. High Hopes has also benefited from its network. Though the Wrays seek to help young farms like Beaverdam Fresh Farms out of the desire for a stronger local food network, the partnership has improved their land and their business. Likewise, being connected to MSAN and other networks like Gaining Ground helps the Wrays share resources with and learn from other farmers with similar missions. MSAN, the organization that both farms are a part of, was created by networks of farmers, and it was made in turn to help perpetuate those connections.

IV. Conclusion: Connectivity and Redundancy in Mississippi’s Budding Local Ag Network

The creation of Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network was a response to the need for stronger connections between sustainable farmers in Mississippi. Sustainable agriculture makes up only a miniscule fraction of all agriculture in Mississippi, and cannot currently provide enough produce to feed all of Mississippi. Most communities, accommodated to their histories of industrial agriculture, don’t have the demand to support a local agriculture network. Sustainable farms emerging in those areas must not only produce food, but also generate a demand for their products, often through educating the populace around them as Native Son Farm did. On the flip side, there are still too few sustainable farmer to support full-fledged demand for local agriculture, as High Hopes Farm illustrates. The Wrays find that they can’t support the local demand for grass-fed, antibiotic-free beef alone. However, the proliferation of sustainable farmers requires two critical changes: more resources for young farmers and a cultural shift.

One of the greatest obstacles for redundancy in Mississippi’s local agriculture system is the expenses and burdens it places on aspiring and beginning farmers. Investing in land and equipment requires major initial investments that often pushes farmers into debt. Through strategies like equipment sharing, MSAN helps reduce this burden. Resources that provide land to young farmers at little to no cost, such as High Hopes Farm, also make a significant impact on the accessibility of farming. As it stands, current Mississippi policy favors large-scale industry over small farmers. This is evident through laws such as the poultry processing limitations discussed by the Wrays, which place obstacles in front of small and mid-sized farms while encouraging commodity crops. To overcome these obstacles, Mississippi’s sustainable farming community has begun to organize.

Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network is but the latest development in the connectivity that characterizes the state’s sustainable farmers. Farms like High Hopes and Native Son have advanced to the point where they are able to act as resources for other farmers, but they continue to benefit, grow, and stand resilient with the help of their many communities. In ecological resilience, connectivity is not a one-way relationship of giving or taking. It is a dynamic network of exchange, mutual reinforcement, and growth. Together, the network that sustainable farmers are forming has a shot at changing Mississippi policy and enhancing Mississippi’s overall ecological resilience.



Reviving a 150 year-old local food system: Sewanee, Tennessee

Abstract. This study tracks the adaptive cycles of a local food system in Sewanee, Tennessee. Our goal is to understand the factors which have contributed to resilience in the system. Sewanee’s history of local food dates back to 1868 with the opening of the University of the South which produced all its own food and milk on site. Local food production stalled during the early twentieth century, but is being revived by today’s residents. Our study focuses on three key components of this local food system: University Food Services, a regional food hub supplying food to the University and surrounding area, and the University farm.  As in all social ecological systems, a primary consideration is management of the subsystems and their interaction with each other.  We address the decisions, constraints and disturbances faced in the continuing evolution of a local food system.


Sewanee, TN, is home to the Episcopalian University of the South (also referred to simply as Sewanee) that occupies 16,000 acres (referred to as the Domain) on a plateau between Chattanooga and Nashville. On July 4, 1857 delegates from 10 dioceses of the Episcopalian church convened on Monteagle Mountain led by Bishops Leonidas Polk of Louisiana and James Otey of Tennessee with the purpose of establishing a “University of the Southern States” to provide an Ivy League education far from corrupting Northern influences. The six ton marble cornerstone was laid and consecrated in 1860, only to be blown up by Illinois soldiers at the end of the Civil War.   Construction of the campus, stalled during the Civil War, was completed during the summer of 1868 with the University opening its doors to offer a variety courses. Sewanee’s original curriculum encompassed law, art, science, health and religious values. Schools of dentistry, engineering, law, medicine, and nursing once existed, and a secondary school was part of the institution into the second half of the twentieth century.

The University also has a rich agricultural history. As the campus expanded from a single cabin[39] that housed Bishop Otey, thousands of acres surrounding the multiplying buildings were enlisted to support the college.  Atop the 16,000 acre plateau, residents of Sewanee were hired to produce all the vegetables, grains, milk and eggs needed to sustain the University and community. Some relics of their remarkable productivity remain today. The former dairy processing facility and multiple barns stand in close proximity to the elegant campus buildings. The chapel and surrounding academic buildings are adorned with stone work, wrought iron and stained glass windows. The campus design has been compared to those of Stanford and Harvard, early rivals of the Sewanee athletic teams. As funding fluctuated, the University opted to drop many courses including nursing and dentistry, consolidating to more academic studies in the early 20th century. Today, the campus holds an average of 1,300 students during the school year and offers undergraduate liberal arts degrees and a new (2006) School of Letters[40] offering graduate degrees in literature and creative writing.

The study of Sewanee, Tennessee’s local food system is one of nine case studies conducted by the Resilience Project to explore resilience of local food systems in recalcitrant areas of the South. The purpose is to assess these areas through the lens of a hypothetical set of casual factors[41] which appear to occur in all resilient agricultural systems. These causal factors, as they are refined and tested, appear to be strong indicators of resilience on multiple scales. This case study augments the findings from other case studies in creating a practical resilience index for use by farmers, marketers, and others working in or building local food systems. We interviewed three key stakeholders in Sewanee’s local food system to understand what the challenges and successes have been. Through these Interviews we sought a variety of inputs and perspectives of the larger system of Sewanee.

The farm land surrounding the campus remained in use until the late 1960’s when it became less economical to maintain. Since the shut-down, the fields have largely been left fallow.  With most areas long overgrown with forest and brush, the decision in 2009 to revive the Sewanee Farm is an ambitious and monumental task. Until 2012 the only animals on the vast acreage were a few horses, owned by a faculty member, grazing the remaining pastures.

The Revival of a Food System: Students with Mission(s)

Sewanee has been experiencing its local food renaissance since 2003. The year was marked by the creation of a campus EcoHouse, the Environmental Residents Program,[42] the first Environmental Studies majors graduate, and for the first time since Aramark took over the catering services; the arrival of select local foods. Each year since then has been marked by significant changes and improvements by faculty and students to become (more) sustainable.

  • 2004 - Vice Chancellor Joel Cunningham signs the Talloires Declaration; University commits to buying clean energy through TVA’s Green Power Switch Program.
  • 2005- First Eco-Cup, an inter-dorm challenge to save energy and water, is held across campus.
  • 2006 - Community, students and faculty rally to save Lake Dimmick.
  • 2007 - Vice Chancellor Joel Cunningham signs the Presidential Climate Commitment that vows to move towards becoming a carbon neutral campus; Sewanee hires two new staff members focused on sustainability; hiring a Resident Sustainability Coordinator and Laurie Kianka is hired as the Sustainability Manager in Physical Plant Services (PPS)
  • 2008 - The EcoHouse concept moves to the new Green House on Alabama Avenue. The Green House has programming space, a garden in the backyard and begins work to build Hen Hall to house 12 chickens for eggs and educational purposes.
  • 2009-2010  - Sewanee hires designer and 2001 alum, Rocco Calandruccio as the Residential Sustainability Coordinator. Through his creative leadership and the work of the Environmental Residents (ERs), they re-focused their program, took on additional environmental responsibilities in the dorms, and initiated several meaningful efforts including: support of the Mountain Goat trail to Monteagle, successful community discussions focused on university sustainability efforts, an electric bike rental program, expansion of the "ER" position to fraternities and sororities, creation of a dedicated sustainability website including student produced videos/photos/text, the growth, and creation of, new environmental leadership positions, as well as the creation of an annual campus-wide dorm energy reduction competition. All of this has become known as: "Sustain Sewanee

Before a student arrives to the campus they encounter the above efforts made to transition the campus to sustainability. Sewanee highlights the “Green Life” of student living[43]. A student run website highlights “green” activities. Regularly updated by students to talk about new actions, plans and resources, the page keeps the university and the public aware of significant changes. For instance, the proposed Sustainability Master Plan (SMP) has been made official as of October 2013[44]. The SMP comes as a next step after the passing of the 2008 strategic plan and the signing of the Presidential Climate Commitment for Carbon Neutrality. The University has also hired an Assistant Provost for Sustainability and Environmental Stewardship as well as a Director of Sustainability. These two new hires have been working with the students and faculty since 2008 to create the SMP. There is a clear desire to continue to implement change moving into the future. As is the case with most new projects at the University, all this was made possible by the actions of the student body over the last ten years. The faculty work together with students to foster research projects which often involve examination of the University’s function and purpose.

When orchestrating these new ideas, the students illustrate a unique case of conservative flexibility. While conserving some traditions and University programs, there is an inherent over-flexibility in the nature of University life. In some ways the changing student body can be seen to conserve strong values and principles through their code of honor[45], which remains strongly upheld. Additionally, it was noted throughout our interviews on campus that the student body of Sewanee maintains a particularly reverent attitude. It appears this reverence has positively impacted the rate and nature of the changes made since 2003.

Conversely, it was also noted in our interviews that when the students lose interest in certain activities such as the recycling and composting program, they tend to fall by the wayside. As the students cycle through the university, their opinions and decisions influence the direction of University programs. One class cared deeply about the recycling and composting programs, engaging other students and faculty during their time at the University. After they graduated though, there remained few with the same enthusiasm for the program and none to lead. Without strong student participation both programs eventually ended, much to the chagrin of the Executive Chef Rick Wright. This has been seen over the years as a project started with great enthusiasm succumbs to the changing ideals and values of the students who come later.

Without a way to maintain consistent participation within the University, it is unpredictable what programs will remain. The proposed farm and farm school stand as one of many proposed ideas that receives inconsistent participation and support. The ever shifting nature of programs illustrates also the influence and impact of local control. Effecting how projects change depending on who is local to the campus at any given time. This can be seen in other industries and businesses with high turnover (i.e. service industry, temp jobs, or seasonal positions) where it becomes a challenge to establish norms[46]. Programmatic changes and revolutions in leadership/participants do encourage development and innovation. At this University’s rate of change though, it’s difficult for programs to mature or even be maintained. 

The desire to develop sustainable initiatives remains a facet of the university. With every new class there are new advancements made where old ideals fall away. Innovation flourishes with the support of faculty and the community around the university which remains tuned into the goings on, on campus. The continual development of the student operated website Sustain Sewanee[47] and a consistent cycle of residents in the EcoHouse all continue the tradition of sustainable development on campus. These actions echo a factor contributing to ecological resilience: periodic reformation[48].

As each new innovation occurs, the University reforms itself into something different. Sometimes, as we observed with the decline of the recycling and composting programs, the reformation doesn’t always result in a system which accomplished the University’s ecological goals. At other times, as with the renovation[49] of their golf course to be more sustainable and utilize past research on bio-diesel, reformation can create lasting and positive changes. The fact that research conducted in years past on biodiesel can endure long enough to influence present day issues bodes well for the revival of other programs and initiatives of value. Perhaps it is the reverent nature of the students, revering the ideas and creations of those before them. Combine this inclination to conserve good ideas with the honor code mandating conscious and right action and you have a university willing to overcome accepted norms for the sake of positive reform. The success of future endeavors is contingent on the value and magnitude of innovations in research. These innovations create newly formed programs that replace those that are released[50]. For instance, the research on Biodiesel was a valuable enough innovation to maintain validity through changes in the student body.

Through the continual development of new programs there are many potential opportunities for the students, as well as the surrounding community. One proposed idea is to develop a business plan to process kitchen scraps on site to create compost for use on campus. This compost could also be sold to the community, and beyond, depending on the scale of operations. Similarly, the research project on the feasibility of biodiesel would utilize fry oil from the cafeteria. This would save money on disposal and its use can be scaled to production. Their maintenance department has intentions of using the biodiesel in their vehicles, but the system has yet to be implemented.

These changes to a more sustainable future aren’t happening in isolation though. The town of Sewanee is carried in the momentum of changes occurring inside the campus walls.

A Town is its People

Sewanee is a small, insular place.  University staff have an overwhelming influence on the region.  When a strong personality comes into a prominent position in the University, they will have a powerful effect.  In 2009 Sewanee made an important addition to their staff in Rick Wright. He has spent his life working up the “brigade system” typical of restaurants and cafeterias.  From his start washing dishes in his teens he is now Executive Director for the University Dining Services. Throughout his life he has focused on health through food, doing his part to provide it through his kitchen. He recalls to us a quote from a past faculty member, “we are always looking for a technological advancement to fix our sociological problems" reminding us that he can’t fix the problem of poor eating by just providing healthy food. The change must come from a more substantial place, from the conviction and minds of those he caters to.

Chef Rick has been acutely aware of the social problem of food for many years now. He worked intimately with the Alton Park Development Corporation in Chattanooga passing on his knowledge to youth in urban areas. He tells us that often when he goes to a school to talk about fresh food, most children don’t know where their food comes from. Often, when asked about a tomato, or, an apple children just remark that they come from “The grocery store”. Rick does his part to explain those, and more mysterious things like potatoes and carrots that children are mystified to discover come from below the ground.

Since hiring Executive Chef Rick, the University has experienced a saltation[51] in Dining Services. Beginning, Chef Rick tells us, with changing one small thing that he had always hoped to change in previous dining halls without success: White rice, to brown. This may seem small to most casual observers, but the transition was a big deal for Chef Rick who is in tune with how nutrient deficit[52] white rice is. Additionally white rice is cheaper and people are used to it, unlike brown rice which maintains a kind of stigma for most people. Remarkably the whole Dining Services team was on board and soon there was no white rice to be found on campus. Soon thereafter Rick began looking for more ways to change the quality of the food and the direct experience of the students and faculty. He regularly asks himself, “How can I provide the healthiest food possible to my clients?” looking for ways to integrate more healthy options to the cafeteria.

Emergence of a Food Hub

As the University continues to change its focus to locally sourced products, it has affected the region around it as well. University of the South has facilitated organizations such as the South Cumberland Food Hub, [53] appropriately named “Rooted Here” to emphasize the local focus In 2010 the Food Hub was a shared idea between the University’s Executive Chef Rick Wright, and Jessica Wilson; a woman from a neighboring county and wife of the University Domain Manager. Jessica had been active in the local Sewanee Farmers Market for a number of years and Chef Rick was active in the local food system in Chattanooga. During his career working in Chattanooga he worked with local organizations to educate youth about where food comes from and connecting those children to local farmers through taste tests. Both food advocates, they met at a regional planning meeting and discussed their shared vision. After the meeting, Chef Rick and Jessica kept in contact and by reaching out to their own networks began to build the framework for what, in 2012, became The South Cumberland Food Hub. The South Cumberland Region is comprised of 4 counties (Grundy, Franklin, Marion and Sequatchie) on the Cumberland Plateau. Rick has remained as a prime purchaser through the University, and an advisor on the board. Jessica went on to write a USDA VAPG Grant that has funded the food hub’s office and administration. Their interaction is an example of modular connectivity[54] and complimentary diversity.[55] Both successful as individuals, they were able to expand their capacity by connecting their resources.

Chef Rick advises as a member of the Board of Directors, while Jessica Wilson has taken the position of President[56]. From their first conversation to now, Sewanee University has been a major contributor to the food hub. Most notably as their primary purchaser while school is in session with annual purchases made by Sewanee from the hub reaching nearly $80,000. The university is apparently a great benefactor for the food hub, but when we spoke with food hub administrator, Risa Brown, she tells us that the University does present some issues. Easy to lean on while school is in session, the summertime creates a vacuum for their produce. The hub has other purchasers, though none are of the magnitude of Sewanee. With the peak of production in summer, Risa as the marketer, struggles to find consistent buyers for the plentiful produce until fall with the return of Sewanee’s student body.  However, if she does find purchasers to pick up where the University drops off, there won’t be the same amount available to Sewanee when their fall semester begins again. The hub is struggling to find a way to diversify their sales while conserving the great connection that is the University.

This transition to a wider market could be made easier with more cooperation between growers to produce specifically for the University’s needs in Spring and Fall (e.g. with cole crops which love cooler weather or with hoop houses to produce heat loving crops earlier before the school year ends).  Hub administrator Risa tells us that fostering that cooperation has been their goal from the start, but remains a challenge to achieve. There are struggles with scale and interest. Some growers are much larger than others and can offer more consistency and dependability. This makes Risa’s job much easier than working with small scale producers. On the other hand, for Risa to keep focus on the hub’s original mission, she must work with small scale producers who sell as a supplemental income. Often the smaller scale growers are less interested in “scaling-up” to sell more to the food hub. With the food hub asking growers to sell their produce at wholesale, an average of 1/3 the price of retail, it’s not an enticing offer for those with direct marketing options. Many of the small scale growers already sell out at the local farmers market so it is difficult to entice them to sell their produce to the food hub.

Moreover those small scale growers aren’t often willing to strategize or invest time into growing specific crops they are not used to, or changing their management to produce within the school year. It is rare, Risa explains, to have growers who are excited to work in collaboration with her or other growers in the food hub. Consequently, Risa has been putting more attention on attracting mid-size growers in the area, but has been having difficulty in finding them. She says, “If they’re out there, they’re well hidden.”  Self-sufficient mid-size growers who can package their own produce are a rare and prized commodity. Risa continues to search for new farms nonetheless. Until she can find more, she aims to help existing farmers expand their production, while maintaining 2 other businesses and 2 daughters. “Time”, she tells us, “is my biggest obstacle”, explaining that she wishes she had more time to give to the food hub to build the marketing, production, and distribution. The VAPG grant pays Risa a marginal salary, but it isn’t enough for her to dedicate more time than she does already.

The USDA VAPG grant that has funded the hub for several years is due to end. This has happened on a smaller scale before during the October 2013 U.S. government shutdown. At that time requests for reimbursement remained unanswered by government staff. The food hub went into immediate action to conserve resources while maintaining production and distribution in the community. They weathered that period, but Risa has some trepidation about their ability to maintain activities over the long haul without the financial support of the grant. In particular she is worried about the winter season, wondering if meat and egg producers by themselves will be sufficiently remunerative to support the hub. One potential solution Risa hopes to someday act on is to hold over potatoes, onions and other coal crops during the winter to keep the food hub operational. They lack the storage space to do so now, though.

For the past two years the food hub has been crucial to the University’s success in purchasing 15 percent of their produce from local farmers. Without the hub, Chef Rick would have to go out to farms individually, or, go to farmers markets continually. With the University’s goal of 20 per cent local food, the continued success and growth of the food hub is crucial to meet their target. Chef Rick has worked in institutional cafeterias for decades and has only now been able to merge his desire to include local food into his menu. In years past when working for corporately owned cafeteria’s he would often have focused more on cutting costs. The industry term for an economically lean cafeteria is a “Cool Star Buffet” styling that offers high salt, high sugar, high carbohydrate buffets. The goal is to create a sense of high satisfaction while maintaining low participation. On the other hand, the Dining Services team at Sewanee is supportive of the “farm to table” style that Chef Rick prefers. Foodservice Director Wyatt Stewart often asks Rick how their team can “develop a foodservice program that is a role model for other food service programs for sustainability and education?”--a far cry from every other institutions Rick has served.  The cafeteria’s choice to become independent from Aramark, their former food source, has enabled them to create their own priorities. To take control, locally, of their menu and their purchases demonstrating the Local Control[57] component of resilient systems.

The food hub has offered Rick and the whole Dining Services team the opportunity to bring substantial amounts of local fresh vegetables and greens that otherwise might have been shipped from California. Chef Rick not only takes pride in serving the local food, it’s more than that. He and the foodservice director spend remarkable amount of resource on educating the students, and faculty, on what it means to eat locally.  Rick tells us too that, he wants students to understand how their diet changes their ability to absorb new information. As he sends out daily emails to the students and faculty he always includes a piece about healthy eating along with the day’s menu. As a final touch, the cafeteria is adorned with plaques showcasing what foods are local, and offering suggestions to help participants make healthier choices.

For Rick, what stands in contrast to these plaques is the presence of multinational corporations like Coca Cola advertising right next to the cooler providing local, RBGH-free milk. This is a double edged sword for Rick as he realizes that part of his sizable funding comes directly from contributions from Coca Cola. What Rick is hoping to avoid in the cafeteria is exactly what Coca Cola and its co-conspirators perpetuate: high salt, high sugar, high preservative diets. In his mind the food he serves from the cafeteria should help the students to achieve excellence in their studies. To accomplish this, he relies on the aid of whole grains, leafy greens, and quality proteins. As most chefs must do, Rick works with not only corporate sponsorship, but also the entrained tastes of his clientele. Chef Rick notes that students expect Coca-Cola, chicken nuggets, and pound cake because that’s what has been perpetuated for the several generations of American culinary life. Weaning students off these items too abruptly risks losing the ability to attract students, decreasing income to Food Services, and decreasing his ability to effect change.

A University and its Farm

As Chef Rick struggles with the cultural palate of Sewanee another institution at Sewanee is also fighting entrenched attitudes.  The University Farm reached its peak in the 1950’s, [58] feeding and teaching the student body while employing local residents for additional labor. It’s been a challenge for Gina Raicovich, farm manger, to find funding for the massive renovations, equipment, and labor needed to transform the landscape to its former glory. The plan for the farm school was initiated in 2012, the same year as the food hub. Unfortunately, the farm has been slow to gain significant support from the faculty or student body. Though the faculty and students like the idea of a large farm at the school, Gina remarks that, it’s just that: “a sexy idea” which has not attracted deep commitment. Gina was hired by Sewanee in 2012 to fill the role of Farm Manager for a 3 year term. A graduate of University of Montana with a masters in Environmental Studies, a bachelor’s degree in natural resources from Montana and a bachelor’s in sociology from Wesleyan University in 1998, the position seemed a perfect fit.

Her vision consists of a large farm school that would offer students more than just learning how to farm sustainably. She wants to teach them about permaculture design[59] and an array of farming principals while also providing leadership training and personal development. She sees students so concerned about turning papers in and studying for their next test that they miss out on development of practical skills. She wants to help students learn more about themselves as they face the real challenges of building a farm. She hopes to build classrooms in the old dairy facility to offer courses inside, as well as outdoors. These students would ideally help her guide the farm that would produce food specifically for the university. This hasn’t come to fruition as she had hoped, mostly due, she avers, to lack of funding from the university. She has managed to get a few projects running both on and off campus.

The Sewanee farm in 2013 and 2014 delivered 1,500 lbs. of produce and 8 head of cattle. The vegetable plots are managed and cared for by Gina and a student intern. The cattle are left over from a previous class project to research grazing. The cattle, though a nice addition to the tremendous demand from the cafeteria, pose an array of issues for Gina now that the project has ended. The herd, once cared for by a class conducting research, is now solely hers to manage throughout the year. If this were her only task, it would be more reasonable, but this comes as an addition to an already hefty workload maintaining the gardens, managing interns, and continuing to build infrastructure. This workload is her primary reason for petitioning the faculty to hire another farm hand to help with projects.

In addition to hiring another farm hand she has requested the renovation of the large dairy factory to turn it into a proper storage area, classrooms for the farm school, and housing for the proposed farm hand. This renovation would be a sizable investment by the university, and faculty has been slow to decide what kinds, and size, of investments to make.

In the meantime Gina has reached out to the community in and around Sewanee through the local farmers market. She offered to send them interns and in exchange asked that they teach students about their style of farming. Gina had initially wanted to send the students abroad or out of state to study at large scale sustainable agriculture farms, but when faced with lack of funding she has settled with sending the students to local farms instead. In this way she is exhibiting elements of resilience in terms of her conservative flexibility[60]. She had a desire to act on what she has known in the past to work: sending students’ great distances to learn new techniques. Instead, she shows flexibility in her utilization of local farms to create a similar outcome. As Sewanee’s farm grows Gina will soon have need to bring the interns to work primarily on the campus farm. She is discouraged by this as she likes the variety of experiences they receive outside of campus.

Gina Raicovich and Risa Brown are in similar situations regarding Sewanee. Gina, having started her employment with Sewanee with great enthusiasm, has made lots of advances. Though, as time has passed and University administrators are reluctant to fund her suggestions, she has become discouraged. Though growth is happening in Sewanee’s farm, Gina is losing enthusiasm for the project. She is so overwhelmed with all her tasks that even when out-of-state friends visit, they spend their time helping her build the farm.

Risa, brought on board at the inception of the South Cumberland Food Hub is still enthusiastic for the idea, but is low on energy to maintain it. The hub now is requiring more than ever, especially as the hub faces the end of its grant and Risa and the board of directors must find a way to ensure its financial viability. Risa must spend time caring for her daughters, two other businesses, and is busy trying to help existing farmers to meet current, and future, demands. She knows that as the hub expands beyond the university to other markets like Chattanooga, alternate school systems and restaurants the farmers must be more dependable.

Both the food hub and farm school lack elements of modular connectivity[61], conservative flexibility[62] and redundancy[63]. Modular connectivity is lacking in that both the farm and the food hub are reliant on connections that don’t offer consistent support, creating unstable conditions. Conservative flexibility is lacking in that there is a distinct need for innovation in both the farm and the hub, but innovation remains stunted by members’ attitudes and resources. Redundancy is missing in that there doesn’t appear to be anyone to come after them or to fill in for them during emergencies and without the aid of another they are both overwhelmed. These three elements are crucial in building the network of support that Risa needs to develop a greater food supply and to connect the markets outside of Sewanee. For Gina, until the university can foster a collective vision for the farm at Sewanee there will continue to be a lack support for her projects. Despite the theoretical support of faculty and students for the farm. So far the university has been dedicated to changing the policy of the school to support the idea, as opposed to physically building up the farm school.

These facts create a predicament for Chef Rick as he plans for the future of Sewanee Dining Services goals to purchase more local food. He remains hopeful that both the food hub and farm school will succeed in the long run, but what about the short term? He is proactive in the school, but similar to Gina lacks the capacity to effect changes in funding. This presents a big problem as no faculty members appear to be personally invested in the success of the farm school. As it stands, only faculty members can vote on new investments into infrastructure. To Gina, this is a misbalance of power where staff don’t have a voice at the table. Without presence at the faculty meetings, there is no way to tell how, or if, the farm has any support at all.

Recently, the Department of Environmental Studies at Sewanee hired a new faculty member and Gina has hopes of working together with him on projects between the farm school and students. Gina expresses with clarity the kind of projects that could be created between the different divisions of earth sciences. Gina is hoping to merge the efforts of the University’s forestry, water and climate studies efforts to create a unique farm wide effort. Unfortunately the new faculty member lacks the knowhow, or interest to help her. This leaves Gina unsure of how to bring about the change needed within the Environmental Studies department for future projects. Furthermore, the new faculty member stands to be a potential voice at the table during faculty meetings, but until she can foster connections with him, it’s unclear whether he is willing to make requests for funding.

Sewanee and the South Cumberland Food Hub sit upon a precipice. Many ideas have come to fruition in this local food systems including (the food hub and the university farm), but where will they go now? As Sewanee changes, how will these programs change with it? Chef Rick stated that he feels Sewanee, as a whole, is on a “true path”, bound to create, again, a hyper-local food system. He says this based on the stance of the university, and the culture of its residents. In terms of how long it will take, and with what sacrifices, remains unclear.

Near to Sewanee in Nashville and Chattanooga, local food systems are emerging that reflect the same values. Right now it appears that Sewanee is looking for a niche to fill. The University seeks to create a progressive example of Southern culture, to perpetuate ideals of sustainability and earth stewardship[64]. There seeing little need now to oppose the influence of the north, Sewanee stakeholders are now opposing the influences of multi-national corporations through their desire to focus on locally grown, healthy foods. Our interviewees have painted a picture of a region that is reverently aware of their ability to make distinct and lasting change that echo beyond their once isolated plateau.

Conclusion: Illustrating ecological resilience

Consistent with past ecological resilience research, Sewanee illustrates a number of resilience indicators.  Illustrating the beginnings of a complementary diverse system made up of supplier/producer relationships. The community itself is connected, but at this stage lacks the element of modularity, with each facet relying on the other for support. This is to be expected in the early development of any regional system as the individual players develop their roles, abilities, and systems and realize their limitations. The flexibility of the University students is balanced by the conservative nature of the greater community seeking to revive what was once a thriving agricultural economy. The University set clear intentions to create local control as they diverged from corporate control of their Dining Services and have been making strides to produce their own food through the University farm. The South Cumberland Food Hub, in similar fashion, is preparing to take ownership of itself with the eminent end of the USDA grant. In the meantime they’re working hard to develop the production needed to satisfy the market it’s solidifying around the region. The system as a whole is preparing for overall reformation in the food hub and the University. These two have a distinct impact on the regional farmers as they offer opportunities and expand potential markets beyond the Sewanee farmers market.

Sewanee can be observed to fall short on two other key indicators of resilience: redundancy and increasing physical infrastructure[65], and these two components are as crucial as the other six.  The South Cumberland Food Hub needs a storage space to protect produce over the winter and in its absence, it is difficult to maintain sales over the slower period of winter. On the other hand they have managed to purchase a delivery van that has enabled them to ship their products to purchasers. The University has also been reluctant to invest in physical infrastructure for the University Farm. 

The Dining Services of the University has addressed redundancy more than any other component of this local food system. With the department as a whole sharing Chef Rick’s vision, they create a buffer in case Rick moves on to another school. The food hub has the aid of its board of directors to create a similar buffer zone.  However, there is no clear replacement for hub manager Risa as grant funding dries up. This creates a precarious scenario for the food hub similar to Gina as manager for the University farm. Gina is a self-proclaimed “army of one” and, like Risa, if she were to leave by circumstance or choice it would derail much of the work she has done.

The reaction of the food hub to funding constraints and the decision to fund and staff well the farm school are both key upcoming challenges and decision points.  Ecological resilience models cannot yet forecast the level of resilience of this system, but our emerging model points to the precarious perch of this food system on Monteagle Mountain.

Farmers, philanthropies, butchers and chefs

transform the local food system in Chattanooga, Tennessee


Abstract. This study examines the evolution of a local food system in Chattanooga, Tennessee, through the lens of ecological resilience. Based on interviews, participatory observation, and supplementary research, this paper proposes a model of eight causal factors of ecological resilience: modular connectivity, local organization, ecological integration, building assets, redundancy, complementary diversity, conservative flexibility, and periodic transformation. The case of Chattanooga is used to illustrate how this model can be applied at multiple scales to examine system resilience. This study is one in a series of eight case studies of causal factors of ecological resilience in local food systems in regions of the Southern United States largely recalcitrant to local food system development.


I. Introduction

Nicknamed “the Sustainable Blue Collar Town,” Chattanooga, Tennessee, is a small but lively city marked by a history of unexpected turns of events. Chattanooga today is vibrant, open, and clean. Surrounded by Southeastern Tennessee’s rolling green mountains and parted by the Tennessee River, it possesses a natural radiance that has led the City of Chattanooga to dub itself “the Scenic City.” The streetscape is filled with sidewalks, small tucked-away parks, shrubs bursting into bloom, and an ever-growing number of new businesses.

This is a sharp contrast to the Chattanooga named the most polluted city in America in 1969.[66] Today, however, it stands as a pioneer of the South’s local food movement. Chattanooga’s journey from a declining industrial hub to a vibrant, environmentally progressive city is in many ways a story of resilience.

Chattanooga was one of many once-booming cities that harbored a deteriorating industrial core in the 1970s. Even as the factories shut down one by one, they left polluted water and air in their wake. However, municipal government partnered with local businesses and community development organizations to take industrial flight as an opportunity to reimagine Chattanooga as a livable city. In the 1970s, the City of Chattanooga set stricter emissions laws, which thanks to the coincident decline in industry, the city was able to meet. The emptied factory buildings in Chattanooga’s downtown also opened the opportunity for a pedestrian greenway system and an eco-industrial park to attract new businesses.[67]

Philanthropic interest played a large part in this transformation. A heart of funding Chattanooga’s 1970s about-face was the Lyndhurst Foundation. Lyndhurst Foundation, like several other Chattanooga philanthropies, was founded by a wealthy heir of Chattanooga’s industrial empire. [68] Lynwood was founded under the name of the Memorial Welfare Foundation in 1938 by Thomas Cartter Lupton, a pioneer of Coca-Cola Bottling Company. Following Lupton’s death in 1977, the foundation changed its name to Lyndhurst in reference to a Lupton family home. It was at this time that the Lyndhurst Foundation reorganized and set the inner city revitalization of Chattanooga as its main priority.[69] Other critical philanthropies involved in Chattanooga’s revitalization included Chattanooga Venture, RiverValley Partners, Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise, and the Chattanooga Institute for Sustainable Cities and Business. RiverValley Partners, which focuses on local economic development, and Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise, which brings community voice into urban planning, were involved in the creation of a master plan to revitalize Chattanooga’s declining core.[70]  The master plan, which included the creation of Tennessee Aquarium, making the land along the Tennessee River public, the creation of an eco-industrial park, and neighborhood improvement has largely been implemented. Of the key organizations involved in Chattanooga’s transformation, Chattanooga Venture, River Valley Partners, and Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise were all essentially launched and funded by the Lyndhurst Foundation.[71]

Since 2010, Chattanooga’s clique of philanthropies has turned its eye to the emerging local food scene. This is most evident in the Gaining Ground Initiative, a 2010 plan that provided funding and support in Chattanooga to increase farmer’s markets, strengthen relationships between farmers and chefs, and contribute to a local food infrastructure. The Benwood Foundation, the funding force behind the Gaining Ground Initiative, also rests on an industrial legacy. It began in 1944 with the generous gift of George Thomas Hunter. Hunter was the nephew of Ben Thomas, founder of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company. After his uncle’s death, Hunter became the president of Coca-Cola. Benwood is named in honor of Hunter’s Uncle Ben.[72] Since Hunter’s death, Benwood has been an active player in the development of Chattanooga, most recently—and most significantly to this study—in building a local agricultural network.

However, it would be inaccurate to say that Chattanooga’s fast-rising local food impetus is fully the result of Gaining Ground. About 15 years before Benwood’s involvement, Bill and Miriam Keener of Sequatchie Cove Farm had already launched their own local agriculture enterprise. The Keeners are among the pioneers of Chattanooga’s local food movement, and their legacy is a series of restaurants, farmers, vendors, and processors dedicated to supporting local agriculture. To understand Chattanooga’s local food movement outside of philanthropic influences, this study incorporates interviews with three enterprises that essentially began on their own: Bill Keener, of Sequatchie Cove Farm; Mike Mayo, of the Farmer’s Daughter restaurant; and Dan Key, of Main Street Meats, a local butcher’s shop. Though philanthropy has played a role in the development of Chattanooga’s local food network, it is made evident through the interviews we conducted that non-profits like the Benwood Foundation primarily aided a movement that was already happening at the grassroots level.

This article is an assessment of the ecological resilience of Chattanooga’s local food system. It is one of nine case studies of resilient local food systems in recalcitrant areas across the Southern United States. Ecological resilience is a measure of 1) how much change a system can undergo before fundamentally changing; 2) the extent to which a system can self-organize; and 3) an increasing capacity for adaptation.[73] [74] It proposes a model where a resilient system goes through four phases based on natural cycles: 1) growth (r); 2) conservation (K); 3) release (Ω); and 4) reorganization (α).[75] While past literature on ecological resilience has identified indicators of resilient systems, this study aims to understand the causal factors underlying ecological resilience. We argue that there are eight components that must be present in order for a system or individual enterprise to be ecologically resilient: modular connectivity, local organization, ecological integration, building assets, redundancy, complementary diversity, conservative flexibility, and periodic transformation. This article will begin with a description of the enterprises and systems we observed in Chattanooga, follow with an analysis of our observations according to the eight components of ecological resilience, and conclude with reflections on Chattanooga’s overall ecological resilience.

II. The Pioneers

Bill and Miriam Keener of Sequatchie Cove Farm are widely credited as the pioneers of Chattanooga’s local agriculture. Tucked among the misty, rolling mountains that border Chattanooga’s suburbs, Bill and Miriam launched the farm in the mid-1990s. Miriam, a horticulturalist, wanted to move there to start her own native plan nursery. Bill had no farming background of his own. However, through a friend he came to know a circle of influential and alternative farmers, such as Joel Salatin, Wendell Berry, and David Klein. With the advice of alternative farming mentors, Bill brought these methods to the Chattanooga area.

Sequatchie Cove has already lived through many massive changes to its infrastructure. In the past, Sequatchie Cove ran on a Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, model that served 100 to 150 participating community members, providing them with vegetables and fruit. This was among the first local food enterprises conducted in Chattanooga. Through time, the Keeners have produced honey, shitake mushrooms, poultry, sheep, pigs, cheese, and beef. The farm also offered pick-your-own berries, an enterprise that continues today. Bill has found that while bringing community members onto the farm can be troublesome and time consuming, it is also a critical venue through which most of the Keener’s other goods, such as cheese and honey, are sold through their on-farm stand. Though it retains a diversity of products, the Keeners no longer hold a CSA and instead focus on beef and dairy.

To raise cattle, Bill Keener employs methods widely considered more resilient than conventional techniques. Following in the footsteps of farmers like Joel Salatin, Bill uses rotational grazing, dividing his 100 acres of pasture into long, skinny paddocks. Each day he moves the cattle to a new paddock, so that the top quarter of the plant, which holds the most energy, is eaten, and the rest of the grass is trampled and left to grow back. In the many years he’s done cattle for beef and dairy, Bill never ceases to experiment with breeds. He tells us that the only variety he’s sworn off of is Milking Devons, after one of the bulls charged him and cut his leg with one of its long horns. Despite their newfound distaste for the Milking Devons, the Keeners have been focusing more on their milk cows, since they got into cheese-making about five years ago.

"Dairy affects everything in itself to this whole next level,” Bill told us as we walked down the dirt road through his pastures. “Everything’s got to be perfect, every single day.” Plus, he explained, the steep learning curve and the expensive equipment involved in cheese making forced the Keeners to concentrate all of their resources and energy on the dairy. To compensate, Bill and Miriam were forced to abandon several of their other enterprises, including the CSA. Another reason to move on from the CSA was that the Keeners realized that in order to truly make a livable wage from the CSA, they would have to serve at least 200 community members, a growth spurt that would require enormous investments in both time and equipment. In order to follow through on the cheese business, the CSA could not progress. Bill told us that in retrospect, though the cheese business is finally starting to become both manageable and successful, reducing the diversity of the farm was a mistake.

Sequatchie Cove is now at a decision point where the Keeners are considering whether to diversify again or to downsize. The Keeners have passed off the cheese business to an enthusiastic intern, Nathan, who suggested they start it in the first place, and this has freed their resources and their attention again. Ultimately, Bill tells us, the direction that Sequatchie Cove Farm takes next will depend on his son, Kelsey. Based on an Amish model that Bill admires, the Keeners are slowly selling their farm to Kelsey, piece by piece, so that by the time they’re ready to stop farming, Kelsey will already be the legal owner of the farm, and the Keeners will be able to retire from the sale. The continuation of the Keener’s legacy is also visible in their daughter, Ann, who runs a local food café in Chattanooga, appropriately called the Farmer’s Daughter. Beyond their children and other successors, though, the Keeners have also contributed to the local food scene in being among the first in the area to maintain a prosperous small-scale farm.

A more recent local food development built on the success of the Keeners, but from inside the Chattanooga city limits, is Crabtree Farms. It sits on what used to be a privately owned old farmstead in the middle of the city. The owners didn’t have any desire to use the property but wanted it to remain as an agricultural site. After years of neglect, the twenty acres was largely overgrown with weeds and the buildings were beginning to degrade. In 2009, a young man named Joel Houser show an interest in the property. He and his wife were interested in homesteading and had a strong desire to farm. After some long discussions between the owners, the couple, and city officials the 20-acre site was turned into a land trust for sustainable agriculture. After a few years and a brokering attorney, the homestead was in the hands of the couple for just a dollar per year. The Housers hit the ground running, opening a community garden, building a farm stand to sell produce and networking farmers to later create the Main Street Farmers Market. While making all these connections, they began surveying producers to create a report on local food. This was a final straw that got some philanthropies interested in local food systems.

III. Philanthropic Leadership

Partially due to the success of the Keeners and the Housers, the Benwood Foundation, a Chattanooga philanthropic organization, established the Gaining Ground Initiative. An initial goal was creation of more farmer’s markets. To create resilient local food systems, it was not enough that the Keeners and other farmers multiplied and replaced themselves. Vendors also needed to multiply in order to both generate awareness of local food and supply its growing demand. Chattanooga Market, the only existing farmer’s market prior to Gaining Ground, worked together with Benwood Foundation to network farmers in the Chattanooga area and support the development of new farmer’s markets

 In 2010 the Benwood Board of Trustees commissioned a survey of business leaders and individuals to discover what the community of Chattanooga felt needed the most support. The result of the survey unveiled that there was an enormous desire for local food initiatives. From there, Benwood took the lead. It created the Gaining Ground Initiative, with Jeff as Program Director, to given actors in Chattanooga’s food scene the support they needed financially and organizationally to grow.

At the time, the only local food vendors in the city were Crabtree Farms and Chattanooga Market. There were also a handful of high-end restaurants, such as Market Restaurant 212 and Saint John’s.  Loopy’s Pizza, a more casual joint, also tried to buy local produce and meat when possible. Greenlife Grocery, a food vendor that bought the surplus of local vendors, used to be at the heart of the movement. However, Whole Foods bought it out. Though there is now a Whole Foods store in Chattanooga, it buys far fewer local goods that Greenlife Grocery did. There were also some communities within Chattanooga that had taken matters into their own hands by hosting “Slow Food” nights, where local chefs were invited to cook a community meal with exclusively local ingredients.

Meanwhile, Jeff and the Gaining Ground Initiative were also working to coordinate a chef’s collective. Many chefs and restaurant owners expressed a desire to incorporate more local ingredients into their menu, but kept running into road blocks. After several long hours of discussion together, it became evident that chief among the difficulties chefs had were lack of communication with farmers. Chefs rarely had the time to network with individual farmers, found it challenging to coordinate pick-up times that were convenient for both parties, and weren’t always able to coordinate their menus with what farmers had to offer. When the Gaining Ground Initiative phased itself out in 2013, the chef’s collaborative had failed to fully materialize on its own. However, the discussions that the chefs had among themselves and with farmers produced some valuable results.

One result was the creation of Eat Up Cookbook Series, a compilation of recipes from local chefs, farmers, and other regional producers. Each new book had a new set of recipes with a different theme. The books educated the consumers on how to cook with local or seasonal ingredients. Since Gaining Ground distributed the books only at farmer’s markets, picking up the book also required customers to actually attend a farmer’s market, exposing some people to the markets for the first time.

Another result of the chef’s collective was that after talking with farmers, some chefs discovered ways to incorporate more locally produced foods into their menus. Several restaurants around Chattanooga now use some degree of local food. One such new restaurant is the Farmer’s Daughter, a breakfast and lunch café. Though the café has only been open for six months, it’s already thriving.

Chattanooga Market also worked with Gaining Ground to develop the Harvested Here logo, which certifies that an item has been produced within 100 miles of Chattanooga. This label was part of Gaining Ground’s desire to shift the emphasis in the burgeoning food scene from “sustainable practices” to “transparent practices.” Their goal was to bring business to local farmers, ranchers, and food producers, many of which are not necessarily certified organic of naturally grown. However, as the Keeners noted, through their CSA and pick-your-own-berries, keeping a farm transparent and open to potential customers often encourages people to buy more. Harvested Here has become a ubiquitously recognized symbol of community and local autonomy in Chattanooga.

By the end of its run in 2013, the Gaining Ground Initiative could count many successes among its endeavors.  There are now so many farmer’s markets that Jeff Pfitzer has lost count of exactly how many there are. Harvested Here restaurant week, in which certain restaurants feature local foods, is in its fifth year and increasingly popular. However, one of the greatest obstacles chefs continued to face was the lack of an established distribution network for farmers and restaurants. One of Gaining Ground’s final accomplishments was establishing a food hub to make distribution more efficient for farmers and chefs alike.

Towards the end of the Gaining Ground Initiative, Jeff caught word that the Chattanooga Area Food Bank was talking about focusing on sustainable, community-oriented agriculture. Gaining Ground and its farmers were looking for a way to launch a food hub, and the food bank’s mission seemed to align well with the prospective food hub. Through the last of the Gaining Ground funding, Jeff and farmers worked with the Chattanooga Area Food Bank to establish a food hub that Chattanooga Area Food Bank continues to run today.

Looking back at Gaining Ground, Jeff tells us, one piece that was missing was an emphasis on processors. Chattanooga now has a growing supply of farmers and local food vendors, but for goods like meat, there usually must be an intermediary actor to cut and prepare an item for sale. Although the Gaining Ground Initiative had less emphasis on supporting processors, some have sprung up in Chattanooga of their own accord.

IV. Beyond farmer’s markets: processing, retail and a complete food system

While Benwood played a crucial role in stimulating farmer’s markets and raising awareness of local food, private individuals have been the source of innovations beyond the farm scale.  The Farmer’s Daughter is named for Ann Mayo, Bill and Miriam Keener’s daughter, who co-owns the café with her husband, Mike Mayo. We caught up with Mike one sunny afternoon as he was busy filling in for the dishwasher, who called in sick. The Farmer’s Daughter is housed in a quaint white building with an enormous, slanted overhand that casts shade on a dozen happy diners in the Chattanooga morning sun. Astonishingly, the building used to be an Exxon Mobile gas station, which Mike transformed himself with small crew into a small café. Mike tells us that he and Ann both used to work at Greenlife Grocery, and decided to open a restaurant together at the suggestion of their former boss, Greenlife Grocery’s owner, who also leased them the building.

Part of the success of the Farmer’s Daughter is the combination of fortunate circumstances. Mike and Ann already knew several farmers in Chattanooga, at least in part thanks to Ann’s own upbringing. Mike was also raised in a small business background. His mother was an advertising executive in Nashville, and his father had an office furniture business. It was the culmination of all of these pieces that made a restaurant the perfect fit. “It’s kind of this perfect storm, right?” Mike says. Through the backgrounds they brought to the table and Mike’s carpentry skills, they were able to do themselves what most businesses would have to pay a consultant for.

Another factor in Mike and Ann’s success is their balance between pursuing their values and finding a place in the existing market. Echoing the conclusion of the chef’s collective, Mike told us that one of the biggest challenges of running a local food café is that there isn’t much of an existing network of farmers. The Farmers Daughter has essentially created its own distribution network, drawing on relationships that they had already developed with the surrounding agricultural community. Sourcing the café locally required the Farmer’s Daughter to place orders far more in advance than conventional restaurants, and it also necessitates that their menu is seasonal. Mike explained that part of planning local meals is explaining to customers that some items taken for granted as conventional, such as BLTs, are actually only seasonal for a limited time during the year, and therefore not usually served at the Farmer’s Daughter. Out-of-season, shipped tomatoes are not up to the quality the Farmer’s Daughter strives for.

Aside from cobbling together their own supply system, the Farmer’s Daughter runs within a conventional model.  Mike said that 30 percent of the café’s budget is spent on food, 30 percent on labor, 35 percent on other expenses, and about 5 percent profit for Mike and Ann. Their menu prices, too, are reasonable. “It’s something that everyone else is trying to sell the American people, that local agriculture is expensive,” says Mike. “We’re making money like every other restaurant in America.”

The trick, Mike told us, is “finding the balance between being approachable and pushing the culture forward.” The Farmer’s Daughter strives to create a culinary and philosophically exciting menu, with the primary goal of supporting local farmers. Mike realizes, though, that Chattanooga culture is not quite on the same page yet. Ann and Mike incorporate some unusual items into their menu, such as baked quinoa dishes, but also have approachable favorites, such as a chicken salad sandwich. Mike and Ann are both fulfilling their vision of a culturally progressive and ecologically responsible menu, while maintaining a flourishing customer base. Essentially, Mike and Ann are transforming their customer base even as they serve them.

The Farmer’s Daughter also supplements this transformation through an effort to educate their customers on how to eat locally and why. The café hosts about two workshops a month on food-related skills like canning, and invite local artists and potters to present their work at the café. Through continual reformation of its customer base, the Farmer’s Daughter is in the process of creating a demand for and interest in its own values among the community.

The Farmer’s Daughter is but one instance of an emerging local food restaurant in Chattanooga. Right now, the young enterprise purchase more local food than any other restaurant in the city. Ann and Mike are pioneering their own path to a commercially successful, profitable business that still espouses their commitment to local agriculture. Though the chef’s collective initiated by Gaining Ground aimed to establish networks between farmers and chefs, it still takes a passionate and organized restaurateur to source locally.

V. It takes a supply chain

The need for passionate, organized management for local food system success is also illustrated by Dan Key, owner of Main Street Meats. Bill Keener had pointed out Main Street Meats as one of the vendors he regularly sells beef to. While visiting the Keeners at their stand in the Chattanooga Market, we came across Main Street Meats. Nestled next to a bakery, the shop is one piece of Southside’s burgeoning downtown revival. We pass through streets packed with public art, hip restaurants and boutiques. The landscape is a mishmash of dingy buildings and broken windows alongside freshly painted storefronts with chic lighting.

Early one morning on our way out of Chattanooga, we stop by Main Street Meats for an interview with Dan, who warmly welcomes us in and offers us coffee. He’s impeccably dressed, and it’s quickly apparent that he’s also sharp and well-rounded. It should come as little surprise, then, when Dan tells us that he used to be an economist. Dan, originally trained in economics at North Carolina University, is retired from a long career beginning with banking and ending as the Executive Vice President of sales, marketing, and branding for a large world-wide apparel business. As a child, however, he spent a great deal of time with his grandparents, who were tobacco farmers in Appalachia. Dan says his time with them taught him the value of hard work, along with the relationship between work and food. His grandfather also taught him salt and cure meats to keep them for winter. These lessons were on Dan’s mind when he was on a bike ride with a friend, Jim Johnson, and he that what Chattanooga really needed was a butcher shop, and that Dan himself would be the right person to do it.

In 2010, Jim introduced him to Mark Moore and Tom Montague, owners of Link 41, a USDA certified butcher’s shop in Chattanooga. Mark had been hoping to expand the business beyond the small-scale farmer’s market sales he was then making and open up a full-sized shop. After talking, Dan and Jim agreed to merge their business plan with Link 41’s existing LLC. Together, they obtained a loan to convert the space next to Link 41’s kitchen into a storefront. Thanks to their LLC partnership, Main Street Meats didn’t need to create all-new facilities, only a space to sell specialty meats and value-added products. Dan’s past life as an economist came in handy as he generated business plans and marketing strategies for the shop. One of his main tasks, he tells us, was developing relationships to farmers to ensure a regular supply of meat.

Developing modular connectivity has been a balancing act for Dan. He knows that farmers need a regular income, so he purchases roughly the same order every week from a given array of farmers:  Since these farmers know Dan will buy from them on a weekly basis, they have adopted the preferred breeds of pork and cattle for Main Street Meats. Dan also asks his farmers to keep track of the animals’ feeding and care so that is a batch of meat is amiss, they can detect what caused it. In promising such regular business, Dan realizes that he makes some sacrifices on behalf of Main Street Meats. For example, sometimes he has to buy meat that isn’t up to par and donates it to the local food pantry instead of selling it. Though keeping an array of farmers allows Dan to be modular, but through the web of relationships he is developing, Dan most certainly is connected to the community around him.

Part of this connection is not only to farmers, but literally to his location itself. Dan has demonstrated a clear commitment to Southside Chattanooga. He tells us that the rise of businesses in the neighborhood has made the streets and sidewalks busier with the deliveries and crowds that popular stores generate. There have been some complaints about sidewalk pandemonium from residents, but Dan hopes that residents will understand that a busy street is a successful one. He tries to be supportive of other businesses emerging in the neighborhood and develop relationship with them. Niedlov Bakery, next door to Main Street Meats, is one example of such a partnership. Niedlov was a local favorite long before Main Street Meats came to fruition, and the bakery has been extremely supportive of the butcher’s shop. In return, Dan buys Niedlov rolls for the lunchtime meals he sells. To Dan, in order for Main Street Meats to be successful, Southside must be successful too. He notes that in the not-too-distant past, Southside was in decay and generally looked down upon by Chattanooga’s residents. With Southside’s recent revival, he’s come across several new customers that otherwise had not ventured into the neighborhood for years. Dan’s butcher shop and other locally-oriented food venues are part of this revival.

The stories that Dan Key, Bill Keener, Jeff Pfitzer and Mike Mayo told us are all part of a larger revival: that of Chattanooga. Since hitting the environmental rock bottom in 1970, the city has been motivated to change its ways and its reputation. Mike thinks that philanthropy has been a critical tool in supporting local food initiatives in a predominantly working class town. The Benwood Foundation and its Gaining Ground Initiative illustrate that well. There’s no doubt that philanthropy has shaped the face of Chattanooga’s local food system. However, we assert that it was not money alone that enabled the city to do an about-face. Mike Mayo’s own business is an example of how many actors in the local food system have emerged without charitable contributions. Additionally, the Gaining Ground Initiative’s programming was implemented in many ways that touch upon the components of resilience. The result is that Chattanooga, once the most polluted city in America, is blooming with the attributes of a resilient city.

V. Assessing Resilience in Chattanooga

Modular Connectivity

It is significant that all of our interviewees knew each other, not only on a personal basis, but on a professional basis. Main Street Meats regularly buys from Sequatchie Cove Farm, which also supplies to the Farmer’s Daughter. Looking sequentially, it is evident that at least indirectly, Sequatchie Cove Farm and other farms like it are part of the reason that both Main Street Meats and the Farmer’s Daughter came into existence. Dan Key revealed to us that one of his primary inspirations for opening up a butcher’s shop was that there was no other enterprise filling its role as a community-conscious processor. Similarly, the Mike and Ann Mayo observed that Chattanooga has the agricultural capacity to support a mainly local café, and that the existence of such a business would greatly benefit nearby farmers, such as Ann’s father. Both Mike and Dan told as that relationships with the farmers they buy from are at the heart of their businesses. Sometimes this relationship means that convenience or even short-term profit takes a sacrifice—as demonstrated by Dan, who buys meat even when it isn’t up to par, and Mike, who organizes food orders several weeks in advance. The Gaining Ground Initiative also put relationships with farmers at the front of their agenda. Though the chef collaborative never fully materialized, it is clear that the initial meetings did help some chefs build bridges with farmers.

Another outcome of the Gaining Ground Initiative was the recognition that it is not enough for farmers and chefs to have relationships. Farmers must also build relationships with each other. As nearly all of our interviewees told us, the biggest challenge facing local food vendors is that there is not yet a common distribution network for farmers to participate in. Though the Chattanooga Area Food Bank has taken up the dual function of a food hub, it was clear from our meetings with the Farmer’s Daughter and Main Street Meats that there are still hurdles to overcome in a building common local agriculture network. “At some point before the market need is there,” Mike said, “small producers have to figure out how to leverage their infrastructure, their delivery networks to help one another, knowing that a rising tide raises all ships.”

Relationships with consumers is another component of Chattanooga’s connectivity. Each individual actor we spoke to within Chattanooga expressed the importance of building relationships with their customer base. For Sequatchie Cove Farm, the sale of goods directly to customers depends on the customers being willing to pay more for cheese, vegetables, honey or beef that has been produced near their homes. Bill thinks that the ability of customers to see the actual farm where everything is created plays a large role in the value customers place on buying locally. For the Farmer’s Daughter and Main Street Meats, whose customers don’t necessarily see the farms where the food was made, relationships often come in the form of education. Mike Mayo hosts workshops at his restaurant, but his servers also take the time to explain why they don’t offer BLTs year-round, which according to Mike is a strong lesson in seasonal eating. Dan also feels that the value of his meat in large part comes from teaching his customers about the meat they’re eating, and the differences and benefits of each cut. The Gaining Ground Initiative sought to build relationships with potential local food consumers. The creation of Taste Buds, the Chattanooga local food guide, and the Eat Up Chattanooga Cookbook were resources for customers to learn how to find and cook seasonal local foods. In the Chattanooga approach, relationships between producers, vendors, and customers are recognized as necessary components in a fully functional local food system.

In addition to the connectivity we see in Chattanooga, each piece and actor within the system has the modularity to stand alone when necessary. Sequatchie Cove Farm is perhaps the clearest example of this, as it was the first piece of this network to come into existence and has proven that the Keeners can make local farming work even without an infrastructure to support them. The Farmer’s Daughter depends on the success of nearby farmers for their supply, but as Mike Mayo pointed out to us, “nearby” can be a flexible term. That means the restaurant uses Chattanooga’s farmer network, but it also taps into other local food systems that are reasonably close, such as Nashville’s. The Chattanooga Market also casts a broad net for its hinterlands. It welcomes vendors not only from Tennessee, but also from Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.[76] At each scale, from an individual farmer to the City of Chattanooga itself, the web of connections is drawn appropriately large enough to ensure that the fall of any one piece of the system would not spell its destruction.

Defining “local” is a critical part in determining the width of each web of connectivity. The Keener’s definition of local is limited to their manpower and resources—that is, how far they can afford to travel before the expenses outweigh the profit. As a direct producer of food, the farmer does not get to determine what “local” means at the vendor’s scale. The vendors, such as Chattanooga Market, Main Street Meats, and the Farmer’s Daughter determine what “local” means by the circumference through which they’re willing to buy and sell food. In each case, “local” is a flexible term determined by individual actors within the food system.[77] The power that actors within Chattanooga have over defining what they consider to be local is a form of local autonomy.

Locally Organized

Local autonomy is significant and clearly visible in Chattanooga’s approach to food. The emphasis on a local food system is a significant move toward community autonomy in an agricultural system that typically defaults to shipped foods.[78] Sequatchie Cove Farm was among the leaders of buying locally in Chattanooga, with the introduction of the area’s first CSA system. It is also one of the area’s foremost producers of local meat and cheese, for which there is an ever-rising demand in the city.[79] Furthermore, by cutting out complete dependence on fertilizers and pesticides, Sequatchie Cove Farm itself makes itself more autonomous over its processes. Main Street Meats also finds itself less dependent on the twists and turns of the meat industry. Dan told us that there was a disease hitting pigs last year that caused pork prices to skyrocket. Main Street Meats, however, was able to keep prices stable, since local farmers were not affected by the blight afflicting industrial hog producers. The City of Chattanooga, too, exerts autonomy in defining for itself what “local” means through the use of the Harvested Here logo. Though it poses some challenges, buying and selling locally grant the community some autonomy from the broader agricultural system, and even the regulations imposed by federal organic and local certification. Chattanooga’s climate is also nearly ideal for agriculture, which contributes to the possibility of local autonomy.

Ecological Integration

Ecological integration was a less prevalent theme in Chattanooga, but it appeared in a few significant ways. Ecological integration is apparent in the ability of an actor or system to be productive while working with, not against, their natural setting. It is to the good fortune of the city that it is situated between the Appalachian Mountains and the Cumberland Plateau. This setting is nearly ideal for farming in the United States. The naturally-occurring rich soil, abundant water resources, and relatively temperate weather allow for 42 different types of fruits and vegetables to flourish in the Chattanooga area, as well as cattle, pigs, and poultry.[80] Ecological integration also emerges at the individual level.

Sequatchie Cove Farm provides perhaps the strongest illustration of ecological integration that we found in Chattanooga. The farm uses the rotational grazing method, also known as the management-intensive grazing method. This method uses the natural environment to its advantage. Rather than harvesting a single type of grain to feed cattle, the Keeners allow the grass to grow naturally and use the timing of when they allow cattle into paddocks as a way to manage the growth of the grass. In the rotational grazing method, the definition of “weeds” is reduced to anything the cattle won’t eat. Over time, Bill pulls out weeds, so that eventually the paddock becomes relatively weed-free. The manure from the cattle is also left in the paddock as a natural fertilizer. In this way, the grass and the cattle perpetuate each other’s growth.

Increasing Physical Infrastructure

The Keener’s slow cultivation of their paddocks is also an illustration of building physical assets. Building assets is investing in resources and infrastructure. At a farm level, Sequatchie Cove Farm has done this by cultivating grass fields that are ideal for grazing, the construction of cheese processing plant, and through the use of solar panels to power the cheese processing plant.  By investing in their infrastructure and non-monetary resources, the Keeners improve their resilience to fluctuations in the economy and the market.

The Farmer’s Daughter and Main Street Meats built assets as vendors by investing in their physical infrastructure. For the Farmer’s Daughter, Mike Mayo actually participated in the transformation of the shell of a gas station into a charming, rustic diner space with a certified kitchen. Main Street Meats’s partnership with Link 41 allowed them to forgo building a new kitchen and invest the majority of their resources into a LEED certified storefront, which features not only a counter but a cozy set of tables and chairs for diners to enjoy their meals. Meals sold at Main Street Meats not only uses meat from the shop but also the bread rolls from neighboring Niedlov Bakery. By using other products form the neighborhood, and even by donating meat that isn’t quite sellable to a nearby soup kitchen, Main Street Meats seizes every opportunity to not only to invest in its storefront, but to invest in the actual neighborhood itself.

Chattanooga at large has been investing in its green infrastructure since the 1970s. By replacing hollowed factories with greenways, parks, and an eco-industrial complex, the city and organizations invested in the city have steadily transformed Chattanooga into an environmental leader of its region. The Gaining Ground Initiative, funded by the Benwood Foundation was only the latest in a decades-old history of partnerships between municipal government, non-profits, and local businesses to invest in Chattanooga as a resilient and relatively self-sustaining city. By aiding the launch of new farmer’s markets in particular, Gaining Ground directly shaped the cityscape in a way that supported its overall capacity for a local food economy.


Key stakeholders in Chattanooga appear to recognize the importance of redundancy on multiple scales. At the micro scale, individual actors—such as farmers, vendors, and processors—must have a way of a) replacing themselves to continue their legacy and b) fostering enough similar existing enterprises to be able to support whatever demand is generated. Sequatchie Cove Farm is a strong model of this. Although Bill and Miriam are not yet looking to retire, they have already initiated the process of talking in depth with their son about taking over the farm, piece by piece. Their experiences also supported their daughter Ann in establishing the skills and networks necessary to open a local food café. Similarly, they have put Nathan, their intern, in a place to take over their cheese business. The lone example of Sequatchie Cove Farm hardly suggests that all individual actors of the Chattanooga food system exhibit redundancy. However, the Gaining Ground Initiative’s emphasis on redundancy is a promising sign. One of the initiative’s key moves was multiplying the number of farmer’s markets in Chattanooga, something that the existing markets were in favor of, recognizing that generating more awareness of and demand for local food outweighed the potential economic competition.

Concurrently and perhaps significantly, most farms in and around Chattanooga are small, locally-owned farms. Between 2002 and 2007, there was actually a significant increase in small farms, especially for farms of less than 50 acres. In the same period, there was a decrease in overall farm acreage by 2 percent, largely due to the fall of large farms in the area.[81] Currently, smaller farms in Greater Chattanooga are experiencing a boom in redundancy, while large farms are dissipating. Despite this, most of the overall agricultural income in the area can still be attributed to large-scale farms.[82] Bill Keener actually told us about his desire for more farmers like himself. Sequatchie Cove Farm has outgrown small-scale farmer’s markets and moved into the league of mid-sized farmers. The difficulty is that since there are so few mid-sized farmers in Chattanooga, the marketing opportunities are not yet able to support them. Farmer’s markets generally generate enough revenue for small-scale and beginning farmers, and large farms have no trouble eking out a place in the market. The competition that more mid-sized farms might create for Bill and Miriam is outweighed by the value of having a collaborative market force. In the case of local food, redundancy is about more than generating healthy competition and replacing retiring systems. It’s about creating demand through collaborative networks and giving traction to a new (and yet old) approach to food.

Complementary Diversity

Complementary diversity is another critical component to the creation of a local food network. It refers to a wide array of potential goods or services that could be offered so that the failure of one does not determine overall failure or success. It is critical that this diversity also be complementary, or are appropriate to each other. In the case of Chattanooga, complementary diversity manifests primarily at the level of the individual actor. The Farmer’s Daughter provides both “culinarily exciting” dishes as well as reliable favorites like chicken salad sandwiches to be both approachable to more hesitant customer and intriguing to forward-thinking foodies. By sourcing from a variety of farmers, the Farmer’s Daughter protects itself from disaster in case one farmer or rancher falls through. Main Street Meats also buys from an array of farmers and offers a diversity of services. A customer can buy a cut of meat to bring home, some broth, or a full meal, including a beer. The diversity of goods is complementary in that all of the services are value-added side businesses. The broth turns leftover meat scraps into a commodity, and the meals provide another source of revenue for the store. However, of all the businesses we examined in Chattanooga, Sequatchie Cove Farm provides perhaps the most poignant example of complementary diversity. From the beginning of the farm, the Keeners have juggled multiple projects including beef, dairy, poultry, sheep, honey, mushrooms, berries, and a native plant business. Though in the past few years Bill and Miriam reigned in their diversity to focus on the cheese business, Bill told us that in retrospect, he thinks it was a mistake.

At the city level, Chattanooga itself has complimentary diversity. This manifests in a variety of ways. As we saw through our interviews, Chattanooga is home to producers, vendors, restaurants, and processors that focus on local food. These individual actors fulfill different roles, but provide support for each other’s businesses. That is, restaurants and vendors need farmers to supply them, and farmers need outlets to process and market their food in a variety of ways. Ideally, Chattanooga should also have a diversity of agricultural landscapes. While Greater Chattanooga does have a growing number of small farms spread throughout is, and even encompasses parts of other states in the 100-mile radius of “Harvested Here,” it could perhaps be stronger in its number of urban farms. Currently, the most prominent urban farms are Crabtree Farms, which sits on five acres in the heart of Chattanooga, and Fair Share Urban Growers, a farm that moved to Chattanooga in 2011 and aims to use agriculture as a tool to reduce poverty. Fair Share hosts multiple sites, including a parking lot that has been transformed into a garden and a “truck farm,” or a pickup truck transformed into a mobile garden.[83] To our research, these are the two largest examples of Chattanooga’s urban agriculture.

Nevertheless, Chattanooga zoning regulations pave the way for more urban farms. Zoning determines what types of agriculture and livestock are permissible in a city area, and is therefore important to the creation of urban farms. In 2000, Chattanooga passed Ordinance No. 11107, which created an urban agriculture district within the city of Chattanooga. In this district, crops, forests, and livestock are permitted, within certain regulations. The district even allows for dairies and stables, making it more flexible than urban agriculture districts in most other cities. However, one of the limiting factors of the ordinance is that it has a minimum area requirement of 20 acres—no small feat of acquisition in Chattanooga. Such a high minimum land requirement is an obstacle to potential small urban farms.[84][85][86] Nevertheless, Chattanooga is among the first cities to establish an urban agriculture district.

Conservative Flexibility

 Chattanooga’s venture into urban agriculture zoning is also an illustration of conservative flexibility, a term composed of two traits that temper each other. Flexibility refers to the ability to apply unusual or innovative solutions. Conservation describes a degree of adherence to old, tried-and-true methods. Conservative flexibility, then, is a balance between the introduction of new, more appropriate practices and reliance on older inherited knowledge. At the city level, the development of an urban agriculture district demonstrates flexibility. In fact, the City of Chattanooga’s interest in developing a local food system at all is an expression of conservative flexibility. It demonstrates flexibility in re-imagining the way a food network can look, but demonstrates conservation because eating locally is, after all, a sort of homecoming. Before the creation of our modern conventional food system, where most goods are shipped long distances, most food was produced, bought, and consumed locally.

For this reason, our interviewees also demonstrated conservative flexibility. Sequatchie Cove Farm drew many lessons from Amish agriculture, such as in its focus on redundancy. It also uses some technologies of modern conventional agriculture, like the use of antibiotics on sick animals. However, the Keeners weren’t named pioneers for nothing. Sequatchie Cove Farm is trying to make local food sell in a market designed for conventional agriculture, and it’s working. The CSA the Keeners launched in the 1990s was among the first in the area, and they’ve also introduce rotational grazing to Chattanooga. Similarly, the Farmer’s Daughter adheres to a traditional business model, but is creating their own distribution network composed of local farmers and processors. Through this, Ann and Mike Mayo have found a way to both support their values and make a livable wage. Main Street Meats, too, is both conservative and flexible. The traditional butcher’s shop that Dan Key launched is actually a very old practice. Dan’s own knowledge comes from the practices of his grandparents in Appalachia and the salt shops found in European villages. However, applying old knowledge to a modern contexts poses challenges. Dan must give the customer a reason to pay more money for artisanal meat. Flexibility at Main Street Meats means selling more than just meat—it means selling lunches, recipes, and an experience. The customers who enter Main Street Meats can expect to have a conversation with the butcher about the meat and receive advice on the best way to cook it. Creating a thriving local food network today is about reviving old practices, infusing them with new technologies, and adapting them to a changing populace.

Periodic Transformation

The final, and perhaps most distinctive, component of resilience is periodic transformation. Periodic transformation essentially refers to the phase of the adaptive cycle known as “reorganization” (Ω).[87] In order for a system to be ecologically resilient, it must periodically undergo changes to its infrastructure in order to adapt to changing circumstances. In the case of Chattanooga, periodic transformation seems to be a clear practice since the 1970s, when philanthropic action mobilized the city to become an environmental leader. Today, both the municipality itself and the individual actors within it have participated in strategic infrastructure changes to build Chattanooga’s growing local food system.

Among our interviewees, Sequatchie Cove Farm provides the best illustration of periodic transformation. The Keeners have cycled through many different products on their farm, beginning with the CSA and most recently making the leap to a cheese business. The changing emphasis at Sequatchie Cove Farm is usually linked to periodic reflections and predictions about where the market is going and what the farm will need next. For instance, in the case of the CSA, the Keeners realized that they would need to invest heavily in equipment to support a large-scale CSA, and decided against it. Now that the cheese business is stable and has been handed off, the Keeners find themselves in another moment of periodic transformation. Where they take the farm next will depend on what is best for their redundancy. In other words, whatever changes are made next will be made with the Keener’s son Kelsey in mind. The Farmer’s Daughter and Main Street Meats have less experience with transformation, but it should be noted that both businesses are less than a year old and perhaps have not encountered the need for transformation yet.

One factor that might throw a wrench in Chattanooga’s capacity for periodic reformation is the heavy hand of philanthropy in the city’s local food movement. As discussed in the introduction, most of the money behind environmental changes in Chattanooga since the 1970s was from philanthropies. Ironically, powerful philanthropies such as the Lyndhurst Foundation and the Benwood Foundation are based on endowments from the large-scale industry that made 1970s Chattanooga an environmental disaster in the first place. At least in terms of where money comes from, it appears that power has not changed hands since the reign of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company over Chattanooga. It is merely that those who hold the money have changed their goals. However noble the current goals of philanthropic actors might be, if the capacity for Chattanooga’s change rests on the interests of the elite, Chattanooga will not be truly resilient.


However, to say that change in Chattanooga is monopolized by an elite group of philanthropies would be to ignore the substantial number of individual actors who are contributing to local agriculture. Sequatchie Cove Farms was one of the pioneers of the local food movement in Chattanooga, and its progress continues to lead the way for other farmers of the Greater Chattanooga Area. Right now, the Keeners are leading the way in producing and selling local cheese, challenging traditional milk regulations, transitioning their farm to the next generation, and evolving into a mid-sized farm. Between 2002 and 2007, the 100-mile area around Chattanooga has increased profits from agriculture by 66 percent. In this same time frame, the number of farms in the Greater Chattanooga Area has actually increased, with the most significant rise in farms under 50 acres.[88] Other enterprises are also emerging without philanthropic input, such as the Farmer’s Daughter and Main Street Meats. As we saw among our interviewees, these enterprises support each other by buying each other’s goods and educating consumers about their local food system. Though Gaining Ground helped facilitate relationships among local food actors like chefs, farmers, and farmer’s markets, these relationships for the most part are continuing even after Gaining Ground was phased out in 2013. Philanthropic dollars catalyzed change in Chattanooga, but the drivers and directors of change were already at the forefront, among the farmers and entrepreneurs themselves.

This is not to say that Chattanooga is not in danger of relying too much on philanthropic funding. The heavy hand on non-profits poses a serious threat to Chattanooga’s ecological resilience. After all, a system where power never changes hands can hardly be said to have undergone true cycles of transformation. The question that remains is whether Chattanooga can continue its streak of progressive policies and green infrastructure with reduced philanthropic input.

The lens of ecological resilience allows us to pose these questions. Although we draw no conclusions about whether Chattanooga itself is fundamentally resilient, it is clear that the city has both successes to celebrate and struggle to overcome on the local food front, including reducing dependency on philanthropy. However, even the most lavishly funded movements will fall flat if the will of the populace isn’t there.  The “Sustainable Blue Collar Town” is proving itself capable of the unlikely.




Insert: abstracts of case studies of Long Hungry Creek and Nashville: biodynamic farm network,  Hardin Family -The Glue That Can't Un-glue, and Little Rock, AR - Little Rock in a Large System










I. Eight qualities of resilient local food systems


Since the concept of sustainability became a goal for agricultural systems worldwide and in the US, many assessment tools have been developed to help farmers and other stakeholders move agriculture and food systems toward sustainability.  Assessment tools have been developed for various scales of the food system, including farm, community, eco-region, nation.  These tools range from indicator sets to simulation models.


However these tools produce different estimates of sustainability because they don’t start from the same definition.  Since dealing successfully with issues of sustainability means creating greater system resilience, measures of ecological resilience are increasingly relied on to assess systems. Resilience has a very specific and measureable biological reality: withstanding disturbance, including climate change.    Resilient systems last, non-resilient systems do not. 


Many researchers have focused on defining the basic qualities which appear in resilient systems.  One of the earliest attempts (Walker and Salt, 2006) formulated a set of nine necessary qualities for resilient systems.  Carpenter et al. (2012) clarified the distinction between the specific “resilience of what to what” and general resilience which confers the ability cope with any disturbance.  They went on to posit nine slightly modified qualities which enable general resilience. 


The Frankenberger et al. (2013) conceptual framework for community resilience is an influential treatment of resilience in international community development.  This framework posits seven central “community social dimensions.”  Rockefeller Foundation (2014) has developed a City Resilience Framework which posits seven qualities of resilient systems.   The Stockholm Resilience Center (SRC, 2015; c.f., Biggs et al., 2013) developed a set of seven qualities they consider crucial for building resilience in social-ecological systems.


For agricultural systems, the most relevant framework to date is Cabell and Oelofse (2012) which details thirteen categories of indicators shown to be associated with resilience.


One quality common to all of these frameworks, self-organization, refers to the emergence of new structures and systems from those systems already existing together in a particular locality.  Frankenberger et al. and Cabell and Oelofse have a strong focus on the importance of the locally self-organized quality in resilient systems.  Cabell and Oelofse use the term socially self-organized and specifically cite the example of local food systems in the US.  They make a distinction echoed in many other frameworks, that locally self-organized networks can be more responsive and adaptable to changing conditions. Top-down initiatives fail if the timing is wrong due to inadequate knowledge of local conditions, if drivers of the local systems are misunderstood, or if there is no buy-in from local stakeholders/participants/communities. 


At the farm or community scale, local self-organization was noted as key to sustainability in one of the first systematic attempts to prioritize the research and education interventions needed in agricultural systems in the United States.  This study integrated agroecoregion focus groups and a regional survey with secondary databases (Worstell, 1995).  The study concluded that locally organized processing and marketing systems were crucial to development of sustainable agricultural systems.  The study showed that resilient examples of such systems have more sales to local markets, use more local resources, establish close relationships between producer and consumer, and share resources such as equipment.  Farmers and consumers in these systems organize into grassroots networks and institutions such as processing and marketing cooperatives, farmer’s markets, and community-supported agriculture (CSA) marketing systems. 


Since that study, encouraging locally-owned processing and marketing systems has become a national focus in the United States. Several state and federal programs have been implemented to address this constraint (e.g., Value-Added Producer Grants, Farmers Market Promotion Program, Local Foods Promotion Program, Kentucky Agricultural Development Board, Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food, Compass and many other national, regional and local programs).  USDA’s Economic Research Service has progressed from dismissing as trivial the likely impact of local foods (ERS, 2000) to trumpeting loudly the importance of local foods (ERS, 2010).  When a conservative Arkansas Congressmen says “The future of food is local” (Crawford, 2013) and WalMart pledges to increase local food to 15% of its sales by the end of 2015 (WalMart, 2013), we can rest assured that interventions will continue to increase the locally self-organized quality in the United States.


A follow-on study to SOS (Worstell, 2015) tentatively identified seven other qualities found in long-lasting local food systems in the South.  Nine case studies were conducted of resilient local Southern food systems in areas of three states otherwise recalcitrant to local food efforts.  Databases for indicators at the county level were available for six of those qualities.  These indicators enabled development of county level indices for these six qualities and an overall sustainability/resilience index (SRI) for all Southern counties.


The eight qualities of resilient local food systems identified in that study are: modular Connectivity (or networked but independent), Locally self-organized, increasing productive Infrastructure, complementary Diversity, responsive Redundancy (or back-ups), Ecologically integration (or working with nature), conservative Innovation, and periodic Transformation.  An acronym for these qualities is CLIRDIET.


Modular Connectivity.  Closely related to the locally self-organized quality is a quality which integrates two seemingly contradictory factors: modularity and connectivity.  This quality is also referred to as “networked, but independent.”  Resilient systems are sensitive and responsive to feedback, while maintaining independence.  Modular or independent sub-systems are insulated.  Damage or failure of even a key sub-system has low probability of propagating failure throughout the system.  Yet each component system can detect and respond to changes throughout the system, thus being able to cope with change.  Resilient connectivity has a few strong connections and many weak connections.  


Resilient farming systems appear to invariably be composed of a few tight-knit actors with a wide range of connections to marketing, policy, input supply and other systems.  In the language of social capital, resilient systems have high levels of bonding, bridging and linking social capital (Flora and Flora, 2004).


While extolling connectivity, every resilience framework recognizes situations where high connectivity leads to low resilience to disturbance.  Uncertainty in federal commodity support programs can induce paralysis in some of the most productive Southern agricultural systems.   If the system is not modular or independent, it can’t be resilient when disturbance floods though systems.


Ecologically Integration (Working with Nature).  Ecosystems less managed by man are finely attuned to natural systems which surround and penetrate them.  Agroecosystems, in contrast, are often are not well integrated into local ecological systems.  Resilient agricultural systems obtain services from their surrounding ecosystem.  Integrated pest management often uses predators and parasites which are self-maintained in the local ecosystem to assist in control of pests.  Management Intensive Grazing mimics natural processes to increase productivity of grasslands and reduce parasites in grazing animals.  Resilient farms maintain plant cover, often incorporate more perennials, use ecosystem engineers such as soil fauna, and align production with local ecological parameters. 


Cabell and Oelofse are very explicit in recognizing the value of ecological integration when they state that the more intact and robust the regulating ecosystem services are, the more resilient the agroecosystem.  


Complementary Diversity.  Echoing the ecosystems in which they are integrated, resilient systems are highly diverse, but the diversity is controlled.  It is complementary in function, use of inputs, and generation of outputs.  A variety of crops, many markets, many sources of inputs, and spatial heterogeneity all illustrate diversity in resilient local food systems. Such diverse components give other components what they need, feed each other, producing not waste, but resources for other components.  Heterogeneity of features within the landscape and on the farm along with diversity of inputs, outputs, income sources, markets, and pest controls all reflect this diversity in resilient systems. 


Though increased diversity is associated with resilience, increasing diversity can lead to a decline in resilience and long-term reduction in diversity.  Prime examples are the introduction of invasive species such as kudzu in the U.S. Southern States, rabbits in Australia and a host of other examples (MGinley, 20110).  Where diversity is not complementary, it decreases resilience.  A farmer with too many, unrelated enterprises cannot give enough attention to each.


Responsive Redundancy (Back-ups).  Resilient systems have back-ups and replenish their components.  Redundancy means several of each component system of any system are present and are replaced when lost.  Redundancy which promotes resilience is responsive to needs of the system.  Skills, abilities and functions are reproduced and passed on to the next generation.  Systems for repair or replacement of crucial component are required for resilience. At the scale of state and national policy, programs such as USDA’s Beginning Farmer Rancher Development Program are interventions which increase redundancy.


Increasing Productive Infrastructure.  This quality is reflected in increasing productive physical assets and natural capital, such as increasing soil organic matters, water storage reservoirs, building levels of soil organisms which fix nitrogen and make nutrients more available (such as vesicular arbuscular mycorrhizae), on-farm waste processing, and on-farm storage and processing.  All these, if increasing, lead to increased resilience and, if decreasing, lead to less resilience in local food systems. At a higher scale, state policies to preserve farmland, federal loan programs to increase on-farm storage, and state and federal programs to increase farmer owned value-added processing and marketing all increase resilience by maintaining and increasing crucial physical assets.


Conservative Innovation.  Resilient systems are open to new ideas while retaining ideas which work from the past.  That is, they have a conservative innovativeness and flexibility.  As Holling (2001, pp. 398-99) noted, resilient systems are both creative and conservative.  The most resilient farmer is usually not the first adopter of new technology, rather, he employs the technology when it is proven, but far more quickly than most.  Some farmers are too innovative, risk too much on unproven technology, and fail.   


As with many qualities of resilience a duality is present: the system must innovate, but it must also preserve tried and true systems.


Periodic Transformation.  At every scale, resilient systems regularly reform and even transform themselves either in response to disturbance or through self-reorganization.  Cabell and Oelofse (2012) see “exposed to disturbance” as a quality of all resilient agricultural systems.   Frankenberger et al. (2014) notes the importance of transformative capacity to resilient communities.  A farm which cannot transform itself in response to disturbance will last only until the next major disturbance.


Study of resilient local food systems indicates that these eight qualities are necessary for resilient systems. This hypothesis must be validated in other areas of the South, especially highly productive agricultural areas, such as the High Plains of Texas and OK and the Delta of AR, TN, MS, KY and LA.  Initial results indicate low resilience scores for agricultural systems in much of the Mississippi Delta and the High Plains. One basic question arises: does SRI, developed to explain resilience of local food systems in one area, accurately describe sustainability/resilience in very different Southern agroecoregions? Even in regions with very low resilience index scores, however, some counties have high scores. Understanding the differences in adjoining counties with highly different SRI scores should help us understand how to improve sustainability in all counties in that agroecoregion.


Evaluation of the present state of La Lucha Space resilience on the eight qualities

 (from report 1 to be updated)


Modular Connectivity.  The Locals has a well-designed, accessible, and active participation- oriented website and keeps up healthy presences in social media. They also remain in contact with organizers throughout the state. In March they attended a conference for other food hub organizers. They are actively looking outward at other working models and communicating with numerous other organizers and project hubs. Other programs of La Lucha Space include “The Faulkner County Urban Farm Project” a community garden serving as an educational tool and outreach resource, the garden is dedicated to teaching people how to grow food sustainably and increase the community’s food security; “The Locals Nomadic Geek, is a tech and media wing in the organization that uses technology-based education to cultivate creativity, maximize connectivity between producers, market managers, the general public, and other hubs through software tools.


Local Self-Organization.  The Locals score fairly high in local self-organization for an organization that is still relatively young. They established a solid place for themselves in Conway in prioritizing building relationships with local grassroots organizers, clergy, students, education professionals, and community organizations. They offered their facilities for public education and organizing space and early in their history, forged relationships with other people interested in local economic development and food security. They have forged relationships within the Hendrix Village, organizers with the food truck park, farms such as Los Tibiriches, Falling Sky Farm, Weal and Woe Farm, Bell Urban Farm, and Kellog Farms, and business owners such as ZAZA's. The participants are interested in collaborating to organize a local produce supply and value added chain which would ensure a secure place for The Locals as a marketing hub, but also the establishment of a local food system in Conway--a town which has no strong history of local farm to market activity.


Increasing Productive Infrastructure.  The Locals has been steady in its development of infrastructure. The project started by identifying local grassroots organizations interested in food security issues and the development of market and cultural hubs. They have a mobile pop-up market trike, furnished with display and storage. They also have designed and equipped an industrial freight/trailer with an insulated produce storage unit for local produce delivery and aggregation. They are developing a solid in-house digital interface; a marketing and software tool to collect food hub data connected with the point of sale system. Through strong analytics, they hope to be able to track consumer demands and inform farmers as well as set pricing. The limited size of the local produce scene and a small resource base has limited their ability to effectively attract regional farmers and clients or to establish a fully functional aggregation center. However, the present social and material infrastructure they have developed is versatile and easily scaleable.


Responsive Redundancy.  La Lucha Space scored lowest in Redundancy of all of the other indicators. Leadership and Implementation is constrained to very few people and there are not many strong personnel backups for managing organizers. They are actively implementing service learning projects to develop and train interns with the intent of finding potential future organizers and administrators.  


Complementary Diversity.  La Lucha Space has two different programmatic wings, each serving to further develop and reinforce the other: The Locals Food Hub and The Urban Farm Project, La Lucha Space staff direct market with the hub and provide marketing assistance to farmers. They are also working to establish a varied market mix through the online farmers markets, pop up markets, farmers markets, and restaurant clients. Though their focus is to double the amount of restaurant clients by year's end, they have many complementary marketing strategies to maintain complementary diversity of buyers.  These strategies include marketing to local food trucks and institutional clients such as the city's three universities.


Conservative Innovation.   La Lucha Space and the La Lucha LFPP is innovative for its setting. While there is a growing local food movement in Little Rock, there is not yet a strong movement towards local produce for Conway area food establishments. The Locals is an adaptation of successful urban food hub operations. They hope that having dynamically scalable market fronts and strong community ties can make their model resilient.   They are organizing a food club or 'Locavore club' to meet and eat at different local restaurants. They will encourage the restaurants to have local produce specials on those days to support the restaurants in new food developments and to create continued effective demand for local produce specials at small restaurants in Conway.   La Lucha Space has an active research/education program to insure the organization is conservatively innovative.  They are staying on top of national innovations through participation with the Local Orbit Food Hub Camp, a food hub builder conference. They are also organizing public education workshops targeted to student and resident populations. They participate in service learning programs with university sponsors. There is still a lot of ground work to be established in local foods education and advocacy in Conway. There are few food vendors in town actively sourcing seasonally available local produce. They hope to stimulate effective producer and consumer demand through educational service learning projects and internships, food clubs, and heightened public visibility of the mobile market La Lucha Space has been educating and building food security programs in Conway for 5 years.


Ecological Integration. The primary aim of a food hub such as The Locals Food Hub is to develop a market for locally produced, naturally grown goods. Their success will support the ongoing development of local farm and primary producer infrastructure, local value added products, and local artisans. This will cut the carbon footprint of produce transfer and will provide fresh picked produce to complement the diets of local residents.  They also installed an energy-saving cool bot to refrigerate the mobile produce unit. Having such a small unit and sharing brick and mortar space with other local merchants and organizers cuts down on energy needs and overhead.  They are also saving fuel and demonstrating carbon-neutral transport alternatives with the food trike.


Periodic Transformation.  The progression of the Locals has been marked by timely and appropriate structural adaptations to disruptions. They were originally established in a house as a meeting space and community networking hub, then moved to a brick and mortar store front, but reorganized upon recognition that there wasn't enough of a consumer or buyer demand for suburban markets. They created the small modular mobile market to do pop-up farmers markets in food desert areas and at local farmers markets and are now transforming again into a fusion space; a shared brick and mortar facility coupled with the mobile and online markets.




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[1] National Vital Statistics System, US Census Bureau, 2010. See also Interactive Atlas for Heart Disease and Stroke:

[2]Morland, K. et al., 2006. “Supermarkets, other food stores, and obesity: the atherosclerosis risk in communities study.” Amer J Preventive Medicine 30:333-339. 

[3] Matson-Koffman, D. et al., 2005. Site-specific literature review of policy and environmental interventions that promote physical activity and nutrition for cardiovascular health: what works? Amer J of Health Promotion 19:1671–1693. 

[4]Story M, Holt K, Sofka D: Bright Futures in Practice: Nutrition. 2nd edition. Arlington, VA, National Center for Education in Maternal and Child Health; 2002.

Dietz William H., Stern Loraine, American Academy of Pediatrics.: American Academy of Pediatrics Guide to Your Child's Nutrition: Feeding Children of All Ages. 1st edition. New York, Villard Books; 1999::xiii, 234.

[5] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Guidelines for school health programs to promote lifelong healthy eating. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 1996, 45:1-37. PubMed Abstract 

Perry CL, Story M, Lytle LA, 2010.  Promoting healthy dietary behaviors. In Healthy Children 2010: Enhancing Children's WellnessVolume 8. Edited by Weissberg RP, Gullotta TP, Hampton RL, Ryan BA and Adams GR. Thousand Oaks, CA, Sage; 1997:214-249. 

[6] Freedman DS, Dietz WH, Srinivasan SR, Berenson GS, 1999. The relation of overweight to cardiovascular risk factors among children and adolescents: the Bogalusa Heart Study. Pediatrics103:1175-1182.

[7] American Diabetes Association: Type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents. Pediatrics 2000, 105:671-680

[8] Wortham, J. and C. Miller, 2013.  Venture Capitalists Are Making Bigger Bets on Food Start-Ups.  New York Times, April 28, 2013.

[9] Galt RE. 2011. Counting and mapping community supported agriculture in the United States and California:

Contributions from critical cartography/GIS. ACME: Int E-J Crit Geogr 10(2):131–62

[10] University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service Publication Community-supported Agriculture.

[12] Evans, A.I et al., 2012.  Introduction of farm stands in low-income communities increases fruit and vegetable among community residents.  Health Place, 18:1137-43.

[13] “For more than a century after the Civil War, deficient civil rights and various economic and social barriers were applied to maintaining a system where many blacks worked as farm operators with a limited and often total lack of opportunity to achieve ownership and operating independence”. USDA publication: Black Farmers in America 1865-2000

[14] New Deal Agriculture – USDA History of Black Farmer 1865-2000 pg. 8-9

[15]Complementary Diversity: A system’s ability to maintain diversity in a complimentary way by ensuring individual parts support the larger whole. In this way the Miller family offered diversity within the group while also providing significant knowledge of organizational management and formal knowledge that the cooperative lacked. Moreover the Millers were raising two children of color whom greatly benefitted from the relationship with the cooperative.

[16] Periodic Transformation: Beat 4 cooperative exemplified the element of periodic transformation through the formation of the cooperative, responding to changes in the market and within their membership by transforming their model as was required.

[17] Spiraling up: As a system moves into the α  phase of the adaptive cycle it can spiral up by reorganizing for resilience at a higher level of productivity or spiral down to a new system, perhaps very enduring, but of lower productivity.

[18] Conservative Flexibility: The ability of a system to retain valuable knowledge and practices while incorporating innovation.

[19] Modular Connectivity: Causal Factor in Resilience of Modular Connectivity; Modularity refers to the system’s ability to maintain in anonymity, though to remain resilient that system must maintain enough connectivity to remain viable in case of shortages or significant and unexpected changes.


[21]  Referring to the Resilience Quality of Increasing Physical Infrastructure.  The accumulation of value in tangible assets that remain after exterior disturbances thereby acting to maintain productivity. In this case the greenhouses maintain productivity in questionable weather and lower the necessity of wood or fuel to heat the individuals’ home.

[22] Redundancy: The system’s ability to repeat itself in succession. In Ecology this is the plants ability to re-seed itself and continue to propagate through a meadow or forest. If there are too few of a plant, it will eventually become overcrowded by more dominant plants.  In this instance it can be noted that the youth are contributing in a fashion to the cooperative by continuing to engage in the summertime. This is a weak indicator though as the youth are not committed, rather, they contribute when and if they can.

[23] Building assets: A systems ability to accrue physical assets that provide a lasting value exceeding monetary assets or knowledge assets. In this instance it is the cumulative assets of the bulls and heifers that propagate and generate more income over the years that farmers continue to keep them within the cooperative. 

[24] Periodic transformation: A systems capacity to plan for changes in its management or business structure to avoid dictatorships or gridlocks. In this instance the board plans in periodic transformation with the end of each board member’s term. This could be as much as three years, or as little as one.

[25] Conservative Flexibility: A system’s ability to retain useful tools and lessons from the past while integrating innovation to change with larger system it is within. In this instance it is imperative for the members of Beat 4 to innovate and produce the kind of supply needed by the school or larger purchasers in the future in order to expand their outreach.

[26]  Redundancy: The system’s ability to repeat itself in succession. In Ecology this is the plants ability to re-seed itself and continue to propagate through a meadow or forest. If there are too few of a plant, it will eventually become overcrowded by more dominant plants.  In this instance it is Beat 4’s Youth who represent the hope for redundancy, and until existing members can foster more involvement by younger generations, there is no indicator that the cooperative will continue past its current membership.

[27] Conservative flexibility: The system’s ability to conserve traditional knowledge while incorporating innovative changes.


[29] Meter, Ken, and Megan Phillips Goldenberg. "An Overview of the Mississippi Farm and Food Economy."

[30] Ibid.

[31] Gunderson, L. H., and C. S. Holling. 2002. Panarchy: understanding transformations in human and natural systems. Island Press, Washington, D.C., USA.

[32] Cabell, J. F., and M. Oelofse. 2012. An indicator framework for assessing agroecosystem resilience. Ecology and Society 17(1): 18.

[33] Abel, Nick, David HM Cumming, and John M. Anderies, 2006. "Collapse and reorganization in social-ecological systems: questions, some ideas, and policy implications." Ecology and Society 11: 17.







[41] The model of resilience we are exploring through these case studies is based on the principles of the Adaptive Cycle (C. S. Holling, 2001. and various frameworks of resilience indicators (espl Cabell, J. F., and M. Oelofse. 2012. An indicator framework for assessing agroecosystem resilience. Ecology and Society 17(1): 18.  We hypothesize that eight components are necessary to develop resilient agricultural system. These components are relevant at all scales (e.g.,. soil, farm, market, policy system) and include: 1)Modular Connectivity 2)Local Control 3)Increasing Physical Infrastructure 4)Redundancy 5)Complimentary Diversity 6)Conservative Flexibility 7)Ecological Integration 8)Reformation




[45] Sewanee University Code of Honor -


[48] A systems ability to reform its management structure to promote consistent change and avoid stagnation or corrosive dictatorships. See Cabell and Oelofse, ibid.

[49] This renovation illustrates the integration of past research with present day needs, representing the concept of conservative flexibility: The willingness of the University to hold onto, or conserve, information or practices that are of value and demonstrating flexibility in present day utilization -

[50] Release is 1 of 4 phases of the adaptive cycle. In the theory of adaptive cycles release most commonly associated with the period after Conservation. Conservation is expressed as a system that has stabilized and has been conserving its resources, an example is an old growth forest. Similarly the release phase in ecological terms can be expressed in the distribution of conserved resources in the form of seeds, carbon, and nutrients after natural cycles like forest fires.. See Holling, ibid.

[51] Saltation is an abrupt change in an ecological system created by a disturbance which forces the system to reorganize.



[54] Modular Connectivity refers to a systems, or individual’s ability to maintain functions as an independent system (modularity)  yet receiving feedback and resources from other subsystems.

[55] After Rick and Jessica met they connected their resources creating both strong and weak ties that became mutually beneficial. In this way they exemplify Resilience theory through Complimentary Diversity. Representing diverse backgrounds, their connections proved to be complimentary in the founding and continuation of the South Cumberland Food hub.


[57] Local Control refers to the system’s ability to manage itself with autonomy from larger governing systems. In this case separating from larger corporate control of Aramark, a nationwide food distributor.


[59] Permaculture Design :” Permaculture is a creative design process that is based on ethics and design principles. It guides us to mimic the patterns and relationships we can find in nature and can be applied to all aspects of human habitation, from agriculture to ecological building, from appropriate technology to education and even economics.”

[60] Conservative Flexibility: The ability to retain systems that work, while remaining flexible to innovation and new practices.

[61] Modular Connectivity: The ability to maintain modularity, or autonomy, while simultaneously retaining enough loose and strong connections to ensure supply and demand network viability in case of shortages or dropouts.

[62] Conservative Flexibility: The ability to retain systems that work, while remaining flexible to innovation and new practices.

[63] Redundancy: The ability of a system to provide replacements for key positions.  If a senior wolf dies, many young wolves are ready to take his place.  If a farmer becomes sick, retires or dies, his farm system has redundancy if there is someone to take her place.  

[64] “Earth stewardship involves shaping trajectories of social-ecological change at local-to-global scales to enhance ecosystem resilience and human well-being.” - Ecological Society of America http:/

[65] Increasing Physical Infrastructure: The ability to systematically build and integrate material assets that enable greater production and redundancy within the system in case of shocks or shortages outside of itself Examples include equipment, tools, soil health, water catchment structures, productive perennials or other forms of infrastructure


[67] Johansson, O., 2000. Environmental Quality as a Post-industrial Urban Growth Strategy: The Chattanooga Case.  The Geographical Bulletin, 42:23-32.

[68] Stettler, A. E., 2001. Chattanooga: A Reinvented City. University of Tennessee Honors Thesis.; Johansson, ibid.


[70] Jacobson, Louis. "Tennessee Triumph: Louis Jacobson visits Chattanooga". 1997. PLANNING -CHICAGO-. 63 (5): 20-22.

[71] Johansson, ibid.


[73] Gunderson, L. and C.S. Holling, 2002.  Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems. Island Press.

[74] Cabell, J. F., and M. Oelofse. 2012. An indicator framework for assessing agroecosystem resilience. Ecology and Society 17(1): 18.

[75] Abel, N., D. Cumming, and J. Anderies, 2006. "Collapse and reorganization in social-ecological systems: questions, some ideas, and policy implications." Ecology and Society, 11: 17.

[77] Ackerman-Leist, P. 2012. Rebuilding the Foodshed.  Chelsea Green Publishing.

[78] Ackerman-Leist, ibid.

[79] ASAP, 2011. 2011 Food and Farm Assessment: Chattanooga, Tennessee. .

[80] ASAP ibid.

[81] ASAP, ibid.

[82] ASAP, ibid.



[87] Abel et al., ibid.

[88] Wilson, M. K., 2012. Community Food System Data Collection and Synthesis.  Chattanooga/Hamilton County Food Coalition.

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