Developing Local Food Systems

McIntosh SEED has worked programmatically since 2008 on "Building Sustainable Agriculture and Community Development along the Coastal Plain regions of Georgia and South Carolina."

The programs focused on the principles of linking sustainable agriculture and community development. Results gleaned from a food system survey were used to develop and implement a strategic plan that recognized the economic, environmental, and social interdependence between farming and communities. The plan was also used to facilitate the development of entrepreneurs engaged in value-added agricultural activities.

Food System networks were developed throughout the coastal plain regions of Georgia and South Carolina to increase public awareness and knowledge of the benefits of sustainable farming on the farmer, consumer, community, and environment.

The Regional Food Systems Strategic Plan focused efforts on opening new markets for farmers, creating a more diverse network of farmers, creating community gardens, educating the community, and providing summer youth employment opportunities.

McIntosh SEED strategic plan included local entrepreneurial efforts and opportunities and promoted value-added activities that build on the agricultural and non-agricultural assets of communities. By its very nature, the food system plan promoted a long-term strategy that will be more productive and profitable to local farmers while integrating natural resource protection, cultural preservation and civic engagement.

Purpose, Rationale, and Justification

McIntosh SEED began working to build a stronger regional food system and to strengthen sustainable agriculture and sustainable community development efforts by expanding markets for farmers and exploring value-added agricultural activities.

McIntosh SEED conducted a Food System survey and results presented at a Search Conference. Subsequently, a Search Conference Planning Group was formed to identify creative solutions, projects, programs and structures to take advantage of the region's unique characteristics. The Search Conference Planning Group was comprised of stakeholders concerned with economic development, local governance, sustainable environment, and sustainable agricultural practices. The partnerships forged during the Search Conference process formed the linkages necessary to move forward.

Partnerships established enabled McIntosh Sustainable Environment and Economic Development (SEED) to administer an assessment tool to determine food sovereignty issues. The assessment reviewed issues such as where community residents obtain safe, culturally acceptable, and a nutritionally adequate diet, and if the current food system maximizes community self-reliance and social justice. The survey tool focused efforts on obtaining five profiles:
1. Profile of community social and demographic characteristics;
2. Profile of community food resources;
3. Profile of food resources accessibility;
4. Profile of food availability and affordability; and
5. Profile of community food product resources.

Partnerships forged during this project include many community members, area churches, local farmers, McIntosh County Board of Education, Darien City Council and the McIntosh County Board of Commissioners, McIntosh County Extension Agency, McIntosh County Department of Leisure Services, McIntosh County Development Authority, McIntosh and Glynn County Health Departments, McIntosh County Senior Citizen Center, the Family Connection network, several area restaurant owners, the local United Way agency, the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center, Heifer International, Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, Southern Organizing Rural Development Initiative, Southern SARE , and America's Second Harvest.

These partners were committed to fulfilling the needs identified in the assessment portion of the project. The partners agreed that sustainable agricultural products are in greater demand in America. For example, the growth of sales in organic food has been 15-20% each year in recent years, compared to 2-4% for total food sales (The Brunswick News Associated Press, 2006). Mainstream supermarkets were beginning to try and meet the demand and the number of organic farms were increasing at a rate of 12% per year (USDA, 2000).

> Click for Video: Food System Programs Phase III

McIntosh SEED provides capacity and network building support to help strengthen the skills, trusts, and relationships necessary to sustain natural resources and local food system production. Some of these programs include:
  • Deep South Community Agriculture Network (DSCAN). DSCAN is a regional effort that works to build agricultural value chains that create multiple forms of local wealth, reduce poverty, empower communities, and improve livelihoods of rural people in the Deep South. We define value chains as a network of farmers, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and collaborating players such as aggregators, distributors, wholesale buyers and consumers, who work together to satisfy market demand for specific products or services. Learn more...

  • Fresh Produce Market. To increase the availability of fresh, locally grown produce in McIntosh County, McIntosh SEED opened a farmers market in 2007. The farmers market sells fresh vegetables, fruits, and value added products. We have not only increased the community's access to fresh, local food we have also helped local farmers to expand the market for their products and generate income.

  • WIC & Senior Mobile Farmers Market Program. Since 2005, McIntosh SEED has been involved with this program to provide eligible low income families with fresh fruits and vegetables. We work with local farmers to set up farm stands at local health departments and senior citizens centers to offer a large selection of produce to individuals and families.

Youth Enrichment & Engagement

McIntosh SEED's youth enrichment and engagement programs ensure that youth are empowered within community development processes. Youth represent the next generation of community leaders who will sustain rural communities. A few of these programs include:
  • Beacons of H.O.P.E. (Helping Others Plant the Earth): The HOPE program is an agricultural apprenticeship program that is designed to teach youth designed to create opportunities for youth to learn agricultural skills and techniques, gain mentorship and wisdom from their elders, and the ability to generate income by selling their products to local markets.

  • Project Y.E.L.L. (Youth Education in Leadership and Life Skills): YELL fosters critical skills that enhance leadership and professional development to prepare youth for the workforce and entrepreneurial opportunities. Some of these trainings include: civic responsibility, oral communication, service learning, and systemic analysis development.

  • Non-profit Summer Internships: Summer internships introduce high school students to community-based non-profit organization. These paid internships allow youth to work on a variety of projects such as vision development, project and event planning, and organizational training to build their personal and professional leadership skills that will expand their professional networks.

Rural Heritage Tours

Our communities deserve to have their culture authentically represented by the communities that created them. McIntosh SEED developed the following to preserve and advance culture and heritage in GA rural coastal communities:
  • Coastal African American Action Network (CAAAN) - In 2007, McIntosh SEED began providing technical assistance and organizational development support for 12 African American Historical Heritage and Cultural Tourism Groups in Coastal GA. Members of CAAN meet for peer exchanges, mutual learning, and strategic discussions about advancement, preservation, and governance of African American cultural and heritage tourism.

  • Harris Neck Cultural Tour - McIntosh SEED provides a two-hour guided tour of the stunningly beautiful lands of Harris Neck in northeastern McIntosh County. A descendant of the African American Harris Neck community weaves together the stories, songs, crafts, and culture of this lush area tells the story of how Native American, European, and African-American cultures influenced one another and the history of Georgia and the entire coastal region.

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McIntosh SEED • P. O. Box 2355 • Darien, GA • Phone: 912-437-7821 • Fax: 912-437-4271 • Email