Ag road trip in the Mississippi Delta

posted January 16, 2008

McKay in Como, MS

After Christmas Severine came down to my family’s home in Mississippi to do some research on the history and contemporary realities of Southern agriculture.

As would befit any visit to the Delta, we ate shrimp & grits, slept in a room over a blues club, and were invited to Sunday lunch at a newly-made friend’s grandmother’s house in Clarksdale. (We also saw the remnants of a basement meth lab explosion—mattresses stuck in the tops of trees; rollerblades and comic books strewn across the street, casette tapes unwound across the sidewalk.)

Buck Palace by Bill Logan

Severine had never been to Mississippi, which is to say she was in for a real shock. Despite all the agriculture, there’s barely anything fresh to eat and we had a near death experience at Chicken Express involving the quail plate.

One post juke-joint morning we were told, “Breakfast never really took off in Clarksdale. You might want to try the Super Walmart for food.”

Cotton KingWe spoke to third-generation farmers in Como, MS, good family friends of mine, who told us about the devastation of the farm crisis in the 1980s, the chemicals they used on their plants, and their views on Monsanto. Mike and Sledge are some of the lone surviving independent farmers in their north Mississippi ag region. They shared grievances about the corporate state of monoculture & GM farming, but fairly admitted they did not know how to financially survive using alternative methods. When we asked them how they would farm if they could do anything they wanted, Sledge said despite his thousands of acres, what he would love is a small farm, if only it were feasible.

Cotton Gin

After a tour of the cotton gin, an industrial feat which we want to shoot in its full postmodern glory in October, we drove to Oxford, MS, home of the Southern Foodways Alliance at Ole Miss, catfish haven Taylor Grocery, and Rowan Oak, residence of William Faulkner. The curator at Rowan Oak became a fast friend of The Greenhorns, allowing us to hop over the rope to investigate Faulkner’s dusty bookshelves.

From Oxford, we drove straight to the levy where we met JD at his cabin in prime duck-hunting season. JD, a thirty-year old family farmer who operates Dulaney Seed, the largest independent seed company in the US, drove us around his 3000+ acre farm. When we asked him what his ideal farming method would be he said a 100% automated farm, if only it were legal to drive tractors with no people.

These farm visits portray a few realities of farming in the South, but there are many more layers to be explored. We’ve connected with John T. Edge and are keeping a list of alternative growers in the region. If you know any farmers we should talk to in the South, or any other regions where alternative farming methods are being pioneered by young Greenhorns, please let us know.

yours, McKay.