Why women and kids should farm
April 3rd, 2013
01:45 PM ET
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Editor's note: The Southern Foodways Alliance delves deep in the history, tradition, heroes and plain old deliciousness of Southern food. Today's contributor, Emilie Dayan, writes a weekly SFA blog series called "Sustainable South" about food and the environment, nutrition, food access, food justice, agricultural issues and food politics.

To some, Bonita Conwell is a farmer. To others, a butcher. For rural Southern women and youth in agriculture, she is an advocate for economic and social justice. No matter how you frame her, Conwell is a tour de force in the Delta region of Mississippi, and her influence extends up the Mighty Mississippi to Chicago and westward to Houston, Texas.

Based in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, Conwell is the driving force behind Robert’s Meat Market. Built in 1985, the market found success in providing Mississippi-made meat products to Southerners living in Chicago. To the west, Conwell sells the greens of her sweet potato crops - a part of the root that is usually discarded - to an African market in Houston. SFA director John T. Edge is such a fan of Conwell's sweet potato greens that he included them on his list of the top ten dishes of 2012 for Garden & Gun magazine.

Historically, cotton and soybeans were the cash crops of Mound Bayou. In the 1960s, in an effort to battle hunger and malnutrition, local governments created programs to encourage farmers to grow fresh produce for the community. Conwell’s uncle, Lewis Sanders, partnered with these programs and established Mound Bayou as a sweet potato-growing community. Following a Sweet Potato Jamboree sponsored by Alcorn State University, Conwell recognized the crop as an opportunity to engage the city’s youth in agriculture.

In a 2011 interview, Conwell told Linda Rule of Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative that given an opportunity, “You can farm this land, and you can grow some vegetables, and you can put food on your children's table, and you can make a good living.” To Conwell, agricultural work fosters a sense of responsibility and pride in a way that could make the difference between a young person's success versus hanging on a street corner.

Conwell is a leader in the SRBWI in the Mississippi Delta. The 30 women in the program grow vegetables such as squash, okra, peas, and, of course, sweet potatoes. Some have even extended themselves into raising livestock. These women offer each other farming know-how and support.

She believes that black women in the rural South have an enormous opportunity. The challenge, she says, is to share the vision. She calls us to “think beyond ourselves and to do some things that are going to make a difference in somebody else’s life.”

Read more at the Southern Foodways Alliance's blog

Does it matter who grew your food?
Who are you calling 'rich'? A small farmer shares some hard data
Where does your grocery money go? Mostly not to the farmers
Opinion: My family farm isn't under "corporate control"
How the modern day tomato came to be
Farmers aren't evil. Now can we have a civil conversation?
What should a 'local' farm (and farmer) look like?
What a farmer wants you to know about how beef gets to your plate
Start a conversation with a farmer

soundoff (10 Responses)
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    October 16, 2014 at 10:49 pm |
  2. louise


    April 25, 2014 at 10:45 pm |
  3. sha

    I do not like the discriminatory subtitle to the article: Women and Children should farm

    April 4, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      I'm not really sure what you mean there. What is discriminatory?

      April 4, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
      • Katie

        Women and Children – but not Men. Men are too busy, so women and children need to do the stuff that men don't want to do. That's what the discrimination is perceived to be.

        April 4, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
        • Dwhite Power

          on a serious note: perhaps titling this "Women making positive changes by farming" would draw readers into being concerned about Bonita's efforts and cause. I would have to agree that the current title is almost as ignorant to the matter at hand as.. "Why all women need lingerie"

          April 4, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
        • Kat Kinsman

          But men already do farm - the profession is vastly male dominated. Farming is a positive thing that she believes more women and children would benefit by participating in.

          April 5, 2013 at 10:55 am |
  4. Dwhite Power

    Yes. Move the women to nature's kitchen ;)

    April 4, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
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