Grassroots organization and local USDA connect to help disadvantaged farmers

Biologist Alex Harvey PHOTOS BY GAIL HM BROWN

By Gail H.M. Brown, Ph.D. ,

Contributing Writer ,

Biologist Alex Harvey PHOTOS BY GAIL HM BROWN
HLGP Secretary/organizer Kimberly Clayton
Holmes County Extension Director Betsy Padgett
HLGP President Henry Anderson Sr.

Do you know that just as you would appraise a house to assess its value it is equally critical to do the same for your timber and/or land? If you do not, you might discover that you are selling yourself cheap or giving away your family legacy. 

It was this and a myriad of other resourceful information farmers, beginning farmers, ranchers, youth and the public received during an eye-opening Agriculture Informational Fair, Monday, June 27. Held in Saints College/Academy Auditorium, Lexington, Miss., the event was coordinated and hosted by the Holmes Livestock and Growers Project (HLGP) in collaboration with the Holmes County USDA NRCS and FSA Service Center.

Some audience members appeared captivated to the edges of their seats. 

HLGP is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization built on a membership of farm families in Holmes County, Miss. and surrounding areas.

“It was indeed a very interesting awareness outreach; I am glad my wife and I came to support HLGP and the great things it is doing in our county,” said Leslie Greer, co-founder of the Community Students Learning Center (CSLC). The CSLC, also a 501(c)3 non-profit has successfully implemented two of USDA NRCS’s federal outreach programs; one, a youth outreach and the other, farm information awareness. 

“This informational outreach is one of the many things that we do as a part of our mission,” said Henry Anderson Sr., HLGP president. “We work with small farmers to promote sustainability and create legacies for future generations to enjoy the earth’s natural resources.”

Presenters Henry Anderson Jr., Kimberly Clayton, Alex Harvey, Fernando Vazquez, Larry Pate and James “Jim” Corley

HLGP Secretary and Outreach Organizer Kimberly Clayton welcomed the attendees, and HLGP member Derrick Scott presented the occasion. Speakers and presenters of the free event included USDA NRCS Supervisory District Conservationist, Area 4 Fernando Vazquez, Holmes County Extension Director (Retiring) Betsy Padgett, USDA FSA Holmes County Director Jim Corley, Farm Service Agency Loan Director Larry Pate, NRCS Easement Team Leader Rick Hagar, USDA NRCS Assistant State Conservationist and Area Conservationist for the Delta Area Taharga Hart (a Holmes County native), and Professional Consulting Forester and Wildlife Biologist Alex Harvey, 

Each of the presenters provided a wealth of information and resource materials. Farmers and others left the event with handfuls of pamphlets, brochures, including the MSU Extension Service Garden Tabloid dubbed as the “Garden Bible,” according to Padgett. 

Hart covered general details about new initiatives, new staff, etc. He pointed out that Holmes County manage most of the programs in the state, and he highly emphasized that if anyone has questions about USDA, please feel free to contact the office.

“We encourage the farmers to stop by the office and talk with us,” said Vazquez. His office covered eligibility criteria for applying for financial assistance.

“This step is very critical for farmers, because it helps them understand what documentation they need to be eligible for USDA programs. We encourage farmers to keep track of their farm records (# of cows, acres, crop, irrigation, yields, etc.),” he said.

Vazquez also covered their main conservation programs, (i) the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) which provides technical and financial assistance to producers to address natural resource concerns and deliver environmental benefits such as improved water and air quality, conserved ground and surface water, increased soil health and reduced soil erosion and sedimentation, improved or created wildlife habitat, and mitigation against drought and increasing weather volatility.

(ii)the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) helps agricultural producers maintain and improve their existing conservation systems and adopt additional conservation activities to address priority resource concerns. CSP pays participants for conservation performance – the higher the performance, the higher the payment.

Davian Powell, middle with the cowboy hat is Brian Grisby, left with the the baseball cap is my son, Sinatra Clayton, II.

An interesting awareness from the event was the critical importance of timber appraisals presented by Alex Harvey, who is also founder and president of Legacy Land Management, LLC, a black-owned natural resources management firm.

In a later interview with The Mississippi Link, Harvey stated that “first, a timber appraisal gives a landowner the ability to make better informed decisions regarding their assets.” He shared that “far too often, landowners in minority communities do not hire consulting foresters to advise them and this leads to their timber being purchased for much less than it’s actually worth.”

Harvey, who graduated from the Holmes County Public School District, explained that an appraisal gives a landowner a frame of reference for which products they have in their forest, (ex. pulpwood, chipnsaw, saw timber etc.), how much of those products they have and what their market value is at that time. Each has a different value (ex. saw timber is worth more than chipnsaw and pulpwood). 

“Unfortunately, many forest landowners are taken advantage of when they sell their timber directly to a timber buyer and don’t hire a professional consulting forester to help them. This happens to black and white landowners alike however, it tends to have a more negative effect within minority communities because African American families tend to have less financial wealth to begin with. I would also add that minority communities are perhaps taken advantage of more often in this regard,” Harvey said. 

During the event, he relayed a story of an elderly African American woman who had lost her husband three months prior to a timber buyer showing up at her home on a Sunday evening with an $80,000 check in hand for her timber. She rejected the offer and attended a timber valuation workshop that she had read about. There, she was introduced to a consulting forester who later appraised her timber was valued at nearly $500,000. She was shocked.

The audience was amazed to learn that some timber can be just that valuable. 

Attendee Gregory Crenshaw, who is interested in starting a cattle business, said the farm seminar was very helpful in providing information about farming, tree logging and ways to acquire cattle, and how to start your own vegetable gardens and fish ponds. “I really enjoyed the workshop,” he expressed.

HLGP also recognized its outstanding youth in agriculture with gifts. Each of whom had recently represented the county well in state 4-H competitions. 

President Anderson thanked the speakers, presenters, audience and everyone who helped with the event. He left everyone with this food for thought: “Land was only made once; value it.”

For more information about HLGP and its membership, call Anderson at 662 834-4893 or Kimberly Clayton at 662 639-1010. 

For more information about USDA NRCS and FSA, contact your county service center. For Holmes County, call 662 834-4688.

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