Alabama Small Farm Rural Economic Development Center
Tuskegee University's Alabama Small Farm Rural Economic Development Center has numerous collaborative arrangements with various partners. They include USDA agencies (Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency, and Farm Agricultural Services and Rural Development in particular), the State of Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, Resource Conservation and Development Councils (Tombigbee, Ala-Tom Area, and Gulf Coast), the Alabama Exchange Bank, Marion Bank & Trust Company, and West Alabama Bank & Trust), community and group organizations (Federation of Southern Cooperatives, the Alabama Indian Affairs Commission, Vredenburgh Community, and Friends of the Historic Trail) and private entrepreneurs/farmers (Hall's Farm, Down South Foods, Dee C. Madison, Joe E. Bell, etc.), and 1862 county Extension programs (Barbour/Macon).
With the current Outreach Coordinators at NRCS and FSA/Alabama, Tuskegee University has led and participated in the development of statewide working groups and outreach strategies that have been successful in reaching underserved small farms and communities. As a result of these collaborations, Tuskegee University has been able to deal comprehensively with small farm issues, community development, markets for new enterprises, and mini-grant opportunities.
Tuskegee's Small Farm Center has targeted rural community development efforts including: farm-related value-added, wholesale/retail, community-based mini-grant projects, tourism, and rural infrastructure. A mini-grants program has used technical assistance, partnerships and collaborative arrangements to award more than 60 $5,000 to $10,000 grants. The awardees use this to strengthen the organizational capacity of farm and other rural community organizations, in addition to adding value to farm and other products.
The Center has additionally worked with the State Department of Agriculture and Industries to develop the Tuskegee/Macon County Farmers Market, and with other collaborators to strengthen the Gordonville Development Center in Lowndes County, the Browntown Cooperative and other cooperatives to examine and add value to fruit and vegetable production in south-central Alabama, and the meat goat/small livestock industry in southern states.
Resource Conservation & Development Councils have provided an effective approach in dealing with challenges faced by socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. The Ala-Tom area RC&D Council has particularly assisted the Small Farm Center in helping initiate alternative agricultural enterprises through technical assistance and a Small Farmer Revolving Loan Program. The Gulf Coast RC&D Council was the beneficiary of a small grant made possible through collaborative efforts with other programs. RC&D Councils are easily getting involved in issues related to farmers while leading the way to encourage a comprehensive approach to the problems of farm families.
Recent assistance to Down South Foods (DSF) has allowed Project Manager Arthur Jackson to market and distribute farm-raised beef, pork, goats, rabbits, fruits, and vegetables. DSF has developed a retail and wholesale customer base that is being made available for the program to test and develop other value-added arrangements for small farmers. Other farmers who have accepted and encouraged collaborative arrangements and work include George Hall of Hall's Farm, Dee C. Madison, Joe E. Bell, and others. The private banks ready to work with referred clients include Alabama Exchange Bank, Marion Bank & Trust Company, West Alabama Bank & Trust, and First Tuskegee Bank.
The Alabama Indian Affairs Commission is the newest of the collaborative efforts developed in the last seven years. They bring Alabama Native American Tribes to the USDA Outreach program for the first time in a concerted manner in Alabama. This arrangement is a result of the partnership between Tuskegee University and the Cherokee Tribe of Northeast Alabama. From a focus on farms, there has been an interest in looking at whole tribes as economic development entities with great future potential.