Real Food is Good Medicine for People, Places and Planet (RFGM)
Personal wellness and community engagement shift paradigms, transforming the industrial food chain into nourishing, community food systems.
Fresh Foods for healing... from Delta soils for Delta people.
Greens of all kinds have long been a staple in Delta diets, although they are now giving way to processed foods for younger generations.
Please see Youth/Farmer video that would not upload to application: https://vimeo.com/356743521/9c8d7c3d35
Youth Ambassadors Man the Mobile Market
Delta real men growing Delta real food... 5 guys with squash
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Delta Fresh Foods Initiative (DFFI)
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Small NGO (under 50 employees)
If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.
We are not YET a 'multi-stakeholder' entity. Because food as medicine is a new concept in our region, inviting partners will be more successful once our wellness work has more traction and if the RFGM vision gets recognition. We feel comfortable expanding beyond DFFI and inviting diverse stakeholders if chosen as a semi-finalist. That said, the DFFI board are members of numerous stakeholder groups in the region. They and DFFI consultants and partners bring expertise in agriculture, wellness, farm to school, food policy, higher education, healthcare and more. Several board members will serve on a team if the vision moves forward: Dorothy Grady-Scarbrough (green agriculture, healthcare, farm to school), Dr. Deborah Moore (higher education, healthcare alliance), Gloria Dickerson (financial, mindfulness), and Ex Dir, Judy Belue (food policy, FS development, farmer/youth programs). Consultants Dr. Bill Evans (organic ag, food hubs), Nancy Woodruff (research/visioning/Living Well Locally).
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Hernando, Mississippi, USA
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
United States of America
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
"The Delta" is an 18-county area in the state of Mississippi, USA, covering a total area of 17,870 km^2
What country is your selected Place located in?
United States of America
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
The Delta was selected because of its special need for a fresh and healthy food system, and because Delta Fresh Foods Initiative (DFFI) is currently testing a food-as-medicine approach to building that food system using regenerative methods.
DFFI is Delta-based, its Board of Directors live there and together represent 100+ years of dedication to improving the lives of Delta residents. When a request to use the Delta for this vision was made, the DFFI board agreed.
The food-as-medicine approach began when DFFI Executive Director, Judy Belue, invited her food policy colleague, Nancy Woodruff, to teach Living Well Locally classes at their Mound Bayou project site in 2018. Nancy's research work for the Mississippi Food Policy Council in 2016 had linked sustainable agriculture and lifestyle medicine.
As senior, white women, Judy and Nancy realize that they are not a perfect fit with impoverished, African American communities or youth or with long-standing political forces. But they hold a deep commitment to initiating the work that tests whether wellness can be a driver for community-based, regenerative food systems and all that flows from them: better health, less poverty, less inequality, less dependence.
We believe that wellness can be self-generated, and that Delta people can create better lives for themselves. Pursing wellness where inequality and poverty are so long-standing, where agriculture has so changed the landscape, where industrial food has so damaged human health… this is the 'why' and also the challenge that DFFI and its funder, Bolivar County Medical Foundation, have accepted.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
Travel Highway 61 through the Delta, follow the Blues Trail, learn about the birthplace of America's music and her long struggle with civil rights. Drive endless flat Delta roads, watch planes dive toward wheat fields, cotton being rolled into bales, corn readied for transport. Visitors cannot know the Delta like with those who live here, but they are welcomed to learn about it and get some feel of its unique role in shaping America's story.
The Delta has been called the 'most Southern place on earth’. It is the birthplace of America's music, the home of the Blues... the land of king cotton ... the fertile crescent... the home of Son Thomas, BB King, William Faulkner and so many other greats.
The Delta’s history and still its present are a portrait of contrast: it is rich and yet poor, fertile and yet depleted, traditional and yet high-tech, artful and yet mundane.
In the American South, 18 counties in the NW corner of the state of Mississippi are known as the “Mississippi Delta”, sometimes the “Yazoo-Mississippi Delta”. Most of the region’s 7,000 square miles (1780 km^2; 4.4 million acres) are alluvial floodplain lying between two rivers, 200 miles long (320km) and 87 miles (140km) at its widest, and not to be confused with the ‘Mississippi River Delta’ which drains the full river basin through 7 states, north to south.
Through slavery, emancipation, reconstruction, migration, civil rights and corporate control, this place and its people have endured, sung the blues, raised their families, created distinct and separate cultures, loved their friends and faith, and hoped for better times. They are resilient, creative, functional, flexible, stoic, adaptable, slow to change.
Over three centuries, the Delta has been a place of loss for Native Americans, enslavement for African Americans, hard work for Chinese immigrants, opportunity for speculators, wealth for early planters. Many hands cleared swamp and timber, built levees and railroads, and picked cotton across incredible vastness. After emancipation, black-owned farms grew to two thirds of independent farms by 1950, but political oppression and tight credit meant lost land and farms and sent 400,000 Blacks north and west for industrial jobs. Yet, many still keep their Delta roots, come home to family, even return to stay, some do.
Today, within one of the world’s most fertile, renewable agricultural bioregions, the Delta's population of approximately 550,000 is still in decline. Its large-scale commodity farms are still the main industry: primarily cotton, corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, farmed catfish. Export agriculture has become dependent on protections from biotechnology and battered by uncertain global markets. Soils and ecosystems have lost biodiversity. Jobs are few. Communities, people, healthcare and even large farms have become dependent on federal policies and public support.
The Delta’s food system is largely imported (93%), food deserts exist, fresh foods are not abundant and hard for many to obtain, food insecurity is high, processed foods make up a large part of the diet, cooking and gardening skills have fallen away. Poverty, obesity and chronic disease rates are some of the highest in Mississippi and the nation. Disease strikes regardless of status but also disproportionate to race.
The Delta’s way of life has become unsustainable, everyone is leaning into an uncertain future.
A river keeper and a planter talk about the Delta: https://www.iheart.com/podcast/269-may-the-river-be-with-you-46865075/episode/nutrient-pollution-46875790/
What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
The RFGM vision is challenged by what has been lost from the Delta over many decades: from the ecosystem, from homes and culture, from the diet, from the economies of rural communities, and, arguably, even from governance. These losses, in good part, can be traced to the modern methods and technologies of agriculture, medicine and food production.
To be successful Real Food as Good Medicine must reclaim fresh foods, ecosystem diversity, healthy soils and clean air, skills in gardening and cooking, care of home and self, community empowerment and self-reliance, and public and locally-centered governance. We must also reclaim the human palate, rescue it from addiction to processed foods so that a taste preference for the Real Foods can be re-created.
The greatest challenge, however, may be cultural: a poverty of awareness exists about ‘why we are sick and how we can heal’ – in particular, how foods either harm us or heal us, and how toxins affect our health. We have become dependent on medical technologies to fix our symptoms and manage our chronic diseases such that knowledge of healing and practices in home and self-care have suffered. RFGM relies on bringing back awareness of what we can do for ourselves and on nurturing a belief in the ability of the human body-mind-spirit to self-restore function when given proper support.
There is also a perception, both cultural and institutional, that our hot, humid climate prohibits growing without the use of chemical inputs and protections. Rural areas and poverty populations, across the Delta and America generally, have been by-passed by the organic foods and alternative medicine movements of recent decades, making the learning curve for RFGM steeper.
Economic challenges include: difficult access to farmland for the smallholder farmers who can best supply a variety of high-quality, fresh foods to local markets; limited ability of small, impoverished communities to fully support these farmers; and, a lack of focus on food systems development by local, regional and state entities.
RFGM will also be challenged by current federal food safety regulations that do not fit small, local producers, do not include toxins, and do not fully support real foods over processed ones. Nutrition guidelines are also challenging because of their confusion on important dietary concerns such as fat and calories, and because they do not speak at all to the question of food quality (i.e. how a food is grown or raised). Because healing depends on reducing environmental pollution as well as personal toxins, the lack of adequate regulatory control of toxins in air, water and food is a significant challenge.
In 2050, challenges will likely continue to be regeneration of soils and ecosystems, nurturing institutional and policy change, matching supply and demand in Delta markets and beyond, addressing labor and technology needs, and scaling up pilot projects that demonstrate what RFGM can do.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
We believe that real transformation of any system only occurs through educational and economic systems that embrace root cause innovations and solutions that make the former paradigm obsolete. Zach Bush, MD, Board Chair, Farmer’s Footprint, 12/30/19
The RFGM vision must address the lack of awareness about why we are sick, how we can heal, and the role food quality plays in harming or healing us. After awareness, the vision must create belief that personal healing is possible.
Awareness of how diet, environment and lifestyle impact health, and the belief that healing is possible, will come from learning about successes in Functional and Integrative Medicine and from the personal stories of those who have healed.
Once belief is created, hope will follow. With hope will come action and with action will come personal and community engagement. With engagement the wellness snowball begins to roll and demand for Real Food grows.
Community-based initiatives that educate and engage can occur all along the food chain and at various points within healthcare. ‘Living Well Locally’ (LWL), for example, is designed to create awareness about why we are sick and to relate health not just to personal habits but to larger forces, including the food system. Beginning with gut health, food quality and hands-on in the kitchen, LWL shares success stories from reputable sources to illustrate the what and why of Read Foods and to engage purpose as a motivator – how personal choice ripples out to impact family, community, environment and planet.
After awareness is created and belief begins, the community is ready for visioning, for beginning its journey toward wellness by working together to build a nourishing system of Real Foods and by encouraging integrative and wellness-based medicine.
Local proof of healing and the power of Real Foods will also be needed. Demonstration projects that integrate clinic, field and home will build awareness, belief and momentum. A regenerative farm, a healing home, a community kitchen, vocational seed-to-plate learning in schools – each adds proof of what is possible: we can heal, our community can grow Real Food, we can turn food waste into good meals and culture processed foods into better ones, we can keep food dollars in our community and we can engage youth in understanding and wanting to be tomorrow’s good food producers and wellness providers.
Addressing challenges created by long-standing mainstream paradigms is not easy. A cultural shift is required. When change begins with personal experience, with seeing and feeling the impact of personal well-being, it grows deep roots and becomes self-sustaining. RFGM envisions grassroots change that comes from awareness, belief and the power of purpose.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
Around a conference table in the year 2050 sit a physician, a farmer and a cook. They have just returned from the field via the kitchen and are talking about the foods of the season, how they are being grown, how they will be prepared and for whom.
The table is also for dining and sits in a Healing Home Center in Mound Bayou, where temporary residents are learning natural care of home, families and self, including how to find products and services as close to their homes as possible.
Not far away at the Delta Health Center, earlier in the day, residents and dignitaries had gathered to hear the Governor review three decades of hard work to bring fresh foods and good medicine to the Delta. “You made it!” affirmed the governor. “Not so long ago, 93% of the Delta’s food was imported. Despite being one of the world’s most fertile farming regions, communities were dying, chronic disease was rampant, jobs were gone, and only government support kept people and farms afloat. But the people of the Delta came together, and by nourishing yourselves back to health, you have also restored your communities and your land through cooperation and good spirit. Congratulations!”
Delta people are crafting new life from the soils of an ancient, damaged place, they are building a new future for their children. They can see a new Delta, they can feel it in their bones, they have a dream that depends on what they do for themselves, not on being saved by well-meaning others or controlled by political forces.
As for the land, the Delta is putting on her finest green coat woven of lovely flax waving from fields now remade in rainbow colors that will flow through clean veins and down the bellies of children pulling radishes. From her soils spring health, from her waters flow new life, from her skies fall only clean rain to soak deeply into nourishment that heals people, renews places and nurtures a bruised planet back to balance and bountiful life.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
This logo for a community course in living well locally shows the prescribing of food as medicine and the health of places and planet flowing from the healing of people. Real food nourishes the people who eat it, the land from which it grows and the communities where consumers keep their food dollars local. Well people walk with a lighter footprint on our planet home.
Dr. Alison Buehler is a Mississippi friend of the RFGM vision who sees the simple side of wellness but also knows it is counterculture and difficult, especially here in the South. "Mississippi needs your personal change... it starts at home... and probably in the kitchen." See her writing and work on wellness, keeping it local, coming home to heal, and more at www.thehomesteadcenter.com and www.alisonbuehler.com
(8 min) Mississippian Allen Williams, PhD, explains in 8 min how good grazing builds soils, is the difference between degeneration and regeneration of ecosystems, how it makes farms profitable again and what it can mean for rural economies and communities. Rich vegetation grows from appropriately managed herd grazing, soils are enriched, water retention improves, pastured animals are healthy, and farms are made more profitable.
Doctor's Farmacy Podcast. Mark Hyman, MD interviews Daphne Miller, MD, May 2019
Why Your Health Depends on the Soil.
Doctor's Farmacy Podcast. Mark Hyman, MD interviews Todd LePine, MD, Nov 2019. “Most of your immune system is in your gut, when you disrupt (your gut), you disrupt your immune system.” Replacing processed foods with real foods is one of the best things to do for gut health.
(20 min) The trials, lessons and victories of the four generation Breitkreutz family who transitioned Stoney Creek Farm from conventional farming to regenerative agriculture. Using conventional methods they saw their soils degrade and their input costs rise every year. Transitioning to regenerative practices has helped their row cropping operation and significantly reduced the input cost for their cattle.
At 9 AM the cafeteria is a beehive. Seniors are delivering produce, eggs and milk from the student farm, stacking greens near the sink, eggs and milk in the cooler beside homemade yogurt and kefir. By 10:30 juniors are finishing salad prep, flipping burgers, blending fresh mayonnaise and slicing fragrant buns. The apples are washed, and blueberry smoothies are about to be blended and poured up. The Sysco truck still comes, but not as frequently; the freezers are now stocked with pastured beef patties from two local farms and the pantries with salsa, pickles, ketchup, dried fruits and more from the community kitchen, another beehive of year-round activity. The Delta still helps feed the world, but it is not the same - land or food- as it once was. This fertile soil grows many things now, feeds itself well first and then ships its bounty to others. Small farms and large farms, orchards and rice fields, livestock and dairy… it’s all here in Delta country, grown with careful attention to what humans need to be well and to what the land needs to be naturally and abundantly alive.
On the cafeteria's south wall is a mural of historical foodways, on the west wall an archive of headlines from 3 decades of work to make the Delta well again:
2024 Historic Mound Bayou Sets Goal for Living Well Locally: “Community Food on Every Plate by 2040”
2025 Delta Community Announces Future Ban on Toxins in Its Air, Water, Soils and People
2025 HOPE Credit Union Underwrites Southern Cultured, Inc to create community-supported social enterprises such as cultured, dried and medicinal foods for local Delta markets.
2025 Mississippi Author Tours State with Message “Come Home to Heal, Mississippi!” “It’s time to come home, Mississippi - to care for ourselves and our communities.” Given exploding medical costs, Dr. Alison Buehler, asks, “What could happen if we all thought self-care has a patriotic act”?
2027 Delta Fresh Foods Initiative Expands Mobile Market to Five More Delta Counties, Contemplates Regional Food Hub
2030 Bolivar County Announces New Program: Value Adding Health in Public Schools From seed to plate, vocational students will have a chance to learn while providing fresh foods to their school cafeteria.
2030 Bayer-Monsanto Continues its Court-Ordered Reclamation of the Mississippi River Delta Agricultural regeneration continues in the Delta with new scholarship awards to Delta Rising Demonstration Farm.
2030 Global Soil Health Society Convenes at Stoneville Experiment Station to study the regenerative methods being used to ‘rewild’ land intensively farmed for two centuries.
2030 Delta Health Center Returns to Its Pioneering Roots, Convenes Mississippi’s First Real Food Is Good Medicine Summit
2030 All Eighteen Delta Counties Enter State Vision Prize Contest, “(From) Race to Wellness, Together” Who Will Win $1,000,000?
2035 Medical Leaders Jointly Announce Statewide Effort to Retool Healthcare in Mississippi
2050 Mississippi Leads the Nation in Health Gains Has Mississippi’s dramatic rise from last on most socio-economic-health rankings positioned it to lead the nation on wellness?
Real Food is Good Medicine for People, Places and Planet (RFGM) is a systemic approach to food systems change driven by community engagement and rooted in personal wellness. Farm, home, school and clinic are all engaged in renewing themselves.
The definitions: Real Food is “a full plate of variety and color from foods that are seasonal, fresh, nutrient-dense, flavorful, toxin-free, minimally processed and locally grown.” Good Medicine is “that which nurtures an ability to self-restore healthy function and revitalize spirit.” By placing Real Food at the center of treatment, Good Medicine helps restore healthy function to people, communities and planet.
Wellness can evolve in many ways, but in rural and poor cultures, the support of recognized experts, particularly doctors, is especially important.
RFGM has created a powerful synergy that goes beyond human healing. It has revitalized soils, repaired ecosystems and reduced environmental toxicity. It has created local wellness economies, created community and revitalized spirit.
Real Food is not a magic bullet, but it can be the silver thread that pulls many things together. The real magic of Real Food lies in its ability to reconnect humans to land, to place, and to each other. Real Food set in a wellness context offers a broad array of face-to-face interactions – in clinical support groups, at farmers markets, in policy councils, among local environmental groups and within the communities of wellness practitioners and businesses.
Wellness was uncomfortably counterculture until it began flowing from community-driven action. Now, Southern culture in the Delta has created a wellness snowball powered by purposeful social engagement, instead of a fear of offending.
Place-based wellness is an indigenous, self-generating development approach that has brought the Delta’s great need for better health together with its greatest strengths – home, family, faith, social support, fertile land and mild climate. Small farms and cottage industries have created opportunity for more players at all points along the food and wellness value chains.
As a fertile flatland replenished by river flooding – the Mississippi Delta continues to feed many. It's fresh foods system also employs more, that being the nature of moving from quantity to quality of production. ‘(Re)wilding’ is a massive technological shift but with benefits hard to overlook. Food from regenerative farms is in high demand, allowing them to be profitable, resilient and once again independent.
As for the clinic, an initially gradual shift has gained momentum. sophisticated pharmacology is being applied alongside food as medicine. Clinicians have become comfortable with diagnostics and technologies that find root causes, assess genetics and personalize treatment. They are now de-prescribing drugs and talking about side-benefits of lifestyle change rather than warning of medication side-effects. Doctors feel renewed purpose, not only in their role as healer, but in what they contribute to the community and wider world through the health of their patients. Patients who learn why they are sick are empowered, they take home a to-do list that makes sense, they are motivated to change.
What of policy? As food production moves closer to consumers, local and regional governments become more appropriate regulators and enforcers; breaches in food safety are limited to smaller market arenas; food safety supports smaller, more diversified producers; and, consumers themselves lighten the regulatory burden as they become healthier and less susceptible to pathogens. Astute, wellness-driven consumers could even create a mostly self-regulating marketplace one day?
Policy evolution has also come to support the use of food as medicine: e.g. better and more local protection from environmental toxins; support of Real Food over processed; incentives for institutions to buy local; more local authority (e.g. food sovereignty), and freedom to choose among health alternatives.
Transformative, grassroots change is well underway. Initially driven by a pressing need to deal with chronic disease, it began in clinics, fields and homes, with Real Food playing a leading role. It has become a powerful cultural shift.
The beauty of such wellness-driven change is that trade-offs and tensions between economy, environment and health are not only fewer, these elements can even become supportive of each other. When regenerative methods are used in fields, clinics and homes, a synergy begins: what works for human health also works for environment and local economy.
RFGM is informed by Delta Fresh Foods Initiative’s ten years of work to bring fresh foods to Delta communities. With funding from Bolivar Medical Foundation, DFFI pioneered community classes in Living Well Locally and continues to invest in local farmers, a mobile market and youth programming to support future food systems development. A high tunnel, demonstration farm, community kitchen, and health coaching are in their early stages.
Wellness consultant and vision writer, Nancy Woodruff, teaches a study course in Living Well Locally, variously designed for community residents, youth, community leaders and health professionals. LWL also listens and watches: which lifestyle interventions work and which do not, what wellness freebies work, can having purpose actually energize and motivate self-care? We are all learning, we are all healing... together.
In 2020, regenerative farming, food as medicine and living well locally were in their very early stages in the Delta. Even so, RFGM envisioned a day when agriculture’s first question would be ‘what do humans need to be healthy’ and medicine’s first reply would be ‘real food’. Here in 2050, that vision is coming true.
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?