Jackson State University’s Crop Drop III weighed in as “bigger and better” and included 200 free watermelons and 20,000 pounds of sweet potatoes that were bagged and hoisted into patrons’ vehicles by student volunteers and others rocking to a DJ.
With music filling the air, vehicles began lining up at 7 a.m. Tuesday, two hours before the start of the event as traffic crawled toward the parking lot of Blackburn Laboratory Middle School, 1311 W. Pearl St. Also, there was a live cooking demonstration and construction of container gardens.
Heather Wilcox, neighborhood development assistant for the Center for University-Based Development at Jackson State University, spearheaded the project that included a number of community partners. Signing on to assist were the Society of St. Andrew, the Mississippi Food Network, Chef Nick Wallace, The Good Samaritan Center and others. She also thanked the West Jackson community, along with JSU’s Department of Events, Department of Facilities and Construction, campus media and public safety.
Wilcox said the Crop Drop, scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon, was designed to be bigger and better to fulfill the mission of performing at a higher level by JSU President William B. Bynum Jr. The popular annual event lived up to its expectations, and by 10:30 a.m. all produce was gone.
“We appreciate our farmers who donated,” Wilcox said. “This community is definitely in need, and we’re so happy we can provide our residents fresh fruits and vegetables.” She said 40 container gardens also were to be given away.
“Another beauty of this event is that it involved our incoming freshmen participating in community service,” Wilcox said.
She was also delighted to see children attending from JSU’s Lottie W. Thornton Early Childcare Center in the College of Education. The youths learned more about sweet potatoes by using their sensory skills of touch, feel and smell.
JSU First Lady Deborah E. Bynum called her first Crop Drop experience “fantastic.”
She said, “The neighborhood came out in droves for fresh fruit and vegetables. Everyone is out here. There’s a great showing of support for and by the community. We’ve got cars wrapped around the area. It’s a great time for everyone, including our student volunteers.”
Gabrielle Love, an incoming biology freshman from Memphis, was among the volunteers. She said, “It was a different experience for me, but it was fun to participate in such a great community service project. I got to meet a lot of new people. Everyone was able to take the initiative and got involved without having to be told what to do.”
Nick Wallace, executive chef and curator of Palette Café and owner of Nick Wallace Culinary, was an enthusiastic participant.
“I was super excited because it involved farming.” Wallace gave instructions on how to prepare a sweet potato and kale salad. As well, he demonstrated how to make a simple dressing at home rather than purchasing fatty dressings from grocery stores. Individuals were also able to sample sweet potato bread.
“It’s great to see farmers out here. He said fresh produce is important, suggesting that his grandmother, in her 90s, “has no health problems because we’re still homestead. You can grow squash and tomatoes at home.” Wallace said his dogs even prefer to eat lemongrass than dog food.
Charles H. Beady Jr., CEO of the Mississippi Food Network, said, “We’re happy to be one of the sponsors this year. Mississippi is the hungriest state in the nation. Most of Jackson, Mississippi is a food desert,” which refers to a geographical area where people have limited access to healthy food. Beady said this means individuals are living below poverty and a large number resides at least a mile away from a grocery store.
Andy Lemmon of the Society of St. Andrew said his organization acts as the middleman for partners with excessive food. It covers costs, labor and volunteers. He said St. Andrew has a network of growers throughout the state who loves the idea of sharing food they’re not using.
“Our volunteers make the connection between the food and families in need,” he said. “Crop Drop is community at its finest,” Lemmon said.