Blackburn Laboratory Middle School sold out its entire stock of garden produce in just 45 minutes at its first Farmers Market held in partnership with Jackson State University, collecting hundreds of dollars.
Heather Wilcox, director of JSU’s Center for University-Based Development, said she was happy all the produce sold but was stunned everything disappeared so suddenly for what was expected to be a three-hour event. The garden market was held in a JSU property-owned area located adjacent to the Jackson Public School.
“Definitely, for next year, we’ll make sure we have more than enough,” Wilcox said.
“Nevertheless, today is a great event because it was a collaboration between Jackson State University, Blackburn Laboratory Middle School and the West Jackson community. It was an opportunity for students at Blackburn to actually sell the produce that they grew this spring. Also, it was an opportunity for the community to come and see what the students have grown and to buy their vegetables.”
Learning about entrepreneurship
Belon Jones, a sixth-grade science teacher at Blackburn, described the successful event as a way to allow students to “enjoy the fruits of their labor.” She said, “Back in August, we started the garden and, in September, we had our collard greens cookout. So, now we’re having our Farmers Market to connect with the community. Our students learned about profits, gains and losses through our entrepreneurship class.”
Jones said students put in a lot of sweat by fetching water as needed for the garden and were aided by rainwater and the community. “Last week, a neighbor across the street offered to allow us to use his water after he saw kids carrying water to the garden,” she said. “It takes a village, and we’re using the village and moving forward.”
Jones said the students are amazed that the seeds they planted developed into full-grown vegetables. “Just seeing their work, being able to enjoy it, reaping the benefits and seeing their faces are more than enough for me.” The JSU alum said working with her alma mater has allowed Blackburn to do “amazing” projects.
Because of the garden success, Blackburn sixth-grader Amariye Ledbetter has her sights on the future.
Observing the growth
“After I’ve seen what I’ve done, this can actually become a business. I can even go to California and do this for a living and get paid.” She added, “Being able to grow your own produce means a lot to me. We started as a classroom garden and transported our classroom products to our garden out here, and it began growing. I would have loved to keep the items with me, but I couldn’t because these are food products and, of course, they would rotten,” she mused.
Even so, she said she’s thrilled that people are excited about the garden produce. “It makes me feel like I did something important, and they actually appreciate the food that I help grow from the ground. I hope our community sees what us modern-teenagers are doing, and I hope they can do better and stop doing what they’re doing,” she said firmly.
Mississippi state Rep. Alyce Clarke was one of the first customers to arrive at the Farmers Market.
“This event shows what can be done if we work together,” Clarke said. “Our children have been working on this for some time, and I think they’re all are quite satisfied. They learned how to grow vegetables, prepare them and work together in the community.”
Clarke was amazed at how well the teenagers conducted business. “They helped customers with the vegetables and worked the cash registers. It’s so great to see something good going on in the neighborhood,” she said.
Patty Patterson is a community advocate who partnered with JSU and helped initiate the garden project in 2016.
‘Getting partners together’
Patterson said, “We didn’t get it done then, but the Lord has blessed us do it this season. It turned out to be so great. All year round we worked with the students, getting them to understand entrepreneurship, what the soil is all about and work ethics. Their teachers at Blackburn said this has brought them to a whole new level by being outside of the school and watching something grow.”
She said, “That was our whole intent when Heather brought this plan to me. Of course, I didn’t do it by myself. We had to have other people come in. I’m not the expert, but I am one who will put energy into getting partners together.”
Patterson added that “it has been a great day for us and the community and the students, who will be getting out of school soon. But I would like for parents to keep this up. We could pick them up and get them back into the process all throughout this summer. It’s such a learning process, and it keeps them busy. They also can get good fresh food and know where it’s coming from.”
As part of her outreach, Patterson conducted a short entrepreneurship class. It was then that she said she discovered that the young people exhibited many creative skills and values such as accountability, responsibility and integrity.
She said this project shows that we can bring the community together.
‘We’re not giving up’
“We need to get out from the walls of our homes and visit an environment like this.” She said projects like these in which land can be converted to gardens will help grow the community. “This will bring back our tax base. This will help get rid of dilapidated homes. We can let people know we are going to work here. We’re not giving up. We’re going to keep getting our hands dirty and keep our boots on the ground, so we can bring this neighborhood back,” Patterson said.
Also, during the Farmers Market, a student and faculty member from JSU’s College of Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET) exhibited a cost-saving Sustainable Irrigation System (SIS) that could be used to determine just the right amount of water needed to irrigate the soil. The application would provide readings from the sensors and allow users to turn irrigation on remotely. It hasn’t been commercialized yet, but they’re looking for investors and a small farm to experiment on and collect data.
Meanwhile, Wilcox said, “Although the spring semester is now over, students attending Blackburn’s summer school session will continue to maintain the garden with support from JSU. There’s hope that another student-led Farmers Market will occur in August or September.”
She said the community support overall was “phenomenal,” and she expressed gratitude to nearby homeowners for supplying water and electricity and to the volunteers who built vegetable stands, the Bynum administration and Institutional Advancement.