SOUTHERN SUSTAINABLE FARMING # 12
Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
P.O. Box 324, Elkins, AR 72727
Phone (501) 292-3714; E-mail: HN3551@handsnet.org
Keith Richards, Editor
SOUTHERN SUSTAINABLE FARMING is the bi-monthly voice of
the Southern SAWG, 50 member organizations working for
more sustainable agriculture in 13 Southern states.
Hard copy subscriptions via U. S. postal service:
$15 per year or $25 for two years
CONTENTS, part 3:
* SMHA: A SOUTHERN SAWG PROFILE
* CALENDAR OF EVENTS
* CLASSIFIED ADS
SOUTHERN MUTUAL HELP ASSOCIATION:
A Southern SAWG Member Profile
by Toni McLaughlin
Since its beginnings during America's War on
Poverty, Southern Mutual Help Association (SMHA) has
been responding to the needs of rural people in Louisiana--
from displaced farm workers, their families and
communities, to farmers interested in growing crops more
sustainably, to most recently, traditional commercial
fishers operating under the state's strict new fishing
SMHA was created in 1969 in response to field
workers who were displaced by mechanization in the sugar
cane industry. Displacement created a need for education
and skills training, as well as decent housing.
From her office in New Iberia, SMHA Executive
Director and co-founder Lorna Bourg says the association
was initially involved in litigation to expose injustices and
create forums where farm workers could be seen and heard.
That emphasis began to change in 1981 when Helen Vinton
joined SMHA as a rural specialist. Having grown up in
western Nebraska, Vinton believes good land needs to be
saved. She feels policy has historically been set with little
regard for rural communities and family farms.
"Non-agricultural development has not been for the
health of the rural community," Vinton says. "Family farms
have not been a priority."
Bourg credits Vinton with showing the association
how to work more holistically with agriculture and
encouraging farmers to network in other regions, then bring
back information to share with others. "I'm aware of the
struggle for agricultural peoples to organize," Vinton said.
"They tend to be isolated, independent and busy."
Making Better Farm Neighbors
In 1990, SMHA developed their Life Quality
Program in answer to the farming community's requests for
help in finding alternatives to increasingly intensive
chemical inputs and mono-culturally produced cane crops.
As the program's director, Vinton has had an impact on
area farmers, thanks to her farming background and efforts
to define common areas. Bourg points out, "The farmers
felt unsupported by communities, and the farm workers and
environmentalists felt farmers were dumping pesticides on
them and tracking mud on the highways. Helen managed
to bring farmers, farm workers, environmentalists and
banking partners into one room, making better neighbors
The Life Quality Program offers farm and fisher
families technical assistance, training and access to
resources that strengthen them as working groups, and
connects them with regional and national organizations.
Vinton stresses, "SMHA never goes into a community to
enlist people but in response to groups with ideas and
During the summer of 1991, extensive fish kills
caused by agricultural chemical runoffs prompted a
groundswell of citizenry to put pressure on farmers and
regulators to reduce the amount of pesticides used.
Farmers approached SMHA after the fish kills asking for
assistance. Through the Southern Sustainable Agriculture
Working Group (SAWG), SMHA began to help local
farmers network with others who were creating more
sustainable practices. As a result, in 1992 SMHA hosted
the first annual Southern SAWG conference in New Iberia
and a local working group--the Acadiana SAWG--was
Citizens complained of other problems resulting
from the sugar cane fields, too. Bourg says that area
doctors' offices "were in crisis when the cane fields were
burned because it wasn't just the sugar cane burning, but
every chemical used on the fields as well." The Acadiana
SAWG and SMHA collaborated with a sugar cane farm
family, the Louisiana Office of Rural Development,
Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, and the
Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development,
as well as the American Sugar Cane League to develop and
implement a non-burning harvest method. This resulted in
a successful, profitable non-burning harvest of 3,000 acres
of cane in 1995. "This is a major transition in cane
harvesting in Louisiana," Bourg said.
SMHA continues to provide technical assistance to
Acadiana SAWG farmers and maintains close ties with the
The most recent addition to the Life Quality
Program has been Louisiana's traditional commercial fisher
communities. This group came to SMHA's attention during
the association's 25th anniversary. Instead of hosting a
fancy banquet to celebrate, SMHA decided to mark the
occasion by holding additional community-based meetings
in the area to listen to residents' concerns. Fishers asked
for help during those meetings in west St. Mary Parish.
The newly distressed fishers are threatened with the
loss of their small businesses through recent state
legislation favoring sports and recreation development.
Legislation now limits gear and seasons for commercial
fishers and has the potential to destroy the way of life and
cultures of some 10,000-17,000 Cajun, Creole, Native
American and Vietnamese multi-generational fishing
families across coastal Louisiana. Bourg fears these
numbers will drop as low as 3,000-5,000 when the shakeup
is complete, some 18 months after the new legislation is in
place. She adds, "When we transition economies, we need
to plan. But we don't do that very well, and a crisis
SMHA, along with Oxfam America and the Jessie
Smith Noyes Foundation, is working with fishers to
determine economic alternatives and provide a
clearinghouse for information about workshops and
meetings on coastal erosion, fisheries management and
issues of seafood harvest. Vinton worries that "we need
more partners to work with this complex situation of
fishers, to work in the long term to find economic
alternatives. Long-term sustainability of many of our
communities rests on agriculture and fishing." She is
concerned that continued coastal development will deplete
the marshes, put marginal peoples out of business and
contribute to total pollution of the area.
Self-Development and Partnerships
SMHA is also actively involved in environmental
justice, which Vinton describes as self empowerment
through access to technical information and training. The
association initiated and institutionalized the Citizens
Environmental Center in response to the call for rebuilding
communities' environmental assets. The center works with
grassroots rural communities and in 18 months has
provided $1.5 million in pro bono technical assistance and
SMHA insists on a partnership relationship with
those who come seeking help. Bourg describes it by saying
that SMHA "holds up a mirror so they can see themselves.
The mirror reflects their strengths and helps them
remember who they are." She believes self development
and partnerships are necessary for positive change. Then,
through intensive leadership training and technical
assistance, the communities determine what they want for
In 1989 the small unincorporated village of Four
Corners asked for help in rebuilding their community.
Local residents forged local leadership by forming a self-
help group to mentor other groups, and the Building Rural
Communities Program was born. The program upgrades
housing through the Self-Help model to support family
development. This model promotes the concept that
people will want to become part of what is working versus
having to recruit participants into the programs, with
communities investing in self help rather than passive
entitlement. The model has expanded from housing to all
aspects of enabling a community to become healthy and
remain that way. The program encompasses many other
activities, such as the Public Policy Participation Program,
the Critical Difference Scholarship Program which assists
families with a history of work on the sugar cane
plantations, youth development and a rural health corps.
With their small but dedicated staff of eight SMHA
simply cannot field a lot of requests for information, but
they are interested in working with other nonprofit groups.
The association tries to offer training sessions combined
with a field tour twice a year. Nonprofits can request
inclusion in these sessions but must take care of their own
travel logistics. For more information, contact SMHA,
5002 Old Jeanerette Road, New Iberia, LA 70560; 318-
367-3277 (phone); 318-367-3279 (fax).
CALENDAR OF EVENTS
September 25-27: Texas Organic Cotton Marketing
Cooperative Fall Field Day, Lubbock, TX. For more
information, phone 806-439-6640.
September 28: Field To Market meeting, Virginia Beach
Farmer's Market, sponsored by the Tidewater Chapter of
V.A.B.F. For information contact Leonard Bergey at 804-
482-4712 or 482-1740.
October 9-11: Community Issues in Agriculture:
Leadership From the Ground Up, Center for Kentucky
Rural Economic Development, Somerset, KY. For
information contact Mike Score at 606-257-7272 ext. 246.
October 10-11: Southern SAWG Steering Committee
meeting, Greenville, SC. For more information, phone 501-
October 12: Farm Aid '96 Concert, Williams-Brice
Stadium, Columbia, SC. Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp,
Neil Young, Hootie and the Blowfish, The Beach Boys,
Tim McGraw, Martina McBride, John Conlee, Jewel,
Rusted Root and Son Volt. For tickets, phone 888-8-
FARMAID or order through the World Wide Web at
http://farmaid.select-a-seat.com/farmaid/. For information
or to make a donation, phone 800-FARMAID.
October 18: "Beyond Charity: The Harvest Is Plenty...,"
North Carolina Hunger Network Conference, Holiday Inn
Crabtree, Raleigh, NC. For more information contact NC
Hunger Network at 919-821-5300 or Renee Price at 919-
October 23-25: "Helping Rural People and Communities
Work Toward Self-Sufficiency," Arkansas Land and Farm
Development Corporation Annual Conference, Brinkley,
AR. For information contact ALFDC at 501-734-1140 or
October 26: Emu Rodeo & Trade Day/Seminars,
Talihina, OK. For more information call 918-567-3687 or
November 1-2: "Profit from Diversity" Small Farm
Seminars and Trade Show, Columbia, MO. For
information contact Chuck DeCourley, Small Farm Today
magazine at 800-633-2535.
November 7-9: "Appropriate Technology Old & New,"
Virginia Sustainable Agriculture Conference, Camp
Blue Ridge, Montebello, VA. For information contact
Patrice Stansbury at 804-233-5670.
November 8-10: "Agriculture, Community, and
Economy: Weaving a Sustainable Future," Carolina
Farm Stewardship's Annual Sustainable Agriculture
Conference, Winthrop University, Rock Hill, SC. For
information contact Alyx Perry, CFSA at 919-968-1030.
November 22-23: Georgia Organic Growers Sustainable
Agriculture Conference, St. Paul Methodist Church,
Atlanta, GA. For information contact GOGA at 770-621-
January 4: Oklahoma SAWG Organizational Meeting in
conjunction with Oklahoma Horticulture Industries Show,
Tulsa, OK. For information contact the Kerr Center at 918-
January 16-19: Southern SAWG Annual Conference &
Trade Show, Gainesville, FL. Over 20 workshops and
round table discussions, 3 farm tours, farmers' stories, trade
show, organic cotton fashion show, sustainably produced
food showcased in meals and receptions, and much more.
For information contact Jean Mills at 205-333-8504.
DRIP IRRIGATION. Huge quality selection of
components; tubing, emitters, filters, timers, T-tape, etc.
Fast service and free design assistance. Call for FREE
CATALOGUE. DRIPWORKS. 1-800-522-3747.
SUPPLIES: Frost fabric, compost covers, greenhouse
structures and plastic, and row covers. G&M Supply
Company, 5301 N. 82nd Street, Scottsdale, AZ 85250. 1-
Certified organic elephant garlic available for fall
planting. 5# bag - $30 or 50# bag - $225. Free UPS
shipping. Contact Tom Jackson, Jackson Farm, 13902
Dunn Rd, Godwin, NC 28344, ph: 910-567-2978, e-mail:
RED MEAT. Emus (the alternative red meat) ready for
slaughter. Totally organically grown--no hormones. As low
in fat and cholesterol as turkey breast. Slaughter
information available or we can arrange for you. 14-18
month old birds 100+ lb. $250.00 each. 918-567-2890 or
RHEMU Pain Relieving Lotion (contains emu oil).
Discover the soothing relief from minor arthritis pain,
aching strained muscles, and joint pain. To order send
$15.00 + $3.00 shipping and handling for a total of $18.00
to: "Birds of a Feather," Round Prairie 66, Albion, OK
74521 or call 918-567-EMUS (3687).
Connect Mail Sent: September 26, 1996 9:58 am PDT Item: R00YlVK