Thanks to Mark Vanderhoek of Mercer University News for this article.
Mercer University senior Kelvin Graddick has a lot on his plate this year. He was selected to the prestigious IATP Food and Community Fellows program with a project to revive the West Georgia Farmers Cooperative in his hometown of Hamilton, GA. He has spent his summer laying the groundwork for it, but now he will be back at school as a full-time student and commuting back and forth as he and the other cooperative growers prepare for their first spring planting.
“I can’t see a weekend in the future where I won’t be back in Hamilton,” the computer science major joked about his new dual roles as student and cooperative manager. That includes Saturday, Aug. 27, when the cooperative will hold a flea market at its site to raise money for its efforts.
“To bring healthy and affordable food to everyone, our movement has to get beyond the trendy neighborhoods of Brooklyn and San Francisco and bring more opportunity to working class neighborhoods and rural America," said Mark Muller director of the IATP Food and Community Fellows program. "Kelvin’s project, to reinvigorate a farmer’s cooperative in west Georgia, is a great example of the next generation making a difference in their communities. Kelvin’s commitment to his community, his knowledge of the food system and his unwavering optimism in the potential for the cooperative to succeed made him an excellent candidate for the Food and Community Fellows program.”
Graddick applied for the fellowship because it would give him a chance to do something about the inequalities that exist in local food systems and to help him revive his region’s economic prospects. Graddick’s family is a lifetime member of the cooperative, which was founded in the 1960s. It’s a community member-based cooperative with a goal of bringing African Americans and low-income whites together under a cooperative structure to grow and sell fruits and vegetables. The cooperative thrived for almost 30 years under the leadership of Graddick’s family, but participation has dwindled in recent years.
Now, Graddick has spent the summer working on the group’s building, meeting with the cooperative’s nascent membership, reestablishing the board and fundraising. The work has been gratifying, he said. The group now numbers more than 20 members and many of them will be growing for the cooperative in the spring. He’s established the group’s Facebook page and is now working on a website.