By Terri Ferguson Smith / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
In keeping with its mission to conserve, Natural Resources Conservation Service officials will keep it simple next week when the local office hosts a 21-county meeting to exchange ideas and receive awards for work over the past year.
Kelvin Jackson, supervisory district conservationist for Lauderdale, Clarke, and Kemper counties, said the area meeting will be held Thursday at the Hamas Lodge in Marion.
Between 125 and 150 people are scheduled to attend for the short, but informative meeting, Jackson said. NRCS is a part of USDA.
With federal budget cuts, the program will not likely involve many overnight visitors to Meridian and Marion, but it will bring some attention to agricultural products from the area. The main focus is the brainstorming sessions, Jackson said, and to compare success stories.
"Anything that was of significance in any other those counties as it relates to soil and water conservation, meeting a certain challenge," Jackson said, "That may be highlighted. Anytime soil and water conservation districts can come together and share experiences. Everyone has different challenges where they can share some of the ways they can triumph over these challenges. There's no reason to re-invent the wheel."
Awards will be announced for the poster and essay contests that youth throughout the district submitted. Employees earning awards for a job well done will also be recognized, he said.
Jackson said that as far as he knows, this is the first time that the meeting has been held in Lauderdale County. He credits landing the meeting here with his staff.
"They do a lot of things that are kind of out of the box and they've been recognized across the state for doing those out-of-the-box things with landowners," Jackson said. "I think that by the work that my staff does, that's one of the things that made them think about having it here."
The keynote speaker will be Samantha Newman, public policy director for Mississippi Farm Bureau, who will talk about how the new farm bill will affect landowners.
Talking over the issues won't be the only activity at the meeting. Guests will receive gift baskets featuring agricultural products from Lauderdale, Kemper and Clarke counties.
"We're going to have some cane syrup that was grown at the Alcorn State University vegetable incubator in Kemper County," Jackson said. "We're going to have some stone-ground grits that were processed at Sciple's Water Mill in Kemper County."
They will also include tomatoes grown by local farmer Danny Daniels, who received NRCS help with growing seasonal high tunnel tomatoes, according to Lisa Horne, of the Lauderdale County Soil and Water Conservation District.
"We helped him establish the high tunnel. It's kind of a hothouse type thing," Horne said. "It helps extend the growing season a few months on each end. He's been real successful with that."
An online video shows the process through which Daniels worked to establish a healthy tomato farm using what are also known as hoop houses, which are structures covered with polyethylene plastic and have a tall roof. High tunnels do not use electricity, so there is no ventilation inside.
This is just one of many ways NRCS and and the Lauderdale County Soil and Water Conservation District help landowners, Jackson said.