Mercer Student Earns Fellowship to Help Rebuild His Hometown’s Food System

August 24, 2011

Media Contact: Mark Vanderhoek, (478) 301-4037 or vanderhoek_m@mercer.edu

Mercer University senior Kelvin Graddick has a lot on his plate this year. He was selected to the prestigious Food and Community’s Fellow program. Graddick’s project is to revive the West Georgia Farmers Cooperative in his hometown of Hamilton. 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 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.

“It’s coming along well, but so much is different than I expected,” he said. “There have been a lot of unexpected things, but a lot of great things have come up.”

Graddick was one of 14 fellows selected in this year’s class, which includes food system advocates, entrepreneurs, activists and writers. The group was chosen from an application pool of more than 560. The two-year national fellowship supports leaders working to create a food system that strengthens the health of communities, particularly children. Fellows receive a yearly stipend of $35,000, along with support services and regular meetings around the country.

“It’s very helpful. They’ve done everything they can to support me,” he said last week. “They got me in contact with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, and I’ll be at their meeting in Alabama this weekend, and we have regular conversations. The other fellows have also been very helpful with advice about goal-setting and how to plan and to stay on track.”

For more on the West Georgia Farmers Cooperative, visit its Facebook page, linked here> and follow Graddick on Twitter @KelvinGraddick.

About the Food and Community Fellows Program
The Food and Community Fellowships are a part of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. It is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Mich., and the Woodcock Foundation, based in New York, N.Y.  The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy works locally and globally at the intersection of policy and practice to ensure fair and sustainable food, farm and trade systems. www.iatp.org. For more on the fellows program, visit www.foodandsocietyfellows.org.

About Mercer University
Founded in 1833, Mercer University is a dynamic and comprehensive center of undergraduate, graduate and professional education. The University enrolls more than 8,200 students in 11 schools and colleges – liberal arts, law, pharmacy, medicine, business, engineering, education, theology, music, nursing and continuing and professional studies – on major campuses in Macon, Atlanta and Savannah and at four regional academic centers across the state. Mercer is affiliated with two teaching hospitals — Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah and the Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon, and has educational partnerships with Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Warner Robins and Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta. The University operates an academic press and a performing arts center in Macon and an engineering research center in Warner Robins. Mercer is the only private university in Georgia to field an NCAA Division I athletic program. For more information, visit www.mercer.edu.
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