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EPA program to help nutrition, economic program in Vicksburg

The city of Vicksburg, Shape Up Mississippi and United Way of West Central Mississippi will be getting federal assistance to develop a program to revitalize the area and develop a local food network.

The assistance is provided by the Local Foods, Local Places Program sponsored jointly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the EPA, Region 4 EPA Administrator Mary Walker said.

Vicksburg is one of 16 communities nationwide to receive assistance through the program.

“This is a program we have in partnership with USDA to advance community-led, community-driven solutions to help with local food development, particularly in a way to revitalize communities and boost economic development and economic opportunity for residents and local farmers,” Walker said.

The program provides technical assistance to help communities with opportunity zones reinvest in neighborhoods and improve the quality of life through developing the local food economy.

Opportunity Zones is a new community development program established by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 to encourage long-term private investments in low-income and rural communities.

Under the act, private investment within a designated Opportunity Zone may earn tax breaks on the capital gains generated through the investments. The tax benefits increase the longer investments are in place.

According to an EPA release on the Local Foods, Local Places Program, Shape Up Mississippi wants to create an educational and economical food hub combining the farmers market, community garden, demonstration kitchen, educational center and the Catfish Row Museum that explains the local culture and its relationship to the Mississippi River.

“This is fantastic news for Vicksburg, and we are so grateful to be accepted into the LFLP program,” said Linda Fondren, Shape Up Mississippi executive director. “We look forward to expressing our excitement during their visit and showing the pride we have for our community.

“We wanted to continue our work and thought about how we can leverage the downtown designation as an opportunity zone,” she said. “The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation sent a timely email about technical assistance, and we applied to LFLP with a focus in our historic downtown.”    

Fondren said the program planned for Vicksburg is called “Celebrating Diversity Through Local Foods in Vicksburg” to ensure that access to a healthy lifestyle is included in the city’s historic downtown revitalization plans.

She said a steering committee of Marcia Weaver, former city grants coordinator; Jane Flowers, Downtown Main Street board member; Anthony Reed, Alcorn State University School of Agriculture and Applied Sciences; Fondren; Michele Connelly, executive director of United Way of West Central Mississippi; Sally Bullard, Warren County School District trustee and owner of Main Street Market Café; North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield; and Ali Hopson, a registered dietitian.

Bullard’s business is in an opportunity zone and Mayfield lives in an opportunity zone, she said.

Fondren said the committee hopes to use technical assistance offered through the program to develop an action plan with specific, tangible goals for the community to implement.

“We are hoping with the assistance of the LFLP program we can listen to all voices in the community and work with the people that are most affected in the opportunity zone to have a say,” she said. “I believe that our historic downtown is the heart of the city’s forward momentum as it relates to tourism. Our mission is to help bring new partners to the table as well as help work on ways to increase economic diversity in our historic downtown.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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