Student Voices: Eating Well in the Mississippi Delta

Delta Fellow Nate Rosenberg and Rob Barnett (JD '14) tour Leann Hines's Levee Run Farm, which raises poultry in Greenwood, Mississippi

Today’s dispatch comes from Rob Barnett (JD ’14), who traveled to Mississippi during spring break as part of a pro bono trip organized by Harvard Law School. Rob is a member of Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP) a trained mediator with Harvard Mediation Program, and is interested in American Indian law

Over spring break, I was lucky to travel to the Mississippi Delta on a pro bono trip with eight other law students from Harvard and Ole Miss. As Kimberly’s post describes, we spent an unforgettable week researching property law, making friends, and immersing ourselves in the culture and climate of the Delta. We experienced a lot – everything from a one-man blues concert at Red’s to an all-day study session at Ole Miss Law School – and learned even more in the process. But one element of our trip really stood out: the food.

Of course, we consumed a ton of it. Starting with a visit to Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken in downtown Memphis; continuing through visits to acclaimed Clarksdale restaurants like Abe’s (the best BBQ in all of Mississippi), Oxbow (a lunch spot that actually serves vegetarian options), and the Ground Zero Blues Club (where everything comes fried and with music); and finishing with elegant feasts at Snackbar in Oxford and Rendezvous in Memphis, we ate our way through the Delta… and washed it down with many glasses of Southern Pecan and sweet tea. It was a wonderful week of savory Southern cuisine.

Food is an amazing part of Delta culture. However, residents of the Delta don’t always have access to the kinds of fresh food we had at Mississippi’s best restaurants. Although the Delta has some of the country’s richest soil, the vast majority of it is used by to grow the big industrial crops – corn, cotton, and soy – much of which is exported outside the Delta. There are small growers throughout the Delta who are trying to grow local, sustainable, and healthy food, but these farmers often have trouble getting established in the face of confusing property issues and stiff competition from cheaper, less healthy alternatives.

Our work over spring break was designed to address these property issues. In order for small, local farms to be prosperous into the future, their owners should understand how estate plans, clear titles, and various easements can secure their land as farmland for generations to come. Our presentations to Delta farmers on our last day – and the accompanying legal manual we created – were designed with that goal in mind. We also made some policy suggestions for our partners (such as Delta Directions) who continue to work on these important issues in Mississippi.

We finally had to leave the Delta to return to Cambridge, and I know I can speak for my team in saying that we’ve all been craving some delicious Delta food ever since. (I, for one, am hoping to go back.) But in the meantime, it’s critical that the people who actually live in the Delta have access, every day, to the kind of local, sustainable food which we had during our week. I hope and believe that our work in the Delta over spring break will help them get there.

Recent Coverage of HLS Pro Bono Trips
Student Voices: Learning About Land Rights in Mississippi
Event: HLS Students Discuss Spring Break Trip to Alabama
Student Voices: Collaboration and Community in Alabama
Student Voices: Anti-Immigration Law in Alabama (Video)

Erin Schwartz (JD '14) examines vegetables grown in C.W. 'Doc' Davis's greenhouse

HLS group members enjoy a final Southern meal of ribs and sweet tea at Rendezvous in Memphis

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