From Barren to Bountiful: A rural grocery store’s profound impact on food insecurity in the Mississippi Delta

An independent grocery store is making a big difference in the community of Marks, Mississippi, a small town in the Mississippi Delta region that was long considered a “food desert.”

In the heart of the Mississippi Delta, a beacon of change is challenging the status quo of long-time “food deserts” in their community. Jeffcoat’s Family Market, a grocery store that single-handedly transformed the landscape of Quitman County, is bringing a ray of hope to the town of Marks, Mississippi. Farm Week explores the inspiring success story of the market to fulfill a longing for access to fresh, healthy groceries.

For nearly four years, Quitman County endured the absence of a grocery store, leaving residents grappling with the challenges of accessing essential food items. Dollar Stores dot the region — but the absence of a proper meat and produce market left a void in the community’s nutritional landscape.

Economic Development Director for Quitman County Velma Wilson expressed the impact of this prolonged food desert, particularly on the elderly who struggled to find transportation to distant grocery stores.

Manuel Killebrew, a member of the Quitman County Board of Supervisors, shared a personal experience of having to forego a simple salad due to the unavailability of lettuce in nearby stores. Mari Alyce Earnest, an Extension Agent from Mississippi State University, also highlighted the impracticality of daily grocery trips when the nearest store was 20 miles away.

The Extension Service, collaborating with a local expert played a pivotal role in addressing this issue. Wilson, recognizing the potential for change, reached out to Dr. Rachael Carter, to leverage the Extension’s expertise in community development. Dr. Carter’s statistical analysis affirmed the viability of establishing a grocery store in the area, becoming a crucial piece in the puzzle of revitalizing Quitman County.

Dr. Carter emphasized the profound impact of a grocery store in a rural community, addressing not just the need for food but also contributing to overall health and well-being.

Jeffcoat’s Family Market, which opened in the town near Tunica, quickly became more than just a place to buy groceries — it became a symbol of hope, revitalizing a community that had endured years of food insecurity.

James Jeffcoat, the visionary behind Jeffcoat’s Family Market, reflected on the unexpected magnitude of the store’s opening, drawing attention from multiple television stations.

The transformation extended beyond convenience, also bringing about tangible economic progress. Wilson expressed tears of joy as she witnessed the creation of approximately 40 jobs with the opening of Jeffcoat’s Family Market.

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