Three young Tunica farmers, cousins Michael and Patrick Johnson and partner Buddy Allen, show they mean business the benevolent business of feeding a need by putting their money where their their community's hungriest mouths are. "This is a way we can give, and it comes back double straight to Tunica County," said Michael Johnson. "That's what got my attention, and when I brought it up with Michael and Buddy, they got excited and wanted to do it, too." In addition to cotton, "we grow rice, soybeans and corn," said Patrick Johnson. Michael Johnson said the team's farming operations are spread across 20,000 acres from Robinsonville to Friar's Point: "It's a lot of mouths we feed out of that," he said. Through the Invest An Acre program in partnership with the Mid-South Food Bank, a donation by the farmers valued at $4,500 will be matched and converted to $9,000 worth of meals, some 27,000 of them, for Tunica's neediest residents. "The Food Bank does a tremendous service for a lot of people around here," said Michael Johnson. For Food Bank officials, the service rendered by Michael, 35, and Patrick Johnson, 43, and Allen, 38, is the seed that grows the muscle to fight hunger. The need in Tunica is acute. Tunica County has a Food Insecure rate of 32.5 percent of total population, and a Child Food Insecure Rate of 30 percent, among the highest in the U.S., according to studies by Feeding America. Invest An Acre is a program of Feeding America, the nation's leading domestic hungerrelief organization, said Andrew Bell, Communications Manager for Mid-South Food Bank. Feeding America provides food to more than 46 million people facing hunger each year through 200 member food banks, including MidSouth, and 60,000 food pantries. "Invest An Acre is designed to engage farmers, agribusinesses and rural communities in the fight against hunger," said Bell. "One of the best things that comes out of these counties, where the need is greatest, is farming." Bell said Invest An Acre works this way: A farmer donates a portion of crop proceeds at the farmer's elevator. The elevator collects all the farmer's donations and sends to Feeding America. The farmer will receive a receipt for the charitable donation. Feeding America distributes 100 percent of the donation and any applicable matches to the local food bank serving the farmer's community. Donations are matched dollar for dollar. Since the program's start in 2012, Invest An Acre has raised nearly $4 million to combat hunger in rural communities. "That's the equivalent of 11.8 million meals," said Bell. The Howard G. Buffett Foundation funded the program's initial administrative costs, enabling 100 percent of farmer donations to be directed to theircommunity food bank to help needful neighbors. St. Louis based Monsanto has matched donations from program inception and will continue through this year; Feeding America is continuing the matching supplement beyond 2016. The matched donation by the Johnsons and Allen benefits two food pantries in Tunica, at First Presbyterian Church and 10 Point Coalition, formerly the Boys and Girls Club. There is also a monthly Mobile Pantry, sponsored by Sacred Heart Southern Missions in DeSoto County, which distributes food to clients. Since January of this year, said Bell, Mid-South Food Bank has distributed more than 80,695 pounds of food to the two Tunica pantries, and about 10,000 pounds a month at the Mobile Pantry. "That's the great thing about it, it's locally targeted," said farmer Allen of the Food Bank's approach and Invest An Acre. Also, he said, "the sustainability makes it appealing." Tunica Supervisor James Earl Dunn appreciates that Invest An Acre empowers people, such as the farmers, to take action by donating to local hungerrelief efforts in their own communities and rural areas. "I think it's a wonderful thing for the county," said Dunn. He noted that the pantries are especially helpful for children and the elderly. "The pantries help in so many ways." Thanks to contributions of five area soybean farmers, another Mississippi county benefiting from Invest An Acre is Monroe. The county's food pantries have received almost 18,000 meals during Fiscal 2016 for their foodinsecure population from $6,000 in credit for food acquisitions at MidSouth Food Bank. Mid-South Food Bank, based in Memphis, distributes food to partner agencies in 18 counties in Northeast Mississippi, including DeSoto, Panola and Tate as well as Tunica. MidSouth's 31county service area also includes Crittenden in East Arkansas and Shelby and several other West Tennessee counties. It all really comes down to neighbors helping neighbors, say the Tunica farmers. It's that "face to face contact that means a lot," said Patrick Johnson. "We're all in this community together, and we want our community to be as good as it can be," said Michael Johnson. "Invest An Acre is a good program, and we hope to see it grow." Just like the corn, soybeans and rice in their fields. Fellow farmers in North Mississippi who want to participate in Invest An Acre are urged to visit the Food Bank website: midsouthfoodbank.org Or call Andrew Bell at 9013730406. For more on Invest An Acre, go online to investanacre.org.
Story by Henry Bailey, The DeSoto Times Tribune