Mercer student, Kelvin Graddick recently was selected to participate in the Food and Community Fellows program. Graddick is one of 14 students selected for this year’s program from a pool of 560 applicants.
Graddick will return to his hometown of Hamilton, Ga. to revamp the West Georgia Farmers Cooperative.
The goal is to adjoin African Americans and low-income whites under a cooperative to grow and sell fruits and vegetables. The Cooperative was founded in the 1960s.
“Producers in the area don’t have the volume, resources, or knowledge to reach the right markets and consumers in the area don’t always have access to healthy, affordable food. People in the area often suffer from a lack of economic opportunities,” said Graddick.
Graddick’s family and friends began the cooperative to deal with a lack of economic opportunities in the area. The Georgia Famer’s Cooperative has been addressing these issues for over 30 years, but has now become defunct. “Now it is needed more than ever with today’s economic crisis. Fueled by my family’s love for the co-op, I decided to propose a way to bring the co-op back,” he said.
Graddick proposed his redevelopment idea to the Institute of Agriculture and Trade this January. The institute was very receptive to his plan. In July, Graddick attended an orientation and has been working on the co-op since.
Over the summer, Graddick helped work on the cooperative’s building, fundraising and creating a new board. The group now has more than 20 members and many will begin growing products for the cooperative next spring.
“IATP currently funds me and offers any support I need for training, planning, and organizing,” he said.
He believes his family played a crucial role in this process.
“They taught me that we must work to make change and that it won’t happen without dedication,” said Graddick.
His hometown of Hamilton has been very supportive of redeveloping the cooperative.
“The buzz around the co-op is growing every week and more and more people are joining the cause. The strong support of community has allowed me to secure Internet, newspaper, church, and television exposure for the co-op,” he said.
Graddick did not imagine his career panning out the way it has.
“Originally when I came to Mercer, my only goal was to graduate. My goals have changed after uncovering this amazing opportunity though. I hope to use many of the skills I learned at Mercer to help a great amount of people through my managing of the West Georgia Farmerís Cooperative,” he said.
Graddick will receive a yearly stipend of $35,000 for this two-year fellowship and he will have the opportunity to attend meetings around the country. The Kellogg Foundation funds the Food and Community Fellows Program.