JSU partners with Blackburn Middle School scholars, gain sense of community and entrepreneurship with sold-out student-led farmer’s market

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(Charles A. Smith/University Communications)

JANS – In partnership with Blackburn Middle School, Jackson State University’s Center for University-Based Development held its annual student-led Farmer’s Market on Friday, May 19, at the JSU/Blackburn Learning Garden. 

“Jackson State is in the heart of the capital city, the urban area, and of the community, and we want to be a good partner. This is just one of the ways we strive to be good partners by transforming vacant lots into community spaces, and this one just happens to be a garden,” said Heather Denne’, Ph.D., director of the Center for University Based Development at JSU. 

The partnership started approximately six years ago, creating an opportunity for the Blackburn students to learn how to grow vegetables and ultimately sustain and produce their own food. The produce harvested for sale resulted from three months of growing and nurturing in the Blackburn Learning Garden. Students began planting and preparing the crops in February.

Overall, the day was filled with soft sunlight, cool breezes, machine-blown bubbles, yoga demonstrations, and the scent of fresh vegetables being sold at reasonable prices. Food was also prepared in a cookout style by Sodexo and JSU’s Department of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation. 

“It’s a relaxing, great day. Partnerships like these expose the students to extra things. For the yoga demonstration, we had a four-year-old and 16-year-old doing yoga, so it exposes them to other elements that they may not be used to but can benefit their health,” Denne’ said. 

Students can nourish a new skill and gain confidence in knowing how to give back to the community while seeing the fruits of their labor. These “fruits” include parsley, rosemary, onions, collard greens, green bell peppers, and squash still growing in the garden. 

Intervention Specialist at Blackburn Middle School, Leslie Duvernay said the day was a “great picture of a strong partnership.”

“They are learning all about being farmers, entrepreneurs, and the farm-to-table concept. Today is a full day of work. They’ve been out here since the start of the day, and they are learning how to prepare nutritious meals, grow food, and provide for their families,” said Duvernay, who also serves as an advisor to the Garden Club at Blackburn Middle School. “It’s a wonderful hands-on experience, and Jackson Public Schools is all about engaging more in the community for student achievement.” 

Skylynn Morton, 13; Tyler Rancifer, 12; and Cameelah Kelly, 12, are all first-year members of Blackburn’s Garden Club with aspirations to heal, feed, and give back to the community through farming and gardening. 

“It’s fun to be outside, and I like gardening because it helps people with different things by giving them vegetables to go home and cook to feed their families,” said Morton, a seventh grader from Rankin County, Mississippi, who has dreams of becoming an entrepreneur, farmer, or athlete. 

The Garden Club offers students like Rancifer the opportunity to learn something new. He spent the day helping people find vegetables and carrying their newly purchased groceries to their vehicles. 

“I really like plants, and I really wanted to garden, but I didn’t learn until this year when I joined the club,” said Rancifer, a native of Jackson.

Kelly, a sixth grader from Houston, Texas, reflects on her experience and motivation to join the Garden Club. She shared that she loves caring for flowers, but her grandfather also taught her how to garden. 

“He taught me how fun the process was and how you get to take care of [the vegetables] like they’re your family,” said Kelly, who wants to be a florist or artist. 

The student-led farmers market is hosted annually in the spring. It is preceded by a collard green cook-off in the fall, where students cook their farmed collard greens alongside family and community members for the first-place prize. All proceeds from the farmer’s market are distributed amongst the students. 

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JSU partners with Blackburn Middle School scholars, gain sense of community and entrepreneurship with sold-out student-led farmer’s market

By Jackson Advocate News Service
June 5, 2023