WEBB — Marquitrice Mangham didn’t just want to create the grocery store her hometown desperately needed. She wanted to bolster the Delta’s long-struggling food system.
Enter Farmacy Marketplace: A neighborhood grocer that isn’t just the first store in decades to offer Webb shoppers fresh meat and produce, but also a steady marketplace for small-scale farmers to sell their crops.
“A huge amount of food waste goes on in the Delta because everything is so sparsely populated,” said Mangham, who heads the nonprofit that runs the new Tallahatchie County grocery store. “No supermarket business is going to contract you to buy 20 pounds of tomatoes every couple weeks.”
But the Farmacy Marketplace can, giving the region’s struggling small-scale farmers a more reliable income and the people of Webb access to produce without driving a half-hour to the nearest grocery store.
The Mississippi Delta may be known for its fertile soil, but its major farm operations largely grow soy and corn for animal feed rather than produce the food the region’s population actually eats. There are few industries and jobs outside of agriculture. In most Delta counties, the poverty rate is between 30%-40%.
The Delta is also covered with what the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls rural food deserts: low-income tracts where a third of the population lives more than 20 miles from the nearest large grocer. Mangham hopes what she’s creating at Farmacy Marketplace will become a model for other communities.
Webb is home to just under 400 people and is 97% Black, according to the latest Census data. Before Farmacy, shoppers seeking poultry, steak, fresh fruit and veggies needed to drive 25 miles to Walmart in Clarksdale or 18 miles to SuperValu in Charleston.
“It saves people money and instead of investing in gas, they are able to purchase more groceries,” said Webb Mayor Michael Plez.
The new store is in the heart of the town’s Main Street, meaning many citizens can walk to go shopping.
Clad in a green apron and wide smile, Mangham’s mother is one of the store’s workers. The community has rallied around the store, desperate for it to be successful and volunteering their time so their neighbors have a reliable place to purchase healthy food.
Mangham lives in Atlanta part-time and is regularly in Webb to manage the shop and run a 150-acre family farm. Her nonprofit, In Her Shoes, aids women experiencing homelessness in Georgia and offers farm training in Mississippi. The shop is operated under the nonprofit using USDA grant funds.
Farmacy Marketplace had its soft opening on Oct. 7 — timing that couldn’t have been better. The local Dollar General, which may not have had fresh food but plenty of essentials, burned down the week before.
Dollar General said in a statement it was still assessing the store’s future. Mangham has added more household essentials to the store’s inventory to help make up for the loss of the community’s only major retailer.
Feeding America, a national food bank organization, reported that 31% of Tallahatchie County’s Black community was food insecure in 2020, the latest data available. That rate measures access to food between finances, transportation and physical grocery stores.
The easiest food to get in Webb — before Farmacy opened — was frozen dinners or pizzas, chips and candy.
Mangham’s vision isn’t only about giving Delta communities a more reliable food system and economy, but also making them healthier with access to unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods.
On a recent Friday afternoon, Demetrice Starks, 54, was browsing the new grocery store with her 86-year-old mother. Starks grew up in the area and now lives in Memphis. She hadn’t been to a neighborhood grocery like Farmacy in the area since she was a child. They had all closed up as people moved out.
Much of Webb’s population is aging, and it gives Starks peace of mind that her mother no longer has to drive so far to get items for supper.
“It’s a symbolism of growth and rebuilding the community,” Starks said. “It’s helping bring some type of stability.”
Lonzell Wright is in and out of the shop regularly, able to easily get supplies for his burger-and-fries restaurant called Zell’s that’s down the street. When Plez, the mayor, has a taste for steak, he can just walk a few minutes to the store and buy what needs that night for dinner.
“Since the day it opened it has been a blessing to the community,” said Plez.
Mangham has other goals in mind: a local poultry processing facility Delta farmers can use so the store’s poultry is coming from the community and further creating jobs. She’s busy writing proposals for more grants.
She is partnering with a nearby community college’s workforce training program so students can get retail job experience at the store, earning $10 an hour. There are three participants so far.
The store is open seven days a week. On Nov. 1, it began accepting Electronic Benefit Transfers, or EBT payments, for those on food benefits. It’s another big step that will help the community, Mangham said.
People want to shop and work where they live. It’s simple, yet not the norm across the Delta’s rural towns. People want to see the program succeed, she said.
It’s not just a grocery store; it’s the town’s quality of life.
This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.
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