This research project will document and activate community agricultural knowledge and assets towards a more sustainable, equitable, and healthy food culture and economy. Situated in Utica, a low to moderate income predominantly Black rural community in Mississippi, the research is framed within the broader context of the creative cultural development practices of the Mississippi Center for Cultural Production and a long standing history of social movements for land-based self- determination and locally owned Black farming in the U.S. South.

Once an important agricultural hub, the region surrounding Utica, like many similarly situated rural communities across the county, has lost much of its economic and food infrastructure. Despite the departure of local institutions and Utica’s needs around access to affordable and healthy food, there are still significant assets in the community including fertile land and local agricultural knowledge. Using a mixed methods community participatory action research approach, this study will integrate oral histories, arts-based, descriptive, and survey research to unearth and share these stories and assets with the Utica community. By undertaking an investigation of Utica’s agricultural and food histories and infrastructure we seek to restore community memory and make visible existing community knowledge around healthy ways of feeding the community, both physically and spiritually. Ultimately, the project aims to show how creative methodologies can catalyze historic and new knowledge in ways that inspire a more expansive imagination of healthy, locally owned and equitable food futures.

You can learn more about the project at the IRL website.

Meet the Community Advisory Group

The Community Advisory Group serves as community research leaders. The CAG provides feedback on research design, data collection, and the making sure the community is informed about the project. We are so excited to work alongside these dedicated members of our community.

Pictured from l-r: James Washington, Irene Dominguez, Jean Greene, Mary Lofton, and Jesse Killingsworth Sr.

Jean Greene

Mary Lofton

James Washington

Irene Dominguez

Jesse Killingsworth Sr.

Mina Para Matlon, JD, MA

Ms. Matlon is an arts organizer, researcher, attorney, artist, and cultural equity advocate. Inspired by the spatial and temporal bridge building work of traditional knowledge bearers, her research interests are in the intersecting areas between arts and community development, with her practice particularly focused on supporting local communities who seek to protect and leverage their cultural assets. Since 2017, she has served as the managing director of Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life.

Carlton Turner

Mr. Turner works across the country as a performing artist, arts advocate, policy shaper, lecturer, consultant, and facilitator. He is also founder of the Mississippi Center for Cultural Production (MCCP). The MCCP uses arts and agriculture to support rural community, cultural, and economic development in his hometown of Utica, Mississippi.

Dr. Erica Kohl-Arenas, PhD, MS

Dr. Kohl-Arenas is an Associate Professor in the Department of American Studies at the University of California, Davis and the faculty director of Imagining America. Her research and teaching focus on critical studies of philanthropy and the nonprofit sector, participatory community development, grassroots social movements and cultural organizing.

Support for this research was provided, in part, by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation.