The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

First in a Series on AR Conference, May 3; & Save Sept. 11-13 Dates for Washington, DC

Posted on May 24, 2012 at 01:28 PM

The May 3-4, 2012 Delta conference at the Clinton Presidential Center featured participation by Gov. Mike Beebe, US Senators John Boozman and Mark Pryor, Rep. Tim Griffin, Rep. Rick Crawford, all the candidates for the First and Second Congressional districts in Arkansas, all the candidates for the First and Second Congressional districts in Arkansas, 145 grassroots leaders who attended all or parts of the conference, and distinguished experts on economic recovery, job creation, hunger and nutrition, the vital link between education and economic development, and a wide range of issues regarding energy policy.

This is the first in a series of articles summarizing the May 3-4 Delta conference at the Clinton Center. This will summarize the May 3 opening session at the Clinton Library, with additional information on the organizations involved. Later articles will focus on the May 4 session at the Clinton Library.

The conference featured a major focus on sustainable economic development, job creation, hunger and nutrition, the connection between economic development and education–especially literacy–and various phases of energy policy. Key participants on those subjects included Joe Quinn of Wal-Mart, several executives from the international energy company Siemens, Inc., Oscar Castaneda and Tamidra Marable of Heifer International, President Fitzgerald Hill of Arkansas Baptist College, Delta Regional Authority Federal Co-Chairman Chris Masingill, and Alternate Federal Co-Chairman Mike Marshall.


This newsletter is a broad overview of the conference, and we will follow up with several detailed summaries of certain presentations that we wanted to make sure people had the opportunity to read in detail. This is lengthy and you may only want to read parts of it, so you may want to scroll down and read certain sections that you are most interested in and skip the rest.

James “Skip” Rutherford, Dean of the Clinton School of Public Service, as always did a great job of hosting the opening session on May 3. Dean Rutherford has a great track record for giving attention to the Delta region from the Clinton administration to the present.

The Clinton School graduate students do excellent public service projects in the Delta. The Clinton School has a national reputation for its excellent public service educational program and they have nationally renowned speakers there on a regular basis. Thanks so much to Dean Rutherford for his kind words about the Caucus in his welcome to the group.

The conference began with presentations by the two candidates for the Second Congressional District in Arkansas. Rep. Tim Griffin (R-AR) and Herb Rule (D-AR), a Little Rock attorney who is the Democratic candidate in that district. We will be devoting a great deal of attention to Congressional candidates’ positions on Delta economic issues this year, and the most detailed summaries are the candidates’ answers to the Delta Caucus questionnaire.

You can find those answers for Herb Rule on the website at by going to the “Caucus Articles” link and going to the April 30 article with his answers. Rep. Tim Griffin has not yet answered the questionnaire but his office indicated that he will soon and we will post the answers at that time.

We also heard from all the First District candidates on Friday, May 4, and will discuss some of their responses below in this newsletter. Those candidates are the incumbent, Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR), State Representative Clark Hall of Phillips County; Prosecutor Scott Ellington of Jonesboro; and economics professor Gary Latanich of Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. All of their answers can be found on the “Caucus Articles” link of the website at

Joe Quinn, Wal-Mart’s Senior Director for Issue Management and Strategic Outreach, gave an excellent presentation at the opening Clinton School session about Wal-Mart’s impressive contributions in fighting hunger, promoting better nutrition, their plan to place more stores in “food desert” areas, and other constructive activities in the Delta.

Wal-Mart’s activities were selected by the Delta Caucus board as one of five “best practices and role models for development in the Delta,” which we presented at the Friday luncheon on May 4. Among some of the highlights of Wal-Mart’s accomplishments in the region are the following:

–Wal-mart and the Wal-mart Foundation donated $123.7 million in Arkansas in cash and in-kind gifts and funds raised by customers and associates in the fiscal year ending in 2012;

–Wal-Mart opened 23 stores in low-income food desert areas and plans to open 50 to 60 more stores for the remainder of 2012;

–Walmart donated more than $13 million in grants to nutrition education programs, in addition to many other initiatives to promote healthier, more affordable food choices in the Delta. Hunger and nutrition issues are tremendously important in our region and we need to support Wal-Mart’s impressive work and other efforts to address them.

US Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) is highly respected in our region by leaders from both parties. Sen. Boozman is a strong supporter of the DRA, and he did a great service for the agency late last year in working in a bipartisan way with Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR), Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) in blocking the Senate’s efforts to cut the DRA budget.

The Senate Appropriations Committee had unwisely voted to cut the DRA budget, with Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and other Democrats unfortunately joining in this effort. Sen. Boozman, Sen. Pryor and others supported an amendment to block this unwise effort to harm the DRA in its job creation, strategic planning, coordination and many other constructive activities for our region.

Sen. Boozman expressed concern about current efforts in the House of Representatives to make major cuts in the USDA budget. Particularly harmful, in his view, are the efforts to make drastic cuts in direct farm payments, which will be disproportionately harmful to Southern farmers due to the different nature of farming in the South.

Sen. Boozman has also demonstrated an interest in hunger and nutrition issues, and is a member of the Senate Caucus that focuses on hunger. The Delta Caucus has expressed great concerns about proposed cuts to SNAP (formerly food stamps), TEFAP, and the other USDA nutrition programs, and we will be continuing to urge Congress and the Obama administration to support these vital programs that aid the neediest of the needy and also have a beneficial economic impact.

Alan Gumbel is a long-time Delta regional advocate, having served on the staff of the Lower Mississippi Delta Development Commission in the late 1980s, and later working with the management team of the Clinton administration’s Delta Regional Initiative. He is now Director of Performance and Quality Improvement for the Memphis Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association in west Tennessee.

The Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA) is a distinguished nonprofit organization that was formed in the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to aid lower income neighborhoods and improve race relations in Memphis, Tennessee. MIFA serves 55,000 people each year, with support from 200 congregations, 3,000 volunteers and 17,000 donors.

Examples of MIFA’s constructive activities include a Meals on Wheels program that serves 1,800 lunches to seniors at their homes or congregation sites on every weekday, an Emergency Services program providing aid to approximately 25,000 people for rent, food, utilities, clothing and other necessities for people suffering from an unexpected loss of income. MIFA runs a farmers’ market at 1115 Union Avenue in Memphis providing fresh, nutritious produce from local producers as well as nutrition education.

MIFA’s COOL (College Offers Opportunities for Life) program provides college preparedness, counseling and mentoring for young people; from fiscal year 2008 to 2011, of 162 high school seniors involved in the program, 97% enrolled in post-secondary education and 87.8% are still enrolled.

While most of Memphis may be relatively more prosperous than the heart of the rural Delta, 74% of the children in MIFA’s neighborhood live in poverty. It is important to include the more economically distressed neighborhoods in Memphis in our regional activities, and Alan Gumbel is an invaluable partner in that regard.

Mayor Sheldon Day of Thomasville, Alabama spoke about his activities in attracting jobs to his community in Alabama. In the past two years, Thomasville has lured pipemaker Lakeside Steel, steel supplier Metals USA and copper maker Golden Dragon near its part of northeast Clarke County, in addition to a number of smaller suppliers. Officials there are also in the process of building a new water treatment plant and airport.

The development is all part of Thomasville Mayor Sheldon Day’s plan to transform Thomasville and surrounding rural cities on U.S. 43 between Mobile and Tuscaloosa into “Alabama’s Metals Corridor.” All told, Day said, a total of about $300 million is being poured into the area over the next few years, bringing with it more than 600 new jobs.

Mayor Day’s plan includes understanding your community’s strengths and weaknesses, regional cooperation, a focus on education and quality of life, getting community buy-in, and utilizing the amiable, rural Southern culture. Day was recently quoted in media coverage as saying Southern culture “is something people long for, especially in the rat race of the modern world,” Day said. “Southern communities have an opportunity to take their rural-ness and make it into something unique. If we can do it, 60 miles from the interstate and 100 miles from the closest big city, anybody can.”

Mayor Day is the Delta Caucus’ Alabama coordinator and known for being able to work with leaders from both parties. He has worked with Sen. Richard Shelby R-AL, Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) and the Alabama Congressional delegation to help preserve funding for the DRA and other efforts to promote the region’s economic development.

DRA Federal Co-Chairman Chris Masingill and Alternate Federal Co-chairman Mike Marshall both gave excellent presentations on May 4 and May 3, respectively. It is a tribute to their strong leadership that the DRA budget is in good shape and remains sound at about $12 million through the energy and water appropriations bill and about $3 million more through Rural Development.

That is remarkable that the DRA at present is escaping the budget ax in this climate where so many programs are getting sharp cuts. Chairman Masingill correctly informed the group, however, that we always have to remain vigilant and advocate to our Congressional delegation and the Obama administration to prevent any cuts now and for the long term work toward a major increase in the DRA budget to at least $30 million, which was the original funding level when the DRA legislation was signed into law by President Clinton in late 2000 with bipartisan Congressional support.

Considering the relatively small budget they have to work with, they have stretched their dollars a very long way at the DRA. To cite several examples:

–Targeted investments in each of the eight states created over 6000 jobs and retained nearly the same number of jobs. With a leverage ratio of 23:1, the Delta Regional Authority leveraged $1.4 billion in private investment with DRA projects and helped 17,000 families gain access to clean water and sewer service.

–The DRA developed extensive strategic plans on broadband, transportation and other infrastructure, and the Delta Doctors Program has placed over 150 doctors in underserved areas in the region without any additional appropriations costs. Please continue to remind your representatives in Congress of the importance of supporting the DRA funding.

With the two presentations by the top two DRA officials, and six DRA staffers in attendance, this was the strongest participation we have had yet from the agency at any of our conferences and that is greatly appreciated.

We were glad to have the participation of Heifer International’s Oscar Castaneda, Director of Programs for the USA, Canada and Latin America, and Tamidra Marable, US Domestic Programs Manager for Heifer, which of course is an internationally renowned organization that fights hunger and poverty in the USA and across the globe. Heifer was a “Major Co-Sponsor” for this conference and is a longstanding and important partner for the Delta Caucus.

Oscar Castaneda gave an overview of Heifer’s activities, which include new domestic programs in the Arkansas Delta and Appalachia. Cornerstones of Heifer’s acclaimed approach include long-term solutions emphasizing community involvement; “Passing on the Gift” in which recipients agree to share the offspring of gift animals with others in need, making them equal partners with Heifer in the fight to end world hunger. Heifer’s disaster rehabilitation emphasizes long-term, sustainable development, with objective procedures for measuring success by showing how shows how people’s lives have permanently changed due to Heifer’s work.

Tamidra Marable led a panel on hunger and nutrition including Georgianna Tuuri, professor of nutrition at LSU in Baton Rouge, Melissa Rice, Cape Girardeau food bank serving 16 southeast Missouri Delta counties, and Justin Keller of the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance. Ms. Marable discussed Heifer’s Seeds of Change project and led a panel on hunger and nutrition will initially focus on two of the most severely impoverished areas in the U.S., the Arkansas Delta and Appalachia.

Many people in the Arkansas Delta and Appalachia are malnourished and Seeds of Change aims to promote nutrition and the local economy by creating jobs and improving access to healthy, locally produced food — especially for low-income families — as well as to improve the environment by supporting responsible agricultural practices.

Heifer works with USDA officials including Assistant Secretary for Administration Pearlie Reed, Robert Cole and all the participants in the East Arkansas Enterprise Community, and many other local officials such as Hughes Mayor Larry Owens, St. Francis County Judge Gary Hughes in the Seeds of Change project. The program is set to continue for five years, and an important concept in the program is to “grow what we eat, and eat what we grow.”

The Heifer International Seeds of Change program will be working in nine Arkansas Delta counties: St. Francis, Woodruff, Monroe, Cross, Crittenden, Lee, Phillips, Prairie and Lonoke counties.

In the targeted Arkansas Delta area, nearly one in four people are food insecure.

The Heifer USA country program awarded two planning grants of $125,000 each to the East Arkansas Enterprise Community and to the Appalachia District Health Department and through the program, Heifer will supply agricultural materials, equipment and training in sustainable business development, agriculture production and distribution processes to participants, and help them access capital and credit to develop local food systems once again.

To support production, technical expertise, jobs and businesses, Heifer is also collaborating with local schools to build community school gardens. These gardens will serve as learning labs during the school year, introducing children to food production and using the garden as the impetus for studying science, math and other topics.

In the United States, a child is born into poverty every 27 seconds. Data from the USDA indicates that this results in 1 of 5 children being food insecure, meaning that at any time during the year, a child is hungry because of the household’s lack of money and other resources for food. The Delta suffers from unusually high levels of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancers directly linked to poor nutrition.

Many Delta Caucus partners have long been strong supporters of what is often referred to as the “Local Food Movement,” including Farm to School, community gardens, and growth in farmers’ markets. In some parts of the United States, the number of Farm to School Programs is skyrocketing; the number of farmer’s markets across the country has grown by 31% between 2008 and 2010 alone; large retailers responding to pressure from customers have begun to search out ways to source locally and from small and medium scale producers.

We applaud and encourage institutions and individuals like Heifer, Professor Tuuri of LSU, the Southeast Missouri Food Bank, the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, Wal-Mart and others who are working to promote access to fresh local produce, help for limited resource farmers, low income and food insecure populations in the Delta.

Melissa Rice is Agency Relations and Programs Director for the Southeast Missouri Food Bank in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, which serves 16 southeast Missouri Delta counties. The Southeast Missouri Food Bank is a member of Feeding America, the major national food bank network, and also the Missouri Food Bank Association.

One of the most pressing issues that the Delta partners returned to most frequently during the conference in dialogue with Members of Congress is the need to prevent major cuts in the USDA budget, with SNAP (formerly food stamps), WIC, school meals and TEFAP aid to food banks being among the vital programs. Ms. Rice can testify to the stresses the food pantries, lower income people and smaller agencies connected to the Southeast Missouri Food Bank are undergoing, and if the food banks and their colleagues see cuts in federal nutrition programs, these pressures are going to become far worse.

Over 150 nonprofit hunger relief agencies in Southeast Missouri benefit from the Southeast Missouri Food Bank. Member agencies include food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters for the abused and homeless, senior citizen programs, low-income children’s programs and non-profit rehabilitation facilities.

The Southeast Missouri Food Bank is the sole non-profit distributor of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) TEFAP product for Southeast Missouri. These products go directly from Southeast Missouri Food Bank to non-profit agencies in the region who distribute supplemental food to needy families or to soup kitchens serving the low income population.

New figures show 64,000 people in Southeast Missouri are at risk of hunger.

There is widespread stress on lower income groups across the country during this weak economy, but it is far worse in the Delta. The economic stress is compounded by the reality that the food bank’s people are spread over such a large, rural geographical area, so that strategies like having a mobile food van are needed. Southeast Missouri Food Bank’s Mobile Food Pantry fills gaps in emergency food assistance. Each distribution can serve up to 350 people, providing clients with a variety of different food items. Distributions typically run 2-4 hours and conssist of -up to 8,000 pounds of product delivered in a beverage style truck with roll-up bay doors.

Melissa Rice is a very effective advocate on our crucial hunger and nutrition issues, so much so that we have recently asked her to be on the Delta Caucus advisory executive committee and also work with Martha Ellen Black of the Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center in East Prairie, Missouri as our co-coordinator for Missouri.

Professor Georgianna Tuuri of LSU is an expert on nutrition issues, including the role of nutrition and exercise in the prevention of chronic disease. She is a specialist in developing and testing intervention strategies designed to prevent overweight in children, low bone mass in youth, and osteoporosis in older individuals.

Among her publications are included an article in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association demonstrating that black children with high preferences for fruits and vegetables are at less risk of being overweight (Lakkakula, A.P., Zanovec, M., Silverman, L., Murphy, E. & Tuuri, G.) (2008). an article in Appetite showing that Smart Bodies school wellness program increased children’s knowledge of healthy nutrition practices and self-efficacy to consume fruit and vegetables (Tuuri G, Zanovec M, Silverman L, Geaghan J, Solmon M, Holston D, Guarino A, Roy H, Murphy, Appetite, 2009, 52, 445-451.

Professor Tuuri is a member of the American Society for Nutrition and is Chair-elect of the Society Nutrition Education Research Interest Group and participates on such important groups as the Lousiana Council of Obesity Prevention and the Louisiana Action for Healthy Kids State Task Force.

The May 3 nutrition panel at the Clinton School of Public Service was the first time we have had Professor Tuuri’s participation at one of our Delta Caucus activities and we look forward to continuing to have her involvement in the future.

Last but not least, we were glad to have another new participant: Justin Keller, Field Director of the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, which passes through thousands of dollars of grant moneyn each year to local agencies and pantries. For example, in 2009 the Alliance gave 162 grants worth a total of $309,856 to local hunger relief organizations in Arkansas. These funds were used to buy equipment to build the capacity of these organizations such as refrigerators, freezers, stoves, serving utensils and facility improvements were at the top of the list.

GLEANING–Additionally, the Alliance works directly with many local agencies to distribute fresh fruits and vegetables from the gleaning efforts and to accept food from the annual Spirit of Giving Campaign. The gleaning network over the past two years has secured over 400,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables for needy Arkansans.

We would like for more of our Delta Caucus partners to become familiar with and support the work of the Alliance, which in collaboration with its members provided more than 25 million pounds of food to hungry Arkansans in 2009.

The Alliance was formed in 2004 with 6 founding members. Today the organization includes over 100 members including food bank members, local hunger relief agencies, state level hunger programs and hunger advocates from around the state that work daily to reduce hunger in Arkansas. In addition, the Alliance has acquired 2.2 million pounds of food this year and distributed it to regional food banks throughout the state.

The Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance also does advocacy work and shares the Delta Caucus’ concern for maintaining funding for federal nutrition programs.

We would like to relay this alarming collection of data compiled by the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance about hunger and poverty in Arkansas–unfortunately most of the other Delta states have similarly negative statistics:

–18.8% of Arkansans live below the poverty line and can’t afford enough food to eat. That means that 1 in 6 of your neighbors struggles with making ends meet and providing enough food for their family. - ACS Survey

–Arkansas’ childhood poverty rate is 27.6% compared to the national average of 21.6% - ACS Survey

–10.2% of Arkansans over the age 65 live below the poverty line and have to choose between food and medicine. - ACS Survey

–Arkansas is ranked 3rd in the nation for the most incidences of food insecurity. - USDA Survey

–18.6% of households in Arkansas are Food Insecure – USDA survey Source:; 2011 American Community Survey; Source:; USDA Household Food Security in the US, 2011

We look forward to increasing collaboration with Justin Keller, Kathy Webb and other leaders of the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance in the future.