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Meet the panelists for the Beginner Farmer Kickoff!

Morning session (10am-12pm) speakers:

Dr. Shecoya White, Assistant Professor in Food Microbiology and Food Safety, Mississippi State University

Dr. Shecoya White is an Assistant Professor specializing in Food Microbiology and Food Safety at Mississippi State University. She earned her B.S. and M.S. from Tuskegee University in Animal and Poultry Sciences. After that she pursued her doctorate degree in Toxicology with an emphasis in Microbial Food Safety at Iowa State University. She then took her talents to the food industry to work for ConAgra Foods (previously headquartered in Omaha, NE) followed by Evonik (Blair, NE), with a combined experience of almost 10 years.

As a scientific contributor, her exposure to different food/feed products and projects in the burgeoning food industry have increased within the academic setting. She now uses both her academic and valuable food industry experience to teach and train the next generation of Food Safety and Agriculture advocates. Her program highlights community engagement and service particularly by working with small produce farmers in the state of Mississippi. As a Produce Safety Alliance Trainer, she helps small produce farmers become compliant with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

Mr. Charles (Chuck) Lea, USDA Natural Resources and Conservation Service – Mississippi Outreach Coordinator

Chuck Lea is the State Outreach Reach/Civil Rights Coordinator for Mississippi NRCS. He currently serves as the chairman of MS Civil Rights/Equal Employment Opportunity committee. Mr. Lea is also the NRCS representative for the Accessibility Review Team that’s responsible for conducting handicap accessibility reviews for all lease properties in the state each year. Lastly Mr. Lea oversees the reviewing, ranking and administration of cooperative outreach agreements received through the National Funding Opportunity that NRCS announces each year on for the state of Mississippi.

Chuck started his NRCS career in January of 1999 as soil conservation technician in Neshoba County, Mississippi. From there Mr. Lea moved into the 5-7-9 soil conservationist’s series and progressed to the District Conservationist (DC) level in 2005 and managed the Winston Co field office. As a DC, Mr. Lea made stops along the way in Attala, Choctaw, Humphreys, Holmes, Washington, Sharkey and Issaquena counties until August of 2016 when Mr. Lea was promoted to the State Outreach/Civil Rights Coordinator position which he is currently serving in.

Mr. Lea has two children and one granddaughter and is a member of Vertical Church in Madison, MS.

Mrs. Carolyn Jones, Executive Director & Community Leader Mississippi Minority Farmers Alliance Okolona, MS

Carolyn Jones is the Chief Executive Officer of Mississippi Minority Farmers Alliance, (MMFA). A community based non-profit organization established by a group of Black farmers who saw a need within their community to come together to preserve their community and legacy of the Black farmer.

Carolyn currently works with new and beginning farmers, socially disadvantaged, limited resource, veteran farmers and ranchers and local communities on issues of sustainability & diversification; environmentally friendly farming; land retention; succession planning/heirs’ property management; financial management; marketing and community growth and development.

Carolyn received a BS degree in Paralegal Studies from Mississippi University for Women and has over twenty (20) years’ experience as a Corporate Paralegal. Although she has worked in corporate America, her love has always been in farming and community development.

She and her husband (Chris) are veterans’ farmers and have been engaged in farming since 1976. They currently operate a 200-acre beef cattle farm in Northeast Mississippi.

In her work with MMFA she has been very vocal and outspoken in her quest to ensure that Black farmers and their communities have the same opportunities as other farmers and their communities. She has served on various committees advocating for equity and inclusion for Black farmers.

Under Carolyn’s leadership in December 2016 MMFA opened the North Mississippi Agri-Business Center, commonly referred to as “The Market.” The Market is centrally located at the crossroads of three (3) counties in Northeast Mississippi. The center serves as a community hub for local farmers and other community members. It also serves as an agricultural training center and demonstration farm. During the summer months the center serves as a farmers’ market, providing local farmers and growers a place to sell their produce. The uniqueness of the center is that it embodies the “Whole Community” by providing Community Membership, Community Respect, Community Fulfillment and Community Pride.

At the beginning of the Coronavirus Pandemic the center partnered with fifty-three (53) churches and communities centers in over 10 counties in North Mississippi to provide over 100,000 boxes of food to those in need through the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program. The Market currently serves as a Food Hub to provide food to limited income families through a partnership with Mid-South Food Bank.

Some of MMFA partners include: 1862 and 1890 Land Grant Institutions, USDA, local 4-H clubs, churches, schools, elected officials, local industries, and other federal, state, and local organizations.

Carolyn is also working to alleviate health disparities within the Black community and currently serves on the Board of Directors of a Community Health Care organization that coordinates with local health care providers and community leaders to provide Covid-19 vaccination to under-served communities.

Evening session (6-8pm) keynote speaker:

Loutrina Staley, Ph.D., Soil Scientist

Dr. Loutrina Staley is a Soil Scientist on the Soil Health Institute (SHI) Leadership Team, where she develops grant proposals, manages stakeholder relations, and communicates project results to end-users. She is also the Director of the Institute’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Program, Internship Program, and Minority Farmer Recruitment to engender greater diversity in the Agricultural sciences and make the institute's farmer education programs more equitable.

Prior to coming to SHI, Dr. Staley conducted research on the efficacy of plant botanicals and fatty acids used as antimicrobials against food-borne pathogens in the Department of Agriculture and Food Science at Alabama A&M University. She worked as a Licensed Commodity Grader (Poultry/Shell Egg) for USDA-Agriculture Marketing Service for 6 years and as an Advance Science teacher in Decatur, Alabama for 2 years where she implemented an innovative STEM program on Agriculture and Food Science. Dr. Staley is a member of the Soil Science Society of America and serves on the National Advisory Council for NCORE (National Conference on Race and Ethnicity), University of Oklahoma.

She received her B.S. in Horticultural Science from Andrews University, M.S. in Plant and Soil Science from Tuskegee University, and Ph.D. in Plant and Soil Science with an emphasis on Food Safety from Alabama A&M University. Dr. Staley resides in Huntsville, Alabama where she farms 3 acres of market vegetables to help feed her community.

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