Recently a group of students from the Delta attended the Rooted in Community conference in New York. Rooted in Community is a grassroots network empowering young people to be leaders in their communities. The 10 students were part of a larger group that has been working with the Delta Fresh Foods Initiative for over a year. "Youth have always been a part of our project. We felt that if we worked with children it would help to change their eating habits and so as they get older they will be able to pass that knowledge down," said Dorothy Grady Scarborough, board secretary for Delta Fresh Foods in a previous interview. “We want them to know about healthy food and where that food comes from. They work with growers to plant, harvest and sell the food," she continued. "Last year we had 23 students who canvassed three communities and conducted over 200 interviews asking residents in Mound Bayou, Shelby and Winstonville about their access to fresh produce," said Judy Belue, executive director for Delta Fresh Foods. “The students even helped to write the questions. They also received an official certificate from the chair of the Mississippi State Sociology Department for completing their training in community based participatory research which is essentially asking community for feedback on how to solve a problem in the area," she said. Thirteen of the young people who were a part of the initial research last year are still working with Delta Fresh Foods. Belue said at the conference the Delta students presented on the work they had done in their community. “It is an amazing opportunity for them to build and develop leadership skills," she said prior to the trip. "We selected a group of students to go and there were two other adults beside myself, so we had 13 total members on our team. Aside from the funding from the grant that we already had, it was pretty much self-funded," said LeBroderick Woods, who has been working with the youth all summer. While attending the conference, there were multiple opportunities for students to engage with peers. "Essentially it was about leadership and networking. We had a lot of regional breakout sessions where we talked to other groups who are doing similar work in places like North Carolina and Texas. It was very informative to see what other youth are doing around the country," Woods said. Woods said there were also opportunities for hands-on experiences. "We got see a lot of grassland and farms. We actually got to work on a farm up there; we planted cabbage, onions and yellow and purple beets. It was very unique because although we were up north we spent most of our time in rural areas and so it still felt a lot like home," he said. "The networking component was so great," said Woods. "The fact that there are other people across the country who are just as passionate about this as us and they are willing to reach out and help is wonderful. We were also able to share our experiences with these other groups. "A few people said they would love to have the event down here next year because they were just so fascinated with the food and the culture of the Delta. We are definitely interested in attending this event again. Aside from the business component, it was just really a lot of fun," he said. The students who went to the conference also enjoyed the experience. Geovoni Fisher first got involved with planting and growing produce in his grandmother's backyard. "She wanted me to help her plant some tomatoes and I liked that so she told me about this (program). “I like being involved. I like growing food and cooking for people. I like teaching them how to be healthier, not everything has to be fried and super heavy on fat. “The things I've been eating since I started with this program have been healthy and I like that," said Fisher. Fisher said he learned about the challenges facing communities across the country. "The group from North Carolina talked about how people are getting pushed out of their homes by big companies and people who have lived there for years have to move now. Some communities had what are called food deserts where they had to drive a long way to get fresh food or even any food at all," said Fisher. Fisher and his peers also learned about the unique solutions that youth in those areas are finding to help people in need. "Some places had refugees coming in and their groups helped teach the refugees about plants that we grow here so they can make a living because that is what they did when they lived in Korea and other places," he said. Tonitria Hunt has been an active part of her community for the last few years, serving food to those in need. "It's important to know how farmers grow and produce food so I can understand the difficulties they face," said Hunt. "It was an experience going to New York; their foods trends are a lot different from ours down here in the Delta. Our program is different from a lot of the other groups too. I think we were the only group that grows, picks and sells the produce," she said. "We taught them about how certain things grow and how to pick those things. They don’t have the same weather as us so they don't grow the same things as we do here," she said. "They taught us how to make pupusas, which are made out of cornmeal and water and then you put whatever filling you want on the inside. I had never had them before and they were really good. "I would say people should get involved with (Delta Fresh Foods) because they can get freshly grown food picked by youth and the youth are involved with all of the steps," said Hunt. "It's great for the community and I want to stay involved with it."