By Jarquita Brown, Higher Purpose Co. and Metta Smith, Communities Unlimited, Inc.

Mississippi native, Robbie Pollard began gardening in 2011 and has been officially farming for 8 years in Marks, Mississippi. Pollard, a self-proclaimed YouTube farmer, began watching YouTube farming videos a few years ago and taught himself how to farm sustainably. He felt being from a small town such as Marks with not many food options, growing organically was much needed for his community.

Because of this, he founded Start 2 Finish, Inc. and began selling fruits and vegetables commercially in 2018. His farm’s mission is accomplished by demonstrating to local farmers and gardeners how to grow, process, market, and distribute healthy sustainably-grown food and value-added products while also helping to develop small farms and create employment opportunities for farmers and community residents.

Before COVID, Pollard was selling to schools, restaurants, and at farmer’s markets. He has also partnered with organizations such as Communities Unlimited, Higher Purpose Co, and the Mississippi Delta Council for Farm Workers Opportunities, Inc. (MDCFWOI), a minority-owned cooperative founded in 1971 in Clarksdale.

The cooperative is connected with Communities Unlimited’s Farm-to-Food Pantry Program funded by a grant from the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation to buy fruits and vegetables from black farmers and donate the produce to food pantries in the Mississippi Delta.

Communities Unlimited has purchased purple hull peas from the cooperative because most people don’t want to shell them. MDCFWOI utilizes the Alcorn University Extension processing facility to shell purple hull peas. Pollard found out about the program when he was talking to a representative at the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) about partnering with them for the double up dollar program at his Farmstand. AARP connected him to Communities Unlimited’s Farm-to-Food Pantry program.

Pollard said he has been working nonstop since the pandemic hit, but also had to change a few things around in his business, but thanks Higher Purpose Co in its efforts to keep his business afloat during the pandemic. Pollard is a recipient of the Black Business Relief Fund, a half a million dollars fund launched by Higher Purpose Co to support Black entrepreneurs, farmers, and artists during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pollard said, “Because of the fund, I have been able to hire two young people, the relief fund has allowed me to be able to pay them and to have them working every day.”

He added, “The relief fund is allowing me to keep going with my business. Growing these fresh foods and being able to hire new workers and get supplies I need with the fund has helped me a lot, so for that I am truly thankful for what Higher Purpose is doing.”

Pollard is mainly selling at his Farmstand and to other nonprofits for their food boxes. He has established a program called the Happy Foods Project. He has worked with 6 to 7 farmers from different parts of the Delta, showing them how to farm sustainably.

He also works with Delta Fresh, a youth program in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. He plans on selling value-added products like salsa and dill pickles from other growers through his online.