Continuing today's conversation about poverty in Heifer's homestate, we take you to Hughes, Arkansas, which has a poverty rate of 38 percent. This past Monday, Heifer Headquarters staff, visiting Country Directors and Heifer's United States Program staff took a road trip to Hughes to lend a hand cleaning up the Mildred Jackson Elementary School for a Day of Service with Hughes citizens. Heifer Copywriter Falguni Vyas was among the staff to participate, and she shares the following reflection.

Hughes,Arkansas: a small blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town located in the Arkansas delta wasonce an agricultural boomtown. At its height, Hughes was a town of 1,900people, a mix of sharecroppers and farmers that put the town on the map as anagricultural hotspot in northeastern Arkansas.

Today,Hughes tells a much different story.

Now,there are more stray dogs than people, more abandoned or run down buildingsthen there are live-able habitats. It’s a town that as little as two years agoechoed a pre-civil rights America (not that racial tension has completelydisappeared today). It’s a town in desperate need to find itself and regain itsformer glory.
Hugheshas become yet another fallen soldier to the mechanization of the agriculturalindustry as well as the dearth of support America’s small farmers receive.Whatever food is produced in the area is normally sent out to the big buyers,leaving little to no healthy food choices for those who grow it. In addition,there are few options for the town’s small farmers as land is expensive anddifficult to acquire. The big farmers in Hughes (and there are a few verysuccessful ones out there) employ very few people, making employment hard tocome by. The town’s economic mainstay? Public assistance.

Whenthe industry started to collapse, many of the town’s small farmers left,leaving the sharecroppers to take over. Because this segment of Hughes’population had so little training, the area went into rapid decline.

“Lackof leadership is the biggest problem in the delta,” said mayor Larry Owens.Owens, the first black mayor in Hughes, has only been in office for 10 months.A Vietnam War veteran, in his past life he also served as a special agent withFish and Wildlife Services with the Department of the Interior. He moved toHughes with his wife five years ago and was appalled by what he saw. With a lotof know-how and more can-do spirit than your average person, he has made it hismission to restore Hughes to its rightful place.

HeiferInternational’s United States Program, several visiting Country Directors fromaround the globe, and Headquarters staff from various departments joined Hughesfor a day of service this past Monday. The event kicked off at 11 am with apress junket, where Mayor Owens, representatives of the state, Heifer and othernonprofit partners said a few words in honor of the shared goals of creating betterfood options, developing the local economy and preserving local naturalresources.

Day of Service Volunteers
Heiferstaff rolled up their sleeves alongside Hughes citizens and got down and dirty.Armed with saws, brooms and a few machetes, these agents of change spent anafternoon clearing away weeds, trash and debris from the Mildred JacksonElementary School.
Hughes community volunteers at work
Heifer staff members Jason Woods, Suzanne Munson
and Gretchen Schirmer bag trash at the end of the day
Translator Sam DuBois takes out the trash 
Hughes Mayor Larry Owens and Heifer
United States Program Director Perry Jones
“It’simportant to recognize that dire poverty exists here in the United States aswell as in developing countries,” said Perry Jones, director of Heifer’s United States Program. “Heifer’s model encourages long-term changes to take hold in acommunity so that healthy food becomes more accessible for everyone.”

Author

Heifer International

Heifer International is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization working with communities to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth.