USDA Supports Uncle Jerry's Farm on its Path to Prosperity

Jun 09, 2023

Uncle Jerry’s Farm, LLC.’s humble beginnings stretch back to 2015, when a health-conscious consumer, Debora Coleman, decided to devote a small patch of her land on the outskirts of Jackson, Mississippi, to the growing shiitake mushrooms. She shared the yield with friends and family members. Consequently, each year the demand for such grew. This spurred her interest in efficient production and scientific approaches to small-scale farming.

In February 2015, Coleman attended the Mississippi Women for Agriculture two-day annual conference hosted by Alcorn State University (ASU), an 1890 land-grant institution with a mission to strengthen agricultural research and instill scientific practices. USDA staff was in attendance. After participating in conference workshops, Debora continued to network with ASU and USDA staff members. The month after, she was certified in a Farm Service Agency (FSA) borrower training program.

Debora believes in an “each-one, teach-one” approach to adopting and broad dispersion of innovative solution-finding. The following August, she held her first shiitake mushroom education program, using a practical, hands-on approach.

Over the years, Debora’s farming has evolved from hobby to surplus production and teaching the young and old the rudiments of farming. “[Farming] is not only a value-added activity because of the healthy products it produces, but the activity itself promotes solace and serenity,” Debora noted as an unexpected bonus derived from agricultural pursuits.

In 2018, Debora made farming a full-time pursuit. After using her personal savings to purchase a 5-acre for farming in rural Hinds County, she made application for a farm number with the local FSA office. Once her property was identified as a farm by USDA, she accessed the Natural Resources Conservation Services’ (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and was awarded, after the second year of funding, a water-well, high-use pad, fencing and irrigation through EQIP. In 2020, she was awarded a Rural Development Value Added Producers Grant for shiitake mushroom which she used for marketing, promotion and working capital. To protect her crops, Debora recently applied for a High Tunnel System and is awaiting approval.

Debora said, “farming as an entrepreneurial enterprise and there are many financial needs for a new agriculture business.” Understanding that resources beyond USDA are needed, she receives guidance and services from the U.S. Small Business Administration and its Small Business Development Center.

The spring she participated in the Southern States “Path to Prosperity” event in Mississippi. After learning the importance of having separate business and personal checking accounts, Coleman opened a small business checking account with Bank Plus. She now understands that banks that serve all businesses, regardless of size, is critical to local growth and prosperity. Her positive experience has led her to encourage others to attend the "Path to Prosperity" series when it comes to their area.

Debora said, “the Path to Prosperity has made me understand that I am operating an agriculture enterprise and not just farm.”

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