Route 662: Defeating the Desert – A Tale of True Grits

I recently studied a map published by the Dept of Agriculture that highlights areas in the 662 region known as “food deserts” – places where food is difficult to access. While traveling around, I keep my eye out for answers to this problem in rural Mississippi, and my attention is drawn to a disappearing breed of small-town groceries.

The map shows “food deserts” in green…

In a landscape filled with abandoned stores, it is the well-run, well-stocked, well-manned independent grocery that offers the relief most needed.

If you live in an urban area with those national chains, you may not feel the need to travel to a small town which has one of these gems, but, again, you just might have a reason to do so. I recently visited two – Brooks Grocery in Lee County and Tem’s in Noxubee County, and I discovered special things. Things deeply tied to traditions and food cultures of the area. Things no Big Box Corporate Food store carries.

I can’t explain the bags of Georgia White Dirt and the plum-like fruit labeled “Sweet Dinosaur Eggs,” but there is some stuff that I can really relate to. Walk in the front door at Brooks, for instance, and find a case of beautifully prepared Italian delights from the Grisanti family in Memphis, whose culinary roots run deep there.






In Macon, Tem’s has locally stone-ground meals, flours, grits, and fish fry mix.






Rest assured, this is the real stuff. A few miles down the road, I found out. I traversed the Noxubee mountains (yes, they must be mountains, since there was an incredible vista and even a truck passing lane on a steep portion of State Rd. 39!). Then, through the serpentine backroads, named things like Gunsight Ridge Rd, I drove through sylvan hollows lit with dappled sunlight until I reached the source.






A ramshackle building clinging to a dam on Running Tiger Creek housed the historical treasure of a water mill where the product was made. A fifth-generation member of the Sciple family is on-hand Saturday mornings to show the public around. His ancestors, who acquired the mill around 1850, peer down from a dust-covered photo on the wall cluttered with artifacts from the many years of operation. Outside is the “honor” display which offers freshly milled grits, meals, and fish fry mix. Just drop your money in the box, take your food and go (daylight hours only!)








The old general store next door isn’t selling food any longer. But this contribution to the food desert can be excused, since it serves a heaping helping of real country music on occasion.






The 662 locavores anxious to partake can find the Sciple’s products at Tem’s, as well as the market in Brooksville and on the menu at Huck’s in Columbus. I believe even the Tennessee Williams Home & Welcome Center in Columbus keeps some in stock.

Farmer’s markets, roadside stands, and local grocers selling locally grown and processed foods play important roles in the fight against food deserts. I encourage all to shop there, but challenge some adventurers to hunt down the source. When I did, I enriched my life with a truly exceptional 662 experience!