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Northwest Arkansas Food Systems

Strengthening the capacity of small and mid-size farmers to grow more local fruits and vegetables for local people.
Building a Food System That Serves As a Model for Locally Grown Food
Northwest Arkansas has a rich farming heritage, and for much of the 20th century, its dedicated farmers were known as some of the country’s most prolific growers of fruits and vegetables. While the region has experienced renewed interest in small-scale farming over the past decade, an aging farm workforce and the rising cost of land have made farming inaccessible for too many residents.

As consumer demand grows for local produce, and recent crises highlight the essential role farmers play in the food supply chain, Northwest Arkansas Food Systems supports local growers from seed to table, connecting new and existing farmers to educational opportunity, land, technical assistance and capital. It also improves farmers’ access to local wholesale and direct-to-consumer markets by supporting programs that provide certification, aggregation, sales and distribution and processing services.

The initiative is set to soar in early 2024 with the opening of Market Center of the Ozarks, a new, 45,000-square-foot food hub supporting local farmers and food startups in the heart of downtown Springdale. This facility will provide farmers a space to process their harvest, food entrepreneurs a place to create and innovate and the community a new spot to gather and learn about food.

Over time, we believe Northwest Arkansas can serve as a national model for small and mid-size farmers making a good living growing food for their community.
Introducing Market Center of the Ozarks
March 29, 2022
The location creates space for farmers to process their harvest, food entrepreneurs to operate commercial kitchens and the community to learn about healthy food.
March 2, 2022
The hub, named Market Center of the Ozarks, will be a 45,000-square-foot facility in downtown Springdale that provides crop aggregation capabilities, commercial kitchens and community spaces for learning.
Liz Alsina March 2, 2022
The 45,000-square-foot facility in Springdale, Arkansas, will improve the region’s farm economy and put more fresh food on tables across the region
Resources for Farmers
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The Food Conservancy
The Food Conservancy operates a regional food hub that aggregates from small growers and distributes to wholesale buyers in order to provide fresh produce to Northwest Arkansans where they eat, shop, work and play. The hub serves as both an economic engine and community space for farmers to build their businesses and relationships. The Food Conservancy provides weekly farm boxes to residents, accepting SNAP benefits, Double Your Dollars and Double Up Food Bucks to make local food affordable for all. It also is pioneering USDA’s Group Good Agricultural Practices certification (Group GAP) in Arkansas, which provides an umbrella certification for small growers working together, reducing certification costs and meeting food safety requirements of retail and institutional markets.
“My customers are not only looking at the farmer who grew their produce, but a member of the community who is a responsible steward of their land.”
Cody Murphree, Circle M Farms, Prairie Grove, Arkansas
Northwest Arkansas Land Trust
The Northwest Arkansas Land Trust improves the quality of life in the region through the preservation and enhancement of wild and farmed land. As part of this mission, the Land Trust operates NWA FARMLINK, a free website to help farm seekers and farmland owners connect. FARMLINK members have access to local support, guidance, resources and tools. It also serves as a virtual "matchmaker" for farmers seeking land and landowners looking to lease or sell. Through the Farmland Access Fund, the Land Trust also helps to reduce the cost of acquiring new land for fruit and vegetable producers through voluntary agricultural easements that preserve farmland forever.
"People want to know where their food is coming from, and that it’s safe, fresh and wholesome.”
Joe Carr, Produce Farmer, Booneville, Arkansas
The Center for Arkansas Farms and Food
The Center for Arkansas Farms and Food at the University of Arkansas works to strengthen and expand the region’s food and farming system by providing new opportunities to shape current and future farmers, food entrepreneurs and food system leaders. CAFF offers three tiers of educational support that enhance the skills necessary to develop resilient businesses that also sustain the ecosystem, land and communities. CAFF Farm School is an affordable, 11-month experiential learning opportunity for beginners that combines hands-on farming with core classes in production, business and legal issues. The apprenticeship program matches novice farmers with established farms, providing real farm working experience, alongside a core set of classes. Finally, cooperative extension programs help experienced farmers expand and scale their businesses, become wholesale ready and extend the growing season.
“We want to let farmers know that if they grow it, we can sell it. The hub is part of the food landscape here, and they can rely on our expertise to help scale up and build their business.”
Diana Endicott, Executive Director of the Food Conservancy
Arkansas Department of Agriculture
Small farms often operate on slim margins. To help farmers scale up to meet the demand for their food, the Arkansas Department of Agriculture provides grants of up to $15,000 to increase production and prepare for wholesale. The Arkansas Grown Grant will empower Northwest Arkansas farmers to fund needs specific to their operation, including expanded irrigation, cold storage and moving from hand production to mechanized production.
"The Arkansas Grown Grant for Northwest Arkansas Farmers pilot program will directly benefit produce farmers, enabling them to increase capacity and expand operations."
Wes Ward, Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture
Community Clinic NWA
Community Clinic will expand a pilot program that improves regular and reliable access to nutritious, locally grown foods and can be paid for using SNAP benefits. Community Clinic is the largest safety-net healthcare provider in Northwest Arkansas, serving over 16,000 individuals who experience inequity in health status, including a lack of access to nutritious food. To combat this disparity, Community Clinic partners with the Food Conservancy to operate a local produce program providing locally sourced produce boxes from Arkansas farmers to under-resourced patients and the community.
"Access to affordable, locally grown fruits and vegetables ensure under-resourced communities can benefit from a healthy diet."
Amanda Echegoyen, COO of Community Clinic
University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture
Healthy soil produces healthy food. Researchers at the University of Arkansas conduct soil testing and research to help farmers increase the productivity and profitability of specialty crops in the region. Farmers receive training to implement management practices that improve on-farm soil health.
Featured Stories
Liz Alsina October 29, 2021
Through CAFF’s Farm School, a tight-knit group of young farmers helps each other succeed in Northwest Arkansas
Liz Alsina June 11, 2021
The Northwest Arkansas Food Conservancy offers small farmers more certainty and new markets
Liz Alsina June 3, 2021
The Farmland Access Fund is removing barriers to land ownership for farmers in Northwest Arkansas
Liz Alsina July 10, 2020
In Northwest Arkansas, a new online resource helps farmers grow more local food for their communities
A food aggregation hub in Northwest Arkansas makes healthy food more accessible to the community
Liz Alsina September 21, 2020
The Center for Arkansas Farms and Food trains the next generation of area farmers
A vision for a regional food system that can serve as a national model for food grown locally and become a community resource in times of crisis