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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, the Northwest Arkansas Food Systems Initiative 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. Over time, we believe Northwest Arkansas can serve as a national model for small and mid-size farmers making a good living growing local food in healthy soil.
Resources for Farmers
Looking to gain farm experience, buy or lease land, reach new markets or expand your operations? Whether you are new to agriculture or a seasoned grower, there are many resources available to farmers in Northwest Arkansas.
"The Food Conservancy can take whatever you can grow and pay you good money for it."
Dennis McGarrah, McGarrah Farms, Lowell, Arkansas
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 business and relationships.

During the pandemic, the conservancy piloted an effort to connect farmers with consumers as demand from farmers markets, schools and restaurants decreased. The program ensured farmers were still able to sell their produce, delivered fresh food to the community and minimized food waste. 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 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, and 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 was developed 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
Featured Stories
Liz Alsina June 3, 2021
The Farmland Access Fund is removing barriers to land ownership for farmers in Northwest Arkansas
Liz Alsina June 11, 2021
The Northwest Arkansas Food Conservancy offers small farmers more certainty and new markets
Liz Alsina July 10, 2020
In Northwest Arkansas, a new online resource helps farmers grow more local food for their communities
Liz Alsina May 15, 2020
A food aggregation hub in Northwest Arkansas makes healthy food more accessible to the community
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