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New Program Supports Farmers, Locally Grown Food in Northwest Arkansas

May 4, 2020
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

For generations, Northwest Arkansas has been synonymous with access to opportunity. Much of that success is rooted in qualities that have defined this community for decades – the natural beauty we can access because of trails, a vibrant startup scene that builds on an entrepreneurial legacy and art spaces inspired by the rich Ozark culture of makers and artists. Northwest Arkansas’ national ascent in these areas is an example of what’s possible when authenticity is a driving force behind the work.

The authenticity of Northwest Arkansas’ farming heritage is inspiring our family’s new effort to strengthen the region’s capacity to grow more local food for local people.

Stories of women and men who worked this land and built their livelihoods through farming are also part of the region’s narrative. That farming legacy continues to be ingrained in our communities, and there is renewed interest in small-scale farming. Since 2012, the number of farms growing fruits, nuts and vegetables in Benton and Washington counties increased by 45%.

The current state of the world is also highlighting the essential role local farmers play in our food supply chain. This work is vital when communities navigate the unprecedented challenges we are experiencing today.

The authenticity of Northwest Arkansas’ farming heritage is inspiring our family’s new effort to strengthen the region’s capacity to grow more local food for local people.

The vision for this work is to build a food system in Northwest Arkansas that can serve as a national model for food grown locally in healthy soil, while also supporting the local economy and providing access to healthy food for all.

Our work capitalizes on two key areas of opportunity – supporting small-scale farmers and improving their access to local wholesale fresh produce markets.

Programs will help farmers access farmland, training and capital. Ensuring farmers have access to local wholesale markets will close the system’s loop.

We believe in working with organizations that are closest to the challenges because they are often closest to the solution. That is why local nonprofits deeply connected with the farming community will play a central role in this effort.

  • The Center for Arkansas Farms and Food, a new program at the University of Arkansas, launched an apprenticeship that matches novice farmers with established farms where they are learning alongside seasoned farmers. The Center is offering educational programs that are helping farmers grow and scale up, and are also developing a farm school that will provide experiential learning for beginning farmers.
  • The Food Conservancy opened a food hub that aggregates and distributes locally grown produce to meet the demand of wholesale markets.

The Food Conservancy is also responding in real time to the coronavirus pandemic and piloting an effort that connects farmers with consumers as demand from farmers markets, schools and restaurants decreases. The program minimizes food waste and ensures farmers are still able to sell their produce.

The Conservancy is purchasing produce from local farmers and aggregating it. Consumers can buy the $20 boxes online for contactless pickup at 8th Street Market in Bentonville and The Conservancy’s warehouse in Springdale.

The Conservancy’s approach lives up to the overall mission of our food systems effort – it supports local farmers and ensures Northwest Arkansas residents have access to healthy food. The pilot also has the potential to scale up and diversify its offerings as warmer weather approaches.

Northwest Arkansas’ vast natural resources and rich farming heritage offer the necessary ingredients to grow this industry and diversify the local economy. Farmers are also the current lifeline to the food supply chain – a reality that should ignite increased support for these workers and all they do for our communities.

Comments (1)
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Robin Jeep
Tom, This is wonderful, thank you! If you haven’t already, please check out Zach Bush, MD’s regenerative farming.
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