The Walton Family Foundation is launching a new initiative to strengthen the region’s capacity to grow food for its residents. By expanding opportunities for farmers and increasing consumers’ access to fresh products, the Northwest Arkansas Food Systems will help position the area as a national model for local food grown in healthy soil.
“Northwest Arkansas’ vast natural resources and rich farming heritage offer the necessary ingredients to grow this industry and diversify the local economy,” said Tom Walton, Home Region Program committee chair. “Through this new initiative, we hope to reinforce how food grown locally can be a lifeline for communities.”
Northwest Arkansas Food Systems will help connect new and existing small-scale farmers to land, technical assistance and capital. It will also improve farmers’ access to local wholesale and direct-to-consumer markets by providing aggregation, sales and distribution, and processing services. To accomplish this, the initiative is providing support to regional nonprofits, including:
The Northwest Arkansas Land Trust Farmlink is connecting landowners with experienced farmers interested in leasing or purchasing land.
The Center for Arkansas Farms and Food at the University of Arkansas is offering a new apprenticeship program to match novice farmers with established farms, educational programs to help farmers scale up and, is developing a farm school with experiential learning opportunities for beginners.
The Food Conservancy opened a food hub that aggregates and distributes locally grown produce to wholesale markets.
The program underscores the essential role local farmers play in maintaining the food supply chain, particularly during times of crisis. As demand from farmers markets, schools and restaurants decreases due to COVID-19, The Food Conservancy is activating a pilot program that will connect farmers with consumers. 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 at 1605 Shady Grove in Springdale.
Over the last decade, Northwest Arkansas has experienced 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%. Northwest Arkansas Food Systems will help meet the region’s demand for increased supply by helping existing farmers grow, developing new farmers and expanding farmers’ access to supply chains.