Improving Access to Healthy Food in Northwest Arkansas

Northwest Arkansas is improving access to healthy food by supporting local growers and making sure food gets to the people who need it most.

The Walton Family Foundation and University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences this month announced two initiatives centered around food and hunger. Market Center of the Ozarks, a $31 million facility connecting area farmers with chefs and other businesses, is set to open in downtown Springdale in 2024 with Walton Family Foundation support.

And UAMS is the homebase for a new Food Insecurity Community of Practice, a network of two dozen local organizations joining forces to fight hunger, with the help of the Walmart Foundation.

The initiatives have different starting points and methods, but they share the overarching goal to get good food to Northwest Arkansas families. Market Center of the Ozarks, with cold storage and other facilities to keep locally grown produce fresh longer, will help that food reach area schools and community centers, for example, according to the Walton Family Foundation.

“Despite Northwest Arkansas’ growth, there are families who continue to lack adequate access to fresh food,” Amanda Echegoyen, COO of Community Clinic, said in a news release about the center. “This facility will improve access to affordable, locally grown fruits and vegetables to ensure under-resourced communities can benefit from a healthy diet.”

UAMS launched the Food Insecurity Community of Practice late last year but just this month announced the partner organizations joining the network. They include farms, religious groups and others such as Arkansas Children’s Northwest and the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank.

These partners will pool their knowledge and resources to deal with food insecurity, or the lack of consistent access to safe, adequate, culturally appropriate and nutritious food. One in seven local households are food insecure, UAMS said. 

“This community of practice has such a wealth of knowledge,” said Marla Sappington of the Manna Center. “Our hearts and minds are working to help others who don’t have the resources to meet everyday needs.”

The two initiatives are the latest steps in a longstanding push to feed the region in better ways. Brightwater, the NorthWest Arkansas Community College culinary and food systems education program, opened at Bentonville’s 8th Street Market in 2017 with the Walton Family Foundation’s help. And the foundation’s support of the market center is part of its broader initiative to build Northwest Arkansas into a national model of locally grown food.