Arkansas Farmers Provide Local Food to Residents

By Paul Eilers on 3:37 PM

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Washington state strawberries. Florida oranges. Texas beef.

With state labels branded on so many different food items, an individual can easily become confused on what he or she is consuming.

One local group is aiming to change that.

The Arkansas Basket-A-Month Program is a farmers group that aims to provide state residents with locally grown food items.

"We adopted it from a program out West," said Jody Hardin, the director of the program. "We created this about three years ago to create a marketing program for local, small farmers."

Hardin said the group started at the Little Rock River Market with about 30 members, but now boasts 330.

"We're really pioneering something new in Arkansas. Our critics said we can't do this for 12 months of the year, but we've done it," he said.

The group travels year-round to different sites around Arkansas including Conway to provide baskets full of Arkansas products.

"It's probably going to be another two to three weeks before we visit Conway again. Normally we do this about once a month, but in the summer months we speed it up," Hardin said.

A fifth-generation farmer, Hardin operates the family farm in Grady, about 20 minutes outside of Pine Bluff.

"We've been on this land over 100 years," he said. "We produce over 40 different crops 11 months out of the year."

Hardin said 80 percent of the goods are organically produced. "We are trying to do an all organic basket," he said.

The program looks closely at each individual farmer to make sure the goods are safe for consumers. "If you don't know the farmer, you don't know your food," he said. "The inspection part is for our customers. Sometimes we allow synthetic fertilizers, but if they use a lot of chemicals we won't accept them."

Part of the goal of the program, Hardin said, is to create a connection between farmers and consumers. "Our society is disconnected with where our food comes from. Some people think it is grown in the grocery store," he joked.

That's why the group offers individual items to appeal to families. "We sell chocolate milk, things kids love," he said. "That way, they can relate to the food better."

Prices may seem steep at $60 a basket, with a required minimum purchase of three, but the consumables are plenty. Offerings run the gamut from regular dairy products milk, cheese and eggs to fruits and vegetables cucumbers, tomatoes and okra. They also sell grass-fed beef.

Hardin said he tries to get different items in the baskets according to the season.

"In the basket last month, we offered a pound of butterbeans shelled and ready to eat and a sugar baby watermelon," he said.

He's pleased with the way people are responding to the program.

"We're really getting strong now," Hardin said. "People just really love it. We get a lot of encouragement. The same people stay with us, and they're spending their money locally."

One Conway resident said he likes the monthly baskets, although he wished there were more options available.

"I generally like it although initially they didn't offer whole milk, and they still don't," said Peter Mehl.

Mehl learned about the program through the Faulkner County Supporters of Sustainable Communities, a local organization that supports environmental programs.

"Local food and organic food are one of their issues," he said.

And while Mehl acknowledged that many options are available through the basket, he doesn't always know what to do with some of the products. "The trick is to figure out how to cook and use everything," he said, pointing out the vegetables he wasn't as familiar with, such as the Japanese eggplant.

Hardin said anyone interested in the future deliveries can look at the program's Web site, located at www.arkansasfood.net.

"We send e-mail notifications to tell people about the basket pick-up days. As a bonus, we notify them about extras that farmers will offer at the last minute, and only people who place orders for baskets can order those," he said.

The group last visited Conway on Saturday, but Hardin said the farmers will return soon to the pickup location at the Faulkner County Courthouse.

"Our hours are 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.," he said, adding that since Conway is the last pickup on the list of places, "we put extra items in, so it's a good basket."

Source: here

3 comments for this post

Paul:

This is a convenient way to look at your post, for sure. But, why not just post the link -- that will drive traffic directly to your blog...

But, hey, if you prefer to post the whole thing here, that's fine, too.

Your call...

Posted on August 5, 2008 at 4:31 PM  

What a great idea. And I probably wouldn't have follow a link initially, but I WILL visit his blog now.

Posted on August 5, 2008 at 7:26 PM  

Well, Caroline, perhaps you've got a point.

I honestly never considered posting full articles here before.

That's not a bad idea, now that I think about it. Adds a little substance to the place.

What I said earlier. Just, like, never mind...

Posted on August 6, 2008 at 1:11 AM  

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