Written by KEN MOORE
Produced by ROBERT POTTER
Arkansas Farm Bureau Public Relations
More consumers are indicating they want locally grown food when they eat out and to serve their families at home. To help connect them and local farmers with restaurants and food buyers, the Arkansas Agriculture Department developed the Arkansas Grown program. First created in 2002, it was redesigned in 2009 with a new website, ArkansasGrown.org
. Participation in the program has taken off the past few years.
“When I started at the department in 2010, there was some demand for it, but this local food demand was just taking off,” said Zach Taylor, director of marketing for the Agriculture Department. “It’s really gotten big now, and I have producers, beginning producers and producers that have been producing for 20 years, that have not looked at our Arkansas Grown label before but are now calling me and saying, ‘Hey we want to be part of this program.’”
In 2010, there were about 45 groups registered with Arkansas Grown. Today, there are more than 500. Arkansas Farm Bureau is collaborating with the Agriculture Department and University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service to develop a mobile app that will be a one-stop shop for consumers and retail buyers. Farmers are encouraged to sign up their location by going to localandgrown.org
. This will ensure they are included on the app that should be available later this summer.
One of the local growers who is participating with Arkansas Grown is Barnhill Orchards in Lonoke County. Bob Barnhill established the farm in 1980. Known for its quality strawberries, the farm has expanded to include a variety of fruits and vegetables. Barnhill says demand for locally grown food by restaurants and participation in the Arkansas Grown program has been a boon for his business.
“People that want to have locally, home-grown products frequently ask me where they can get my stuff,” said Barnhill. “I tell them where the markets are and where the restaurants are. Right here in this local area we sell to the Community Bakery, and South on Main, here at the Root Café and across the street at the Loblolly Creamery.”
Jack Sundell and his wife own the Root Café on Main Street in downtown Little Rock. He buys fresh produce from Barnhill because it fits his business model, and he can count on the farm to supply a quality product. He expects demand to enable more restaurants to offer locally grown food.
“Our focus, our objective, is building community through local food, so we do everything that we can to purchase directly from local farms and help to support the central Arkansas agriculture community,” Sundell said. “There’s really an abundance of activity right now on the restaurant scene. A lot of people are getting interested in local foods from a consumer standpoint. You see that with the explosion of farmers’ markets around Little Rock. And restaurants, chefs like to use the best food they can get. I think restaurants for a long time have been setting the trend. Chefs find that food that comes directly from farms tastes better, it’s fresher. It’s a better quality product.”
Barnhill is pleased that many mothers are buying his produce to serve their families because they trust it’s a quality product.
“I frequently hear from mothers that they’re talking about they’re not feeding their kids anything but locally grown stuff. That pleases me because they’re trusting me with the health of their children. I don’t think you can beat that,” Barnhill said.
To locate farms, farmers’ markets, restaurants and other organizations participating in the program visit ArkansasGrown.org