This time of year is particularly wonderful for those who like to eat local, Arkansas produce. Luckily, there's no shortage of spectacular farmer's markets around central Arkansas with local growers and other specialty vendors making weekly appearances. Making these markets part of our regular shopping excursions has been a real pleasure, indeed, it's one particular aspect of Arkansas that I've found most unique and special. But recently, we've discovered another opportunity to acquire fresh produce that, while requiring a bit more effort, has been a real joy for my small family—the "U-pick It" produce farms.
These farms operate on a seasonal basis, and currently it's prime time for strawberries...and honestly, is there anything more simple and beautiful than an Arkansas strawberry? Those who've tasted them know there’s no better berry on the planet.
It's an experience that just about anyone can enjoy, regardless of age—I haven't actually picked a fruit or vegetable off a plant for probably over 10 years, and there was something oddly rewarding about gathering your own fruit (without having to go through the hassle of planting, pruning, and fertilizing). But the U-Pick It concept is particularly thrilling for children. Our 2-year old son was completely absorbed in the whole process. It was a joy to teach him a bit about where our food comes from, allowing him to meet the farmers running the fields, and explaining to him what a ripe versus unripe berry looks like.
But U-Pick It farming doesn't end with strawberries. There's a whole world of produce just waiting for you to get your grubby paws on it. Check out these wonderful websites, pickyourown.org and Arkansas.com, for a great list of farms offering this DIY produce harvesting. Currently, it's only the beginning of most of these farm's harvest, and these sites explains what's being harvested, at what time, at what farm. While strawberries are a hot item right now, soon we'll be seeing the coming of peaches, blackberries, raspberries, squash, apples, plums, nectarines, peas, watermelons, and tomatoes. I'd definitely suggest calling ahead before you go off picking to confirm that the produce you're after is actually available that day, and be aware that many of these places are cash or check only—don't go expecting there to be an ATM anywhere nearby. Additionally, there's not much in the way of refreshment at these farms, so bring along some beverages if you plan on picking in the heat of mid-day.
Don't let yourself go through the entire growing season without partaking in some of the wonderful products we have surrounding us throughout Arkansas. The U-Pick It farms are a splendid way to spend a morning and it's guaranteed you'll not find fresher produce anywhere in the world.
(The Cabot Patch is located at 500 Mt Carmel Rd, Cabot. 8 am-6 pm. 501-605-1313.
The Mountain High Patch is located at 1000 E. Justice Rd, Cabot. 8 am-noon. 501-983-8881.)
It all started, as these things do, with my running off at the mouth — and of course, my mouth was full. The place was Hillcrest Artisan Meats, and the subject of my ruminations was a hamburger we might have mentioned two or ten times. One of the local farmers who provides H.A.M. with some of their free-range meat happened to be in the shop that day, and while she didn't introduce herself right then, I got an e-mail later that week asking if I'd like to do a review on some of her farm's products. I agreed, with the understanding that she should be careful what she asked for, because I wouldn't pull any punches if the protein wasn't good. She told me she wouldn't expect any less from me and told me to expect some samples.
The farmer's name is Katie Short, and her farm is called Farm Girl Natural Foods. And after spending over a week cooking with various ingredients raised on her free-range family farm, I've become a convert to her way of doing things. From sausages flavored and spiced to perfection to free range chickens that roasted up perfectly, the farm girl behind Farm Girl needn't worry: there's no way this is going to be a bad review. Join me down there under the jump for a look at meat raised and processed with care, because these animals raised in a low-stress environment really do taste better.
Cody Hopkins, who with his wife, Andrea Todt, operates Falling Sky Farm in Marshall, where they raise pigs, chickens, beef cattle, turkeys and ducks, has won the Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneur Award of the Hitachi Foundation in New York. The award goes to young business people whose work helps alleviate domestic poverty. It includes $40,000, advice and technical assistance and the support of partner investors.
Falling Sky Farm products are often sold at Argenta Market and Hopkins heads up the Conway Locally Grown online farmers' market.
The press release from Hitachi, which held an event honoring its Yoshiyama award winners in New York, quoted foundation CEO Barbara Dyer as saying that “Falling Sky Farm shows us that we need not make a choice between purpose and profit, and that business innovation in the social realm is abundant.”
From Hopkins and Todt:
“Our work goes beyond farming. We’re here to help restore our community's identity and ensure that a good day’s work deserves a good, sustainable livable wage,” adds Hopkins. Falling Sky Farm’s pay structure is 38% above the federal minimum wage. They also serve as a catalyst for more than 35 other farmers in getting food to market and where livelihoods can be scant. “We’re particularly proud that we’re able come back to rural Arkansas and give back to the community that raised us,” said Andrea Todt.
Todt grew up outside Marshall and graduated from Earlham College in Indiana with a degree in outdoor education and a minor in biology. Hopkins grew up in Van Buren and moved to Searcy County in 2003 to work at Serenity Farm Bakery. He holds a physics degree from Hendrix College.
"'you're welcome to keep eating your greens and hoe cake while the rest of us…
Where is my popcorn?
though I have to say I did raise my eyebrows at the sour cream and…
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