"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
Thousands of Little Rock residents have spoken: They want veggies, and bread, and honey this summer. And they want them local.
While most folks are perfectly happy buying their tomatoes and lettuce from a Kroger or Wal-Mart store, there is a growing network of consumers and suppliers — the hot current term for them is “locavores” — looking for something more: fresh produce, delivered as close to the farm where it was grown as possible without it still being attached to the vine. The local food movement — an infrastructure, really; of suppliers, consumers, methods of distribution and outlets — has been slowly gaining steam in Little Rock for almost a decade now, and it looks like it is finally ready to break through into the mainstream.
Local-food grocery The Station on Markham is open and Argenta Market on Main Street in North Little Rock should be open by the time you read this. A local-food cafe is in the works. There are competing farmers markets on opposite sides of the Arkansas River. Online, Little Rock consumers are clamoring to pay premium prices for backyard-grown produce through a local food-buying club, where demand is outstripping supply by far.
In short, being passionate about eating local is not just for idealists and politically active college kids anymore. It's actually doable, by real people, with lives.
For growers, it's all about getting back to nature, making use of fallow ground, and saving the planet and the family farm. The motives of customers are just as widespread: everything from avoiding burning thousands of gallons of fossil fuels getting a California strawberry to your plate, to helping out the local economy, to the simple comfort of being able to look the person who grew your radishes in the eye. Whatever the case, it's clear that the cogs in Central Arkansas's local food machine are finally starting to mesh.
If the figures from the USDA are any measure, lots of people want to eat produce grown closer to home. According to their figures, in 1998, there were 2,746 local farmers markets in the U.S. By summer 2008, that number had grown to 4,685 — a number which had jumped 6.8 percent since 2006 alone.
Jody Hardin is the executive director of the Certified Arkansas Farmer's Market. His local-foods-only grocery store, Argenta Market, is soon to open in North Little Rock. On the lot next door to Hardin's store is the Argenta Certified Farmer's Market.
The market is open only to Arkansas farmers and Arkansas-grown produce, with participants vetted via visits to their farms. Hardin, considered one of the godfathers of Little Rock local food, started a locally-grown food basket subscription service in 2005. Over time, the service has grown to serve 340 families, each paying $60 a month for a basket containing a selection of meat, dairy, cheese or produce from Arkansas.
Hardin said the North Little Rock farmers market was born out of his frustration with the Little Rock Farmer's Market. Though the Little Rock Farmer's Market has done more to try and alert consumers about what is locally grown and what isn't, it allows what Hardin calls “resellers,” sellers who buy produce through some of the same providers who sell fruit and vegetables to the chain grocery stores.
“We were over there competing with Florida tomatoes,” Hardin said. “It was not fair … Farmers were miserable.”
Finally, one of Hardin's friends, a “big farmer” who grew produce on a larger scale than most sellers, told Hardin that they should start their own market. Six of the local farmers went with him, and last year the Argenta farmers market was born. It debuted for another season April 18 at the corner of Sixth and Main in North Little Rock.
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