Farm­ers con­vene, dis­cuss mar­ket­ing

Grow­ers get to meet with chefs, restau­ra­teurs at ‘Lo­cal Con­ver­sa­tion’

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - APRIL WAL­LACE

SPRING­DALE — North­west Arkansas farm­ers and grow­ers are hear­ing re­quests for more or­ganic pro­duce and pro­tein, but pro­vid­ing those op­tions can be tricky and ex­pen­sive.

Tran­si­tion­ing farms to grow things or­gan­i­cally can be a time-con­sum­ing en­deavor. Once pro­duce is ready, there’s no guar­an­tee restau­rants will buy it. And in some sea­sons, their prod­ucts are so highly sought af­ter it’s hard to meet de­mand.

More than 75 farm­ers and grow­ers, chefs and restau­ra­teurs, food prod­uct mar­keters and non­profit work­ers gath­ered to ex­change in­for­ma­tion about suc­cess­fully get­ting their food to more restau­rants and re­tail­ers dur­ing a re­gional “Lo­cal Con­ver­sa­tion” event at Sas­safras Springs Vine­yard on Thurs­day.

Molly Behrens, a mar­ket grower who lives in the Rogers area, said she at­tended for in­for­ma­tion and to find out about other help­ful events for some­one in her new line of work.

“I wanted to grow food and good stuff, mostly pro­duce and eggs, but I’d like to even­tu­ally do berries and other things too,” Behrens said.

At­ten­dees had am­ple time to meet each other and speak with a num­ber of busi­nesses and farm­ers with the same agenda to pro­duce or­ganic prod­ucts, such as Ozark Herbal Cre­ation, Osage Creek Farms, Keels Creek Win­ery and Hanna Fam­ily Ranch.

The event was the fourth hosted by the Agri­cul­ture De­part­ment’s Arkansas Grown Pro­gram and in­cluded an expo and guest speak­ers on agri­cul­tural top­ics. Pre­vi­ous ses­sions were in Hope, Jones­boro and the Univer­sity of Arkansas at Mon­ti­cello. A fi­nal event to re­flect on feed­back from the re­gions will be in Lit­tle Rock this fall, said Adri­ane Barnes, di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the Agri­cul­ture De­part­ment.

Adri­enne Shaunfield, owner of the Farm­ers Ta­ble restau­rant, spoke can­didly about what farm­ers could do to es­tab­lish work­ing re­la­tion­ships with restau­rant own­ers. She works with North­west Arkansas grow­ers and one beef farmer to sup­ply her restau­rant in Fayet­teville.

Shaunfield ad­vised get­ting to know in­di­vid­ual restau­ra­teurs’ and chefs’ pref­er­ences, es­tab­lish­ing what they pay for var­i­ous prod­ucts so the grower can match it, and pro­vid­ing sam­ples and unique prod­ucts.

“Fig­ure out how they like the food to come,” Shaunfield said. “They’re look­ing for qual­ity and con­sis­tency in

de­liv­ery, pro­duce size and pric­ing. Do they want it in a box or bag, by the pound, by the case, [know] what they’re look­ing for and what works best for their stor­age sit­u­a­tion.”

Those mar­ket­ing rarer prod­ucts, such as berries, tumeric and herbs, would be more suc­cess­ful than start­ing with toma­toes and other pro­duce com­monly grown in the area, she said. Re­li­a­bil­ity and com­mu­ni­ca­tion of how the farm’s cir­cum­stances might af­fect the restau­rant also are pri­or­i­ties.

“Com­mu­ni­cat­ing if some­thing goes wrong is big,” Shaunfield said. Restau­rants “can’t change their menu all of a sud­den be­cause greens caught on fire. If you tell us when pro­duce is look­ing good and we can ex­pect it in a cou­ple of weeks, we’ll plan around it.”

Some grow­ers and prod­uct mak­ers said the process of mak­ing their busi­nesses or­ganic and more sus­tain­able was time-con­sum­ing but worth the ef­fort.

“I wanted to do a bar­be­cue sauce and take out any high fruc­tose corn syrup but not com­pro­mise on taste,” said J.J. Lock­hart, owner of JJ’s All Nat­u­ral BBQ Sauce.

He worked with of­fi­cials on the Univer­sity of Arkansas cam­pus to de­velop what he hoped would be an or­ganic and tasty prod­uct be­fore se­cur­ing space on the shelves of sev­eral nat­u­ral food stores.

“I poured many gal­lons of sauce down the drain in the process,” Lock­hart said.

Aubree Hayes is a mem­ber of the fourth gen­er­a­tion of her fam­ily to work on the Osage Creek Farm, which she has helped tran­si­tion from be­ing a con­ven­tional farm for 80 years to pro­vid­ing all grass-fed beef.

“We feel like it’s bet­ter for peo­ple and the en­vi­ron­ment to switch to a grass-fed prod­uct,” Hayes said. Her train­ing as a di­eti­tian en­light­ened the fam­ily’s per­spec­tive, she said. “When [cows] can live in the pas­ture and eat grass their whole life, that has a lower im­pact. The meat is higher in Omega-3.”

Jerry Martin, owner of Vet Veg­gies in Spring­dale, is us­ing the freight farms model to em­ploy veter­ans with hy­dro­ponic farm­ing. The gar­den beds are in re­tired trac­tor-trail­ers. It al­lows the growth of a large amount of pro­duce with only min­i­mal wa­ter, such as 4,500 heads of let­tuce with only 10 gal­lons of wa­ter per day, for ex­am­ple.

“This way we can get peo­ple into farm­ing for a third of the cost” of tra­di­tional farm­ing, Martin said. “They can have a cash flow and a liv­able wage, a good life.”

Oth­ers have found once they be­gan to of­fer an or­ganic prod­uct, they strug­gled to keep up with mar­ket de­mand.

Will Hanna of the Hanna Fam­ily Ranch raises 40 hogs and 20 lambs in a year while restau­ra­teurs such as Shaunfield strug­gle to find enough lo­cal ba­con to serve.

“We sell to restau­rants in Ben­tonville, and it sells out very quickly,” de­spite the farm be­ing only 3 years old, Hanna said. “One restau­rant or­dered 20 lambs, so I hope the girls can kick out a cou­ple more [be­fore then].”

If farm­ers find them­selves pro­duc­ing more food than they know what to do with, there’s an out­let for that, too.

Bran­don Chap­man, food sourc­ing and lo­gis­tics pro­grams co­or­di­na­tor for the Arkansas Hunger Re­lief Al­liance, wanted to con­nect with farm­ers to fur­ther the non­profit group’s mis­sion to pre­vent food waste. Arkansas Hunger Re­lief sal­vaged and redi­rected 2 mil­lion pounds of food in 2016 and ex­pects the same amount this year.

“We have high food in­se­cu­rity around the state,” Chap­man said.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion ac­cepts and har­vests farm­ers’ ex­cess prod­ucts or left­overs and then de­liv­ers it to lo­cal food banks.

“In the food banks, there’s a ma­jor deficit of fresh pro­tein,” Chap­man said. “We’re now tak­ing cash do­na­tions to pur­chase brown beef, or if you have a bull jump­ing a fence or just have a calf and want to be char­i­ta­ble, we can put that ground beef in the food bank.”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/AN­THONY REYES • @NWATONYR

Adam Ri­ley (from left), of Fayet­teville, talks Thurs­day with Aubree Hays and Brent Fry, both with Osage Creek Farms, at the Arkansas Grown Pro­gram at Sas­safras Springs Vine­yard in Spring­dale. Osage Creek was one of the ven­dors avail­able to talk with at­ten­dees at the event. The event was the fi­nal of four re­gional con­ver­sa­tion events to es­tab­lish con­nec­tions be­tween farm­ers, pro­duc­ers and po­ten­tial buy­ers.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/AN­THONY REYES • @NWATONYR

Jerry Martin with Vet Veg­gies talks to the crowd Thurs­day at the Arkansas Grown Pro­gram at Sas­safras Springs Vine­yard in Spring­dale. Vet Veg­gies, based in Spring­dale, helps veter­ans start farm­ing in lim­ited space year round.

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