The Farm grows food and community

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 86 views 

The first year The Farm grew produce, it was essentially a large garden. The second year, it was more than a garden, but not quite what most would view as a “farm.”

As The Farm enters its third year of “cultivating a community without need,” it is a full-fledged farm with thousands of pounds of produce being grown, chickens laying eggs, compost being created and efforts to make the entire operation fully self-sustaining underway.

“It’s been a big step between being a garden and becoming a farm,” said Farm Manager Gary Davis.

The Farm is part of the Cobblestone Project and is designed to “use sustainable agriculture to help the under-resourced in our community.” The actual Farm is located approximately at 54th and West Wedington Drive in Fayetteville.

The Farm accomplishes its mission by focusing on four strategic pillars:
• Economic Development (subscription program and a WorkShare program);
• Education (teaching about agriculture and food in local schools; and participation from the University of Arkansas);
• Hunger Relief (subscription program and gift card program); and,
• Community (engagement opportunities including planting parties, farmers markets, etc.).

Davis said The Farm has doubled its product each year with the 2012 growing season expected to produce 20,000 pounds of produce.

“At least half of that will be given away,” Davis said.

One of The Farm’s programs gives local families the ability to purchase subscriptions for each season. The subscribing family receives a lug of produce weekly and the same amount is given to a local family in need. The produce changes with the season and a schedule is available on The Farm’s website.

The ministry also offers gift card programs, which provides vouchers to local schools and churches who know of people who could benefit from the free, fresh produce.

The Farm’s ability to grow, harvest and wash produce is exponentially greater with the pole barn being constructed, the new chicken coops being built and the recently completed high tunnel structure (similar to a greenhouse) that allows for a longer growing season. The work is done by volunteers including individuals, corporate groups, school groups and families.

Volunteers learn to “be the farmer” by literally planting, cultivating or harvesting produce; helping erect the buildings; or even participating in education programs at local farmers markets or in local schools. Anyone wanting to volunteer can find information on The Farm’s volunteer hub.

There are volunteer opportunities on Friday nights and Saturday mornings, with the possibility of more opportunities as The Farm expands, Davis said.

Families can also easily be involved this year by simply bringing their grass clippings and other yard waste to the new mulching area at The Farm, which is creating compost to spread on the crops.

Brad Cooper and several of his classmates recently helped with planting.The group members are all part of the UA chapter of the American Marketing Association and said they had been looking for community services projects they could do as a group and to make a difference. The students liked that The Farm approached the idea of hunger relief from so many different angles.

“The Farm has multiple facets to it instead of just one (method of making a difference),” Cooper said.

Fellow student Nicholas Liu said he appreciates seeing so many business professionals from all walks of life being involved in The Farm.

“It’s easy to get caught up in advancing your own career. This emphasizes how important it is to think about something other than your career and more about each other,” he said.

Both men agreed that working the soil together is also an excellent team-building exercise. It can also be a way for families to connect and for children to learn about where food comes from.

Doug Walker recently volunteered at The Farm with one of his daughters, Audrey. He said they definitely plan to be involved again.

“We want to go out as a family to plant, harvest, gather eggs—whatever they need,” he said.

Walker, who was raised on a farm, enjoyed being able to share family stories with his daughter while showing her a lesson about helping others.

“It’s a creative way to help those in need and it was a great bonding time,” Walker said.