Local food opportunities abound, farmers markets expanding

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 102 views 

The burgeoning local food movement that has swept the nation in recent years has planted roots in Northwest Arkansas. A group known as the Northwest Arkansas Regional Food Council, which organized in 2012, has hired Karp Resources to complete a comprehensive regional food assessment.

Teresa Maurer, vendor coordinator with the Fayetteville Farmers Market, is on the food council steering committee. Maurer said the group of local food advocates were approached by Mike Harvey, chief operations officer at the NWA Council, two years ago to consider an assessment.

“We held a few meetings to discuss the best way to assess the demand and opportunities around sourcing local food. We wanted to look at businesses large and small and the economic impact on consumers and farmers,” Maurer said.

She said Karp Resources is about 50% complete with its six-month study that will at consumer and commercial demand for locally produced foods, regional agricultural production, strengths and bottlenecks in regional supply chains, access to fresh healthy foods, and food-related employment trends.

The group’s goal is to identify opportunities to produce more local food and bring it to market. Part of the analysis includes a local food survey which can be taken online by consumers, commercial buyers and food growers. Maurer said the survey and assessment results will likely be completed sometime this summer. She said the NWA Council helped to secure the funds to finance the study with  grants from the Walmart Foundation and the Endeavor Foundation.

It’s that time of year when downtown squares and public meeting plazas feature fresh produce and homemade fare at their local farmers markets. The Fayetteville Farmers Market was the first to open in 2014, hosting its first outdoor market for this season April 5. Maurer said ticket sales and traffic are up from last year.

“We have 105 members and 70 spaces around the square. This time of year we have meat, dairy, handcrafted items and some fresh produce and seasonal flowers,” she said.

The market spills over to Tuesday and Thursday mornings through October to give new vendors more sales opportunities given then are more vendor members than spaces.

“The weekday markets are growing, it has taken a little time but the traffic is up against last year. Tuesday is the smallest of the three markets.” Maurer said. “We are also adding a Sunday morning market beginning on May 4 from 9 a.m to 1 p.m.”

She said the Sunday market will be located outside the Jefferson Center, which is part of the Fayetteville school system and located at 612 South College Ave, a few blocks from downtown.

Also new to the market this year are some value-added products.

“We have one family farm that sells goat cheese all three days we are open. Another vendor has worked with the University of Arkansas’ food innovation center and is selling salsa,” Maurer said. 

Nicki Dallison, Farmers Market Manager in Bentonville, said this marks the city’s 38th year for its Farmers Market program which opens April 26. The market is held around the Bentonville Square from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday through Oct. 25.

“We have over 65 vendors this year and we are also partnering with several groups to provide demonstrations and other activities. Local chefs will demo cooking with local food and we will have free yoga every third Saturday,” Dallison said.

She said new vendors include a hydroponic farmer that will provide fresh greens throughout the season, LONAH Mud dairies, fresh pasta maker, glutten-free booth, Air Ship Coffee and lots of fresh meat options.

The Springdale Farmers Market is set to open May 3 at the Jones Center for Families. This year there are 40 vendors registered, according to Paula Boles, Market Manager.

Boles said the market continues to grow incrementally each year as more farmers from around the area and as far away as Carroll County want to sell their products.

“Our vendors sell fresh high quality fruits and vegetables, herbs, honey, nuts, farm fresh eggs, plants, jams & jellies, baked goods, wood furniture and handmade crafts,” Boles said.

Boles said the market is also open on Tuesday and Thursday and this year there is a new vendor on those days selling USDA certified beef, pork and chicken and a new cut flower vendor.

Also new this year are gift certificates for the Springdale Farmer’s Market. Boles said the certificates are transferred into vouchers and can be used with any of the vendors or have balances carried over to the next year if needed.

Located in historic downtown Rogers, the local farmers market is held at the corner of Walnut and First Streets near Frisco Station from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Wednesday and Saturday beginning April 26. Kimberly Scott, manager of the Rogers Farmer’s Market said there are 10 news vendors this year, bringing the total count to 50.

“We have seen good growth over the past few years” Scott said.”This year we have some new bakers, a wood crafter and several new farms.”

All four of the farmers market contacted for this story said they accept WIC, SNAP and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program vouchers.