The Arkansas Department of Agriculture will host its first Local Conversations of the year on Thursday (March 5) to help connect Arkansas farmers and producers with the buying community.
The free event will be held from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the new Share Grounds certified kitchen and distribution center at the Three County Fair Ground in McCrory in collaboration with the Cooperative Extension Service, part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. Registration and a light breakfast will be available at 7:30 a.m., and the program begins at 8:30 a.m.
“Our Local Conversations events have been well-received in the past, and we are pleased to partner with Extension this year to highlight the new Share Grounds program,” Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture Wes Ward said. “These collaborative events are designed to bring producers and consumers together to learn from each other so consumers can ultimately have more access to locally produced food and products.”
Representatives from the Arkansas Department of Agriculture and the Cooperative Extension Service will provide an overview of local foods in Arkansas.
Speakers include Sarah Lane, the Farm to School coordinator for the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, and Karen Reynolds, who will speak about the Department’s Arkansas Grown/Arkansas Made program that connects producers and consumers.
Representatives from Extension have been invited to share information about food-related programs.
Ron Rainey, an economist at the Division of Agriculture’s Center for Agriculture and Rural Sustainability, will discuss the MarketMaker program that connects growers with outlets such as restaurants, retailers and schools. Amanda Philyaw Perez, assistant professor and food systems and safety extension specialist, and Angela Gardner, Share Grounds project manager, will discuss the network of certified kitchens and aggregation sites for food entrepreneurs and producers in Searcy, Woodruff and Cleveland counties. Julia Fryer, program associate, will share information about produce safety workshops for fruit and vegetable producers.
A buyer’s panel of representatives from farmers markets, retail businesses, and school nutrition experts will provide insight and answer questions regarding local procurement. Training on the Farm to School program will follow the panel discussion, and participants will tour the certified kitchen and distribution center.