The Walton Family Foundation announced Monday (May 4) it has launched a new initiative to strengthen the region’s capacity to grow food for its residents.
The Northwest Arkansas Food Systems will expand opportunities for farmers and increase consumer access to fresh products and is expected to become a national model for locally grown food.
“Northwest Arkansas’ vast natural resources and rich farming heritage offer the necessary ingredients to grow this industry and diversify the local economy,” said Tom Walton, committee chair for the foundation’s Home Region program and a grandson of Walmart Inc. founders Sam and Helen Walton. “Through this new initiative, we hope to reinforce how food grown locally can be a lifeline for communities.”
Northwest Arkansas Food Systems will help connect new and existing small-scale farmers to land, technical assistance and capital. It also will improve farmers’ access to area wholesale and direct-to-consumer markets by providing aggregation, sales and distribution and processing services. To accomplish this, the initiative is providing support to the following nonprofits:
- The Northwest Arkansas Land Trust Farmlink connects landowners with experienced farmers interested in leasing or purchasing land.
- The Center for Arkansas Farms and Food at the University of Arkansas offers a new apprenticeship program to match novice farmers with established farms and educational programs to help farmers scale. It also is developing a farm school with experiential learning opportunities for beginners.
- The Food Conservancy opened a food hub that aggregates and distributes to wholesale markets produce grown in the area.
As demand from farmers markets, schools and restaurants declines amid the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, The Food Conservancy has started a pilot program that will connect farmers with consumers. The organization will purchase produce from area farmers and aggregate it. Consumers can buy the $20 boxes online for contactless pickup at 8th Street Market in Bentonville and the Conversancy’s warehouse at 1605 Shady Grove in Springdale.
Since 2012, the number of farms growing fruits, nuts and vegetables in Benton and Washington counties has risen 45%. Northwest Arkansas Food Systems will help meet demand in the area for increased supply by helping existing farmers grow, develop new farmers and expand their access to supply chains.
More information is at a Walton Family Foundation blog post at this link.