The Seed and the Story is a partnership with the Courier and Post Dispatch newspapers in Pope and Yell County, Arkansas. This weekly column explores folklife, oral history, and community in central Arkansas, particularly the Yell County area where the column originates. Columns are often written in partnership with the McElroy House: Organization for Folklife, Oral History, and Community Action and humbly attempt to bridge intergenerational themes in the region. We try to make the column as interactive as possible, so if you have ideas please contact Meredith Martin-Moats at the “contact” link above! Thanks!
In connection with the McElroy House: Organization for Folklife, Oral History, and Community Action we’re creating a small book highlighting the stories of area growers. We believe these backyard gardeners and small-scale growers are essential to the overall health of our communities, offering ideas for a local economy, living examples of a more sustainable way to feed our communities, and homegrown alternatives to soaring grocery prices and overly processed food that’s low in nutrients and high in preservatives.
In addition to learning more about what’s happening here, we’re also trying to learn more about what’s happening in other parts of the state regarding access to local foods. You might not think of Arkansas’s largest city as a food-producing region, but the local food movement is growing rapidly in Little Rock. The Arkansas Local Food Network, an organization based in Little Rock which operates a famer’s market and a community fund, recently released a small booklet entitled, Fresh: From the Farm to Your Table, a Local Food Directory (click for a pdf copy). Even if you never spend time in the city, this directory is inspiring and well worth browsing.
In recent years residents have created numerous food-producing gardens on school sites, vacant lots throughout the city, and on green spaces near community buildings. According to the directory there are now over sixty of these community and school gardens all growing produce for use in public schools and neighborhoods. The guide also lists over twenty small-scale urban farms in the area, and includes a list of restaurants in and around Little Rock where you can enjoy local food cooked by local chefs. The directory also offers a handy list of outreach organizations and resources including the Arkansas Beekeepers Association, Conversing Arkansas Agriculture Heritage and various other groups building the foundations for a stronger food future for the state.
We live in a state with ample land, yet Arkansas ranks among the highest in the nation for instances of food insecurity. The directory lists local food pantries and other agencies that accept local surplus to give to families who need it. Thankfully, many local growers are coming together to supply this a greater surplus and we’ll have more on that in the near future. You can find copies around Little Rock or call 501-291-2769 to have one mailed to you.
In every region of the state community members are building local solutions. When it comes to local food in Yell and Pope Counties (and beyond), one of our greatest assets is the deep and long-standing tradition of backyard gardening and small-scale farming in the area. This knowledge resides in so many of our community elders who recall days when a small backyard plot was both the norm and a necessity. Many of you are caring on this tradition, and thankfully there are members of the younger generations who are choosing a similar path. It’s up to all of us to honor and support this tradition and encourage the efforts of the upcoming generation.
Are you, or were you, a gardener or small-scale food producer in the Yell or Pope County areas? We’d love to meet you, hear your stories, and make sure they’re available for the next generation. Visit us online at www.mcelroyhouse.wordpress.com.