Typically, “farm-to-table” is a phrase one would encounter while exploring the local restaurant scene, however, this post will employ the phrase to look at some of the new and interesting ways Northwest Arkansas residents can support and participate in the local agriculture and food economy.
The Center for Arkansas Farms and Food (CAFF) was developed to strengthen and expand our food and farming system by providing new opportunities to shape our current and future farmers, food entrepreneurs and food system leaders. One of the ways CAFF carries out this mission is through the CAFF Farm School.
The Farm School is an 11-month program that combines hands-on specialty crop farming with classes in production, business, and legal issues. This comprehensive approach is specifically designed for beginning farmers of fruit, vegetable, flowers and herbs who are interested in selling to local and regional markets. Students gain an in-depth understanding of sustainable farming production systems and the business applications needed to succeed. The Farm School prepares farmers to become specialty crop entrepreneurs, contributing to local and regional foodsheds in Arkansas.
Applications for CAFF Farm School 2023 are open from August 1, 2022, through September 30, 2022.
While the Farm School is relatively new and focused on adults, Apple Seeds, Inc. has been focused on inspiring the younger generations through garden-based education since 2007. Through a local teaching farm and partnerships with more than 60 local schools and like-minded agencies, Apple Seeds reaches youth with programs that educate and excite young students about healthy food and increase students’ access to those healthy foods. In 2021, Apple Seeds reached 15,382 students with educational outreach programs that reconnect students with where their food comes from.
Get Involved: Apple Seeds’ flagship dinner fundraiser, Evening at the Farm, will return this year on Saturday, October 8th. The all-star chef lineup and ticket release will be announced later this month.
The farm-to-table ethos extends out into arts and culture. Fayetteville Roots is a 501(c)3 organization with a mission to connect the community through music and food.
According to the website, “Roots” is intentionally used to describe both the music and food of the festival. Fayetteville Roots is dedicated to showcasing what makes this region of the Ozarks unique, featuring a musical style that is diverse and rooted in many uniquely American musical styles such as Folk, Blues, Bluegrass, Jazz, Country, and more. Fayetteville Roots supports local farmers, chefs, and restaurants, focusing on locally grown produce, locally raised meats and locally produced products from the Ozarks.
The 13th annual festival will take place on August 25 – 27. This year’s culinary lineup will feature 24 chefs from across the nation and Northwest Arkansas including the 2022 James Beard finalists Edgar Rico (Best Emerging Chef), Erick Williams (Best Chef Great Lakes) as well numerous other highly celebrated and award-winning chefs.
One of Northwest Arkansas’ primary medical providers for underserved and uninsured populations, Community Clinic, recently partnered with the Northwest Arkansas Food Conservancy, a nonprofit focused on helping the region become a national model for locally grown food, to pilot a program that prescribes and distributes low-cost, locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables weekly to patients across the region. For local patients with chronic illnesses like diabetes and hypertension, access to nutritious foods has been shown to have a significant positive impact on health outcomes. In addition, the model generates a unique revenue stream for the small farmers participating in the program.
Since launching, the Community Clinic has expanded its distribution to around 200 bags a week at eight locations across the region. The Walton Family Foundation is supporting this partnership as part of its Northwest Arkansas Food Systems initiative, learn more about the initiative here.
Next up, is the pitstop on the path from farm to table where all the magic happens—the kitchen. Brightwater: A Center for the Study of Food and a department of NorthWest Arkansas Community College (NWACC) recently launched the American Culinary Federation’s Certified Sous Chef (CSC) Apprenticeship program.
The Certified Sous Chef (CSC) Apprenticeship is for people who are interested in a career in the food industry but aren’t necessarily interested in the traditional associate degree path. The apprenticeship consists of 432 hours of technical instruction at Brightwater and 4,000-6,000 hours of on-the-job paid training with a partner employer, taking two to three years for an apprentice to complete. As job training hours are completed, apprentices experience incremental pay increases, allowing them to earn while they learn.
In addition to this pathway into the world of food, Brightwater offers a broad spectrum of educational offerings designed to engage the community and deepen students understanding of the complexity of food production, the food system, and its connection to human health and the environment.
Setting the Table
Alas, we arrive at the table, and since we are using the singular “table” as opposed to “tables”—of which there are many across Northwest Arkansas that have embraced the farm-to-table movement—let us bring your attention to a chef’s table that has us brimming with excitement.
A new concept by Chef Matt Cooper, Conifer, is expected to open in Bentonville this summer. Conifer will be a 100% gluten-free restaurant and focus on relationships between local Northwest Arkansas farmers and the community. The menu has been developed with an emphasis on highlighting ingredients sourced from local and regional farms. In addition, the restaurant will include a self-serve farm stand featuring local produce.