The Walton Family Foundation has announced the launch of an initiative to strengthen the capacity of farmers in northwest Arkansas.
The Northwest Arkansas Food Systems initiative will work to connect new and existing small farmers to land, technical assistance, and capital and improve their access to local wholesale and direct-to-consumer markets. To that end, the initiative will provide support to the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust Farmlink, which connects landowners with experienced farmers interested in leasing or purchasing land; the Center for Arkansas Farms and Food at the University of Arkansas, which is launching an apprenticeship program designed to match novice farmers with more established farms and educational programs and is developing a farm school; and the Food Conservancy, which operates a food hub that aggregates and distributes locally grown produce to wholesale markets. As demand from farmers' markets, schools, and restaurants falls due to COVID-19, the conservancy is piloting an effort that will connect farmers with consumers.
According to the foundation, the number of farms growing fruits, nuts, and vegetables in Benton and Washington counties has increased by 45 percent since 2012.
"Northwest Arkansas' natural resources and rich farming heritage offer the necessary ingredients to grow this industry and diversify the local economy," said home region program committee chair Tom Walton. "Through this new initiative, we hope to reinforce how food grown locally can be a lifeline for communities."