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Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance hosts food access summit

Salad greens grown in a BrightFarms greenhouse on sale at a nearby McCaffrey's grocery store.
Dan Charles/NPR
Salad greens grown in a BrightFarms greenhouse on sale at a McCaffrey's grocery store.

The Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance held a summit Wednesday to present the findings and recommendations from a study on food access.

The report was released by the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute and the Arkansas Governor's Food Desert Working Group, which was named in 2022 under former Gov. Asa Hutchinson. According to the report, 15% of Arkansans struggle with food insecurity, compared with the nationwide average of 10%.

Jimmy Wright is the president of Wright Food solutions, a consulting agency that helps communities with a high food need respond to issues of food insecurity. Wright gave the keynote address at the summit and said those addressing food insecurity must stay rooted in the communities they want to serve.

Wright encouraged those present to seek partnerships within the community before trying to fix a perceived need on their own.

“Find a group that you can work with,” he said. “People that go into these rural communities, that go into these inner city communities and they go ‘you got this’--no you don’t. You don’t understand anything.”

According to Wright, creating a space or service that people trust is just as important as having a sustainable business model. One way to build trust, he said, is providing free or low-cost transportation to residents, helping those in high-need areas access healthy food options even if the nearest grocery store is far away.

“Providing transportation is a very viable solution to get customers to the store.” Wright said. “Again, not the traditional public bus model, public transportation model, but something more innovative than that.”

The Food Desert Working Group’s full report and recommendations can be found on the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance website.

Maggie Ryan is a reporter and local host of All Things Considered for Little Rock Public Radio.