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Nonprofit program supports Arkansas' urban farmers

Image of a person carrying a box of produce

A nonprofit that promotes sustainable farming has received a USDA grant to support small growers in Arkansas.

St Joseph’s Farmstead in North Little Rock has been operating since 2010. Its new Growing Urban Farmers program will support small to medium farmers in establishing a business or increasing production.

Program manager Monica Woods says the initiative is fairly comprehensive.

"We're going to host various hands-on field days that will focus around best conservation practices and giving small growers opportunities to learn more about specific techniques, as well as help in gaining access to administrative assistance like land options, navigating some government entities, and help with hurdles in starting an agriculture business.”

Woods says those hurdles can fall on the business side of the equation, or how to utilize a smaller plot of land to create a sustainable business model, supporting families and the community. She says making those community connections is also a key component.

"There are so many people in central Arkansas who have done such good work over the last 15-20 years, building farmers' markets and prioritizing local food production, and we want all those individuals to know that we're here to support them in any way we can through Growing Urban Farmers, and connect them with others so they can have a support network.”

It also provides networking opportunities and access to equipment and funding.

Woods says creating more dispersed, local small farms is critical to sustainability.

"All the things around urban agriculture and local food are all things that will help the health of our communities and our planet," said Woods. "Cancelling out the use of pesticides, not having to truck and ship food from long distances, we know is a lot more sustainable than relying on 'big ag' and long-delivery systems.”

Woods says that all the elements are in place for a surge in small-scale farming, and hopes this program will bring those pieces together.

There have been so many people working so long to put these puzzle pieces together, and we just need more urban farmers, we need more small growers. and our aim is to try to connect them to places they can actually sell their product and be successful.”

Anyone interested in the Growing Urban Farmers program can find more info online.

Nathan Treece is a reporter and local host of NPR's Morning Edition for Little Rock Public Radio.