I pulled up to Moss Mountain Farm on a sunny morning last week practically giddy with anticipation. I was going to get to:
- Spend the day with 29 other Arkansas bloggers, most of whom I hadn’t seen since a retreat in September.
- Meet lots of Arkansas growers and producers – the heroes of this event I was arriving for.
- Spend the day with P. Allen Smith, whom I’ve long admired for his gardening expertise, design skills and reputation for Southern hospitality. He and his staff were the ones who pulled this day together (in conjunction with Arkansas Grown, Arkansas Made, Farm Credit and the Arkansas Agriculture Department) and invited us all to the farm.
- Spend most of the day outdoors.
- Wear a cute T-shirt. 🙂
The event? Farm2Home 2015, which brings together bloggers and farmers for a day of networking, fellowshipping, eating (one of the best parts) and brainstorming.
And, boy, did we network, fellowship, eat and brainstorm.
In fact, I was so busy networking, fellowshipping and eating (sampling fermented jalapenos and cabbage, spiced pecans, elk and venison jerky, grass-fed beef, frozen fruit pops, popcorn laced with spice blends, you name it) that I missed the clanging of the bell calling us into the barn, where our host welcomed the bloggers to his farm and laid out the day.
It’s not like me to be the one breaking schedule, ignoring protocol and being truant.
I guess I was having a little too much fun talking to the farmers, trying lotions, smelling soaps, chatting about the no-sugar-added jelly (delicious), seeing the twin baby goats, peppering the farmers with questions (“How do you process your sunflower oil?” “What gives the watermelon-scented soap its color?” “Did you design your own packaging?”) and having a generally fantastic morning in the sunshine to be aware of such trivial matters as clanging bells and schedules.
I came home with a bunch of loot.
Even so, I didn’t make it home with my bag of jellies. 🙁 (I only realized that sad fact as I was writing this.)
At Farm2Home, we chatted and sampled, took a “bio break” (visited the potty, for you city slickers), chatted some more, then went inside for a panel discussion with four of the farmers.
Yes, more chatting. (The panel discussions made up the aforementioned “brainstorming,” although the talk was heavy on education, enlightenment and empathy.)
What are the challenges of growing/distributing/marketing your crop or livestock? What do you want people to understand about what you do? Where do we go to learn more? How can we teach others?
We all know that, despite modern conveniences, farming still has a bucket-load of challenges, many of which are out of the farmers’ and ranchers’ control. (This season’s extremely wet weather springs to mind.) They have to concern themselves not only with the actual growing, harvesting and processing of their fare (plenty can go wrong there) but with government regulations, distribution, marketing, budgeting, lack of awareness, apathy, consumer education and a host of other areas that we can begin to grasp only by walking a mile in their muck boots.
This is where the bloggers came in: Our objective at Farm2Home was to understand small (as opposed to industrial) farming as best we could without actually driving up to one of their farms on a John Deere.
Not that we wouldn’t be welcomed if we did.
In fact, one of the panelists, Beth DeSalvo of Big D Ranch in Center Ridge, said she welcomes visitors who want to learn about ranching.
How does she find time to show people around while also doing the work required to run a cattle ranch?
“You make time,” she said. Beth considers marketing and awareness-raising part of her job description. This is why she was on hand at Farm2Home.
The ranch is her family’s sole source of income, and when someone tells you that, you want to do everything you can to spread the word – to make sure that this fifth generation of ranchers won’t be the last in the family to live and serve and raise cattle on that ranch. To make sure it’s still around for the next five generations.
And you only know – and care this much – by listening to their stories.
As Beth and her daughter, Isabella, offered me samples of their delicious grass-fed beef, Beth told a bit of her family’s story before I had to move on. I’ve never ranched cattle (or anything, actually), so her story is compelling, and I’ll share it with you in a post later this month.
Amid all the chit-chatting, sample-chomping, lotion-rubbing, photo-opping and quote-tweeting, we managed to tour Allen’s house, eat lunch, sit down for a panel discussion with the “makers” (those who handcraft products out of their farms’ bounty) and tour the Moss Mountain Farm gardens (lots of them) and Poultryville. (More on Allen’s house and his interest in poultry in next week’s post).
One of my favorite parts of the afternoon discussion included a couple of women involved with alleviating hunger in Arkansas. I can’t wait to tell you about what I learned from them (also in a future post). As they explained the Arkansas Gleaning Project, I couldn’t help but think of the biblical story of Ruth and Boaz.
Hey, I’m jumping ahead. Be sure to tune in next week for more, but here’s a sneak peek.
5 reasons to buy local
You’re helping your neighbors. Some farmers have an income outside of their crop or livestock, and some don’t. Either way, farming is a challenge.
You’re helping yourself. When your food dollar stays within your locality, you’re cutting out the middle man. It creates a ripple effect, which helps the bottom line of your city, your county and your state. That translates to savings for you.
It’s fresher and tastes better. There is nothing like having an omelet made with farm-fresh eggs and a little spinach, vine-ripened tomato and cheese from your neighbor’s dairy (or whatever fresh vegetables you can think of!). No Pop-Tarts for this gal!
It fosters a sense of community. The farmers market is full of folks just like you. I love visiting my local farmers market. I get to chat up the growers, sample delicious foods, maybe try something new, and sometimes even watch a demonstration (cooking, cheese making, rug-making, painting). Heck, last Saturday we were serenaded by two little girls singing karaoke. And I love knowing where my food comes from!
It helps cut down on fuel consumption and, thus, air pollution because the food has to travel fewer miles to get to your plate. It reduces our carbon footprint. Less pollution = happier lungs.
What are some reasons you can think of to buy local and/or organic? Leave a comment sharing your ideas.
Next week: Farm2Home 2015 – P. Allen Smith.
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