The Faulkner County Urban Farm Project began as a competition between Conway’s three colleges.
In spring of 2010, students and professors began to convert the grassy yard behind the Faulkner County Library into a garden. Those involved in the initial effort quickly began to realize that the real challenge was not between the schools, but rather toward a common goal of fostering sustainable food production. After the competition, the three schools decided to combine their plots into one large community garden.
With that goal in mind, the farm project set out to put the power of food production back into the hands of locals.
“There has been a lot of urban farming in places that are food deserts. Areas where you have impoverished people that lack any real means of transportation,” UCA visiting lecturer of anthropology Eric Bowne said. “These areas often lack any sort of real nutritious food, so urban farming is really about empowering those people and helping to create community.”
The project has two core objectives: first, to teach people how to start their own garden and second, to teach them what it means to eat healthy.
“For the children we focus on nutrition education and giving them a chance to see the produce grow as opposed to going in the grocery store and seeing it on the shelf,” Arkansas GardenCorps service member Kim Doughty said. “With the adults we teach how to start your own garden, how to do it sustainably and organically.”
To accomplish this goal, the project returns to simpler farming practices.
“We only use heirloom variety open-pollinated seeds, we don’t use petrochemicals, we don’t till the land and we do use cover crops and mulching,” Bowne said.
Bowne and his students provide a vital service to the project. They grow the seeds into seedlings for the farm project to plant.
“In our anthropology lab we have a bunch of grow lights and we take a variety of seeds and grow them into seedlings. We harden them off and give them to non-for-profits in the area to use,” Bowne said. “All of that stuff is expensive. If you go and buy seedlings at say, Lowe’s, you might spend 2 to 3 bucks a pop on seedlings alone.”
The Conway community has been highly involved in the urban farming project.
The project itself is also highly involved with the local community. Doughty and Bowne said the project’s harvest is taken home by the workers or donated to the local community.
“All the extras we have we usually donate to the St. Peter’s food pantry,” Doughty said. “We donate quite a bit in the summer and the fall.”
With its busiest season approaching, the project will soon need a lot of help.
Doughty said the project would need plenty of help with planning, weeding and general upkeep of the garden.
When talking about the stresses that increased populations have on food sources, Bowne had a call for more people to be farmers.
“I always say to my students in class, if you want to be a patriot, be a farmer,” Bowne said.
There are plenty of ways to get involved with the project. There is a weekly garden workday every Sunday at 3 p.m. The project also puts on a permaculture study group that meets twice a month to learn about best gardening practices. Every Thursday at 3:30 p.m. the project has a garden club for kids to be involved.
On Feb. 14 the Faulkner County Seed Swap will take place from 1 p.m. till 4 p.m.. The seed swap will offer participants plenty of opportunity to start a garden or give back to others who need seeds.
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