Jun 24, 2010

Pulaski Academy Farmers Update

I know many have been waiting for an update on our farmers’ situation in WLR. I have been in contact with Stacy Hurst, the Vice Mayor, who has seemed sympathetic to the cause. She gave me the names of several officials that she said had been asked to assist us in resolving the problem. I had a couple unsatisfactory phone conversations with two of these officials and ended up quite frustrated.

But today I had a very encouraging conversation with Bryan Day, the assistant city manager. He tells me that his office is looking for alternative locations near PA for the market stands. Pulaski Academy is still an option for the future, but they must ask to be rezoned.

Bryan Day also said that people have been educating him about local food issues and the city of Little Rock has a Sustainability Committee. They are looking at how other cities are handling these things in order to make local food more accessible. He apologized for the city’s poor handling of our farmers last Monday. While the city is responsible to enforce zoning laws, there could have been a little grace applied.

Many of those involved believe that it is important that the market be reinstated at PA because of the farm-to-school movement brewing in our nation. In addition to the parents buying food from the market after school, the food service used by PA and several other private schools was purchasing food from the farmers to serve in the school. PA saw having the farmers on the property as an educational opportunity for their students as well as a community outreach.It is very important to connect schools to local food if we want to see a turn around in the type of food our children are eating. Hopefully many schools will become interested in this type of connection with local farmers. It is a great idea which hopefully will spread.

So, as you can see, this issue is much bigger than just this group of farmers and their customers. The way city laws are written are very unfriendly to local farmers and apparently prevent farmers from being on school grounds. I spoke with a member of the sustainability commision who explained that there are ordinances which need to be rewritten. Local farmers need to be removed from the classification of "peddlers" and there need to be regulations designed specifically for them in order to give them more access to the public, including schools, and to give us more access to good food. Jody Hardin and others are trying to address these issues, but government does not move quickly.

We can help by being very vocal in our support of local food. Let our politicians know that this is not an issue that will go away, and that we will remember those who are willing to support change. I think it would be helpful for people to e-mail Bryan Day. Tell him that you are very interested in making local food more accessible in Little Rock and thank him for the help his office is providing in finding an appropriate location for our farmers. bday@littlerock.org Make these e-mails upbeat and encouraging. We are excited about farmers!

If anyone has any pull with any commercial property owners near the Pulaski Academy area, your help would be appreciated. If we do receive help from the city in locating an area, I'm not sure how quickly it will come. The farm season will be over before we know it, so there is no time to lose. Potential locations need to be zoned C3, C4, or UU (urban use).

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