Oct 28, 2012

Arkansas Local Food Network {ALFN}

Now that the farmers markets are closing many readers have asked, "How can I get local eggs, meat and veggies?" Today's blog post is written by Sam Hedges, the Director of Operations for the Arkansas Local Food Network.  Each week I enjoy receiving an email from Sam that reminds me to place an online order for local food. As you will read, he is an interesting writer.  - Julie

My first encounter with the Arkansas Local Food Network (ALFN) occurred four years ago.  It was the Arkansas Sustainability Network then; most people still refer to us as “ASN”.  I’d come home from school with a burgeoning interest in local food.  It’d become a bit of a thing on campus, and Dad told me about this online farmers’ market he’d been using.  I took a look at the site and came with him on pickup day, and I thought, “Wow.  This is happening in Little Rock now?”  I didn’t realize I was looking at the tip of an iceberg.
A year at Overlook Farm in Massachusetts proceeded graduation.  Sigh.  New England.  Where the local food movement is so established it’s old news.  People farm up there like it’s watching television.  For me, it’s where I tangibly experienced the agricultural lifestyle: the seasons, the cycles of life, the basic work of survival.
  I came back to Little Rock, and I set up my account with ALFN’s online market that week.  I needed my customary supply of locally grown-raised-produced food to continue.  I remember how excited I was, to be a part of a food club, to come in on Saturdays with other members and pick my order up, to scheme about what I was going to buy next week.  These high moments were usually interrupted by a midweek exasperation with myself over all the vegetables and fruits slowly turning in my fridge.  I couldn’t even remember why I’d chosen half of them.  I habitually over ordered, with no thought to what I was actually going to cook or eat.  Using online markets, it turns out, takes a bit of a refining.  I now order with actual recipes in mind, as well as a realistic sense of what I’m going to want to eat next week.  It takes time, but you get there.
As to my dedication to eating locally, I can’t say why exactly.  In the broad world of green living, food is just my thing, more so than eco products or recycling.  I love its fundamental nature.  People choose good food every time.  A place like The Root Café, which promotes and uses local ingredients in all its food, plays host to a wide variety of patrons.  You’ll see Obama and NRA stickers on hybrids and trucks out front.  Inside, people of every ideology and social clique nest side by side over hamburgers and pancakes.  When good food is present, these differences don’t matter.  It’s an experience that speaks to everyone, and locally grown food speaks for itself.
Which is why I’ve dug myself knee deep into local food here.  As a bread baker, then a market manager.  The big change came when an ALFN board member invited me onto the board and, several months later, the position for Director of Operations opened.  I was in a “Yes” phase.  I applied, no hope for actually getting the job, and, yikes, became director.  I’ve learned more about our local food system than most would consider healthy to know.  It’s all I talk about these days.  At this juncture, there is unbelievable growth: more farmers, more markets, more projects and ideas, as well as an amazing amount of potential to scheme over.
Take the Arkansas Local Food Network, for example.  We changed our name last Spring as a reflection of what we really care about.  Our online market is in the cool warmth of Fall, with lots of greens, eggs, pasture-raised meats, and plans for growth and change.  We printed FRESH, a Directory of Local Food.  We’re seeing new growers on our market and all kinds of new products.  We just hosted the first annual Little Rock Local Food Tour.  That was a wonderful experience.  Lots of people came together to tour South Main’s vegetable gardens, urban farms, and restaurants, and we topped the whole thing off with an outdoor dinner of delicious, locally-sourced food catered by Boulevard Bread Co., and tales by Tales from the South.  Beneath the twinkling lights of Bernice Garden, everyone relaxed, ate, and laughed over stories.  Something felt very special about that day, like real things were happening in our community.  Once again, good food prevailed.
When I moved back to Little Rock, I hadn’t planned on staying.  Little Rock was home, and home is where you run from.  Three years later, it’s hard to imagine leaving.  Community runs as deep as roots here, and there is an energy for celebration and togetherness that I haven’t seen everywhere else.  In my humble observation, in Little Rock and Central Arkansas beyond, if something is going to succeed, it must come from within, from its own community members, and it must involve a party.  Preferably with tasty eats.

-Sam Hedges
Director of Operations
Arkansas Local Food Network

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