National Agricultural Law Center receives USDA grant to support ‘farm to fork’ programs in Arkansas Delta

July 28, 2014
Contact Information:

Harrison Pittman, Director, National Agricultural Law Center

Fred Miller, Division of Agriculture Communications

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Law Center has received a $225,000 grant from USDA Rural Development to lay the groundwork for the development of local and regional food industry in the Arkansas Delta and to assist ongoing efforts in the Arkansas Delta.

The project will integrate with USDA's StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative, designed to address persistent poverty areas in Arkansas and other states.

This project will assist growers, entrepreneurs, and others in the food supply chain to produce, process and deliver locally grown foods to area markets and public food programs such as school lunches, said Harrison Pittman, director of the National Agricultural Law Center (NALC). The project specifically targets Jefferson, Phillips and St. Francis counties and will help establish and support ongoing efforts in those and surrounding areas.

“These counties suffer from chronic high rates of poverty and unemployment,” Pittman said. “The area is unique in that community leaders and stakeholders are very interested in further development of local and regional food systems that could offer long-term economic opportunities for producers and entrepreneurs.”

Pittman said the grant will fund a multi-disciplinary effort that will team NALC with the Cooperative Extension Service and three other Division of Agriculture programs — the Center for Agricultural and Rural Sustainability (CARS), the Institute of Food Science and Engineering and the Arkansas Food Innovation Center.

The first step, Pittman said, is to contact stakeholders and conduct needs assessment meetings to prioritize what kind of support would best meet the needs of potential new businesses, and to investigate what resources already exist. He said the project will also work to support any existing efforts, such as the development of farmer’s markets, farm-to-school programs and food hubs.

The Arkansas Food Innovation Center, operated in Fayetteville by the division’s food science department, will help serve as a model for a similar program in the Delta that could provide commercial facilities and expert assistance to new local food companies, Pittman said.

CARS brings engineering, environmental and business and economic expertise to the project, Pittman said.

Pittman said NALC will also assess existing state laws that may support or hinder local foods business entrepreneurs. “In addition to having a direct impact on stakeholders in the target counties, we expect that project outcomes will help inform the state legislative process,” he said.

The grant-funded study will also feature workshops in the three counties aimed at identifying and prioritizing business and legal resource needs, Pittman said. Outreach efforts and materials will be developed to assist in economic development of local foods industries.

“Our goal,” Pittman said, “is to build a foundation of legal, business, and marketing support for growing existing local food industries and helping create new businesses that will alleviate poverty and enhance economic activity.”