The purpose of a SARE Sustainable Community Innovation project is to connect local agriculture to the human, ecological, and economic health of the landscape. The organizers of the All-Ozark Meal Project made that connection by bringing together farmers, chefs, and hungry diners to celebrate the region’s cuisine. The Project culminated in 11 wildly successful meals made from all local ingredients and served at restaurants, farmers markets, a church fellowship hall, and other public gatherings. Each meal credited the farmer and chef collaboration that created the food and focused attention on the critical importance of farmland preservation in rapidly growing Northwest Arkansas. After serving almost 1,000 meals, the All-Ozark Meal Project continues to support local agriculture through ongoing commercial relationships, networking, and public education.
Project organizers committed themselves to heightening community awareness of local food needs and resources. A comprehensive media campaign generated significant print and electronic coverage of the meals and the issues surrounding local agriculture. Numerous farmers and chefs developed their businesses through the exposure and peer contacts brought about by the project. The focus on food also allowed for a discussion of the freshness, flavor, and nutritional advantages of local food. The project successfully brought together and shared widely the agricultural abundance of the Ozark region and emphatically established that local foods enrich the human, ecological, and economic lives of the community.
Interest in developing local food systems has been spreading around the country. Discussions with farmers and local community leaders, nonprofit groups, and food-related industry workers convinced us that the time was right to create a collaborative, local food campaign for Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas.
A study group was formed to look at out local food system, envision our ideal system, and begin to take steps to create a project which would move us toward that ideal system. Participants included representatives from the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market, Ozark Meadow Meats (funded by a previous SARE producer grant), Sassafras restaurant, Summercorn Foods (a local food processor), Ozark Cooperative Warehouse (a food broker and distributor), Ozark Natural Foods Cooperative (a food retailer), the City of Fayetteville, the Cooperative Extension Service, Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG), and members of local, regional, and national nonprofit organizations.
A significant amount of facilitation, initiative and volunteer time for the group was provided by staff of NCAT’s Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development program.
We received information and guidance from other programs across the country including the Montana Food Systems Initiative, the All-Iowa Meal, the Kansas Local Food for Local People project, and the Humane Society US Local Food Project: A How-to Manual.
Here’s a brief chronology of events:
January 2001 – A food systems task force was created, comprised of National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) staffers. Our mission was lofty and included goals such as ending world hunger.
February 2002 – formation of a “buy local” food group. Our NCAT group realized early on that talk of a “foodshed” would need to include other members of the community who were involved in food production, processing, distribution, and consumption.
December 2002 – The creation of the “Northwest Arkansas Local Food Initiative” was a starting point for our very first grant application. Although we did not receive funding, we were determined to continue to find a way to pursue our efforts.
April 2003 – The group received funding from Southern SARE. Our first meetings as a funded collaboration, and planning for our first events
July 2003 – All-Ozark Meals in three separate venues. This month was a true “blizzard” of activity. Over 500 folks were treated to fresh, local foods and learned a bit more about supporting local family farmers and buying local.
August – November 2003 – Another six All-Ozark Meals were facilitated. By this time, the process of scheduling and facilitating events had been honed. We started to receive requests to help with other events, such as sourcing food for a luncheon for a regional nonprofit, and food for First Night, an alternative New Year’s celebration.
December 2003 – July 2004 – Dissemination and presentation of project results.
Create a local farmer database which was used by chefs & other potential buyers for local foods. Distribute questionnaires. Collect and compile completed questionnaires.
A spreadsheet was created which monitored and tracked the available items at the Fayetteville Farmers Market. This information was used to help chefs and caterers design menus in advance and create meals from locally sourced inputs. The spreadsheet was faxed and emailed to numerous clients. Also we received phone calls from interested parties seeking sources of specific local ingredients.
Coordinate production & delivery of Ozark foods for meals. Work with chefs to develop a menu and schedule a single night at their restaurant featuring an All-Ozark Meal.
We developed a timeline for each event which was shared with all parties involved with the event, including the chef or cook, the facilities coordinator, and the writer, and the project staff. The timeline explained what would happen when, and what could be expected in the weeks and months leading up to the event.
The timeline included items such as:
Schedule for sending the “Products Available” list would be sent;
Date for the interview with the writer of the press release;
Date for developing a preliminary menu and contacting the farmers about prices and pickup/delivery;
Date for the distribution of the press release (we sent to 31 media outlets-print, television, and radio);
Anticipated time & materials expect to arrive on event day.
This timeline was helpful for the chefs and venues which had not specifically produced an All-Ozark Meal.
Create a minimum of five local food events
Hosted a total of eleven events. Events ranged from sit-down dinner at an upscale restaurant to numerous offerings at a local food coop deli to a luncheon at a regional rural development nonprofit (FORGE).
Develop a media campaign to help promote each restaurant and producer, and to educate the public about where their food comes from, how it is grown, and the economic, environmental, and social advantages of locally-grown.
The media campaign was a hit! The project received lots of publicity in print, radio, and television. We received unexpected calls for television spots and print pictures. Our press releases did not seem to fit into a neat pre-defined media category. Therefore, the reporting on our project ended up in a variety of newspaper sections – – Food, Lifestyle, Agriculture, Human Interest, etc…
In addition, the project received lots of residual media coverage well beyond the life of the grant, including a wonderful full-page color feature on “Good and Green: Fresh, local food is just around the corner – really”
Evaluate and plan for an expanded, ongoing local-food system campaign.
Several pieces of our local food system have been started or given new impetus, including (but not limited to): (1) Expansion of the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market to a new Thursday evening market; (2) Creation of “Friends of the Fayetteville Farmers Market,” a group which could help to create more events, including recipes and cooking demonstrations at the Market; (3) Research into the establishment of a “Community Café” which would buy local food and serve poor and homeless individuals; (4) Adoption of the promotion of farmland preservation by a regional environmental group which also focuses on urban sprawl; (5) Expressed interest by a local women’s group in promoting local food products into institutions.
Publicize project results through national and regional media.
The project information, activities, and results will be placed on a website.
Present project results at Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) meetings, or other conferences and workshops.
January 2004 – Presented an overview of the project entitled “Lessons Learned” at the SSAWG Annual Conference in Gainesville, FL to an audience of about 80 people.
April 2004 – Presented a project overview to a small group at the University of Arkansas Eco-Agriculture Brown Bag Lunch series.
July 2004 – Presented a project overview to an audience of 100 women at the Sisters of Earth International Conference in Fayetteville, AR.
We employed a variety of public education and outreach methods including handbills, flyers, event programs, education pieces, press releases, etc… Each of these included information on the personal, ecological, and economic benefits of buying local.
The project compiled a listing of products available from weekly questionnaires to farmers. This list was distributed to chefs and restaurants.
We worked with chefs to develop the menu and schedule the event. The process of sending the weekly listing of “Products Available” gave the food providers a greater sense of weather and seasonality. In one instance, two days before the very first event, a local pastured poultry producer experienced an economic tragedy; the cooler broke down on Thursday, and she lost all the meat for the Saturday lunch. The chef made a panicked phone call to us, and we were able to source and substitute local grass-fed beef.
In yet another instance of working with restaurants, one chef developed a “grocery list” of products used in her recipes. She wanted the listing, which included quantities and frequencies, to be shared with producers at the farmers’ market, so that farmers could have the opportunity to supply her with more local produce.
We developed a highly successful media campaign which attracted lots of coverage and inquiries from the public and other media outlets. We contracted for a writer, Keith Richards, to write media releases for each of the events. In order to write the release, he conducted a series of interviews which included the chef or restaurant, a couple of farmers, and the project organizers.
We then distributed these well-written releases to over 35 media outlets.
In addition to press releases, we used local and national listservs, and email lists to promote the events.
Based on overwhelming success of first All-Ozark Meal event in July, Ozark Natural Foods Coop Deli decided to conduct another event in October. The Meal was conducted during their “Owner Appreciation Weekend” which occurs three times per year. Typically the Deli had not done much business during the weekend, because food vendors and distributors fill the store with discounts and volumes of food sampling. However, the Deli experienced a tremendous turnout and sold out of food.
Ozark Natural Foods Coop has made a concerted effort to increase the dollar amount of sales of local and regional foods.
A group of community volunteers has expressed interest in converting a recently sold restaurant into a “Community Café.” The establishment would focus on purchasing local foods, and serve as a platform for training and teaching job skills for homeless individuals.
The Veteran’s Administration Hospital has expressed interest in increasing the nutrition content of staff and patient meals. This could include purchasing more fresh, local goods.
The local chapter of the Sierra Club has agreed to include farmland preservation in their efforts to focus on the control of urban sprawl.
More restaurants are highlighting and featuring “fresh and local” in their menus.
Residual news coverage continues
Full page Story – Nov 2003 – Northwest Arkansas Times
Ozarks Monthly –Jul 2004
Kindness Café – Aug 2004
Educational & Outreach Activities
Jan 2004,SSAWG Conference–Gainesville, FL
Apr 2004,UA Eco-Ag Brown Bag Lunch–Fayetteville, AR
Jul 2004,Sisters of Earth Int’l Conference – Fayetteville, AR
Morning Show – Channel 51
C.A.T. – Government Channel
Fayetteville Free Weekly
All About Town
Web & Electronic:
ATTRAnews – www.attra.ncat.org
Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) – www.ssawg.org
Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture – www.kerrcenter.org
Community Food Security Listserv
Northwest Arkansas Community Listserv
University of Arkansas Eco-Ag Listserv
Our SARE grant called for 5 events, we completed 11!
Almost a thousand people were served during the course of the project.
Ozark Natural Foods Coop expanded the local food section in the produce department.
Received personal and corporate donations in excess of grant funding – 25%
A local food writer is now purchasing locally produced grass-fed beef.
We established a relationship with a regional winery which has expressed interest in hosting local meals in their establishment.
Local farm products sought for church holiday bazaar
Local farm products requested at First Night Celebration
More restaurants touting local and fresh ingredients
Local food coop is seeking to increase purchases/sales from local and regional producers
Increased number of consumers who ask “Where does this come from? How is it produced?”
A local women’s group has expressed interest in establishing a farm-to-institution link for the University of Arkansas.