In an hour and a half, on a September morning, seven food pantries and food service organizations shared in receiving 500 pounds of forested pork and 1500 pounds of pastured chicken for the hundreds of individuals and families they serve in Fayetteville.
Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative provided the donation and reached out to Tri Cycle Farms to partner in coordinating its delivery. The efficiency of providing such a volume of high quality meats to hundreds in need, through seven pantries, within four days of planning and distribution, was a most satisfying success.
This is the first of a continuing collaboration between Grass Roots Farmers and Tri Cycle in support of Tri Cycle’s plans for building a community-centered food hub and “Neighborhood Commons” network.
Tri Cycle Farms has been working to establish cooperative systems for addressing food insecurity, with increasing development of a food recovery program and coordination with neighboring food pantries and community food programs. The Grass Roots donation on September 28 went to support The Dwelling Place Church, Sang Avenue Baptist Church Food Pantry, Washington Plaza Residents Council Food Bank, Trinity United Methodist Church Food Pantry and Sunday Supper Program, the Seven Hills Homeless Day Center, and Tri Cycle Farms’ volunteers.
Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative is a group of small-scale Arkansas farms that have teamed up to share resources so they can deliver high quality foods more easily to conscientious consumers. All Grass Roots farmers are committed to sustainably raising livestock on clean pastures using methods that benefit the animals and the land on which they graze. And all Grass Roots meats are free of antibiotics, growth hormones and GMOs.
“We are so grateful for the caring generosity and support of Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative,” said Don Bennett, Tri Cycle Farms founder and director. “We’re excited about the significant difference this quality food, in this substantial amount, will make for literally hundreds of families who are served by our neighborhood area food pantries, week in and week out.”
Of their donation, Cody Hopkins, general manager of Grass Roots, and farmer at Falling Sky Farm in Leslie, Arkansas said, “Food insecurity is an issue of particular importance to me. I grew up in rural Arkansas and my family needed government assistance programs to supplement many of our meals. I think I speak for all Grass Roots farmers when I say that we believe that everyone – no matter his or her socioeconomic status – has a right to healthy food.”
It's a shame to know that 40% of food in America is wasted (4). The USDA estimates that 2/3 of food waste occurs in homes and 1/3 occurs in grocery stores. This figure doesn't even consider the food that doesn't make it from the field to the store. Fruits and vegetables make up close to 30% of waste at the retailer level (2). Like the produce in the slideshow above, many of these fruits and veggies are rejected due to minor blemishes even though they remain safely edible. Cash at the register is far from the only loss: farmland, water, fossil fuels for transportation, and labor hours are wasted alongside a blemished apple or carrot. The loss doesn't stop there; food waste is the top US landfill input, making up about 40% of landfill mass, and landfills are the third largest generator of methane in the US (3), a more dangerous greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Meanwhile, food insecurity is a reality for nearly 50 million Americans, around 15%, and in Arkansas, the figures are much worse. 570,000 people, roughly 19% of Arkansans, cannot rely on a steady food supply (5). In Tri Cycle Farms' neighborhood, between the University of Arkansas main campus and its agricultural extension campus, over 7,000, 37.5%, of residents live below the poverty level (9). Food insecurity and inadequate nutrition during early childhood have lifelong effects: undernourished children are at risk of falling behind peers in brain development (7). Among the last parts of the brain to develop, the frontal and parietal lobes develop throughout childhood and are "particularly vulnerable to environmental factors" (7). Slower development of these regions due to undernourishment "may impede children's ability to learn and affect school readiness even before children enter kindergarten" (7). Food is being wasted at the same time as children are missing out on the building blocks of their future. Click on the chart below to view the American Community Survey estimates for poverty in our neighborhood.
The United States has two significant food problems: food insecurity and food waste. Together we can address both of these problems through food recovery teams, like Tri Cycle Farms' Food Recovery and Compost Crew, which focuses specifically on organic produce retailers. Fresh food recovery takes produce that is blemished or near its sell-by date and redirects it from grocery stores to agencies that can process and serve or distribute it quickly. By taking recovered produce the extra mile from retailer write-off to part of a nutritious meal, we can increase food security and reduce greenhouse gas producing food waste.
The federal government recognizes both the need for and the potential liabilities associated with food recovery. The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996 protects food donors, like grocery stores, farmers, and individuals, as well as receiving organizations, like non-profits and other community organizations, from liability in relation to food donated in "good faith", meaning food donated with all reasonable expectations of safety. While there are limitations for "gross negligence," such as donating or distributing food that an individual or organization knows is unsafe, this law protects all reasonable actors from lawsuits. This act releases retailers from fear and opens up the possibility of meals for millions of Americans (8).
We can reduce food waste and increase the availability of fruits and veggies to food-insecure Arkansans if we work together. For the past two years, Tri Cycle Farms' food recovery program has partnered with many local businesses, including Ozark Natural Foods, Native Nectar, and Puritan Coffee & Beer to recover almost 30,000 lbs of food that was headed for the landfill. In our pilot 2015 program, we shared 3,870 lbs of food and saved 8,069 lbs of compostable materials from the landfill. With two weeks of pickups left in 2016, we have already shared over 7,500 lbs of safe, edible, organic produce with volunteers, neighbors, and community organizations, and we composted the rest, saving an additional 13,770 lbs of food from local landfills. In total, 468 volunteers have given 503 hours to make this happen. By working together one day a week, we shared 7,300 lbs of healthy food with our neighbors, saved nearly 22,000 lbs of food from landfills, and generated compost to help our gardens grow into the future!
Because of our pilot program's success and enthusiasm from community organizations like The Dwelling Place, Seeds That Feed, The Salvation Army, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, and Sunday Supper, we are expanding our Food Recovery and Compost Crew to include Whole Foods pickups three times a week. In the first few weeks since we began this partnership in November 2016, we have averaged 545 lbs per day. That's over 1,600 lbs per week! By recovering food three times a week from Whole Foods, we can redirect an additional 42.5tons per year of food toward our community partners and away from the landfill. We have recovered food from Whole Foods previously on a limited basis. Recovered food from Whole Foods supported two chef-made recovered meals that were served outdoors at Tri Cycle Farms, the 2016 FoodCorps Service Awards Dinner in June 2016 and the Fayetteville Roots Festival Brunch and Farm Tour at Tri Cycle Farms in August 2016.
By coordinating businesses, community organizations, and some serious volunteer muscle, we have been able to share thousands of pounds of chemical-free food and make tens of thousands of pounds of compost. Contact Delilah Clark, AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer Coordinator at Tri Cycle Farms, or fill out the online Volunteer Interest Form if you would like to volunteer in Tri Cycle Farms' food recovery program. This is a replicable model. Talk to us about how to build relationships with retailers and community organizations, and then go out and save some food! Let's redirect this valuable nutrition to people and plants and away from the landfill!
2016 was a big year for Tri Cycle Farms! So far this year, 1,676 volunteers have given over 4,100 hours of service, and over 800 of those volunteers attended the farm as part of an organized group. 35 different service teams volunteered with us in 2016. TCF welcomes volunteer groups from across Northwest Arkansas, the state of Arkansas, and the world! We are happy to be able to work with a variety of different organizations, like university academic clubs, Greek organizations, faith-based groups, local school and homeschool groups, as well as volunteer teams from local businesses.
Certainly one of the more enthusiastic teams of the year, the Walmart Accounting Department volunteered at TCF in early April. The Walmart volunteers helped to connect the Farm-to-School Market Garden with the edge of what will be a pond. This helps control water runoff and soil erosion as well as carbon-loads the site due to the wood chips that volunteers used to fill the trench. Walmart provides employees with an opportunity to increase their impact by pairing volunteer work with the Volunteerism Always Pays (VAP) grant, which provides donations to nonprofit organizations based on how many hours participating Walmart employees volunteer with their chosen organization. Thanks for choosing us!
April 21st, a perfect spring day in Northwest Arkansas, brought us two large groups from the University of Arkansas: a delegation of Fulbright Scholars from Afghanistan, followed by the incoming and outgoing student board of the Volunteer Action Center.
The Fulbrighters from Afghanistan, pictured above, were completing graduate degree programs across the United States and met in Fayetteville to celebrate the completion of their terms of study. This group was preparing to return to Afghanistan, where we are sure they are making their communities and their country a better place.
On the same day, we visited with the incoming and outgoing student board members of the Volunteer Action Center. TCF and the VAC work together often, such as on Make a Difference Day every October and for Freshman Service Project Day every August. These students work to connect the University of Arkansas to volunteering opportunities in Northwest Arkansas.
On August 19th, Kappa Alpha Psi (pictured above) visited the farm for a workday. With a two-hour bucket brigade, we were able to mulch a huge area in preparation for Pesto Fest. With the help of the Kappas, we were able to relocate a chicken coop and knock down huge piles of mulch. We also met Marcus Hatley through Kappa Alpha Psi, who scheduled two different group workdays with us in the following months: volunteers from both the PATH Program from the University of Arkansas's Honors College and volunteers from the National Residence Hall Honorary organization joined us for workdays in September and November.
September brought us over 150 great kids on four different visits from the Northwest Arkansas Social Homeschool organization. These kids were so much fun and loved to learn about healthy, chemical-free farming. We completed different activities during each visit, including washing buckets, mulching, harvesting healthy veggies, shelling beans, and snacking on plenty of tasty treats from the garden. It took the French sorrel a whole week between the NWA Social Homeschoolers' four visits in September to grow back because the kids loved eating it so much!
Volunteers, especially volunteer groups, help us knock out huge projects that would be overwhelming to our small staff. If you worked at the farm with us in 2016, THANK YOU! If you didn't, we hope to see you in 2017. Contact Delilah Clark, AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer Coordinator, at Azuredk@gmail.com to schedule a date for your group's workday. Let's build community through soil together at Tri Cycle Farms!
Walmart Accounting: Kyndal Saverse; Fulbright Scholars and VAC Board: Michael Crow (Crowinfocus.com); Kappa Alpha Psi and NWA Social Homeschoolers: Delilah Clark
Since its inception four years ago, Tri Cycle Farms has both provided for and empowered the community. As we continue to build community through soil, we invite you to join us. Your support can help us grow the next level of our outreach to produce and distribute sustainable, naturally grown food, but most importantly community empowerment!
In order to expand our efforts, we will are asking for your support to hire a Farm Manager, pay for two Arkansas GardenCorps service members, and transform our Community House into a neighborhood Food Hub.
“Is the spring coming?" he said. "What is it like?"...
"It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine...”
― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
Spring is here, ya’ll. The daffodils and forsythia are in full bloom. Rain is a daily tease. Dead nettle, chickweed, dandelion, and clover have burst over the so-recently-bare garden, claiming territory and accenting the new green with purple, white, yellow. Life returns, at first a bit tentatively, then as if magic overnight.
It feels good to be back in the garden, to feel the sun warming my skin and the damp earth under my bare feet. All the girls at the farm have sun-kissed cheeks and dirty nails, and it feels just like it’s supposed to feel.
The first day of April- some cloud-cover, warm, moist air, the perpetual sense that it was about to shower. We got to the farm early and raked the straw off a few beds, exposing soil that has long been protected under a thick layer of mulch. We loosened the soft layers with a broad fork, delighting over the gigantic worms we found. It never gets old. We added some fresh compost and minerals, feeding the soil so that it will feed the plants that feed us. After gently forking in the nutrients, we raked the beds flat and got to seeding, planting lettuce, carrots, radishes, beets, mustard and spinach, arranging them in rows and blocks, imagining how they’ll look in June. We again covered the beds with straw, but lightly this time, just enough to keep in moisture while still letting sunshine seep through. It is all about balance. And today, the rain will fall. Maybe.
“The mountains’ bones poke through, all shoulder and knob and shin. All that summer conceals, winter reveals… To sleep, spiders and fish; the wind won’t stop, but the house will hold.”
It’s snowing for the third time this week. Ten days ago it was 75 degrees; we were sweating like mad, digging beds and catching earthy whiffs of spring. Then winter said, “Shhhhhh.”
Winter is a mother. She is strict, quiet, and measured. But she is also tender toward those she loves. I’ve fought her most of my life, but she remained. While I’ve fussed, she has held me against her brittle, bare bones, saying, “Shh, shh, shh, child. Trust me. You need this sleep.”
Seasons have their reasons. Winter asks rest of us. That we go inside (our houses and our selves), take stock, pause and sit a while. There is a space for friendship that yawns wide in winter months—because when else would you share a quilt across laps. When else would you linger quite so long over a cup of tea.
Here at the farm the land feels pregnant and about to pop—buds and shoots and waking perennials. “Shhhhh,” says Mama, and blows in a snow to settle the children. The birds put their songbooks back in their pockets. The forest critters push the snooze button. “Not yet,” she says, and what choice have we but to listen?
We started some seeds. We dug some beds. We saw the crocuses pop up and said, “Well, I guess that’s it!” We always speak too soon. The Ozarks love to remind us of that. Someone once asked me what the state flower of Arkansas was. I said the apple blossom. She said, “Nope. It’s the frozen daffodil.”
Leafing, fruiting, and producing all year would be a weary thing. This respite is a kindness. As the snow falls silently on you tonight, let it stay you. Let your anchor down into the deep quiet. Don’t fear what winter will ‘bare’ in you, the way she bares the trees and the ground. Just trust her process. Spring comes soon enough.
Tri Cycle envisions a world with food security, sovereignty, and sustainability for all.
Let’s be honest, ya’ll. These are big issues to tackle. We’re living in a state with one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the nation. 43% of the people within a one-mile radius of the farm are living in poverty. How can we even begin to realize this vision?
We believe that the best approach for our organization is to focus on our neighborhood- to make concerted, localized efforts that transform the community around the farm. By creating a replicable neighborhood model, complete with gardens, urban livestock, and a small farmer’s market, we hope to create a ripple effect that reaches beyond this neighborhood. We hope, more than anything, to inspire others to start their own projects that address food insecurity.
This third year has been a busy one, full of milestones, and we are looking forward to all that the coming year will bring. Just this past Sunday, we turned the soil (thanks, Dan Coody!) for both the market garden at the farm and the soon-to-be community garden at the North Creekside Apartments down the street. Both projects will aim to inspire and teach people how to grow their own food. We hope you’ll join us in these gardens and find your own inspiration!