On Monday, January 16th, 2017, over 75 community volunteers joined hands in labor at Tri Cycle Farms in honor of the inclusive mission of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Together, we started a new Victory Garden in front of the TCF Rock House, cleared the way for our upcoming compost expansion, moved leaves from Trinity United Methodist Church to our stockpile at TCF, finished winterizing the garden, and built the log structure for a new hugelkultur!
Service Corps members from AmeriCorps VISTA, Arkansas GardenCorps, and FoodCorps from across Northwest Arkansas participated in this event alongside volunteers from Teen Action and Support Center (TASC), Apple Seeds, university students, community members and families.
Following the workday, volunteers and community members gathered for a meal of Stone Soup at the Trinity United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall. Mike from Mike's Mindful Plate expertly prepared donated produce and goods from Ozark Natural Food, and served his amazing lentil and coconut soups alongside breads donated by Ozark Natural Breads.
Thanks to everyone who participated in and supported our Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service! You all contributed to expanding TCF's ability to grow more and share more with the community!
In late October, The Little Village kids came to Tri Cycle and learned how to build a campfire, tend it safely, and cook food in the hot coals. Since they were out of school for the day, we were able to get an early start. They spread out over the farm looking for wood, and divided it into piles by size.
When it was time to start the fire, we circled up and talked about safety, and made a solemn pinky promise to never start fires without permission, and to always make sure we put out our fires completely, and never leave them unattended. Now it was time for the fun stuff! The kids had several fire starting materials collected, and we gave each of them a try. We tried dryer lint, dried pine needles, and newspaper, and all were pleasantly flammable. I wanted the kids to learn how to start a fire without a bunch of “props” so I suggested they stick to the dried pine needles, since they are abundant at the Farm.
A match and the pine needles soon produced tiny blaze, and to this we added the tiniest of the sticks the kids had collected. We kept slowly adding larger and larger sticks until we had a large fire going. We all strutted around for a bit, feeling quite pleased with ourselves. I suppose in some ways it was a good thing that it was an unseasonably warm day; the 80 degree temps made getting too close to the fire unappealing.
The kids took turns tending the fire and preparing the veggies to be cooked on the coals. Each kid got to choose their veggies and season them to their taste. They wrapped them in foil, and then we nestled them into the hot coals in our fire pit. While the veggies were cooking, the kids roasted hot dogs on sticks over the fire. In a short time, we peeked into one of our foil packets and found that the veggies were done. The kids loved eating their personalized veggie packets, and we all agreed that food tastes better when you make it yourself!
At Tri Cycle Farms, we believe that the best way to get kids excited about eating healthy foods is to involve them in the process. Earlier this Fall, I spent an afternoon with six kids from The Little Village, a local after-school program led by a member of our very own board. First, we went out into the garden and harvested okra. The kids quickly learned that teamwork would be necessary, since our okra plants are 6-12 feet tall. One kid would gently pull the plant down, another would use the scissors to cut the okra pod off the plant, and another would put the okra in a bucket.
As it turns out, harvesting all the okra at Tri Cycle takes a long time, so we had to cook the okra another day. A few days later, we had our chance. Some of the kids had handled a knife before, and others hadn’t, so we had some kids using knives to slice the okra, and others used scissors. We decided to try okra four ways: pickled, sauteed, roasted, and fried. I had made some pickled okra earlier in the week, so it was up to six kids and two adults to prepare the other three recipes.
The roasted okra was sliced longways, tossed in a little bit of olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, arranged in one layer on a pan, and placed in a 425 degree oven for around 20 minutes. The results were delicious! The okra took on a nutty and slightly sweet flavor, and it had a silky texture.
For the sauteed okra, the pods were clipped with scissors into ½-1 inch pieces. Olive oil was heated in a skillet on the stovetop, and the okra was added, along with some onions and peppers. We stirred every once in awhile until the okra became soft, and we seasoned with salt and pepper. The finished product had great flavor, but we agreed it was had more of a “slimy” texture than the roasted okra.
The fried okra was where everyone’s creativity could shine through. I set out all of our herbs and spices and gave each kid a bag of breadcrumbs for them to season. We had some adventurous cooks in the kitchen! We had fried okra seasoned with cinnamon, curry, and turmeric, and it was all delicious. We were just finishing up the frying as the kids’ parents arrived, so the parents were able to sample the fare as well.
We had a great time cooking okra in the kitchen, and I think we all learned something. Hopefully the kids learned a little bit about harvesting and cooking okra, and the adults learned that kids can be great cooks!
This Fall, I teamed up with The Little Village for a multi-step craft project. We wanted to gather up all the black walnuts scattered on the ground throughout the farm and draw out their pigment to make our own ink.
First, the kids set out to pick up the walnuts. They filled a huge stockpot halfway with the greenish-brown orbs. Black walnuts are notoriously hard to shell, but that didn’t matter for us, since we weren’t trying to get to the nuts. We covered the walnuts with water and then left them for about 10 days to two weeks to ferment.
After the fermentation stage, the water had a distinct brown hue. I added a little water until the walnuts were completely covered, and then set it on the stove to heat. Once the concoction came to a boil, I turned the heat down and let it simmer all day; simmering the walnuts helped extract all of their pigment. It was a good thing it was a nice, warm day and I could open windows, because the smell of the cooking walnuts was quite strong...not exactly bad, but not exactly appetizing, either. When The Little Village kids came that afternoon, I tried to put a positive spin on the smell, but the kids were more blunt: “It smells like butts!”, they chorused, while pretending to retch in the corner. Really, it wasn’t THAT bad, but ventilation does help with this project.
The next stage is removing the walnuts from our mixture and squeezing them out to extract all the pigment. We used an old, clean hand towel for this. We had the kids wear plastic gloves for this part, so no one stained their hands, and miraculously, I don’t think anyone spilled ink on their clothes. The kids took turns holding the towel over the pot while I ladled walnuts into the towel, and then they squeezed all the liquid out. The liquid was starting to look more like ink, and less like disgusting soup, but there was one more smelly day ahead of us, because the ink had to be simmered again.
I simmered the ink on the stove for several hours, letting it cook down. I tested it every 30 minutes with a paintbrush and paper, to see how thick and dark it was getting. When it was a rich brown color, I turned the heat off and let it cool. When the kids arrived that day, we strained the ink through fine mesh to get rid of any remaining chunks. We poured our ink into little jars and pill bottles, leaving space at the top for our preservative. We wanted each bottle of ink to contain around 20% alcohol, because the alcohol acts as a preservative as well as helping the ink dry quickly on paper. We just eyeballed the amount in each bottle.
Because the ink had reduced so much in our enormous stock pot, I was worried we wouldn’t end up with enough ink. But I needn’t have worried; each kid got to take a bottle home, and there is enough left over for plenty of crafts! We’re thinking of homemade cards, wrapping paper, and stamps.
Have you ever made ink out of black walnuts, or anything else? Tell us about your experience in the comments!
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.