Faulkner County Urban Farm Project seeking funds for water system

By Tammy Keith Originally Published November 4, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated November 2, 2012 at 11:16 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Cliff Beacham, left, and Alicia Allen stand with tools ready in the garden behind the Faulkner County Library. The Faulkner County Urban Farm Project started a couple of years ago as a competition among the three institutions of higher education in Conway to see who could grow the best garden behind the library. It became a collaborative effort, and 85 percent of what is grown is given to St. Peter’s Episcopal Church food pantry in Conway. Now, the group is trying to raise $5,000 by Nov. 23 to put in a 2,000-gallon water tank to catch rainwater.

— It’s a little garden with a big goal — to change the world.

The small plot behind the Faulkner County Library started in the fall of 2009 as a competition among Conway college students.

It quickly became a collaboration, said volunteer Liz Elmore of North Carolina, a senior at Hendrix College.

Hendrix College, the University of Central Arkansas and Central Baptist College each had a plot, as did AmeriCorps volunteers.

“We don’t like to say anyone won; we all decided mutually to make it one big plot,” Elmore said.

“Now it’s really grown, which is exciting, and there are a lot of community members.”

The goal of the Faulkner County Urban Farm Project, as it became, is to grow produce, about 85 percent of which is donated to the St. Peter’s Episcopal Church food pantry in Conway.

Food also is donated to Bethlehem House, the city’s homeless shelter.

The urban farm project is directed by UCA graduate Alicia Allen, 23, of Conway, and Cliff Beacham, a sociology instructor at UCA.

This summer, more than 1,000 pounds of food was harvested, Beacham said.

“I can’t stress the collaborative part enough. We’ve probably had 100 students come through here,” Beacham said. “There are probably 25 students I could call on any given day to come out here to help.”

UCA and Hendrix are the two participating schools.

“I love it, because school is crazy, and it’s a really good outlet,” Elmore said. “I grew up on a farm, and it reminds me of those nice memories.

“Everyone there is from different backgrounds and a different knowledge of farming. It’s a really open atmosphere; everyone’s friendly. It’s just part of this local food movement; it’s just escalating.”

Allen, who grew up on a farm near Beebe, said

volunteers don’t get any of the food, and no one has asked her to sign off on a form to get volunteer hours.

“Everyone does it out of the goodness of their heart,” she said.

The first summer was undeniably tough.

Allen said they realized some of the produce donated to a homeless shelter rotted “because they didn’t know how to cook it.”

“We made casseroles that first year,” she said, laughing.

The garden, which is about 325 square feet, was watered by hand, and it took hours.

The second year, a simple above-ground sprinkler system was put in.

This summer’s drought was a challenge, too.

Volunteers took turns watering two hours at a time. Allen recalled taking her laptop to work on while watering at night.

Beacham said using the city’s water isn’t the most efficient way to water the garden.

“We’ve got this huge roof,” he said, looking at the library.

The group’s immediate goal is to raise $5,000 by Nov. 23 for a 2,000-gallon water tank to attach to the library to catch rainwater.

Through a third party, Kickstarter.com, pledges are being taken. It’s an all-or-nothing deal. If donations

don’t get to $5,000, the Faulk-ner County Urban Farm Project gets nothing.

So far, about $1,700 has been raised.

“I feel like it gives it a sense of urgency and people aren’t donating money haphazardly,” Elmore said.

More information is available at fcurbanfarmproject.org.

Beacham said the money also will be used to upgrade the sprinkler system.

The UCA Foundation provided a grant for the greenhouse; Friends of the Faulkner County Library provided money to buy landscape blocks.

Group members praised Ruth Voss, director of the Faulkner County Library.

“She is an amazing woman,” Allen said.

“What a group!” Voss said. “They were out there all summer long, weeding and watering. They had okra that looked like trees.

“They’ve been talking about water barrels, an old idea made new. We have such a big roof, we could collect a lot of water here, probably more than they could use.”

Beacham said a major point of the Urban Farm Project is education.

“This is all about demonstrating what can be done even in someone’s backyard with a 55-gallon drum. ... it’s kind of opening up a different way of looking at things,” Beacham said.

The Urban Farm Fest, which includes a community meal, is held in September. Topics presented have included saving seeds, composting, backyard beekeeping and container gardening.

In addition, the first Backyard Gourmet was held in June, Allen said. It was sponsored by the Faulkner County Urban Farm Project, the Faulkner County Museum and the library.

“That was a huge success — whew!” Allen said. “We had 300 people. It was teaching people to cook with food right out of the garden.”

Allen said the group is producing a cookbook that will be available this winter on the group’s website.

Allen said her goal is for the farm project to “continue to inspire change.”

“It’s not just about putting in a rain barrel and donating food to the needy, but it’s more about bringing in 25 different college students from around Conway and

inspiring new ideas of sustainability and community that they take to their different states and the world as they go about their lives,” Allen said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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