The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded two Arkansas companies a total of $1.37 million in grant funds to strengthen and explore new market opportunities for local and regional food businesses.
The awards are a fraction of the $75.4 million allocated for 172 projects across the country that benefit farmers markets, supply chain activities and more. Federal funding is made possible by the Agricultural Marketing Service as part of the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Programs.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture received $622,797 to develop a program that prolongs the shelf life of crops harvested by local farmers.
Winrock International was awarded $750,000 to research value chains and build capacity in the farm-to-food assistance channel, which connects local farms with food insecure communities.
"The strength of America's agricultural economy is our creativity and resilience. Whether it's a farmers market in Lansing or a food business in Kalamazoo, local and regional food systems expand economic opportunities for farmers and secure healthy food supply chains for families," said U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, in a written statement.
Northwest Arkansas has a strong farmers market culture, but farmers are limited by weather, the lifespan of produce and difficulty selling misshapen or ugly produce, often referred to as seconds.
To alleviate some of these issues, the UA System Division of Agriculture proposed creating a program that extends the shelf life of farmers market crops. It said it will work with local farmers to develop shelf stable products at the Arkansas Food Innovation Center.
Once a solution is developed in conjunction with Brightwater culinary arts students, a team of students from the Walton College of Business will assist in creating a business plan to guide farmers on their venture. According to the proposal, this project will help augment grower income and enhance the customer experience at the market.
Winrock International, based in North Little Rock, has worked on farm and rural projects around the world for years. Efforts to improve access to local crops in food insecure areas face several challenges, including food safety, supply chain logistics, consistency and scale.
Winrock proposed that more education is needed as food hubs and local businesses work to build their farm-to-food programs. The latest Winrock project is centered on identifying and building the elements needed for stronger food distribution infrastructure.