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Business grows for Conway farmer’s market

Family’s output evolved into locally-sourced store by Cristina LaRue | August 24, 2022 at 2:16 a.m.
Bell Urban Farm co-owners Zack McCannon and Kim Doughty McCannon give U.S. Sen. John Boozman a tour of the one-acre urban farm and adjacent Farm Stand shop in Conway on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022.

CONWAY -- Zack McCannon and Kim Doughty McCannon started out growing mixed vegetables and some flowers to sell at farmer's markets and grew that business into a small farm and store with the goal of giving customers access to naturally grown food and locally sourced products.

But first it focused on the local market for cut flowers.

"That's what we can grow a lot of very efficiently in our small one-acre farm and it's profitable, there's a lot of other farms around here that grow great veggies, so we decided to focus on flowers," Doughty McCannon said.

Today, the little flower farm at 2011 Tyler St. in Conway has expanded into Bell Urban Farm and Farmstand featuring Arkansas grown and sourced foods from vegetables and fruits, meats, cheeses, eggs and breads to locally crafted products like coffee beans, spices or home decor.

"Selling at the farmer's market, it's one day a week; we wanted to create a place where our community could have access to local foods seven days a week just like a traditional grocery store, and also the farmers that we work with would have a spot to bring their produce, meat, eggs or whatever more than one day a week," Doughty McCannon said Tuesday.

"I understand we can't grow everything here, some things you need more space for but we can pack so much into this small space, we don't have to drive two or three hours to market, we don't have to ship it because our customers are right here, downtown Conway is just a few minutes away, those restaurants can come here and source local ingredients," Doughty McCannon said.

The Farmstand sells Arkansas-made kombucha, coffee, in-house coffee syrups made in Fayetteville and ice cream. Classes on chicken keeping, beekeeping, bone broth making and other agriculture-based workshops are also offered.

"Having a farm store on-site, selling at markets, doing educational content, workshops, Youtube videos, engaging the community, having people come out to the farm; agri-tourism is a big thing now," she said.

Bell Urban Farm meets requirements for the USDA's federally regulated organic certification process but does not have have the certification because USDA-accredited certifying agents can be hard to find.

"It makes it really hard for farmers in the state to get certified organic because we have to pay for someone to come to our state and it's already expensive, so that just makes it more expensive," Doughty McCannon said.

The certifying agents closest to Arkansas are based in Oklahoma and Florida.

"We can get Certified Naturally Grown [a program based in New York] and we follow the same set of rules and guidelines but we can actually be certified through more like a peer-reviewed process where we get a fellow organic or certified naturally grown farmer to come visit our farm and certify us every year," Doughty McCannon said.

"It's pretty common, a lot of the farms we buy produce from are Certified Naturally Grown," Doughty McCannon said. "It's just a more affordable option for a certification, where you can let the customers know you don't use chemicals; no pesticides, herbicides, GMO-free, even down to the feed we feed our chickens, the potting soil we use for our plants and our garden, it's all organic certified," Doughty McCannon said.

"It's just how we maintain our farm in a more sustainable manner, with hedgerows around it to invite wildlife and birds for pest control and propagation, crop rotation, putting in companion crops, or crops that can attract pests away from our main cash crop."

The McCannons use natural materials to make their own mulch and compost on-site, as well as natural fertilizer and organic, non-GMO seeds. The farmers never use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. They regularly do deep mulching with straw for weed control and mulching with wood chips for pathways.

"So we don't have to spray for weeds because it's controlled naturally," she said.

"We started in 2017, so of course we had a lot more weed pressure than we do now; cardboard and mulch year after year has just really kept it under control."

Doughty McCannon said the couple has found it is cost effective to have a farm with an eye towards naturally produced crops.

"What we're doing here and other small-scale farms, it's the way of the future because we can farm really efficiently and intensively in a small space and be closer to the city center where our customers are, be more sustainable and regenerative so we're protecting the environment, our pollinators, our farmworkers," Doughty McCannon said.

  photo  Arkansas-grown okra and peaches are sold at Bell Urban Farm in Conway on Aug. 23, 2022.

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