By Terrah Baker
“The food being donated is coming from local sources, and getting into the hands of people who need it locally …. Then a conversation can be brought up about how that person cares about you. This could be your neighbor and this could be someone you see around town.” – Aron Shelton of Seeds That Feed
At any given Fayetteville Farmer’s Market, a small group of local activists stand along the sidewalk, talking with the community about food, hunger and their organization.
When the crowds disperse and the farmers start packing up, the group begins their stroll along the sidewalks to collect what’s been left over. As they walk up to each stand, the farmers hand them containers of fresh vegetables they have laid aside. The vegetables are put into a plastic bag, labeled and then prepared to be loaded into a vehicle to travel to food pantries throughout the area.
“It started by us learning of the hunger this area faces, and not really knowing about it, and then realizing that a lot of people don’t know about it,” said Aron Shelton, Fayetteville resident and one of the founding members of Seeds That Feed, the organization collecting the food.
When researching what options are in Northwest Arkansas for hungry people, it was clear the area was not short on food pantries and free meals made up of canned and boxed foods. What was lacking was fresh, local produce that offered nutrition and a sense of community.
“Growing up, we knew lots of people and farmers who brought us bags of surplus from their gardens, and we wanted to get that food to these places. And to know where it was currently going,” said Alyssa Snyder, Fayetteville resident and another founding member of STF.
Snyder said the first numbers they saw that shocked them were those of LifeSource International of Fayetteville who serves about 1,200 families a month, or approximately 50,000 individuals a year.
“Here in Fayetteville?” Snyder said was her first reaction. “And that’s just one place.”
That first Saturday they decided to collect from the market, they hoped to have enough to fill just one food bank. What they quickly realized was one pantry wouldn’t be enough for the large amount of food they collected, and they were left scrambling to find places to drop off the produce. Now, the group donates to 19 different locations, and has donated 12,703 pounds of food to date.
They continue to look for more places to donate, and ways to grow the organization. Just last month, they donated 381 pounds of produce for a free meal and grocery pick-up at Trinity United Methodist Church in Fayetteville, along with community garden Tri Cycle Farm, restaurant Mama Deans and several other local nonprofits fighting hunger in the area. Meals like these are what the group wants more of in the future.
“We’re still in the experimenting phase of how we’re going to bring it full circle,” Shelton said.
From providing recipes to hand out with the vegetables, to the possibility of having free cooking classes, the group said right now they’re still in the learning stages.
But for the individuals who receive the food, the vision has already become a reality.
Jim Bowers was picking up canned food and other groceries for himself and his 10-year-old son from Cooperative Emergency Outreach in Fayetteville. He said after 30 years doing construction, he is now disabled and relies on the help of the community to get food for his family.
“I like fresh vegetables. Sometimes canned food doesn’t taste as good as produce. I always get stuff like cabbage and put it over meat. I like boiled okra, fried squash. I think any kind of fresh vegetable benefits you,” he said.
The connection between the farmers and the individuals who receive the food is something amazing, Shelton said. Educating people on this connection is one of the next goals.
They hope to go out to farms and see the work that’s being done, as well as organize pickups, educate on why vegetables can make you feel better and have more energy and of course partner with other local nonprofits and organizations to continue to grow a movement of local farmers and individuals helping local hungry people.
For more information or to volunteer for Seeds That Feed, contact Margaret Thomas, Volunteer Coordinator, 901.674.1248, email@example.com.
ORGANIZING MEMBERS of SEEDS THAT FEED:
FARMS THAT DONATE:
ANA – A and A Orchard, AmeriAsian, Blia Kue & Yeng Chong (Gentry Farm), Boua (Farm), Brannon Mt. Farm, EdmonsonFarm, Charlie’s, Chee Xiong (Siloam Springs), D H Farm, Dickie Farms, DrippingSprings, Foothold, Gentry, Goshen, Guy Ames, Houa, Lee Family Farm, Lee Produce, Lor’s, M. Garden, Mao Mauo, Marty’s, Mt.Olive, Ning Neng, NWA Natural Produce, Phil’s Farm, RiverBend, Sister Sprouts, Summer’s Fresh Produce, Tera’s Farm, Ugly Bunny Garden, Va (Lincoln), Valor, Vang Mao, Xiong’s Farm, TriCycle, Springdale Community Garden, SNAP Garden, U of A GroGreen, Community Garden, U of A Research Farm