By Terrah Baker
There’s no doubt being a small farmer is hard work. Long hours, intensive labor, and often times making just enough to keep the farm alive for next year. That’s why it’s important for community organizations and individuals to support the farmers who work hard to supply healthy and sustainable foods to the local markets and beyond, said one Ozark Slow Food representative. Through the “Fund Your Farmers” fundraiser to be held July 21 at Greenhouse Grille in Fayetteville, Ozark Slow Food will try and fill this role with financial support for local farmers to create a more diverse and efficient operation.
A Mission of Spreading Food
With a mission of expanding the agricultural base in the region, Ozark Slow Food began their first mini-grant program in 2013.
“Our mission is to promote a sustainable local food economy that provides ‘good, clean, and fair food’ to the region,” said David Mervis, Ozark Slow Food chapter co-leader. “As our country has focused more and more on industrial agriculture and convenience food, we’ve forgotten the importance of taste and health.”
Slow Food supports those that produce fresh, nutrient dense, genetically unmodified and environmentally-friendly foods that work with the ecology of the area and support a healthy community, Mervis explained.
This trend of healthy eating close to home is a national movement that has been gathering steam through the past 10 years and more. The umbrella group of Ozark Slow Food, Slow Food USA, was founded in 1989 to “counter the rise of fast food, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat,” according to Slow Food USA’s website. Now with supporters in over 150 countries and chapters across the United States holding thousands of members, it seems the movement is only getting stronger.
Slow Food USA has many programs that provide information about food and farmers across the world. Terre Madre at home is a database of over 7,000 food producers, cooks, educators, students and activists from 150 countries, united by a common vision for good, clean and fair food worldwide. Another example is their U.S. Ark of Taste which catalogs over 200 delicious foods in danger of extinction. By promoting and eating Ark products, Slow Food USA hopes to ensure that they remain in production and on our plates. More on the national group can be found at www.slowfoodusa.org
Our Local Farmers
To act locally, Ozark Slow Food members decided to create fundraisers and programs that offered direct support to those behind the slow food lines — the farmers. Their first mini-grants were awarded in 2013 totaling $1,500 to three local farms, Lost Acre Farm, Windy Valley Farm and Ozark Alternatives, for projects like a fence around a production field, a mini hoop house and a refrigeration system for eggs at market.
“By offering these grants we’re wanting to ensure more diversity at the weekday markets,” said Chapter co-leader Teresa Maurer. “With just a little bit of money, we can help someone bring something new to market.”
This year, the group hopes to double their fundraising dollars from 2013’s pool, which will lead to larger grants per farmer or more of the smaller grants to more farmers. To apply for the grants, Slow Food has created an easy on-line application farmers can fill out and turn in with an explanation as to how their farm fits the mission of Ozark Slow Food. Maurer also plans, like last year, to take information to farmer’s market managers in Washington, Benton, Carroll and Madison counties to ensure a wide variety of farmers can take advantage of the opportunity. Following this year’s fundraiser, applications will be available starting in October and can be found at www.ozarkslowfood.org
The Local Chapter
Ozark Slow Food held it’s first fundraiser in 2007 and since has gained the support of over 200 activists, with about 50 paid members. Official members must first join Slow Food USA and then choose a local chapter. The volunteer board is made of six members all with different interests in the food movement, but all supporting the local mission of promoting a “sustainable farmer/consumer community.”
Their other projects include the NWA Food Guide published in 2012 with 16 pages, and the 2013/2014 local food guide set to be out in late July, early August with over 40 pages of information about local farmers, their products and how to contact them.
They’ve also sent members and local residents to conferences around the world to learn about the slow food movement and to bring back what they learn to NWA.
Funding Farmers In 2014
The fundraising event to be held July 21 at Greenhouse Grille will start at 5 p.m. and is $25 per person. For this price, attendees will be treated with food from five local chefs with ten different dishes, and music from local musical artists and Roots Festival founders Three Penny Acre.
The event will raise money from ticket sales and a silent auction with items like one week of lodging on Cape Cod, A “Meet the Animals” custom farm tour designed for a group of four adults and/or kids, a private balcony dinner for eight at Ella’s overlooking the Old Main Lawn, local products including a farmers’ market basket, handcrafted wood items, a weekend farm stay, tickets to a Theatre Squared production, a spa gift certificate and more.
The chefs will include Jerrmy Gawthrop of Greenhouse Grille, Emily Lawson of Arsaga’s at The Depot, Case Dighero from Crystal Bridges, Robyn Bowen from Fayetteville Pastry Shop and Gerald McGuffin from Aguafire on Dickson.
To make an on-line reservation, visit www.ozarkslowfood.org or call Teresa Maurer at 479-799-7985.