Supporting Family Farms in Northwest Arkansas
Supporting Family Farms in Northwest Arkansas
Learn more about the hard-working Arkansas farmers that have partnered with The Food Conservancy. Farmers with products included in our recent Fresh Local Produce Bags are featured on this page. For other local farmers, click the link below:
Affordable land and a chance to kayak drew John Aselage to the Ozarks in 1979, and hard work being sport in John’s family, it’s fitting that he start A&A Orchard in one of the hottest summers on record in the state of Arkansas. Fast realizing that weather and debt outpace labor, no matter how intense or earnest the effort, he gladly accepted a position in agricultural research and purchasing in 1981 with Gerber Products Company, prior financial supporters of his graduate work in horticulture at Michigan State. For much of the rest of his twenty-seven year career with Gerber, John designed and implemented IPM (integrated pest management) strategies for farms across the United States. Together with entomologists, plant pathologists, and plant breeders, John helped to construct successful and sustainable farming methods, and this research determined the crop production systems John later managed as the Organic Purchaser for Gerber’s organic line. An early organic advocate, John signed on with Amy’s Kitchen in 2008 as an Organic Agricultural Manager, where he worked with a diverse and global community of organic farmers until returning to the orchard full time in 2016. Notably, John also volunteered for roughly fifteen years for Winrock International’s Farmer-to-Farmer program in the fruit growing regions of Kazakhstan, Nepal, and India. Based largely in remote and rural areas, John’s assignments focused on practical education, training fellow fruit growers in IPM basics and fruit production methods. John’s agricultural viewpoint – as a research and purchasing professional, as a pomologist, and as a farmer in the Ozarks – is deep and broad. Everything learned about food systems and land management through travel, university alliances, and fieldwork John has applied and adapted to A&A. A once modest ambition of simple tree nursery and roadside fruit stand, A&A has become John’s laboratory. Still a small orchard business, A&A is also a most useful resource for fruit farming in this region. Growing seventeen acres of tree fruit for area farmers’ markets, local restaurants, and friends’ CSAs, A&A’s orchard-to-local market model informs farm choices: rather than “putting up” bushels of peaches and apples for winter use, today’s fruit buyers want to eat fresh, want to try new heirloom varieties, and want to know their grower. A&A accommodates by raising several kinds of apples, peaches, nectarines, and pears. Concentrating more recently on southern heritage and cider types, A&A grows roughly fifty different apple varieties, building a following for their Jonathans, Arkansas Black Apples, and Stellars, a hard-to-grow crisp, yellow type created by U of AR professor emeritus Roy Rom. Among the twenty-five or so kinds of stonefruit at the orchard, A&A is also growing a series of the university’s peaches and nectarines developed by Dr. John Clark. Standouts include Amoore Sweet Nectarine, a juicy and firm yellow fruit with tropical flavor. Likewise, the University of Arkansas figures into their effort to reduce food waste as A&A also produces a few value-added items at AFIC (the Arkansas Food Innovation Center). Since 2017, A&A has employed a food science student from the university to help with summer and fall markets as well as to make seasonal products (cider, vinegar, chips) at AFIC. Rather than a fencepost to fencepost farming operation, well over half of A&A’s acreage is covered in forest, meadow, and border habitat – preservation land for pollinators, birds, and other wildlife. Master naturalists both, John and his wife Elizabeth’s greatest priority is farm conservation and biodiversity, resulting in a unique orchard management system. For decades, A&A has relied on native bees rather than honey bees for pollination, requiring an abundance of multi-season blooms as well as adherence to non-toxics. The Ozarks’ dramatic weather fluctuations, extremely humid climate, and multiple insect generations make for a particularly challenging setting to grow fruit and also protect pollinators. Not overly troubled by “ugly” fruit and secure most customers agree, John has designed an extremely soft prevention program, specific to A&A, so that the orchard can continue while helping wildlife thrive. Ecological undertakings at the orchard are the aim from here on for A&A.n at it, and what got them to where they are.
John Inspecting Peaches. Click for Video.
For more information, visit Heifer's website.
Terry and his family have been growing their produce in the heart of Bentonville, Arkansas for just a little over a year. Located just 2 blocks from the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art this little urban farm has become a staple in the community. Arkansabi Farms is dedicated to providing sustainably grown fruits and vegetables by using a low till method, succession planting, and no synthetic pesticides or herbicides.
Meet Local Family Farmer Ryan Neal. He proudly produced the Blueberries in a recent Fresh Local Produce Bag.