I live in Arkansas. Alot of folks think Arkansas is all hillbillies and the Clinton Library. The natural state holds so many treasures we are coming to discover for ourselves. I must share how this summer I fell in love with Arkansas in a whole new way spurred on by the local farmers market.
Our current location is Bella Vista, a town a few miles north of Bentonville, the home of Walmart. Most of the population is employed by Walmart or Tyson, the chicken people.
Bella Vista started off being a retirement community, you know a place to get away from kids and hang out with old people playing golf. However as the retail giant began to emply more people, Bella Vista became the new home to FAMILIES. BV(as I will refer to it from now on) is much more reasonable than neighboring Bentonville, Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville. BV has several golf courses and lakes,a few amenities such as indoor pools and outdoor pools, workout rooms and such, but not a whole lot for families.
Lots are under 1/4 acre and the houses are built into the hills and very few lots are flat. Most lots slope down into ravines. And our property slopes 2 different ways interestingly to the south and west and the southern slope is pretty steep. The children have tried sledding this in winter during snowfall (while mama is praying they will be ok).
BV has no local coffee shoppe or hang out where family folk can gather so most of us keep to ourselves as most communities tend to do now days. Or else we travel to the neighboring town that hosts Starbucks or the like.
However, this year was different. Situations occured that caused things to happen for us. Some negatively, such as neighborhood discord and fighting amongst kids and adults. The negatives spawned Ray and I to begin looking for land to begin a work we hope will bring out family and friends and neighbors together, either by organic gardening, and herbal sanctuary, or just room to play. These are our passions that we are not allowed to do in the magnitude we desire in our community due to either rules or the topography.
But the positives that occured along side the negatives were what touched us to the core.
It began in Bentonville on Saturday mornings at the local farmers market. I will be honest, the only reason I was interested in even going was to see my dear friends who run The Color Farm--Playsilks, Silk Scarves, Hair Wraps, Belly Dance Veils, Playstand Canopies, and Cotton Clothing, Hand-dyed with Mandalas Joy and Latt (the color farmers) live a good distance from us and seeing each other is not easy in todays fast paced world cramed with busyness that does little to enrich our lives and causes mental instability and ulcers.
Community is a lost neccessity these days if you know what I mean.
So anyway, we would spend time with our friends at the market and noticed that this year, growth has happened and new vendors were emerging. Locals began hanging out in the square for some social time. Children would run about barefoot and stick their feet in the fountain. Or if you were my child you would jump in completely with lack of care about what rules there are to follow. Or beg others for some of their food. That is my children for ya!
Conservatives, elderly, woodworkers, farmers, bakers, jewelry makers, mama's with sewing talent, liberals, hippies, and politicians would congregate without bias and have a great time together. Sometimes a local band might play to enhance the festivities.
We began to build relationship with some other vendors at the market which we greatly appreciate. Relationship I will miss for the 5-6 months until next year begins a new market. We were blessed to experience blessings and trades for my personal herbal handcrafted items from a few of the local food growers. This is what started our journey on local foods.
Fresh local foods are sold within hours to a couple days of harvest. They are grown in the region in which you live. The colors are typically livelier and there are no wax coatings that must be washed or peeled off before using. No radiation to create a ripe piece of food from an unripe one. Food purchased from our local farmers, typically tastes better. And when it comes to animal products, many are grown without hormones and things that have been linked to cancer and obesity in several studies. Also, the animals are treated more humanely and allowed fresh air and sunshine because they are usually small scale farmers. The fuel it takes to receive food grown in other regions is also a concern. With the fuel crisis we are in currently, I feel better about putting most of my money in the local economy where I can.
The best part is understanding the entire process and who grew what will be served at your table. It creates a circle, or a life force in the community.
From Bentonville we were blessed with abundant produce from Neoma's Garden and Magpie Gardens. Not only was the food wonderful, but our money or goods went to our neighbors, the vendors. Farmers are a neccessary part of our food chain so to speak, yet most of us shop at our local store without even wondering where the food came from, how it was produced. Are farmers getting a fair wage or are 3 or 4 middle men involved? Does this food have pesticides applied and what one? Is the soil rich with minerals and nutrients so that I may receive the nutrients from the food? Has this food been shipped in from another country thousands of miles away or picked yesterday from our local grower?
On our journey of local foods and looking for land to move onto, midsummer we discovered that local organic farmer, Patrice Gros has a farm in which he has opened up apprenticeship to during the growing season. I had met Patrice in farmers markets in other towns other than Bentonville and was quite impressed with the quality of his produce. I wrote Patrice and asked if I may come work on his farm on occassion when my schedule would allow. I was pleased to receive an email back that I was welcome anytime and even my children could come out. So this summer, Ray, my husband and I began working on the farm as often as our schedules permitted us to go out to Eureka to participate. Summer is almost over and Ray and I feel we barely scratched the surface on understanding excellent organic farming methods. We still have so much to learn.
Patrice has been a great teacher. We learn by doing and eating lunch after our days work. We look forward to our day when we know we will go to the farm. It is very spiritual in nature somehow. It is quiet, peaceful, the green living plants reflecting the desire we all have to live. We see by example that healthy soil and caring for things like moisture and sunshine are essential for the health of the plant. Very much like people I would say. We sadly experienced the loss of 2 crops on the farm due to very hungry bugs. That too is a life experience.
We have met wonderful like minded individuals out at the farm. One woman named Sandra has been a blessing to us. She also is another person we were able to trade our handcrafted items for produce this year. She has been played a vital role this year in the farm work. I have been by her side most days I work, and not only is she a patient teacher, but a fun person I feel blessed to have as a friend now.
And Patrice. He is probably the first French friend I have ever had. We are blessed to have such a great guy as our organic farming mentor. He has been a gentle teacher and his food is simply wonderful. And through the farm experience, we have been able to know Patrice and his family better. Karen Gros, Patrices wife is passionate about french cooking and she gives classes as well as takes groups to visit France. I am still trying to figure out a way to go without my family noticing that I am gone.I do plan to take a cooking class with Karen very soon.
We also discovered The Brothers and Sisters of Charity has free range chickens and lovely gardens on premises. And John Michael Talbot lives there. I have been listening to his music for years. How cool is that. Also, discovered that local farmers are suppliers to this restaurant: Greenhouse Grille - Greenhouse Grille, Conscious Cuisine of Fayetteville Arkansas.
It is obvious that we are not the only ones that desire to see such a positive change and a relationship with those that supply our basic needs.
Ray and I traveled the countryside within a 100 mile radius all summer looking for that right place we can call our new home. A place for herbs to grow without overharvesting and an organic garden we can feed our family and friends from. We agree that our next home needs have have access to a farmers market, the farm, the lake and a library. The library is just a basic need we all have, however the other desires are due to our experience over the summer all spawned by life and farming.
Ray and I were discussing the other day and both agree that this summer was by far the best summer either of us could remember having in our adult lives. The beauty of Arkansas is something that has reached us on a soul level. And now, we have the beauty of the Arkansas people reaching us there too.
September is eat local month. I would encourage anyone reading to check out a local farmers market near you. The Arkansas link is The Arkansas Agricultural Product Market
It is a privelege meeting others and creating a sense of interconnectedness and community amongst such hardworking people.
Ray and Kristena,