Urban ag a fruitful effort in Conway

Increasing interest in homegrown food and public education on issues of sustainability, food security and community health are the goals of a handful of local volunteers and advocates working to expand the urban agriculture movement in Conway.

 

The Faulkner County Urban Farming Project is rooted in a 25 by 115-foot plot of land located behind the Faulkner County Library on Tyler Street and is seeded by a motley crew with a common goal.

“We aren’t people that you’d look at and see as farmers,” said advisory board member Sean Ott. “That’s really our message. Anyone can do this, even if you only have a three-by-three square in your front yard.”

The nonprofit project began four years ago as three separate gardens — a friendly competition of garden maintenance between the city’s three colleges — and has evolved into an ongoing project of community awareness.

As the project continued, a sense of community and even friendships were founded among dirty hands and sweat and a mutual interest in sustainable living, breaching the walls of competition.

Now one large garden area, the cultivation yields ongoing harvests of a variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs, with the reaping donated to a local food bank at Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church. 

La Lucha Space, a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is fiscal sponsor for the project. Their mission is to create and strengthen communities of coproducers in central Arkansas focusing on food security, cultural production and economic opportunity for local producers with an emphasis on sustainable development and fair labor practices. 

In June, the project celebrated its annual Backyard Gourmet community potluck event, featuring local restaurants and live music.

The ultimate goal, organizers say, is to teach through doing.  On Sunday afternoons, volunteers gather at the garden to work, teach, learn and share. These meetings are open to the general public, regardless of age or ability. 

“We’ve had three-year-olds, and people who are 60 and 70 out here helping,” Ott said. “It’s important for everyone to know where their food comes from.”

In the future, Ott said the group hopes to expand its efforts to developing gardens at area schools and working alongside students.

Operating on “less than a shoestring budget,” Ott said the group has worked to raise $5,000 to irrigate the land and establish a rainwater barrel collection system, and soon, the installation of water pumps at the site.

It currently takes about an hour and a half to water the plot each day from June through September, using a hose or sprinkler head, Ott said.

Any educators, youth groups or churches who wish to participate in the project or establish their own sustainable garden are encouraged to contact FCUFP.

The group’s third-annual Urban Farm Fest is slated for Oct. 19 and will include a day of  informative workshops, activities for children and a community dinner.

For more information on the project, visit www.fcurbanfarmproject.org, http://laluchaspace.com or like FCUFP on Facebook for updates on activities and more.

(Megan Reynolds is a staff writer and can be reached by phone at 501-505-1277 or by email at megan.reynolds@thecabin.net. Follow us on Twitter @LCDOnline.)

 

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