Thursday, March 17, 2011

Why Arkansans should support SB820 "Farmers Market" law.

Every summer Saturday in Arkansas tens of thousands of dollars are spent on imported produce under the guise of “Farmers Markets”. It is no wonder that legacy distribution providers and Arkansas’s big agriculture corporations are opposing this bill. They have hired lobbyist to work the system using old arguments in hopes of preserving the status quo. They are claiming that the law is too confusing and would hurt small farmers. This argument is without merit and nothing could be further from the truth.

I don’t know what’s confusing about a law that says that if you call it a Farmers Market, that only farmers are allowed to sell produce there. It does not prohibit crafts and other non-produce items from being sold there; it just says for the PRODUCE that is sold there, it has to be farmers selling it.

This does not add work that most farmers are not already doing. Most professional growers maintain a list of the crops they grow. North Pulaski Farm’s list is published on our website and is a key tool in marketing our crops. This information can be used by the markets to help better supply the public. Markets can analyze the information and make recommendations to farmers with regards to projected supply. An example would be if everyone decided to grow tomatoes and no one was growing squash. The market could then make recommendations to its farmers accordingly. Farmers will be allowed to amend their list if they see an opportunity to fill a need.

This will require each farmers market to fill out a form and pay a small fee to get certified by the state. The AR department of Agriculture wants this process to be as EASY as possible. Small markets will not have to pay the same fee as larger markets.

Farmers growing and selling their produce will NOT have to buy a label gun. The farmer only has to identify what is in the container that the product is sold from. This is already happening.
This bill does NOT change the current tax rules. Today the ONLY people exempt from collecting sales taxes are farmers selling RAW produce directly to customers. This bill may increase sales tax revenue because the disclosure policy will force more accurate accounting of imported produce.

This bill will help small farms and increase food safety. Food recalls have and will continue to happen. Knowing who grew a product and where it was gown informs the public so they can make good food decisions. More small farmers will have access to direct distribution channels enable them to collect retail prices for their crops. A dollar spent with a small farmer re-circulates in the economy more than most any other dollar spent. This bill will help create jobs because it helps small farms be sustainable from a business perspective.

The argument for local foods systems is obvious, the greater the amount of local production the better for local communities. Study after study confirms that even small percentage shifts in buying practices create huge economic impacts. It’s what Arkansans expect at a farmers market, in 2009 the UA surveyed farmers markets in Arkansas and found that 71% of farmer’s market customers go to the market to for local reasons.

At a recent meeting of The River Market, I talked to a small farmer who has been spending his Friday nights for the last 3 years waiting on a spot to sell. Since he does not re-sell any products his attendance is based on when his crops are ready and does not score as well as others who mainly re-sell produce. Is it not enough that he is working the land and is subject to all that Mother Nature has to offer? Must he continue to sleep in his truck because legacy providers don’t want to give up their cash cow?

Arkansas should treat its small farmers better and this bill does exactly that.

Call To Action!!

Please contact the following state representatives currently serving on the Agriculture, Forestry & Economic Development Committee and urge them to support SB820.
There has never been a more critical time than now or a better law to help small farmers in Arkansas.

Senator Gene Jeffress, 870-689-3537 ,
Senator Stephanie Flowers, 870-535-1032 ,
Senator Jimmy Jim Jeffress, 870-364-8291 ,
Senator Jim Luker, 870-238-8588 ,
Senator Mary Anne Salmon, 501-753-4521,
Senator Randy Laverty, 870-446-5005 ,
Senator David Wyatt, 870-613-3014 ,
Senator Mike Fletcher, 501-802-3114 ,

Sunday, May 30, 2010

What a difference a year makes!

Last year at this time we were scrambling to put the finishing touches on Fred and get our transplants in the ground.
This year we are selling at 5 markets and have Ripe Tomatoes on the vine that will be picked tonight!
Our green beans are starting to arrive and our peppers, squash, zucchini and cucumbers are in full production.

None of this would have been possible without the great help from many hard working LOCAL folks who installed the fencing, laid the plastic, trained the tomatoes and of course pick every night.
Thanks to all of them for busting it this spring! Their work was critical in allowing the early success we have had to date this year.
For once, the cash is starting to flow in a new direction! We have more work to do, but I just saw a ripening BRANDYWINE from one of the plants on Brandywine Corner!
The little sprout on the corner in some of our random website photos has what looks to be a little over a pond brandywine hanging from it.

This last week customers in all of our markets asked for ripe tomatoes, we here ya and here ya go!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Crops in the Ground!

Over the last few weeks our team transplanted over seven thousand seedlings, built over 16k of beds and busted their tails getting our early spring crop in the ground.
Props to Shawna Woods, Antwon Jones, Brandon Hughes & Tom Hearty for their great attitude and hard work, it would not have been possible with out them. I have heard many farmers lament the difficulties in finding good help. We have had success in finding help using craigslist and recommend it across the board. Leveraging online resources is one of our farms core methods and so far, it has worked. The LOCAL folks we hire are quick studies and hard workers. Props to for making it so easy.

We have started the seeds for the rest of the summer crop and plan on filling out Fred’s rows in April. The weather has been fantastic to date and most of our seedlings are doing well inside Fred. On these sunny days, Fred is a toasty 85 degrees and the young ones seem to like it. I have never watched the weather like I do now; I use the Vilonia AccuWeather 15 day and 10 day outlook for my temperature forecast and the Cabot 10 day outlook and hour by hour for my rain forecast. All of which does nothing to my chances of weather having a negative affect on my crop, but at least it keeps me busy worrying.

Well I hope this next round of weather is uneventful. I am listening to Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry”, Who does not love an 8 bar bridge of “Everythings Gonna Be Alright”? I think I will try out my baby spinach this eve, quality controlling the crop is a tasty responsibility that is a priority with me.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Spring is here and Summer is near!

This week we are preparing Fed’s beds, enjoying this wonderful spring weather and transplanting over four thousand seedlings.
Watching these little guys grow over the last several weeks has been a pure joy. So far this year, we have not made the same mistakes we did last year and it shows. Our plants are healthier, our fall and winter fertilization plan has enriched our soil and we are staying a head of the game with our spring crop.
While we still have some work to do around Fred’s French drain, we look forward to our investment in these high tunnels paying some dividends.
Putting tomatoes in the ground in early March is a risk because of possible spring freezes, but Fred was able to keep out the frost and cold last fall until the first week of December. This spring our high tunnels combined with floating row covers (a light weight cloth designed to help hold heat) “should” keep our young ones warm enough to make it thru April. We have almost doubled the number of varieties this year and they can be found under the “Produce” section on our website. Pictures of all of our seedlings and growing systems can be found on our Facebook fan page, “North Pulaski Farms”. We are keeping a photo journal of our progress. Our customers can know when, where, how and (when I fix the grainy webcams) even watch every step we take growing their food. This not only supports our record keeping processes with pictures, it demonstrates our commitment to transparency.

Many folks have often asked me, what’s with these Flintstone names? This is a practice that was done in the early years of my IT career. At World Wide Travel Service our computer room was called the 4077th and we used MASH (from the movie, not tv show) character names to identify the particular servers. Our main login server was Hawkeye, our communication server was Radar and our fastest server was named Hotlips. Anyway, now that I am a farmer, I figured it would be a good time to get back to Bedrock in the Stone Age. Fred is our large production system; Wilma is our hothouse where our small ones are taken care of. It seems to work and is easy for my workers to remember.

This post would not be complete if I did not share my disappointment in my cities political leadership (or lack there of).
I want to thank Jody Hardin, Eddie Stuckey, Sam Profit, Melissa Smith, Christi Jones and my sister Julann Carney for attending the meeting. While we all would have liked different results; it added a measure of comfort knowing that I was not alone with this cause.
The administration and city council sent a clear message to the small farms in our area; they don’t believe you can provide variety and stability for their market.
Many times over the years as CIO of my former company, I was challenged with convincing the business leaders to follow a path they did not agree with.
Online travel was not very welcomed to travel agents if you can imagine.
Fortunately for me, I could use tools like data, risk assessments and subject matter experts to explain the benefits of the path I was recommending AND THEY LISTENED. The Jacksonville City Council had already made up their mind to disregard the data and do what they think was best before the meeting ever started.
For the record I want to share the numbers shared with them and add my own at the end.

71% percent of Arkansans surveyed by the University of Arkansas in 2009 go to farmers markets to support local produce or economies.
243 new jobs could be created with a 10% movement towards local foods according to one Ohio State study creating and additional 344k in tax collections.
13% was the growth of farmers markets last year according to the USDA.
151 was the member count of Keep Jacksonville Arkansas Grown’s FB fan page (its 219 as of this post)
MILLIONS are spent by the USDA to promote “Know Your Farmer Know Your Food” programs and in grants for high tunnel production to extend seasons.
40 is the number of State legislators who think state law should require that if you call it a Farmers Market it should be for farmers only.
3 were the number of folks who spoke to Keep Jacksonville Arkansas Grown and 2 out of 3 was the number of city employees who spoke in support of allowing imported produce.

Lastly, $500 is the amount of money I plan on giving any realistic challenger who runs against these folks in the next election.
Ignoring data and not following good processes yields predictable results and should not be tolerated in people charged with spending tax dollars.
Now as “Odd Ball” would say in “Kelly’s Heroes” “enough with the negative wave’s man”.

OK back to getting my hands dirty! Farming that is.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Jacksonville Farmers Market Opportunities

INSHORT: Please concact Jacksonville City Council Members and ask that the Jacksonville Farmers Market be easy for farmers to use and that it keeps its Arkansas Only ordinance.

That’s how I feel composing this post. Peculiar because I find myself advocating that the new Farmers Market in my home town of Jacksonville be easy for farmers to use. Why I would have to do that just seems peculiar to me, I would hope that when the city of Jacksonville decided to build a Farmers Market their goal would be to build a place that is conducive for famers and the local citizens to use. This would provide a venue that would help distribute fresh market produce, something that Jacksonville could really use. This would seem to demonstrate a proactive approach to the cities health and well being.
One would hope anyway, well it seems that the city is hedging their bet to the determent of the very market the city is building. After several emails and phone calls to the administrative folks detailing the issues that I see with the new market, it seems they have fallen on deaf ears. Here is the content of the email I sent after I talked to the city engineer about the proposed work flow they envisioned for the market:

From: Kelly Carney []
Sent: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 2:48 PM
To: 'Jim Durham, Director of Administration'
Cc: 'Jay Whisker, City Engineer'; 'Gary Fletcher, Mayor'; 'Jody Hardin'
Subject: RE: Jacksonville Farmers Market

Thanks for putting me in contact with Jay. He was able to verity the proposed process for Farmers to use when setting up at the Jacksonville Farmers Market.
While I would not begin to understand the procurement process for local municipalities with regards to construction projects, I can advise you that building a market that is easy for Farmers to setup and use should warrant consideration of a design review. In my opinion there is 1 critical and 1 major design flaw with the proposed market.
The one CRITICAL flaw that could keep farmers from this market is the requirement that the sales booth is separated from the farmer’s climate controlled storage facility (van or truck). This creates burdens on the farmer to either attempt to unload his produce in the booth area or have to leave their booth to replenish their tables. Either of these options is not ideal. Farmers who use refrigerated vans or trucks would not risk the potential spoilage by unloading and would have to make many trips to their vehicles there by leaving their sales area unattended. The setup time for coordinating several farmers loading/unloading could create bottlenecks as the market grew in popularity. I am no designer but the resolution of this may be as simple as removing the walls from the current design so farmers could back their vehicles up to the sides and setup their booths accordingly.

The one MAJOR flaw that could keep larger farmers away is that there is not room for larger refrigerated trucks to unload with a 10ft roof. I am not talking about 18 wheelers, but the smaller (9-10ft tall types used by many farmers and local merchants). This flaw could be mitigated if the unload requirement was not in place because the larger trucks could just back to the edge of the roof and work from there.

I have visited only 2 covered farmers markets. Memphis and Little Rock’s markets support farmers utilizing their vehicles for storage as part of their booth.

End of email

The cities solution to this was to say (in the Arkansas Democrat attached article) that the farmers could setup in the parking lot of the market. As a taxpayer in Jacksonville, I find this to be absurd. Hey here’s an idea, lets build a farmers market pavilion and ask the farmers to setup in the parking lot of it.

Now for the Ironic part of this post. The city in what seems to be its desire to sell produce at the market at any cost, is considering removing the current ordinance that requires farmers to only sell Arkansas grown or produced products. The mayor in the attached Leader and Arkansas Democrat Gazette article seems to claim that you can’t have variety and locally grown food at the same time. Well I don’t know if the mayor has been to a farmers market recently, but I guarantee that a successful Arkansas Farmers Only market has more variety that any Wal-Mart Supercenter or Kroger has. At the Argenta Farmers market in NLR, you can find dozens of varieties of tomatoes, green beans, squash, greens, melons and more. The fact is local farmers grow not just the plain vanilla easy to sell produce staples, but much much more. Does the local grocery store have shitake mushrooms or fresh basil or cilantro? Not the last time I checked. When you drill down on the data, you find that it’s the farmers markets that have the variety, not peddlers selling out of state products. Additionally it’s an educational platform that can be used for local schools to teach where food comes from, why certain foods are abundant during certain times of the years and the importance of farmers in the local economy. Why do I have to advocate locally grown to a city who has invested in consultants who tell them of the revenue bleed that happens within its city limits? Do they think that produce peddlers selling out of state produce keep their money local? The oldest manufacturing job that exists is that of a farmer. The money I spend growing my crops is re-circulated many times in Jacksonville. Sam Proffit who helps part time at my farm, pays rent in Jacksonville and buys from local merchants. I am no economist, but it seems pretty simple to me that the more money that is re-circulated in a small town the better the economy for that town becomes. Hello Jacksonville? Are you getting any of this?
The entire country is in the midst of a local foods title wave and we have the opportunity to embrace this. Let’s not miss this opportunity!
Jacksonville should have a farmers market that is easy to use and fair to the farmers. If they do this, while it probably won’t happen overnight, farmers will show up to sell, more new farmers will want to be a part of it and the variety that will be found there will be second to none.

Kristin Griggs who is in charge of the market has asked for feedback about the new market. If you share my perspective on this, please call or email her at 501-982-4171 or . As of last Friday she said she received 3 emails about this new market, please help in adding a few digits to that number.

Check out these links for more farmers market information:
Wikipedia - Check out the picture of the Durham NC Market -:'_market

USDA Farmers Market Fact Sheet:

USDA Farmers Market Website:

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Conferences, Tomatoes and Farm Heroes

This last week has been one of the coolest ever. I attended my first farm conference, the Missouri Organic Association annual meeting in Columbia. The MOA is an association of farmers, chefs, gardeners, health professionals and consumers who advocate organic food. I met many experienced organic farmers and look forward to getting to know all of them better. There were workshops on Organic advocacy, high tunnel production, pest and soil management as well as marketing using social networks. I picked up some Amish made organic tea that I am going to dilute and feed my seedlings with. They had planned to hold a “silent” auction for a fund raiser when one of the Amish members volunteered to actually call the auction. The Amish are well known for their farming skills and their produce auctions. When the auctioneer pulled out a 2.5 gallon of Hummus Tea, I could not help but bid on it. One can’t help but wonder how many pounds of tomatoes this fine gentleman has sold. The
MOA members are clearly part of the “early adopters” in organic farming and were happy to share their insights with this rookie.
I would be remiss if I did not offer my thanks to Jody Hardin for inviting me to join him at this conference.

This leads me to the Farm Heroes section of this post. The MOA members referred to many of their members as “farm heroes” for their contribution in helping fellow farmers. Making it to my second year as a farmer would not have been possible with out the help of one of my farm heroes. Jody Hardin with the Certified Arkansas Farmers Market has committed his life advocating for the small farmer. He was a speaker at the MOA conference, is obviously very well respected by his peers and his vision for Arkansas small farmers helped created the states premier farmers market in Argenta. Jody Harding has probably forgotten more about farming than I ever hope to learn.
The Jacksonville Military Museum hosts a War Stories Lecture Series and recently featured Lt. Col. Keith Moore with the Arkansas Army National Guard. Lt. Col. Moore is leading the Arkansas Agricultural Deployment Team to Afghanistan.
He detailed their plans to help rebuild local agriculture in a country that has lost much of its knowledge base to over 30 years of war. I have to admit that I was very skeptical so I planned on attending this event to learn more details. History has not been kind to foreign armies in that country. Lt. Col Moore was the first to say that we are not going to teach farmers who have been farming since the beginning of time how to farm. Their plans are to help rebuild irrigation infrastructure, assist with building markets and do what it takes to rebuild local agriculture as a means for economic development. Lt. Col Moore and his team of volunteer guardsmen many of whom are farmers are doing this under the most challenging conditions imaginable with little to no resources. This will keep our local agricultural challenges in perspective.

Finally I am proud to announce that our seed germination is in full swing. Our spring tomato crop has been transplanted from their germination flats to 2x2’s, and our spring spinach has been transplanted into the ground in Wilma. We have started our cucumber, pepper, lettuce and melon seeds and look forward to filling our ebb/flow growing tables with these youngsters. I have some very nice Amish tea I am sure they are gonna love.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

What Wonderful Winter Weather

So with snow, sleet and ice covering Fred & Wilma (our greenhouses), I could not help but think what a great time to start our Tomato seeds.
We started Wilma’s spinach seeds last week and they have already started to sprout.
Seed starting is one of my favorite parts about farming. I get my hands dirty and in 3 or 4 months from these tiny little seeds I will deliver my popular grape tomatoes. Last year at this time we were focused on our construction goals and missed the chance for an early crop, this year we hope will be different.

We have finalized our 2010 retail crop plan and it can be found under our “Produce” tab. Our popular heirloom tomatoes are back and we hope to have some Grape tomatoes ready sometime in May. This year we are introducing three different melon varieties, an heirloom green bean and are trying our hand with some lettuce and spinach. February will be spent germinating and transplanting our spring crops seedlings into 2x2’s for later transplanting in March & April. Currently Fred’s winter cover crop or rye grass is coming in strong and I expect much better soil fertility in the spring. Shutting our production down this winter was not an easy decision but one that I am confident will pay off. Soil fertility is the most critical element in growing healthy plants, taking the time to build our soil over the winter will increase the likely hood of that outcome. Our farms first and foremost method for insect and disease management is a healthy plant.

I have been waking at 5 am almost daily for the last year without the assistance of an alarm, this last week it’s been 4:45, I just can’t seem to get my hands dirty enough.