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Spring Harvest 2018 | arkansasfoodandfarm.com

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CHANGE IS HOME-GROWN

Heifer USA works with small-scale farmers and farmer-owned cooperatives in Arkansas to revolutionize the way people produce, sell and eat their food. With increased access to technical support and reliable markets, these farmers are using sustainably produced, local food to provide for their families and ignite change. Come see for yourself at Heifer Ranch in Perryville!

L E A R N M O R E AT W W W. H E I F E R . O R G / R A N C H O R 8 5 5 . 3 4 3 . 4 3 3 7


Spring Harvest 2018

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RAISING BACKYARD CHICKENS The care and keeping (and regulating) of chickens

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THE LOCALS Faulkner County nonprofit takes on food insecurity and community innovation

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PARIS’ HIDDEN TREASURE An organic farm and brewery

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A NEW TAKE ON AN OLD STAPLE Fresh hummus in multiple flavors made weekly

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AN UNCOMMON HERD Marshall farm takes a unique slant on what to raise for beef

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RAISIN' CATTLE The ins and outs of starting a beef herd

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EVERY DISH TELLS A STORY Oven & Tap in Bentonville

ON T H E COV E R :

Ratchford Farms’ buffalo herd wins a staring contest. Photography by Matthew Martin.

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TREE HUGGER

Alan Leveritt sits beneath a huge white oak that is among the largest and oldest in the state.

Alan Leveritt President, Arkansas Food & Farm Arkansas Times Limited Partnership

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PHOTOGRAPHY BY ETHAN LEVERITT

I

live amongst extraordinary trees that surround the 1850s-era log house where I live and farm part time. It was my great grandfather’s old home place and when Mara and I reclaimed the place 35 years ago, we had to take it down to three walls and start back. It was surrounded by a dozen mammoth white oaks that watched over the house like silent giants. They gave me a sense of what the land had looked like when the house was first built. I could barely imagine a forest of such trees. Beneath our cabin and lean-to kitchen, I found two huge stumps, no doubt the building material for my home. Six of those big oaks have died since then, three struck by lightning, one killed accidentally when I dug a basement and two hollowed out by old age. When Mr. Mason built our house in 1859, he planted three cedar trees about 12 feet apart on the north side of the house as a way to break the winter winds that still come over the bluff there. Now they soar far above the house, but last year, one of those fell victim to lightning as well. An old, abandoned road, now a mere path, runs in front of our house, down the hill and across a shallow ford on Bayou Meto. A whole community of people lived back in there in the 1920s but today it is mostly wilderness and a hunting preserve. A giant white oak still stands next to that path just 30 yards from my front door. Two people can stand on either side and embrace it without their fingers touching. A timber man once remarked it was bigger than the Council Oak near Dardanelle, a 400- to 500-yearold tree where it is said Robert Crittenden first tried to swindle the Cherokees out of their lands. Two years ago this spring, lightning struck that tree as well, but the tree was bigger than lightning. I first noticed the damage when the leaves on a high limb the size of an ordinary tree wilted. The limb was split open and a scar ran all the way down the trunk into the ground. A tree dies when the bark is split apart all the way down but here the tree had somehow absorbed much of the lightning’s power and the bark never fully separated. We cut out the limb, the scar is still vivid and the tree is healthy. Live long enough in one place and the trees will start to remind you of your age. A bald cypress seedling I planted just west of my kitchen garden is now 60 feet tall and shades the garden in the afternoon. Cypress knees poke through the raised beds a hundred feet away from the trunk. When my father died a few years ago, we fertilized that tree with his ashes. He and I talked about it before he died and he thought that was “just fine.” Hopefully that cypress will get a lot bigger before my time comes but I fully intend to follow him.


Family Proud

Read the four-generation history of the Thrash family’s Arkansas River Valley farm in this issue. To learn about the soybean growers who serve the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board, visit TheMiracleBean.com.


IN LIKE A LION

I

t’s always a surprise to me when spring arrives in full—especially when it brings heat like we’ve been experiencing this year. It doesn’t seem possible, but my favorite farmer, who also happens to be my brother, has already started cutting hay, and the spring cattle work is more or less finished. The hard work I see happening this time of year is reflected in this issue. If you like beer, and who doesn’t, I’m excited to introduce Prestonrose Farm & Brewery in Paris. We also meet a soybean farmer from Houston, the owners of Oven & Tap in Bentonville, LC Ratchford of Ratchford Buffalo Farms in Marshall, and the man behind Geek Eats hummus in Little Rock. Finally, if you’re interested in getting started with beef cattle or backyard chickens, we’ve got primers on both. I hope this issue inspires you to visit local producers, tinker in the garden and become more intimately familiar with what you eat and where it comes from.

Lacey Thacker Editor lacey@arktimes.com

P.S. We are looking to grow! Send us your story ideas and your thoughts on

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Arkansas Food & Farm. Next up is the Summer Harvest, coming this July. We look forward to hearing from you.

ARKANSASFOODANDFARM.COM | SPRING HARVEST 2018


www.uaex.edu/arkansas-produce-safety www.uaex.edu/arkan du/ du/arkan sas-produce-safety The Cooperative Extension Service has resources to help growers understand and comply with the new Food Safety Modernization Act regulations. Visit our website and complete a survey to find out how new regulations affect your farm.

DIVISION OF AGRICULTURE RESEARCH & EXTENSION University of Arkansas System

For more information:

Dr. Amanda Philyaw Perez, Produce Safety Educator aperez@uaex.edu or 501.671.2228

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action institution. If you require a reasonable accommodation to participate or need materials in another format, please contact your (insert appropriate office) as soon as possible. Dial 711 for Arkansas Relay.

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From barnyards to backyards CHICKENS TAKE OVER Photos and story by Deborah Horn

This hen is one of about 48 laying hens that Star City High School poultry science students are raising. The project enhances their classroom education and doubles as community outreach. Each Tuesday, the kids donate about 200 eggs to Lend A Hand Food Pantry in Star City.

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s Nathan Reed expertly slid his hand under the plumage of a large Rhode Island Red, the chicken clucked a few times in protest. Nothing more. Standing in a chicken coop built by Star City High School students, the senior explained that sitting hens can be “a little cranky and some are protective of their eggs.” If upset, the chicken might peck at the approaching hand or arm. Nonetheless, he said, “You learn to do it.” He recommended approaching the bird calmly, and he seemed to possess the magic touch as he continued down the row of laying boxes designed to accommodate egg production. AGRICULTURE EDUCATION Reed and more than a dozen students also built the enclosed chicken run and were raising nearly 50 Barred Rocks, Rhode Island Reds and Red Sex chickens as part of their Poultry Science class. The multi-year course is hands-on, running seven days a week, according to Leanna Britton, Poultry Science and Agriculture Education teacher. Next year’s juniors and seniors will take over the poultry project. “It’s more than just a grade,” Britton said, explaining that each week, the students donate about 16 dozen eggs to the Lend A Hand Food Pantry. Sarah Taylor, 12th grade, said, “We know we’re doing something good.” While Britton’s students are preparing for real-world jobs in the poultry industry or for college, she said anyone with extra yard space can raise chickens. However, Britton added, “Chickens require daily care.” Every day, the yard and pen need to be cleaned and the chickens fed, as well as the eggs need to be gathered, cleaned and stored. A chicken farmer can’t just take off for the weekend or a longer vacation. Just like dogs and cats, “They need care,” she said.

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Lonoke County’s Barnhill Orchards’ chickens have plenty of space for their birds to run. Carlotta Barnhill oversees the farm’s egg production.

CHECK CITY ORDINANCES Star City has only one regulation concerning chickens within its borders. “The coop must be kept clean,” said city Treasurer Alicia Hawkins. Additionally, loud chickens, especially roosters, would fall under a noise ordinance violation, Hawkins explained. In Little Rock, roosters aren’t allowed under the noise ordinance, and, said Tracy Roark, Little Rock Animal Services manager, “Guineas could also be a problem because they tend to be noisy.” Currently, the city is working on tightening its chicken ownership regulations, including limiting the number of chickens and ducks a homeowner can have on their property to 12. The department has other requirements, too. “The chickens need housing and space, and we do inspect for cleanliness,” Roark said. Each bird needs at least 3 square feet of space, ducks require access to water, and the coop and chicken pen or run must be in the backyard at least 25 feet 12

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from the nearest neighbors’ property line and 5 feet from the owner’s home. The coop and pen needs to be secure, offering the birds protection from four-legged or overhead predators, but it also keeps them from running around the neighborhood causing problems. The amended regulations are based on the department’s experiences and best practices. Roark suggested calling his department for specifics before getting started, as well talking with the city’s zoning department concerning any construction permit requirements. Although Little Rock doesn’t require a permit if a resident wants to raise backyard birds, the city of North Little Rock does. “It’s $10 annually,” said Animal Control Director David Miles. In addition, an animal control officer will inspect the chickens’ living conditions before the permit is issued. The city also requires that a coop and yard be at least 75 feet from the nearest neighbor. The birds aren’t allowed to run free, and the coop must be cleaned every 48 hours.


We know we are doing something good.

Sarah Taylor, 12th grade, said about their service project, “We know we’re doing something good.” Chickens need a secure coop, including one laying box per every two or three hens.

The city’s ordinance covering chickens doesn’t have an individual bird space requirement but states the resident must provide the birds with “adequate space,” Miles said. Both Miles and Roark agree that because each city’s regulations vary, it’s best to check before committing time and money. BEFORE BUYING Prior to deciding on specific plans or designing a coop, Roark said to determine where on the property it can be built. Britton said, “The plans (for the Star City High School chicken coop and pen) were designed by the students.” The coop is 4 by 16 feet and includes one box per chicken, and the covered pen is 16 by 48 feet. The entire project cost about $2,500, and it took the students about three weeks to research, design and draw the plans to scale.

CARING FOR POULTRY “Clean water and the proper nutrients are crucial to good and safe egg production,” said Erin Payne, a livestock technical assistant with Heifer USA. She was leading a class at November’s Arkansas Urban Homesteading Conference held in North Little Rock. According to Payne, individual needs determine the best breed selection, as some breeds of chickens are best for egg production while others are best for meat production.

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PH OTOGR A PH Y COU R T E S Y T H E LOC A L S

Sandra Leyva, executive director of The Locals, pauses on a walk through Strack Farm during a farm tour.

The Locals

COMBATING FOOD INSECURITY AND HELPING FAULKNER COUNTY INNOVATE By Sandra Leyva

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At least once a year, The Locals invites visitors on a tour around farms in Faulkner County in order to connect consumers with the people who produce their food. Here, visitors are treated to an explanation about the perennial flower and herb bed surrounding the Faulkner County Urban Farm sign.

T

he Locals is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting and promoting local projects and events, as well as small local producers, including farmers, artists, musicians, techies and all types of creative people. Since it was founded in 2011, The Locals has had a strong involvement with the local food scene in Conway and has been involved in numerous projects to grow and strengthen the local food system in the region. The organization is dedicated to increasing the access and availability of local food in the community, and it achieves this in a variety of ways. The Locals has a history of supporting local farmers and food producers by facilitating activities that increase the community’s access to and awareness of local food. From farm tours and farm-to-table dinners, to pop-up marketplaces and food aggregation, the organization has developed multiple strategies to increase the visibility and consumer demand for local food. This year, The Locals began spearheading the Library and Garden District Initiative, an effort to establish a food innovation district in the neighborhood surrounding the Faulkner County Library. A food

innovation district is a geographic concentration of food-oriented businesses, services, and community activities that promote a positive environment for local healthy food entrepreneurs, spur regional food system development, and increase access to local healthy food. Through a series of community meetings, the organization has begun to identify community needs and assets, create working groups and establish the boundaries of the proposed district. While this project is in its beginning stages, there has been a great response from the community. Among the ideas that have stood out during our meetings are: establishing a commercial kitchen that can be reserved by members of the community to make value-added products, establishing community gardens with individually managed plots and a tool library. Meetings take place the last Thursday of every month at the Faulkner County Library and everybody is welcome. For the third consecutive year, The Locals is partnering with New South Produce Cooperative to receive and distribute community support agriculture (CSA) shares to customers in Conway. Through a USDA Local Food Promotion Program grant, The Locals

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OVER THE COURSE OF FOUR DAYS, THEY RECOVERED MORE THAN 450 POUNDS OF FRESH FRUITS AND VEGETABLES THAT WERE REROUTED TO FILL BELLIES INSTEAD OF THE LANDFILL.

In 2016, The Locals were awarded a Food Promotion Program grant that enabled them to outfit a small trailer with refrigeration features, allowing The Locals to function as a food hub. The hub is located at Bell Urban Farm in Conway.

established a small food hub (refrigerated storage unit) to aggregate and distribute local food, which now includes fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese and even flowers. The food hub is located in Bell Urban Farm, where New South customers pick up a weekly or bi-weekly box with seasonal fruits and vegetables for the spring, summer and fall seasons. The CSA season starts in May, and using the code “BellUrbanFriends” customers can get $5 off their subscription. To sign up, visit newsouthcoop.com. The Locals recently piloted a food recovery program partnering with Harps Grocery Store. Over the course of four days, they recovered more than 450 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables that were rerouted to fill bellies instead of the landfill. The organization hopes to establish this as a permanent program partnering with local schools and food pantries to distribute fresh healthy food to those in need. They are looking for volunteers to help pick up and drop off the food on Tuesdays and Fridays at 7:30 a.m. Until the beginning of 2018, The Locals ran the Faulkner County Urban Farm Project, the educational garden located behind the Faulkner County Library. Originally conceived in 2010 as a gardening 16

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competition, The Locals soon adopted the project in 2011 in order to help it thrive and grow as a community effort. The garden’s mission was to teach people how to sustainably grow healthy food and relieve food insecurity by donating produce to volunteers and a local food pantry. From 2014 to 2017, The Locals successfully applied to become part of the Arkansas GardenCorps program and obtain full- and part-time service members to maintain and develop the garden and its programs. Thanks to this program, the Urban Farm Project was able to start a weekly children’s garden club, an annual seed swap event, a book club, a garden sketch hour and many more educational activities. The garden slowly started becoming an important part of the library’s educational resources, and beginning in 2018 the county approved funds to hire its first full-time library staff member to run the garden. With that, the Urban Farm Project transitioned to become an official part of the Faulkner County Library. The Locals continues to support this program through the Friends of the Garden subcommittee. For more information on the many ongoing projects of The Locals, visit thelocals.be.


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SPRING HARVEST 2018 | ARKANSASFOODANDFARM.COM

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PRESTONROSE FARM AND BREWERY BY LACEY THACKER

Families and adults-only crowds utilize the outdoor seating area near the garden, hoping the rain holds off just a bit longer.

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Strangers quickly become friends after deciding to sit inside at the family-style table.

P

restonrose Farm and Brewery—or, as it’s called by those who know it, “The beer farm”—is easy enough to find. Take the Pottsville bypass off Interstate 40 coming from Little Rock and travel through Dardanelle before turning right onto Highway 22. After 25 miles or so, turn left on Saint Louis Valley Road. A few feet down, a sign directs visitors up the gravel drive. It quickly becomes apparent that it’s someone’s personal property on which you’ll be parking. Once parked, follow the path toward the garden. From there, visitors find a small building where, if there’s room, they can sit in the heated and cooled space at family-style seating. Or, if the weather is pleasant—or the inside is full—there is a yard full of tables and chairs. Regulars are even known to stand around in the rain if it’s only a drizzle. ART + SCIENCE = BEER Liz and Mike Preston moved to Arkansas from California in 2013, after a one-year stint in New York, which Liz says simply, “Wasn’t our bag.” Liz, a microbial ecologist, formerly ran a research lab before doing environmental compliance testing. Preston, who works for Entergy, was able to transfer to Arkansas after the couple decided it would be perfect for their planned lifestyle. “We knew we wanted an organic farm, knew a brewery and possibly a restaurant were on the horizon, so we picked somewhere to work that would serve both work and future plans,” Liz explained. Liz, whose brain, she says, is split pretty evenly between art and science, says, “Brewing is more or less designed for my personality type—it’s equal parts art and science.” The results of her passion? Microbrews to rival any larger brewery in the state. AN ORGANIC PLAN The farm is located on ten acres certified organic with the United States Department of Agriculture, and it features two greenhouses and multiple garden spots. Liz, who has “had a garden every year of my life I can remember,” has used organic practices for years. When the couple was ready to certify organic with the USDA, Liz says it was pretty easy, given her lifelong experience. While not all food served from the restaurant comes from the farm, what isn’t grown there is sourced locally. On the cold case inside the restaurant is a list of places from which Prestonrose gets their cheese, bread, meats and other as-needed ingredients. Natasha Reavis, a farmer whose jam and honey are sold at the beer farm, says, “Everything you see here, everyone, is because of Liz. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her.” While bread, cheese and other prepared snacks can be purchased on Thursdays and Fridays, it’s Saturdays and Sundays that guests can select a full meal from a rotating menu.

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Over the course of a year, everything from chicken wings and a cheese and pickle plate to a vegetarian faux chicken salad sandwich and peas and cornbread with herbed butter can be found on the menu. THE FUTURE On the day of this writer’s visit, the perfect weather and release of the CollabHERation saison mean a full house—and full yard. When Mike swings open the door to the indoor seating area open to collect another order, his purposeful stride leads a regular to ask how he’s dealing with the crowd. His response? “I’m having a blast.” This year, the Prestons plan to expand their brewing system to supply more of the state with their microbrews. Liz is also looking for steady kitchen help to hopefully allow them to serve meals more than two

Chicken wings with house-made sauce and pickled carrots. Above: A cheese and pickle plate, selected from the rotating menu, also includes sourdough bread from Fox & Fork in Clarksville.

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Blue Centennial, a regular on the rotating beer menu, is pulled from the tap.

BREWING: IT’S EQUAL PARTS ART AND SCIENCE.

days a week. From there, Prestonrose will work on developing the other half of their property to offer AirBnB stays, full-service weddings—including custom microbrews— and classes on cheese making, home brewing, canning and pickling. “We really want to build a place in our local community that not only serves our immediate surroundings but offers a oneof-a-kind experience where agriculture, education, recreation and environmental stewardship converge and form a space for people to come and be their best, most fulfilled selves and members of their professions, communities and families,” Liz finishes.

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PH OTOGR A PH Y BY DEBO R A H H O R N

Geek Eats' flavors go beyond the ordinary. From carrot curry to chipotle, there is a hummus to suit every preference.

A NEW TAKE ON AN OLD STAPLE

GEEK EATS’ POPULARITY SPREADS BEYOND THE GAME ROOM

A

By Deborah Horn

nn West sampled several flavor offerings, including the Carrot Curry, at Geek Eats’ booth, but after a moment of thoughtful consideration, she purchased her favorite, the Black Bean Hummus. “There’s no hurry,” the Little Rock resident says of her leisurely taste test. After all, it was Bernice Gardens Farmers Market’s first day of the 2018 season, and West has all summer to try Geek Eats’ various flavors. Jeremy Rhodes, the North Little Rock company’s proprietor, says, “We now offer 15 flavors.” His most in-demand, which he calls his weekly staples, are Original, Carrot Curry, Chipotle and Fresh Rosemary & Black Bean. His rotating lineup includes choices like Spicy Curry, Caramelized Onion and Lemon Zest Cilantro. In addition to hummus, his repertoire also includes Maple Pecan Granola and a Cilantro Pesto. CHANNELING HIS INNER GEEK Rhodes, who grew up in Little Rock, is an unashamed fan of non-electronic board games, and he says he loves “the strategy and mental challenge” these require. While living in Missoula, Montana, he perfected the inexpensive but tasty hummus to serve at gaming get-togethers. Not content with one flavor, he tinkered with his recipes and created new ones, and soon gaming friends were demanding his hummus. In 2010, he returned to the Rock with a soon-to-be-wife, Bernadette, and quickly joined the Central Arkansas Geek Club. Again, his hummus found favor, and his friend, Stephanos Mylonas of Mylo Coffee Co., convinced Rhodes he had a commercial hit. So one Sunday in 2013, Rhodes nervously set up a Geek Eats table at Bernice Gardens and by summer’s end, he says, “Dozens of regular customers were happily lining up” for Geek Eats. 24

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“WE GO THROUGH ABOUT 90 HEADS OF CILANTRO FOR THE PESTO.” MORE THAN A GEEK THING West says about Geek Eats, “I love it. I’m a fan…And it’s a healthy snack that’s good with carrots or just about any veggie.” Rhodes says his repeat customers often share their recipes with him, like one who uses his Yemen Lemon Hummus on grilled chicken. “The pesto is versatile. It’s great on grilled fish or used as a spread on flatbreads,” Rhodes adds. Rhonda Patton of Roland recommends serving the Carrot Curry Hummus with crackers and goat cheese, while the black bean pairs nicely with thin apple slices. “It’s definitely a party pleaser,” says Patton, who is famous for her annual Halloween parties. Rhodes says, “At home, we’ve given up condiments. The Sriracha Hummus—be warned, it bites—is perfect on a sandwich.” He suggests trying it on ham and cheese.

GEEK ON THE RUN With the openings of farmers markets across Central Arkansas, Rhodes’ product production increased fivefold. “I will be slammed until October,” he says. In order to keep his product fresh, he and a parttime employee, Caroline Scott, hand-prepare about 250 pounds of hummus in a commercial kitchen each week. During that same period, he says, “We go through about 90 heads of cilantro for the pesto.” The rest of Rhodes’ week is spent delivering product or working at various local markets, such as the ones at Hillcrest and Westover. Geek Eats is available at St. Joseph Center’s Saturday farmers’ market in North Little Rock, and it can be purchased year-round at The Green Corner Store and Stratton’s Market, both in downtown Little Rock. It’s also served at Stone’s Throw Brewing.

Feast for the eyes, and the fork.

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A group of buffalo cows heads down the hill at the sound of feed being poured. 26

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RATCHFORD BUFFALO FARMS By Lacey Thacker Photography by Matthew Martin

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"I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.” —lC ratchford

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Despite their intimidating size, up close the animals appear docile, though LC sternly warns visitors against sneaking over the fence. LC Ratchford hand feeds a male buffalo, keeping the welded pipe fencing between them for safety.

R

atchford Buffalo Farms is, in fact, Arkansas’ very own—and only—buffalo farm, but it’s so much more than that. It’s the lifelong dream of LC Ratchford made reality. The 500-acre property is nestled in a valley in the hills near Marshall, where the Ratchford family has lived for several generations, and where LC’s parents once ran one of the largest strawberry farms in the state. The youngest of six kids, LC credits his success to the help of family, particularly his mother, Granny Madge. Several of his siblings help him run the farm, providing bookkeeping help, keeping up the rental cabin and doing farm work. LC’s farming plans began early. He says he saw some buffalo on a PBS special when he was a child, and he promised himself he would someday raise them. And he kept his promise—but it took awhile. First, LC had to grow up. Once grown, he knew starting a farm— and starting it right—would take financing. Ever the advance planner, he decided to take a career path that would help him be successful later—welding. LC did contract welding work for twenty years before returning permanently to Marshall. When he did return, he began building infrastructure to support his operation. When asked how much money he saved himself by not having to hire a welder, his

eyes go wide before he answers, “Well. A lot.” Judging by the hundreds of feet of welded pipe fencing on the property, that’s an understatement. But, having been the recipient of more than one phone call from people who got in over their heads with exotic animals, LC feels strongly that people need to be prepared for the animal they intend to raise. Regarding his own heavyduty fencing, he explains that, “Regular cattle fencing won’t hold in buffalo. You need something taller, sturdier.” Taller than your average cow, the animals are deeply intimidating as they approach visitors in a steady trot, eager for the food LC pours into buckets for visitors to offer the creatures. But once the buffalo stop and begin licking the pellets from outstretched hands, they are also the bringers of sheer joy. After all, it’s not every day that one gets to feed a beast this size, let alone one straight out of American legends. The meat from buffalo is leaner, yet also more flavorful, than regular beef, LC says. Every week, he or a farm hand drives a route through the state, delivering not just buffalo, but their almost-famous snack sticks in buffalo, boar, venison and elk varieties. The snack sticks can be found in many locations across Arkansas, not the least of which is the Arkansas state parks.

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Founded just one year ago in 2017, Robertson Smokehouse, nestled in the quiet town of Warren, Arkansas, has already made a name for itself– and it’s not hard to see how. Visitors from all over the state travel to this BBQ destination to try their smoked meats and made-from-scratch sides. “Arkansas Capital looked past the statistics and believed in our vision,” says owner Cody Robertson. “We are grateful they gave us the opportunity to follow our dreams.” 800.216.7237 5 0 1 . 3 74 . 9 2 4 7

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NOT JUST BUFFALO The farm doesn’t just have buffalo—though it has plenty of those. Farther down the dirt road, past the buffalo, is the Ratchford black angus beef herd. The large breed of cattle has, according to family legend, been in the family for over 100 years. LC says an ancestor of his from Georgia served in the Civil War before coming to Arkansas. “The story I got was that he actually got out [of the state] with a herd of cattle and drove ’em into this area. We’ve had the descendants of the same cattle [ever since]. I like to think they’re superior. We’ve got a very docile herd; that’s what we breed for.” The valley in which the herd lives is fed by eleven springs, ensuring the cattle receive fresh, pure water at all times. RIGHT AT HOME LC’s home—with a second-story addition he built himself—is right at the edge the farm, and in his yard can be found fruit trees, berry bushes and volunteer tomatoes. Every year finds him adding to his permaculture hobby, his belief that land ownership really means land stewardship. In addition to the farm’s herds, LC has a heart for rescuing neglected or injured animals. He’s used some of his property to develop a refuge that now includes a deer, peacocks, a goat and other animals. His deep commitment to the farm and the community surrounding it can be evidenced by his simple statement: “I love it. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”


BY LACEY THACKER PHOTOGRAPHY BY KATIE CHILDS

Ear tags, through color, placement and the number printed on them, give a lot of information, such as sex, birth order and even parentage. SPRING HARVEST 2018 | ARKANSASFOODANDFARM.COM

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A group of weaned calves awaits feed.

W

hen the weather warms and folks start grilling, beef is king. And good beef comes from good cattle. And good cattle aren’t made—they’re raised. Deciding to start a beef herd isn’t something most people pick as a hobby. Instead, it’s often part of a larger plan to farm as a career or major side-hustle. That’s mostly due to the cost and labor associated with growing a herd. A single cow requires a minimum of one acre— and really, two to three acres per animal is more ideal. So, a small herd of 20 requires a minimum of 20 to 60 acres. The land must be prepared with infrastructure like fences, water access and feed areas. The costs of land and infrastructure vary across the state, but cross fencing (not border fencing) and water and feed access areas can sometimes be offset with a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Contact your county office for more information. Once land and infrastructure are prepared, it’s time to get some animals. Farmers may go one of several routes. Though it may seem counterintuitive, some choose to purchase older cows reaching the end of their useful life. Because of their age, the cows will come at a lower cost and still be able to produce one 32

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or more calves, which the farmer can raise as replacements. Another, somewhat more expensive option, is to purchase cows early on in their breeding years—possibly already pregnant or proven as a breeder with one or two successful calvings behind them. Once the farmer has a herd that’s ready to breed, there are several choices of operation available. One of those is the old standby—a cow/calf operation. In this case, the cow is bred, the calf is born, and once it’s weaned or a little older, it’s ready to sell at one of the sale barns located across the state. Some farmers don’t like to mess with impregnating a herd and seeing it through calving season, and for good reason. Ensuring that all cows are bred takes some effort, and monitoring the herd through calving to make sure every animal comes through is a more than full-time job. If that sounds like trouble you’re not looking for, consider buying weaned calves at a cattle auction. Your job will be to raise them to adulthood—and an adult weight—after which they ’ll become beef for sale at the market. In this model, raising cattle becomes only a part-time proposition, leaving several months a year free to vacation or pursue other work.


ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS GRASS-FED OR PASTURE RAISED? Grass-fed beef is a popular market at the moment, but it requires additional planning. Grass-fed cattle require more pasture and a solid plan for winter feeding. Will the farmer store hay? Purchase it? Once feed is poured, the calves slowly approach. Some folks take yet another position and raise cattle to adulthood before having it butchered and selling the beef themselves. This requires finding a market for the meat. Some farmers take a booth at a farmer’s market, some sell directly to restaurants and many do a combination of both. For those already farming, deciding to add beef cattle isn’t, perhaps, such a complicated matter. It’s merely another layer of their business, albeit one that requires significant consideration and planning. But, for those not already farming, it’s best to find a trusted colleague who can help walk through the plan—before the new farmer winds up with 30 animals they’re not prepared for.

ARTIFICIAL INSEMINATION, BULLS OR BOTH? The traditional method of inseminating cows requires access to a bull, but many farmers today are choosing artificial insemination to decrease their reliance on the sometimes unpredictable male. But even herds that are artificially inseminated often require access to a bull, as insemination schedules don’t always fall on each cow’s heat cycle. REMEMBER TO ROTATE Cattle can’t be kept in one section of pasture in perpetuity. Instead, they must be rotated to allow the grass to recover from their grazing.

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PH OTOGR A PH Y BY A R K A NSA S S TAT E FA I R S TA FF PH OTOGR A PH ER

Joe and Austin Thrash and dog, Trigger, pose in an as-yet unplanted field. Soon, it will be full of tall plants.

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A FAMILY AFFAIR

BY DWAIN HEBDA PHOTOGRAPHY BY KATIE CHILDS SPRING HARVEST 2018 | ARKANSASFOODANDFARM.COM

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PH OTOGR A PH Y COU R T E S Y T H E A R K A NSA S SOY BE A N PRO M OT I O N BOA R D

A field full of healthy soybean plants. Soybeans are used in many everyday items you might not normally consider—including seat cushions in vehicles.

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“Most of my office is behind the steering wheel.” —JOE THRASH

J

oe Thrash leans his arms on the kitchen table and takes a sip of coffee, his eyes gazing out a back wall of windows at the bare field in back of the house. The soybeans are behind this year due to all the springtime rain, and there’s more in the forecast. Thrash, a third-generation farmer, has been here before through decades of working the land, so he’s not overly concerned, but he’s not built for sitting still, either. He’d much rather be out in the field, out on a tractor, just out there. “I guess farming is more than just a way of life. It’s a passion,” he said. “Nobody ’s going to punch you in the side every morning and say you’ve got to get out of bed and go to work. You’ve got to be selfmotivated. You’ve got to like what you do. It’s up to you to get it done. You’re not punching a clock every morning with your ticket stub at the office.” Another sip, another glance at the naked Faulkner County dirt. He shakes his head. “Most of my office is behind a steering wheel,” he said. Thrash farms 1,200 acres of row crops out here on his familial land—the vast majority of it in soybeans—with the help of his second son, Austin. Soybeans and the carrying forth of the family business are about the only things father and son hold in common with Joe’s father and grandfather, so much have agricultural methods and technologies changed.

“We’ve picked up no-till, conservation tillage, we’re using GPS and soil mapping and yield mapping,” Thrash said. “Lots of technology is in farming that wasn’t back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. And we have new (soybean) varieties that are much better than we had back in those days. The average soybean crop was 30 bushels per acre; we’re easily averaging 45 and 50 these days.” Soybeans loom large in Arkansas’ economy. Occupying more than 3 .5 million acres, it’s the largest row crop in the state and makes Arkansas the 10th leading producer of soybeans in the nation and fourth in terms of soybean usage. Impressive rankings, considering the number of producers, nearly all of them independent, family operators have remained stagnant at best. “We’ve always grown soybeans here on the farm. It just fits our climate, fits our soil conditions. It’s a rugged crop I guess you could say,” Thrash said. “It can grow from all extremes on our farm from our sandiest ground to our heaviest buckshot ground. They ’re a crop we know well and know what it takes.” Arkansas’ soybean farmers harvested 175 million bushels last year, which amounted to a record 51 bushels per acre. About half of the state’s annual yield is exported, which demands a considerably broader market view by today ’s producer compared to previous generations. “Back in the day, you’d listen to the farm reports SPRING HARVEST 2018 | ARKANSASFOODANDFARM.COM

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The Thrash’s home looks out over one of their fields.

to see what the prices are doing. Now, I pull my phone out and I’m looking at it anytime I think about it,” Thrash said. “What are the markets doing right now? Are they up or are they down? What’s the trend? What’s happening in China? It’s a worldwide market.” One of the reasons for soybeans’ global demand is the versatility of the crop. An important source of protein around the world, the largest percentage of soybeans is used in animal feed, but billions also consume it every day as edamame, a component of baked goods, as tofu, soy milk or vegetable oil, among others. As well, countless soy-based industrial and consumer products are on the market from inks to cleaning supplies to carpet backing and adhesives. Soy often replaces petroleum products or other harmful chemicals in commercial applications, and more uses are being developed all the time. In fact, it’s likely most Americans can’t get through their day without encountering soybeans in some form. “These muffins over here, they ’ve got some soybean of some sort in them, whether it’s the cooking oil or something in the baking powder,” Thrash said. “My pickup truck I drive out there, the foam in the seat or part of the dash is made out of some part of the soybean. And the fuel we run in our tractors and pickups is, too. We run a 20 percent blend of biodiesel in all our equipment.” Innovation is spurred through investment by the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board (ASPD), 38 ARKANSASFOODANDFARM.COM | SPRING HARVEST 2018

of which Thrash has been a governor-appointed member for six years. The board’s mission is to improve sustainability of the crop, foster public education and promotion of soybeans. Funding for such efforts comes from the soybean checkoff, a federally mandated assessment that collects a percentage of soybeans sold. Thanks to an Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board investment of checkoff dollars, the University of Arkansas has made great strides in plant biology research. Thrash pointed out these advancements have not only upped yields but improved pest and disease resistance, which allow producers to grow a healthy food source in a healthier way. “With the genetically enhanced plants we have these days, we can keep from having to use 10 or 15 different chemicals throughout the season,” he said. “We may just use one or two through the season for our weed control and insects. Lots of years we won’t spray for insects at all; our plant is designed to resist those insects. We’re using a lot less (chemicals) than we did in the past.” Such improvements have become steadily more critical as the worldwide population continues to outstrip many countries’ ability to produce sufficient food. With less than two acres of agricultural land worldwide for each of the 7 billion people on planet Earth, matters of efficiency and productivity are universal priorities. “Everybody ’s got the ‘26.2’ sticker [from running a marathon], you know,” Thrash said, waving at a red


oval on the refrigerator. “Well, mine’s my ‘155’ sticker with a tractor on it. One farmer feeds 155 people.” It’s a responsibility that Thrash takes very seriously, gets him antsy to get a crop in the ground and what brings a note of pride to his voice talking about the life he loves in the up years and the down. Like all farmers, there were years that almost broke him; years the weather, the markets or Lady Luck turned their backs on him. Yet he returned, like the warm Arkansas sun after a wet spring, to begin the process anew as witnessed time and again by Renee Thrash, Joe’s wife of 31 years. “It taught me that Joe is not going to come out of this very easily, ever,” she said of the lean years. “You’re in it for the long haul, and you’ve got to figure out how to do it. A bad year, you know, it’s nothing you did that messed things up. It was just a really bad year.” Renee pauses, considering, before adding, “That probably made us a lot stronger, and it made me look at things differently. We stuck together and grew that way. You just make a decision of this is where we’re going to be, and you’re just going to keep at it and keep going.” His coffee gone, Thrash folds his hands and pairs a smile with a shrug. “A farmer is the eternal optimist, I guess. You know, next year’s going to be better than this year,” he said. “So, you take your lumps and you keep going on. But as far as way out in the future, you never know. You just have to be optimistic that it’s going to keep getting better.” “They ’re not making any more land. What we’ve got is what we’ve got. You’ve got to keep it and maintain it and improve it.”

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Oven & Tap in Bentonville dishes up farm-to-table fare that changes with the season. Pictured are their signature pork meatballs served with their own sourdough bread and garden fresh salad. They offer a variety of handcrafted beers and mixed drinks.

EVERY DISH TELLS A STORY

ONE NORTHWEST ARKANSAS RESTAURATEUR KEEPS IT SIMPLE BUT NEVER PLAIN BY DEBORAH HORN PHOTOGRAPHY BY NOVO STUDIO

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Buttermilk Fried Chicken from Across the Creek Farm near West Fork is nicely complemented by a side of house-made slaw.

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Luke Wetzel, Oven & Tap owner, named his eatery after its oversized oven brick oven and 20-tap lineup dedicated to craft beers and cocktails. It’s located at 215 S. Main Street near the downtown Bentonville square and within walking distance of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

U

nfussy but delicious, Oven & Tap has its own farm-to-table tale to tell. To a growing group of Arkansas foodies, the downtown Bentonville eatery is a culinary must-read. Luke Wetzel, owner, designed his restaurant with modern, clean lines, and he locally sourced hardwoods like oak and walnut to soften the edges. It’s bare bones but comfortable, and Wetzel says, “I wanted it to reflect the way we approach food.”

potatoes. “We start with new potatoes, boil them in a salt and white vinegar solution, then mash them up and call them delicious,” he says. They also plate up their signature Southern fried chicken year-round. The birds are from Across the Creek Farm near West Fork. Of course, Oven & Tap also offers plenty of handtossed pizza options that starts with a yeasty, handmade dough and Wetzel says, “It’s a great communal table item.” If in season, he recommends Sweden Creek Farm’s shiitake mushrooms on top.

MORE THAN A DISH Oven & Tap relies on local sourcing whenever possible, but instead of taking whatever he can get, Wetzel forms relationships with responsible Arkansas and Missouri growers. It allows him to offer a few dishes no matter the season. For instance, his partnership with the owners of the Bansley’s Berkshire Ridge Farm near Harrison allowed him to develop their flagship dish, pork meatballs, which he recommends to Oven & Tap first-timers. Instead of the traditional spaghetti dish, it’s paired with homemade sourdough bread. Wetzel captured a wild yeast strain and used it to cultivate a sourdough starter, and, he adds, “We still use the same starter.” The flour used to make the bread is ground at the War Eagle Mill. “It’s a true Arkansas dish,” Wetzel says. As are their brunch ricotta donuts tossed in cinnamon and served with Onyx coffee mixed with a custard sauce. “It’s a little play on coffee and donuts,” he says. Another item that’s earned a permanent spot on the menu is a twist on french fries—salt and vinegar

FOODIES CAN SAMPLE THE SEASON Their side dishes vary with the month, and the current harvest is reflected in Wetzel’s ever-changing menu. In April, there’s strawberry shortcake, and he says, “It’s a nod to our Southern influence.” May means blueberries from the Neal Family Farms near Rogers. “We go crazy on the blueberries,” and he suggests an order of their blueberry cornbread, when available. “We drop the berries on top and it makes a beautiful mosaic,” he says. During blackberry season, arugula is tossed with pecorino, blackberries and sunflower seeds. Later in the summer, the staff use vine-ripened Arkansas nectarines and bacon lardoons to create a colorful salad that’s topped with buttermilk dressing. Wetzel tells the story of a farmer who occasionally comes down from the Missouri hills and appears at his restaurant with “phenomenal” produce, including melons. “I’m not sure where he lives, and I have no way to contact him, but it’s a real win for us when SPRING HARVEST 2018 | ARKANSASFOODANDFARM.COM

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“EACH DISH HAS A CLEAR, CONCISE, DISTINCTIVE VOICE.”

At the Tap & Oven in Bentonville, April is all about the Arkansas strawberry. Chef Luke Wetzel says the berries are locally grown and delivered fresh. 44

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Chef Luke Wetzel created his own sourdough starter with wild yeast, and it and War Eagle Mill flour are used to make their house-made breads and pizza crust.

his produce is in the house,” he says. That farmer’s melons star in Wetzel’s Melon and Mint Salad.

HIS ARKANSAS ROOTS RUN DEEP At one time, Wetzel worked for Scott McGehee at the Boulevard Bread Co. in Little Rock, but he was so intrigued by his boss’ tales of the famed Alice Waters that he quit and headed out West. Wetzel trained at her Berkeley, California, restaurant, Chez Panisse, and embraced her food philosophy—rely on local, seasonal produce whenever possible. “Let the depth and the layers of the flavors, the colors and textures speak for themselves,” he waxes a bit poetically. For example, like vine-ripened tomatoes, “a farm fresh egg has a more intense flavor, more color. It’s impossible to explain the difference, and you don’t understand until you take a bite,” he says. Wetzel could have remained on the West Coast but decided to get back to his roots, and once back, he worked as the Hive’s executive sous chef when it opened in Bentonville in 2012. “In the Bay Area, the [farm-to-table] story is being widely shared, but not so much here. Arkansas needs to make a contribution to that story,” Wetzel says. Although he continues in Waters’ tradition, in May 2015, he began writing his own unique chapter when he opened Oven & Tap. Nonetheless, as chef, Wetzel doesn’t want to be the main character, but instead allows his dishes to focus on local farmers and producers, because of whom, he says, “Each dish has a clear, concise, distinctive voice.”

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Simple Arts “When you have the best and tastiest ingredients, you can cook very simply and the food will be extraordinary because it tastes like what it is.”

PHOTOGR A PH Y BY K AT I E CHI L DS

—Alice Waters

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Arkansas Food & Farm | Spring Issue 2018  
Arkansas Food & Farm | Spring Issue 2018