Thursday, May 7, 2015

Visit From our Alumni: Wes Ward and Cynthia Edwards, Arkansas Secretary & Deputy Secretary of Agriculture

This week, we were delighted to host Arkansas's new Secretary of Agriculture, Wes Ward and Deputy Secretary Cynthia Edwards.  Both Wes and Cynthia are alumni of the LL.M. Program, and we are very proud of their service.

On Monday, we had an opportunity to talk about ways to involve the LL.M. Program with the Arkansas Department of Agriculture. As Arkansas has such a diverse agricultural sector and also confronts challenging food security issues,  work with the Ag Department can be instructive even for students from other states.  With so many of our graduates serving in policy positions at a state and federal level,  on-the-ground involvement with the work of an administrative agency will be very helpful to our students.

On Tuesday, we accompanied Wes and Cynthia on a series of on-site visits with people on the front lines of the local food movement in Northwest Arkansas.

Teresa Mauer, Sec. Wes Ward, Dep'ty Sec. Cynthia
Edwards, and Leann Halsey at the Farmers' Market
We began the day at the Fayetteville Farmers' Market on the beautiful downtown square. There we met with Teresa Mauer, Vendor Coordinator & Leann Halsey, Business Coordinator.  We discussed the organizational structure of the market, how vendors become part of the market, and what events are planned for the coming season. This market is for locally produced foods and products only, and the array of items was impressive. We met all of the vendors and stocked our cooler with fresh strawberries, honey, and asparagus.  We also bought plants for our own gardens.

Dep't Sec. Cynthia Edwards, Sec. Wes Ward, Principal
Ashley McLarty, Morgan Stout, Ally Mracheck, Nicole Civita
Nicole Civita, Dept'y Sec. Cynthia Edwards, Susan
Schneider, Ally Mracheck, Morgan Stout, Sec. Wes Ward
in the Washington Elementary School Garden area.
Our next stop was Washington Elementary School, where Melissa Terry coordinated our visit with School Principal Ashley McLarty; Morgan Stout, Child Nutrition Director for the Fayetteville Public School System;  and, Ally Mrachek, Nutrition Supervisor and Farm-to-School Procurement Coordinator for the Fayetteville Public Schools. Melissa has been active in the NW Arkansas local food community for a number of years and is currently working on her Master's Degree in Public Administration/Non-Profit Studies at the University of Arkansas. She also serves as the Food Recovery Challenge Intern - EPA, Region 6.  And, she manages the school garden at Washington Elementary.  During our visit, we learned about the successes experienced in sourcing local foods, improving school nutrition, and introducing students to healthy foods. Local food procurement not only provides benefits to the school, it benefits the entire community, with funding kept within the community. We also discussed the challenges and the ways that the state government could assist schools.

After leaving Washington Elementary, we visited Feed Fayetteville, the NW Arkansas non-profit organization "founded to cultivate proactive, durable solutions to local hunger, childhood obesity and the relationships between both of these hotspots with a focus upon supporting local farmers and producers in our community." There, we met founder Denise Garner, who explained the origins of Feed Fayetteville and Feed Communities. And, we met Mike Rush, Executive Director, Jared Phillips, Program Manager, at Feed Communities. We had a great discussion about local and regional food initiatives and innovative agricultural production systems in Arkansas.

Jared Phillips, Sec. Wes Ward, Nicole Civita, Denise
Garner, Mike Rush, Dep'ty Sec. Cynthia Edwards

We then headed to lunch at The Farmer’s Table, a popular locally-sourced Fayetteville restaurant. We talked with the owners Adrienne & Rob Shaunfield about sourcing issues.  Peter Nierengarten, the Director of the Fayetteville Sustainability & Resilience Department joined us. Peter was able to provide information about his work for the City and urban agriculture initiatives, including urban farming ordinance passed last year. Of course, we had a most delicious lunch.

Rose Konold, Sec.Wes Ward, Dep'ty Sec. Cynthia
Edwards & some of the Boston Mtn Hogs at Mason Creek Farm
After lunch, we drove to Mason Creek Farm where we met Rose Konold and Glenn Woelk. Rose gave us a tour of the farm and discussed the new breed of hog developed from a cross of a Yorkshire sow and a Tamworth boar. Rose has established the Boston Mountain Hog Breeders Association. Mason Creek is an Animal Welfare Approved operation with direct sales throughout the area.

Our day concluded with an inspiring visit to Tricycle Farm & Crossroads Farmers Market. Founder of Tricycle, Don Bennett spoke about the concept behind this unique urban farm and the people that they bring together from throughout the community. Located in the heart of a busy urban area and close to the UA campus, "the mission of Tri Cycle Farms (TCF) is to grow community through soil as we steward food awareness, education and empowerment." Discussing community, food security, and the satisfaction that comes from producing food while drinking tea in the shade was a perfect way to end an amazing day.

Thanks to Secretary Wes Ward, Deputy Secretary Cynthia Edwards and all the wonderful hosts we had throughout the day.  Special thanks to our Professor Nicole Civita for coordinating.

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