Before the concept of farm to school, some Arkansas schools were building gardens and serving local food. To learn more about the history you can explore the timeline below or view the handout.
One early example was at Yellville-Summit High School from the 1940s when Earnestine Camp, teacher and food service director, led the school’s efforts to grow and maintain a school garden, raise chickens, and prepare scratch-made meals that included their butchered chickens and homemade bread. The school was recognized as a national pioneer for school food service because of these efforts predating the 1946 National School Lunch Act.
In 1995, several Arkansas producers participated with the New North Florida Cooperative Association, Inc. (NNFC) that worked with 60-100 Black farmers in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas to provide fresh produce for school meals. NNFC served more than a million students in 72 school districts across the region.
From 1996 to 2004, the term “farm to school” gained momentum. Early farm to school leadership took root by the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, Inc. (Southern SAWG). Southern SAWG was in operation from 1991-2020 with a mission of promoting sustainable agriculture in the South.
In 2005, Fayetteville School District became the first school district to develop a farm to school program and began procuring local products to serve to its students.
In 2007, Apple Seeds, Inc. was formed to inspire healthy living through garden based education. The nonprofit established and supported school gardens at Fayetteville School District initially and expanded its programming over the years to include cooking classes, garden clubs, and field trips to farms and farmers markets.
In January 2009, two meetings were scheduled by the Arkansas Department of Education Child Nutrition Unit to look at the expansion of farm to school in the state. The first was a meeting to gather initial interest in farm to school and to talk about working with farmers in the southern region of the nation. The second meeting was in collaboration with NNFC, Florida A&M University, and Stephen Walker of the Tri-County Community Coalition (TCC), a nonprofit incorporated in 2006. Child nutrition directors from around the state attended the meeting to hear about the successes of NNFC and to establish a farm to school pilot program in the state. Following the meeting, TCC began using the farm to school model developed by NNFC with it’s group of farmers in south-central Arkansas. TCC used NNFC’s processing facility to process sweet potatoes, green beans, and collard greens into fresh, packaged, easy-to-serve products. 24 districts participated in the pilot program which connected them to local farms and aided in the purchasing of local food.
Towards the end of 2009, Heifer International hosted an Arkansas Farm to School Conference in Little Rock. This event brought together more than 200 stakeholders from around the state and nation. This event marks the first time the term “Arkansas Farm to School” was used. An Arkansas Farm to School Steering Committee was convened following the 2009 conference based on interest in building farm to school momentum in the state. The group met regularly to discuss statewide goals and in 2010, the committee moved under the leadership of the Arkansas Food Policy Council.
In 2012, a Community Advisory Board for the Arkansas Grow Healthy Study that was led by Arkansas Children’s Research Institute (ACRI) was formed to advise on pilot farm to school projects around the state. In 2013, ACRI was chosen as the state’s Core Partner by the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) and assumed the state leadership role.
In 2013, Fayetteville School District became the first school district in Arkansas to receive a Farm to School grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Since 2013, a total of $617,430 has been provided to nine Arkansas entities through the program. The other awardees have been Lawrence County School District, Mansfield School District, ACRI, Conway School District, the Wallace Center at Winrock International, the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, Carroll County Resource Council, and Springdale School District.
In 2014, then-Governor Mike Beebe proclaimed October as Arkansas Farm to School Month. Governor Asa Hutchinson continued the practice in 2015 and each year since.
In 2017, a group of state agencies and statewide nonprofits formed the Arkansas Farm to School Collaborative (Collaborative). The Collaborative has expanded to include representatives from 12 state agencies and nonprofits. In addition, NFSN recognized the following as farm to school Supporting Partners: Arkansas Department of Agriculture, Arkansas Department of Education – Child Nutrition Unit, Arkansas Department of Human Services, and the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service (UADA).
Legislation enacted by the Arkansas General Assembly in 2017 and 2019 solidified the momentum of farm to school in Arkansas. The passage of the Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Act (Local Food Act) in 2017 created a local food preference by requiring state agencies that received at least $25,000 in state funding for the purchase of food products to set a goal to ensure that 10 percent of the food budget was spent on local farm and food products in the first year. The goal increased to 20 percent in subsequent years. Amendments to the Local Food Act in 2019 increased the goal to at least 20 percent and expanded the number of agencies required to report local food purchases.
Through the passage of Act 506 in 2019, the Arkansas legislature established a Farm to School and Early Childhood Education Program and a position for a full-time Farm to School and Early Childhood Education Program Coordinator within the Arkansas Department of Agriculture.
In 2019, farm to school leaders from Arkansas travelled to Washington D.C. to speak with U.S. Senator John Boozman and U.S. Senator Tom Cotton. Ally Mrachek with Fayetteville School District and Maegan Brown with Conway Public Schools visited Senator Cotton to share about their child nutrition farm to school efforts. Second, Destiny Schlinker with FoodCorps met with Senator Boozman to talk about the Kids Eat Local Act.
In 2020, the Arkansas Department of Agriculture moved into the role of Core Partner for NFSN and ACRI shifted from Core Partner to Supporting Partner. The other Supporting Partners remained the same and the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service (UADA) hired a Local Food Specialist who spends half their time focused on farm to school efforts in three regions of the state.
In 2019, the Arkansas Farm to School Collaborative and the Arkansas Department of Agriculture hosted the Arkansas Farm to School Celebration at the Capitol. Partners, teachers, legislators, and students attended the event.
The Arkansas Farm to School Collaborative and other state agency and nonprofit partners collaborated to create the Arkansas COVID-19 Food Access Map. The food access map provides a comprehensive list of 1,400 data points detailing information on farms, local businesses, restaurants, and pantries. The map also shows which schools and organizations are offering free meals while schools are closed.
This bill established that the school wellness policies may include language promoting school gardens. It also described that the Arkansas Department of Agriculture may provide a local incentive program at public school districts and open-enrollment public charter schools in an amount not to exceed ten cents ($.10) for each school meal that uses local farm or food products.