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Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative Seeks to Foster Efficiency

4 min read

Like a lot of Arkansas baby boomers, I’m not that far removed from the farm. My maternal grandparents were subsistence farmers in Logan County, and my paternal grandparents were Arkansas sharecroppers until my father came back from World War II with $10,000 in poker winnings and bought them property across the state line in Oklahoma. Dad survived Pearl Harbor and Guadalcanal to return stateside and ensure that his parents were sharecroppers no more.

I remember my Logan County grandmother efficiently dispatching, cooking and serving up a chicken that only hours before had been strutting and pecking in her yard. And I heard tales of hog-killing time when every part of the hog was put to use, including the bladder, used by my mother as a plaything.

Very Laura Ingalls Wilder.

So I have to acknowledge occasionally being a little bemused by the farm-to-table movement so important to millennials and others seeking connection to the land and to the food that land produces. I don’t feel like I ever really lost that connection. And I also remember that for my parents’ generation — the proverbial Greatest — leaving rural life meant a higher standard of living and an escape from back-breaking drudgery. (I have a joke that’s not really a joke: My father’s life choices fell between sharecropping and Guadalcanal. He chose Guadalcanal.)

That said, I shop farmers markets because the food is often superior to grocery store offerings, and I admire those who seek to put their ideals into practice, like the Arkansas farmers who’ve formed the Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative.

The co-op was formed last year, though this year was its first production season. It’s a group of sustainable livestock farmers who share resources and difficult, time-consuming tasks related to processing, marketing and distribution of the meat the farms produce. The co-op seeks to foster efficiency and reduce farmers’ costs.

Heifer International, based in Little Rock, provides support to the co-op by helping its members gain access to infrastructure, capital, mentorship and markets.

As Elizabeth Quinn of Fayetteville, the co-op’s communications manager, put it: “We’ve created a staff to manage the more difficult part of farming, the part that people don’t realize farmers often struggle with.”

That means the farmers can focus on raising livestock in a certain way: Their animals are pastured; they graze on the land and have access to “fresh air, sunlight, grass and water,” as the co-op says on its website. “At Grass Roots farms, chickens scratch, pigs root, and cows and sheep graze.”

Grass Roots farmers don’t use growth hormones, herbicides or genetically modified organisms.

Grass Roots Farmers’ Co-op sells its meats through its “Herds to Home” community-supported agriculture delivery service. Customers buy a share of the co-op’s farms and receive quarterly delivery of meats. The co-op has several different packages, but a full-sized share is 200 pounds of meat divided into quarterly deliveries. Meats include pastured poultry, forested pork, grass-fed beef and grass-fed lamb. Prices for a full-sized share range from $1,235 to $1,460.

A number of Arkansas restaurants also buy from the co-op, among them South on Main, The Root Cafe and Brave New Restaurant in Little Rock, The Hive in Bentonville and the Farmer’s Table Cafe in Fayetteville.

Hillcrest Artisan Meats is among the retailers selling the co-op’s meats.

In addition to Quinn, the staff of Grass Roots Farmers’ Co-op includes a general manager, a financial manager, a processing and aggregation manager and an inventory and order fulfillment manager, among other team members.

Staff members are experienced and highly trained. For example, Jenny Erickson, the financial manager, is a CPA licensed in the states of Arkansas and Utah. She received her Master’s of Professional Accountancy from the University of Utah and has more than 18 years of experience in public and governmental accounting. C.J. Sentell, the farmer operations manager, is a former member of the board of directors of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group and has a master’s degree from the University of Cambridge and a doctorate from Vanderbilt University.

These aren’t ‘60s-era, back-to-the-land, tie-dyed hippies we’re talking about.

Grass Roots Farmers’ Co-op currently consists of eight member farms. Some of them — Freckle Face Farm of McRae (White County), for example — are familiar to area farmers market customers.

The co-op is now pasturing turkeys, for those interested in ordering one for Thanksgiving. To order a turkey and to learn more about Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative, visit GrassRootsCoop.com.

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