During my college years at the University of Arkansas, one of my favorite places to shop was Ozark Natural Foods, where local produce and sustainable meats are king. Back then, ONF was operated a small store on Dickson St., and it was through talking with the people who ran the place that I first began to learn the importance of supporting local growers both for my own health and the health of the local economy. I tried my first wheat grass smoothie at ONF, and I often bought produce there because it reminded me of the food my mom and dad raised in our gardens when I was growing up.
Fast forward several years and Ozark Natural Foods has moved from that small store on Dickson into a large, fully modern supermarket on College Avenue in the Evelyn Hills Shopping Center. This large, well-lit location is a far cry from the quaint store I remember so fondly, but what hasn’t changed is ONF’s commitment to organic, locally-sourced products. As part of this mission to promote local growers, Ozark Natural Foods is holding a “Tour de Farms“ this weekend — a massive farm crawl of local growers that spans two days and eight farms. Arkansas Food and Farm associate publisher Rebekah Hardin is taking the tour, and she’s been sending me back some great pictures from the first stop, Bean Mountain Farms, where she’s been learning all about growing practices, farming techniques, and getting to know the people who are helping put delicious, nutritious food on tables all across Northwest Arkansas.
This contraption is known as a “cold frame,” and it was custom-built by Bean Mountain’s Herb Culver. A cold frame allows growers the ability to grow herbs and other produce year-round by protecting plants from cold temperatures and creating a micro-climate that keeps the fresh food coming even during winter months.
Another spring-time favorite is rhubarb, an odd but delicious vegetable most famous for being the main part of rhubarb pie (imagine that). In addition to pie, rhubarb is also great in tarts, puddings, breads, jam, jellies, and refreshing beverages — there’s even a rhubarb liqueur produced by Pennsylvania’s Art in the Age distillery (which is available at Colonial Wines and Spirits here in Little Rock).
Finally, the Tour de Farms is about more than just getting to know local farmers — it’s also about education. Here, Herbal Simplicity’s Karyn Zarenba teaches tour-goers all about growing herbs in hoop houses. Fresh herbs are a great secret weapon in any cook’s arsenal, and the ability to pick a pinch you’ve grown yourself is almost like winning the lottery — it’s something for nothing except some time and effort.
As you can see, there’s a lot going on right now