With today’s food demand and corporations leading the way, much of the charm and livelihood of the beloved family farm has been lost. Programs such as New South Produce Cooperative are helping to revitalize this integral foundation on which America was built. This new type of agriculture is established to promote rural livelihoods and protect the health of land and communities.
The cooperative provides quality produce to local restaurants and retailers as well as Arkansas Communities through the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
Each week for 16 weeks in the spring and summer, through a partnership with Heifer International, New South offers CSA customers fresh produce grown locally on organic farms. Aside from eight different items and six to 10 pounds of food, the CSA shares offer a sense of community.
“People like knowing where their food comes from and they like knowing the farmers who grow that food,” says Jennifer Jones of Bryant, coordinator of New South Cooperative. “It brings people together, and we’re sharing recipes and learning new things about food.”
For $440 for 16 weeks (plus tax) or $240 for eight weeks (plus tax), customers receive quality produce with the confidence of knowing where it was grown and who grew it. “It’s better value for your money,” says Jennifer, comparing the CSA shares to purchasing the same types of produce from a general grocery store.
The Saline County pickup location is at Bistro Catering & Gourmet Take Away at 304 N. Reynolds Road, Suite 5, in Bryant. Individual boxes may be picked up from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursdays during the 16-week season.
New South comprises 28 farms that are certified organic or naturally grown. “The difference in certifications is farmers perform the approval process with the naturally grown distinction,” Jennifer notes. “Some of our farmers only operate two to three acres, but because they can receive the focus and support from the cooperative, they can be quite successful. Most New South farmers have other jobs as well.”
Other New South pick-up locations are located in Little Rock, North Little Rock, Cabot, Conway, Searcy, Fort Smith, Fayetteville, and Jonesboro. In the fall, Jennifer says, the co-op hopes to expand to Hot Springs. The CSA program also offers add-ons like the cheese share, featuring locally produced cheese, and fresh flowers. The cost for the cheese add-on is $128 for 16 weeks (plus tax) and $64 for eight weeks (plus tax). The flowers are only offered for the eight-week option for $80.
Jennifer formerly owned Natural Things, a natural foods store in Bryant. With competition from the newly built Kroger, she decided to close the business. With good timing and an established network, she began working full-time with the cooperative. She’s been with New South working at its office at Heifer International since March.
Farmers benefit from joining New South by having Jennifer on hand do to all of their marketing so they can focus on harvesting their crops and produce. “People want good food, but not a lot of people want to be farmers. And for the farmers, they can get the word out because they have support from someone like me doing the marketing.”
“New South sells produce at wholesale all year long to restaurants and businesses such as Natural Grocers in Little Rock,” Jennifer says. Grassroots Farmers, which offers sustainably-raised meats, is a sister cooperative that works closely with New South to recommend different meat options to customers.
New South started in 2014 as New Shed Farms and changed its name in 2016. Noting the number of farms keeps growing, Jennifer says, “They don’t have to worry about distribution or selling. We take care of all of those details.”
Working in a cooperative gives farmers access to shared equipment and infrastructure as well, as New South’s website states. “Our cooperative consists of experienced and beginning farmers alike with a shared goal of helping others transition to organic agriculture.”
People enjoy the quality and convenience of being part of the CSA program. “It’s fun introducing people to new produce, and it’s always a surprise as to what will be in the box. It’s exciting and brings people together. Families are cooking together as they discover how to prepare different types of produce,” Jennifer says.
The boxes introduce people to food they otherwise might not try, such as kohlrabi, a cabbage-like vegetable in the same family with broccoli and cauliflower. Recipe recommendations can be found in New South’s newsletter as well as the blog at newsouthcoop.com. Interesting recipes and tidbits also can be found on New South’s social media sites – Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.