UACES Facebook Division of Agriculture to help develop regional Food Innovation Center

Div of Ag to help develop regional Food Innovation Center

Fast Facts:

    • Three Arkansas communities among 26 nationwide to receive technical assistance grants through a federal initiative
    • Division of Agriculture to assist the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, other partners in development of Regional Food Innovation Center in North Little Rock
    • Osceola, Flippin also planning locally grown food distribution systems under initiative

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NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark.  -- The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture will work in partnership with three Arkansas communities in an effort to make locally grown produce more locally available under a new federal initiative.

The White House Rural Council announced this week that North Little Rock, Flippin and Osceola were among 26 communities nationwide that will receive technical assistance in integrating various local food systems into viable economic models through its Local Foods, Local Places initiative.

Amanda Philyaw Perez, a program associate with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Public Policy Center, said she and Ron Rainey, a professor at the Division of Agriculture’s Center for Agriculture and Rural Sustainability, initially set out to gauge interest in participating in the program in mid-July. 

“The Division of Agriculture’s Extension Service is a natural partner for supporting the growing interest in local foods. We offer education and technical assistance for a broad range of issues that include agricultural production and processing, environmental and natural resources sustainability, healthy eating and access to healthy food, opportunities for families and youth and support for community and economic development,” Perez said. 

“We see this as an opportunity to build and strengthen local food systems efforts throughout the state,” Rainey said.

Perez and Rainey spoke to multiple community groups about how to support local food distribution and when the call for applications went out, some of the strongest interest came from the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, a non-profit organization in North Little Rock.

Building the hub

State Rep. Warwick Sabin, executive director of the hub, said he and other partners in the project were alerted in November that they would receive a grant for $100,000 in technical assistance for the development of a regional food innovation center in North Little Rock, which would build upon the creative, entrepreneurial nature of the Innovation Hub already in place.

“The hub has a lot of components, including a ‘makers space,’ another part that’s a co-working entrepreneurial space, and other educational resources here,” Sabin said. “So the idea was to join with a lot of organizations related to agriculture and food needs, public health — anything related to hunger, nutrition, agriculture, developing of new food products, and basically borrow from some models around the country.” 

“We would develop a food innovation center that would be a separate facility to have things like a certified industrial kitchen space, gardens, greenhouses, and places for food processing, labeling and packaging,” Sabin said. 

According to a statement from the White House Rural Council, experts from federal agencies including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others will offer technical assistance and expertise in developing the center.

Rainey and Perez said the Division of Agriculture will soon begin working with the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub and other partners in mapping out how to bring the idea for the regional food innovation center to fruition.

Other initiative grant recipients in Arkansas include the Flippin School District, where members of the district are trying to establish a farmers’ market on school district property. Petra Pershall, a federal program compliance officer with the district, said she hopes to build upon a successful 2013 effort that established a small vegetable-growing operation on a small portion of the school district’s property with grants from the Arkansas Coalition Against Obesity.

In Osceola, Master Gardener Debra Felske secured a grant through the initiative on behalf of the city in order to establish wider availability of healthy, locally grown food throughout the town, which she described as a “food desert” since two of the town’s small grocery stores closed in recent years.

Mississippi County Extension Agent Pam Pruett said both she and fellow agent Jason Osborn will participate in a Dec. 11 conference call with several other state and federal agencies to initiate the planning process for making Felske’s plans a reality. 

For more information on food production, contact your county extension office or visit 

The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action institution. If you require a reasonable accommodation to participate or need materials in another format, please contact your County Extension office (or other appropriate office) as soon as possible. Dial 711 for Arkansas Relay.

The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

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By Ryan McGeeney
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Ryan McGeeney
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
(501) 671-2120  

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