Arkansas MarketMaker receives Innovation award for connecting farms, schools
By Mary Hightower
U of A System Division of Agriculture
- Arkansas MarketMaker earns national recognition
- Program connecting farms and schools brings fresh produce to lunch table
AUSTIN, Texas – Students in some Arkansas school districts are getting fresh produce at lunchtime, plates laden with fruits and vegetables from the farms of their neighbors.
"Making connections -- encouraging farmers to work with their local schools to provide locally grown and fresh produce for their neighbors -- has really paid off for both the farmers and the schools," said Ron Rainey, professor-economics for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. "This is the essence of what Arkansas MarketMaker does: matching farmers with customers.”
The award recognized Arkansas for its ability to create effective, change-making partnerships, earning Rainey and Beverly Dunaway, program associate, the Arkansas MarketMaker the 2015 Farm Credit MarketMaker Innovation Award at the annual National Value Added Agriculture Conference at Austin, Texas, in May.
"We're proud to have national recognition for this effort," he said.
Chuck McCool, who grows watermelons and other produce in Yell County, said that “what began with my registration in MarketMaker two years ago evolved to an 80 percent increase in sales the first year” and helped him expand his operation to accommodate school year produce needs.
That Farm to School work also led to him “collaborating with non-profits to establish new farm to pre-school and summer feeding programs in my community,” he said.
“The farm-to-school connection is such a natural fit,” Rainey said.
Arkansas’ “Building Partnerships to Assist Grower Marketing Efforts across the Food Value Chain,” received $7,000 from Farm Credit as part of the award. Rainey said the prize money would go for program enhancements.
Other initiative outcomes included increased clientele, profits, and on-farm business for state farmers and www.localandgrown.org, a consumer engagement mobile application platform created by the Arkansas Farm Bureau, Arkansas MarketMaker, and the Arkansas Agriculture Department.
Gary Matteson, vice president of Young, Beginning, Small Farmer Programs and Outreach, Farm Credit; and Stan Ray, chief administrative officer, Farm Credit Bank of Texas; praised the positive partnership between Farm Credit, the state partner programs, and national MarketMaker.
“Helping consumers find fresh, safe, healthy, local foods while providing producers with access to more and better markets is what MarketMaker does best. We are proud to be in our fifth year of supporting the Innovation Awards,” said Matteson.
“Farm Credit continues to support MarketMaker and recognize Innovation Award winners as examples of how good ideas can be used by others in the community,” Ray said.
Farm Credit also presented cash awards to Kathleen Liang of the University of Vermont and the Virginia MarketMaker program – second and third places, respectively.
MarketMaker is a national network of states that connect farmers and fishermen with food retailers, grocery stores, processors, caterers, chefs, and consumers. MarketMaker is hosted and maintained by Riverside Research and is guided by an advisory board made up of representatives from participating partner states.
To learn more about Arkansas MaketMaker, visit http://www.uaex.edu/farm-ranch/economics-marketing/market-maker/.
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Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service