The University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Heifer International have partnered to build awareness around regenerative agriculture and sustainable gardening practices in central Arkansas.
“We are coming together to share our expertise in education and urban farming to create an exciting new collaboration,” UA Little Rock Chancellor Christina Drale said. “Nurturing growth and transformation is what we do at UA Little Rock. In the Campus Garden, with Heifer’s assistance, we’re not just growing food; we’re also growing the abilities of our students to create transformational change for themselves and their community. Our students are prepared to be innovators and responsible leaders in their fields, contributing to the cultural and economic growth of our state. That is the true beauty of partnerships like these. We all grow together.”
The partnership, announced Feb. 26 at UA Little Rock’s Bailey Alumni Center, will provide Heifer and UA Little Rock the opportunity to work together to educate students and members of the public on increasing accessibility to local, nutritious food. The partnership is one way Heifer is contributing to its mission to end hunger and poverty.
“We currently work with small scale farmers in 21 countries around the world, including right here in Arkansas,” said Bob Bloom, chief financial officer of Heifer International. “With the Campus Garden here at UA Little Rock and with our Urban Farm and Heifer Ranch, we saw this partnership as a natural fit and extension of what we’re doing in our home state. The campus here at the university represents a wonderful opportunity for a partnership that shares best practices, shares resources, and conducts joint workshops.”
The two institutions will collaborate through field days and public workshops as well as sharing resources like equipment and volunteers. Students from UA Little Rock’s Campus Garden will learn about best practices used on Heifer’s Urban Farm, which contains a community garden, farm animals, and a solar-powered aquaponic facility, and the Heifer Ranch, a 1,200-acre agricultural training facility located in Perryville.
“One of our goals at Heifer’s Urban Farm is to educate visitors about sustainable, eco-friendly farm practices,” said Tom Spinnato, senior director of facilities management and global operations. “It’s exciting that we’ll get to share what we know with visitors from UA Little Rock and also to be part of the growing network of folks in central Arkansas who are passionate about this work. I expect we’ll learn a lot from this experience that will enrich not only what we do here at the farm, but also the passion for local food in our community.”
Members of the UA Little Rock Campus Garden Alliance, a student organization created in 2016, are looking forward to the innovative advances they hope to make at the garden through knowledge sharing with experts at Heifer International.
“I think this will be an amazing opportunity,” said Lily Shaw, president of the Campus Garden Alliance. “We’ll have the opportunity to learn from Heifer’s experts. We can branch out into hydroponics and learn more about raising farm animals. In the future, I’m hoping we can access a commercial kitchen and learn how to produce commercial products that will support the Campus Garden.”
The UA Little Rock Campus Garden began in 2012 to teach students about sustainable urban gardening and to provide healthy, local, and inexpensive food to the community. The garden donates food to the UA Little Rock Trojan Food Pantry to fight food insecurity and hosts community farm stand events.
“It’s not just about the plants we grow. It’s about the people that participate in the garden,” said Michael DeAngelis, co-director of the Campus Garden and professor of Earth Sciences. “We provide equitable access to affordable, healthy food. We have community farm stand events where people pay whatever they can through a donation, and sometimes that is nothing. We’ve had people come to the event who told us that they didn’t get a paycheck this week, and they didn’t know how they were going to get through the week without food from the garden.”
In the future, DeAngelis hopes the garden will make an even larger impact on the local community with help from Heifer. They would like to expand the garden to provide more food to the Trojan Food Pantry and other community organizations that fight hunger, like the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance. They also want to build an outdoor classroom space that will support year-round teaching, research, and community outreach activities.
In the upper right photo, Heifer International CFO Bill Bloom, left, exchanges spinach grown in Heifer’s Urban Farm with UA Little Rock Chancellor Christina Drale, right, for honey made by bees in the university’s Campus Garden after signing a partnership launching a pilot project to build awareness around regenerative agriculture and sustainable gardening practices. Photo by Ben Krain.