The LinkProject at Meadowcreek was a 2011-2012 USDA-funded program that sought to help increase access to healthy, nutritious foods in food deserts and low-income communities, specifically Stone County and surrounding Arkansas counties. It currently supports Meadowcreek, Inc.’s ongoing programs as well as seeks to help create new opportunities in the Meadowcreek Valley (Fox, Arkansas).
There are numerous factors that determine a food desert designation. One significant factor is small rural communities most often have less access to the broader global market and consequently have fewer choices in food retailers. Lack of competition in the community not only restricts access to food resources, but can also result in higher food costs. With more than 50 million Americans living in “food-insecure” households, much of this food insecurity is the result of families living in areas where they don’t have easy access to healthy, nutritious food. In these communities, families often turn to convenience stores and fast food restaurants for their meals. This results in diets high in processed sugars and fats, which can lead to obesity, diabetes, and other diseases, not to mention nutritional imbalance.
Operating on the premise that communities can improve their food security by producing their own healthy food, the Meadowcreek LinkProject – Linking Local Foods & Local Folks accomplished four objectives that 1) trained and supported thirty local growers in becoming year-round producers by offering eight, low-cost, cold frame construction workshops 2) produced a Link Lunch & Learn series to teach low-income residents about the value of consuming fresh, healthy produce and how to prepare it 3) expanded Stone County Farmers Market to include an online sales format in order to offer produce from regional growers that previously was not offered in the Stone County food desert, and 4) implemented an heirloom crop project with thirty of the county’s largest growers. The duplicable accomplishments were shared with farmers market managers statewide.
The LinkProject continues to support efforts to increase access to fresh, healthy foods in the Stone County food desert – as well as in rural and urban communities throughout the state – by helping specialty crop growers expand their markets to include institutional sales, add value-added products to their offerings, and improve their direct market-to-consumer relationships.