Feed Communities was founded in 2011 with the sole mission of ensuring everyone has access to high quality, nutrient-dense food. Today, we work with individuals, organizations, schools, universities, businesses, government agencies and foundations to create sustainable partnerships to increase access to healthy produce and improve healthy food choices for Northwest Arkansas communities.
Study after study ranks Arkansas consistently in the top five states for food insecurity in the United States. Feeding America, the nation’s largest organization of emergency food providers, reports that one in six Americans faces hunger. The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) released a study in September, 2013, that shows between 2010 and 2012 one in three Arkansas households with children reported instances in the prior year when there was not enough money to buy food for the family.
In 2010, Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe decided it was time to address the issue of child hunger in Arkansas. He brought together people from all over the state who represented the many relevant social service agencies that serve the needs of low-income Arkansans. He dedicated a staff member to the issue, and organized a coalition of partners, led by Share Our Strength, No Kid Hungry, and the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance. In attendance at the Governor’s meeting was Denise Garner, a Fayetteville resident known for her community engagement and active involvement in social justice issues. Garner recalls that she believed she was going to the capital to discuss hunger in the Arkansas Delta, often cited as the state’s poorest region. What she learned, however, was that Washington and Benton counties have more hungry children than any other region in the state.
The problem of food insecurity in our own backyard had been identified, but the solution would require a long-term commitment and strategic thinking from every component of the food system. Garner gathered a number of farmers, restaurant owners, and non-profit leaders to discuss creating a food rescue and gleaning program. That group quickly identified many of the reasons so many people had limited access to healthy foods, which included cost, lack of education, and lack of skills in preparing healthy foods. Garner says, “It was obvious that we needed a whole lot more than food rescue.”
Garner decided to hold a stakeholder meeting in August, 2011, where 75 people came together to discuss ways they could collaborate to feed Fayetteville. That effort would quickly become the organization Feed Fayetteville with a mission to “alleviate hunger and create community food security by cultivating a sustainable food system.” Many local organizations and churches already provided emergency food programs, but Garner and the other stakeholders recognized how much duplication and overlap existed across all of these programs. She says, “I realized that the way we could help most was through coordination and collaboration of those organizations already going in the same direction but on different paths It made sense to work from the smaller local community level rather than a large regional level because of the ways food access relates to issues of transportation and environment.”
As Feed Fayetteville was forming, it adopted the larger goal of creating a more sustainable food system that focused on local and nutrient-dense food, and that remains its goal today. Beyond hunger relief, the organization believes that regardless of socioeconomic status, every community member has the right to eat healthy, nutritious food. To create true food security, Feed Fayetteville works to support the farmers and food producers who work hard to grow this good food for the community.
Today the organization works to fulfill its mission by organizing itself around three key aspects of food—empower, encourage and support.
In 2012, Feed Fayetteville incorporated their 501c3 as Feed Communities, with the intention to take project models from Feed Fayetteville and apply them to other communities’ needs and already existing services. Feed Communities leases an 8,000 square-foot building, formerly a church, at 221 South Locust Avenue in Fayetteville. In 2018, Feed Communities opened a Springdale Food Hub to serve that community.