There is something incredibly refreshing about meeting the farmer you buy your produce from and learning their story. Cody Hopkins, co-owner of Falling Sky Farm, knows this better than anyone.
That’s partly what lead him, and other livestock farmers like him, to get together and create Grass Roots Farmer’s Cooperative.
Grass Roots has been in the making for a little over two years, and officially incorporated in April of 2014. Hopkins says, “It was born out of a group of farmers who were already working independently in a cooperative fashion in informal ways.”
Solely consisting of Arkansas livestock farmers, the main goal of the group is to offer local, sustainably-raised poultry, pork, lamb, and beef, all the while helping the small farmer stay afloat.
The list of participating farms is rather impressive, including Arroyo Family Farm, Cedar Creek Farm, Dettelbach Farms, Falling Sky Farm, Freckle Face Farm, Lawrence Farms, Onyekwelu Farm, and The Other Side Farm. Everyone works together as a team in what Hopkins says is “a one for all kind of mentality.”
Part of the necessity of the cooperative comes from the difficulty of livestock farming. It’s hard to get into and upkeep is difficult, especially when animal welfare and sustainability are at the forefront of business.
For instance, Hopkins started Falling Sky with his wife Andrea in 2006. Since then, he has seen many farms that have attempted to make it, fail.
Part of the problem is that small livestock farmers are stretched thin, between doing the business side of things, dealing with production, and much more, before ever even getting to the animals.
The cooperative lets the farmers team up, hire accountants if necessary, and share production trips and the like, freeing up more time which Hopkins says, “allows farmers to focus more on farming and really doing a great job raising the animals.”
Grass Roots already delivers to many local restaurants – H.A.M., South on Main, and the Root, among others – but is also available to normal, everyday Arkansans.
If you’re interested, start at the farmer’s markets as both Hillcrest and Bernice are well-represented. If buying at the market sounds intimidating, you can always opt for the home delivery option known as the Herds to Homes program. Structured much like a crop share, those interested can choose from different options in their own meat share, paying a deposit and then receiving an allotted amount of meat for a designated amount of time.
For instance, ‘The Original Share’ guarantees 200 lbs. of meat delivered quarterly over the course of a year with a $200 deposit and $90 each month. There are other options as well, if 200 lbs. of meat sounds like too much for you and your needs.
While buying in bulk can be overwhelming, it truly helps keep the cost down, and, in the case of going with Grass Roots, you know where your food comes from. “The goal is to make it as convenient as possible for people to get access to local meat,” Hopkins explains.
In forming Grass Roots, Hopkins and the other farmers didn’t want to lose that small farmer feel, so they plan on keeping a label for independent member farms on each delivery. Doing so ensures patrons can precisely pinpoint their food in what Hopkins calls, “100 percent traceability.”
So far, the Herds to Homes program has received a positive reception, and like Grass Roots, will hopefully keep growing in number. Currently, the cooperative is in partnership with Heifer to help other like minded sustainable-agriculture economy farms to start up, keeping them on as apprentice farms that can hopefully one day sign on as full members.
In the meantime, everyone works hard. Hopkins says it best “We simply want to farm in a way that’s good for the environment, the customers, and the community.”
For more information on meat shares or the individual member farms of the Grass Roots Farmer’s Cooperative, visit http://www.grassrootscoop.com/.