Saturday, December 12, 2009

Eating local, eating rural

I have already written some here about my visit to northwest Arkansas last month--to both my hometown, Jasper, in Newton County, and my college town, Fayetteville, in Washington County. I drove between the two, which took me through Madison County. These places run the gamut from rural-to-urban--at least as manifest in Arkansas. Washington County is in one of the state's few metropolitan statistical areas, while Newton County is at the rural end of the USDA's rural-urban continuum. Madison County falls in between, both physically and on the USDA continuum.

I was delighted to see these three counties brought together in a new-ish, upmarket-ish Fayetteville restaurant, The Greenhouse Grille, where I dined the last night of my trip. The restaurant's slogan is "creating conscious cuisine," and its menu says it "strives to support local farms, to use organic and natural products, and operate as many sustainable practices as possible." Cool, I thought. I was even more impressed when I looked at list of "local providers" because it included one each from Madison and Newton counties. The Madison County provisioner, which supplies organic shiitake mushrooms, is Sweden Creek Farm. The farm is in Kingston, an unincorporated community that is not even a census designated place but that does have a small K-12 school (photo top).

I was even more surprised to see on the list Low Gap, Arkansas, a teeny, tiny community in Newton County. A provisioner there called Foot Hold Farms provides the restaurant with seasonal organic produce. Low Gap is a place associated with my childhood because school classmates of mine lived there, and I sometimes attended vacation Bible school at its old community building, a structure that probably was once a local school. Low Gap residents are lucky that they still have a little general store, as most communities that size no longer do. But I had just driven through Low Gap (and taken these photos) the day before I dined at the restaurant, and I can attest that these two structures and a cemetery still comprise the entire "town." I'd seen no signs for Foot Hold Farms, but it was no doubt down one of several dirt roads that converge at Low Gap. (Incidentally, Low Gap is aptly named as it lies in a valley between Mount Sherman and Shiloh Mountain).

How marvelous that both of these very small communities are seeing some economic benefit from the locavore movement. (See an earlier post here, also out of Newton County). It's more evidence that even the most rural places are not entirely static--and that rural economies are linked in myriad ways with urban ones.

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