TREES THAT TOWER over the four-plus stories of a historic blonde-brick building topped with a cupola. A circle drive that leads you through blossoming bushes and saintly statuary. A portable sheep pen that you inevitably stumble upon in a different location each time you visit. If you haven’t been to the St. Joseph Center of Arkansas (SJCA) in North Little Rock, you’re missing out.
With a 56,000-square-foot building designed by renowned architect Charles Thompson and a place on the National Register of Historic Places—to say nothing of its status as an Arkansas Department of Agriculture Century Farm, since it’s been around in some form or another for more than 100 years—St. Joseph has been used over the years as an orphanage, a school, a nursing home, a day care and a retreat center run by the Benedictine Sisters of St. Scholastica.
But in its newest incarnation, SJCA uses its plentiful resources to preserve and restore the property through an innovative food-production and -distribution program—a program that, while changed by the global pandemic, hasn’t stopped, which means that just because our way of day-to-day living has taken a detour, you don’t have to miss out on the bounty brought by St. Joseph.
For six years B.C. (before coronavirus), the SJCA Farm Stand was stocked with a variety of basic vegetables—squash, tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes, cucumbers, peppers and so, so much more—grown on-site at the St. Joseph Urban Farm. Add goods such as hummus, goat cheese and elk meat offered from Arkansas producers to the mix, and the Farm Stand was the place to be from 8 to noon every Saturday morning, May through October. The stand’s offerings had made it such a hot commodity, in fact, that they’d begun opening once a month during the offseason. Visitors could pick up delicacies, feed the cows and tour the gardens. With support from a U.S. Department of Agriculture/Natural Resources Conservation Service grant, two farm workers were hired to tend the gardens and offer educational programs to the community.
So what can we expect now that physical distancing has become a necessity? With the help of the Farm Stand’s volunteer staff and the technology of the internet, much of the same, actually.
“So far, it’s been pretty seamless,” says Sandy Coursey, Farm Stand manager, of the transition to a virtual format. “People are jumping on the opportunity to order online.”
She has volunteer Scott Shellbarger and his computer expertise to thank for that. Scott set up a full-service online market, making it possible for people to log in, place their orders and pay in one stop—a convenience perfect for folks who still want to eat fresh food, help preserve SJCA and support local producers during this time of self-isolation. In other words, as Sandy says: “Our mission of addressing food insecurity, sustainable urban farming, food production, community outreach and preservation continues.”
That mission has many partners involved. The Food Market provides access to local producers that many Arkansans might not otherwise have. “We truly honor the Arkansas-grown, Arkansas-made ideology,” Sandy says. The Food Market is stocked with produce from Homegrown by Heroes, a coalition of farmers who are military veterans. Necessities such as hand sanitizer and cough remedies—so vital with the current state of national health—are on sale from The Cracked Pot, made by a naturopath (and, coincidentally, another veteran). And even Heifer Village is chipping in, helping to make lettuce available now.
But SJCA also gives beyond its own walls. Thanks to to its designated Hunger Relief Garden, all foods grown go to the Arkansas Food Bank. Over the past four years, the SJCA has donated more than 10,000 pounds of food to help Arkansans who’ve found themselves in need. In other words, during these uncertain times, it’s more important than ever to support local producers, as those locals also support our friends and neighbors. And with the freshest, sweetest strawberries now in season from St. Joseph’s own Urban Farm and delicious treats such as Carrot Curry Hummus in stock from Geek Eats, why would you even think twice?
The best part? Every order comes with knowing you’ve done something good. As Sandy says, “We’re just so grateful for customers—old and new—who keep local foods alive during this time.”
Place your order at St. Joseph’s Farm Stand by visiting stjosephcenter.square.site
In the COVID-19 era, farmers markets are going online. Here’s what you need to know.
Arkansas Local Food Network (Little Rock): Order by noon Sunday through Wednesday for a Saturday pickup at either Christ Episcopal Church or St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church. (littlerock.localfoodmarketplace.com)
Barnhill Orchards (Lonoke): Online and drive-thru ordering available daily starting at 9 a.m. (Note: Strawberries are a particularly hot commodity, so be sure to place your order early.) (barnhillorchards.com/online-store)
Bentonville Bodega at The Holler: Order online for next-day pickup available from 3-7 p.m. (bentonvillebodega.com)
Bentonville Farmers Market: Order via the Bentonville Farmers Market app for daily pickup from 4-6 p.m. (Update: They’re now offering a drive-thru market, Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.) (downtownbentonville.org/event/fm)
The Curve Market (Scott): In-store shopping and curbside pickup available Monday through Saturday. (facebook.com/thecurvemarket)
Dogwood Hills Guest Farm (Harriet): No-contact pickup on orders from the farm store. (instagram.com/p/B-e1AqRDO2e)
Farm Fresh Co-op (NWA): Order online before midnight Sunday for a Tuesday pickup at either Snack Lab in Fayetteville or King James Wine School in Bentonville. (farmfreshcoop.org)
Fayetteville Farmers’ Market: Order online before 9 p.m. Thursday for a Saturday pickup at Evelyn Hills Shopping Center in Fayetteville. (fayettevillefarmersmarket.org)
The Grange at Wilson Gardens (Wilson): Various events, including an online plant sale, and “Meal, No Mingle!” Curbside Food Service. See the Wilson Gardens Facebook page for details. (facebook.com/WilsonGardensAR)
Green Acres (Atkins): Order in advance for porch pickup daily. (facebook.com/greenacresatkins)
Me & McGee Market (North Little Rock): Open for drive-thru pickup Wednesday through Sunday. (facebook.com/MeAndMcgeeMarket)
The Root Cafe Market (Little Rock): Curbside or delivery available. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. (facebook.com/rootcafe)
SalScilla Farms (Mayflower): Order by noon Thursday for a Saturday or Sunday pickup. Delivery available in Faulkner county. (facebook.com/SalScillaFarms)
St. Joseph Farm Stand (North Little Rock): Curbside pickup, Friday afternoons. (stjosephcenter.org)
White Water Tavern Market (Little Rock): Open Saturdays from 11 a.m. to noon in the White Water Tavern parking lot with a rotating lineup of local producers. (Note: The market follows recommended CDC guidelines. Please wear a face covering and maintain a 6-foot distance from others.) (Search “The White Water Tavern” on Facebook)