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Episode 104: Tri Cycle Farms is Building Community Through Soil

Spread the Ozark love

IANWA – Tri Cycle Farms Conversation with Charity Jones

Randy Wilburn [6:12] Hey, folks, and welcome to another episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. I'm your host, Randy Wilburn. And I'm excited to be with you today for another episode of the podcast. As always, we're coming to you with the latest and greatest things happening in Northwest Arkansas, specifically as it pertains to everything at the intersection of business, culture, entrepreneurship, and life here in the Ozarks. Today, we have a special episode with you. I'm sitting here with Charity Jones. Well, technically, I'm not sitting here with her. She's where she is. I am where I am. In this age of the pandemic, we are virtual, but we're having a conversation. So, Charity Jones is with Tri Cycle Farms. It's a local farm here that provides. I'm going to let her tell us a little bit about Tri Cycle Farms. We connected online as a lot of people are connecting these days. We have a mutual friend, Don Bennett, who I'd initially been talking to about possibly coming on this podcast pre-pandemic. But you know, once COVID happened, everything hit the fan. And so, without fail, I was able to finally catch up with somebody over there at Tri Cycle Farms and that someone is Charity. So, Charity. How are you doing today?

Charity Jones [7:43] Oh, I'm doing great, Randy, thank you so much for having me on.

Randy Wilburn [7:46] So why don't you real quickly just tell the I am Northwest Arkansas audience a little bit about yourself, but then tell the superhero origin story of Tri Cycle farms and the impact that has made in this area.

Charity Jones [8:04] I'm also a licensed speech-language pathologist and I've practiced in speech therapy for about ten years. I've also taught at the U of A. I taught for the last three years within the Communication Sciences and Disorders Department. I then served as a Board Member with Tri Cycle Farms. Before that, I helped run the Pesto contest each year at the Pesto Fest we have, our annual fundraiser. A position came open when the pandemic hit, so we had many changes at the Farm. My speech therapy practice also suffered lots of changes with no clients. And so, I took a leap of faith and became the Director of Finance and Programs here for Tri Cycle. So, I do all the fundraising, media marketing, track all of our inventory and logistics, and help with food recovery. To tell you a little background on the Farm, we are off Garland in the middle of Fayetteville. The Farm started nine years ago, and Don Bennett is the Founder. He took two acres of land behind his house and had the dream of the community garden, and he brought that dream to fruition. The mayor, Lioneld Jordan, actually the one who tilled the garden the first year, so that was really neat. Interestingly, we have a no-till garden that was the only time our gardens have ever been tilled. We do horticulture for the garden and then about four, maybe five years ago, we started with food recovery. So, what we do is we go to Whole Foods Monday through Friday, five days a week. We go every morning and pick up all their waste and that's 100 percent of the store. So not only the food that was going to be thrown away but also the household commodities. We get lots of flower bouquets, lots of orchids and plants from the Floral Department. We take that food and we average about 450 pounds a day to food pantries and meal prep programs. We serve the Salvation Army, Full Circle Pantry at the UofA, St. James Baptist Church pantry, South Fayetteville Hillcrest Towers, and Fayetteville Housing Authority downtown. We also go to Genesis Church Pantry down in South Fayetteville. We serve Washington Plaza Pantry off Dean Solomon and then even Lifesource International downtown. We keep an eye out for bulk items and donate those to MayDay Community Kitchen; they are a meal prep program that delivers meals. And then, every once in a while, we will get something that we think Mr. Nate Walls with Second Helping might be interested in. Nate's a good friend of ours, and we try to help out when we can. So right now, we have just been focusing on distributing food through the pandemic, trying to keep these food pantries full. Usually, we have about 1500-2000 volunteers a year. MLK Day is usually a big day with two or 300 people coming to the farm to help prepare for spraying and raking leaves or pine needles or whatever is needed. We haven't had that opportunity this year. We have had to cut back on our volunteers. So, our gardens are going to take a break probably this year. We might do some herbs, but we are still not ready to have hundreds of people come to the farm, so we are going to continue to focus on food distribution and help all these pantries.

Randy Wilburn [12:17] Would it be an understatement to say that you guys were overwhelmed with the requests for your services during this pandemic?

Charity Jones [12:29] That would not be an understatement. Quite frequently, people will reach out as individuals. And sometimes, we do get to help those community members individually. Still, we have tried to focus on the bigger impact picture and keep these food pantries full and send community members there. We would like to have an onsite pantry that we could impact more individuals themselves in the future.

Randy Wilburn [12:58] Is there a space for it at the farm?

Charity Jones [13:01] We are going to have to acquire the funds to renovate the garage. We have to make the garage a walk-up storefront where you could walk in, do a little pantry shopping, maybe grab the flower bouquet and things like that.

Randy Wilburn [13:16] Because everything has changed with the pandemic, and you can't bring in the people to help, how are you stewarding volunteers right now? When people are reaching out to you virtually to say, hey, we want to help out. We want to figure out a way to give back in this time of need. What are you telling people to do?

Charity Jones [13:43] Well, I've been telling them to continue watching our social media when we do have a few volunteer positions open. And mainly, just help spread the word that we need financial support. Even sharing our posts on social media is a big help just to get the awareness out there. Although we have been established for nine years and have been doing food recovery for almost five, it's amazing how many Fayetteville residents have still never heard of Tri Cycle Farms. I felt like we were everywhere. I still meet people all the time that have never heard of it or those who have heard of it but have no idea. And so just helping spread the word really helps. Word of mouth is very powerful. We do have a few volunteer positions that are still running. We have about 20 chicks. We call them the city chicks, twenty hens, and so, we have chicken tenders that come out and help. They lead out the chickens in the mornings and feed them in the evenings and put them back. So, we have some little things but not any mass groups.

Randy Wilburn [14:51] Was this Don's original dream to do this, because I know there's been a lot of talks lately about people being more self-sustainable? When you go back to world war two and the victory garden, there's been a talk. As I know, this past summer, many people created victory gardens in their own homes and said, we don't know when this pandemic is going to end. We need to be as self-sufficient as possible. What was the genesis behind Tri Cycle and behind Don's effort to do that, besides the fact that he just had this available land behind his house?

Charity Jones [15:36] Well, he was moved by the hunger statistics in our community right here in Fayetteville. I think it's within a four-mile radius. I hate to quote the statistics because I don't have them right here in front of me, but it was an astronomical number of how many people were food insecure within four miles of the Farm. And a lot of those numbers included children, so that was very moving for Don. And then, to talk a little bit about the sustainability portion of your question. We had the groundbreaking for our hydroponic house, and it should be one of the most energy-efficient projects of greenhouses in the world. And, when you have the best thing in the world, that usually only lasts a day before somebody beats you. I'm a little hesitant to say that but records are meant to be broken. And that has what's called a GAHT system, and it's an underground, aromatic system where the pipes run underground, and when fans move all the air. It should change the air in the Hydro House by about 20 to 25 degrees. So, we are hoping to only supplement the heat and air just a little bit, and then we can grow herbs year-round and sell them. We hope to become more sustainable through on-site sales, so we will focus on high-end herbs. You can't get cilantro and things like that in the winter, and so hopefully, we will be able to sell local herbs throughout the winter, and that will be in high demand. That’s what we are hoping for, so that's going to help with our sustainability. Don saw the division, teaching people how to farm. I think he was inspired by the educational aspect, teaching people how to grow their food. We grow food and give it away, but that's not sustainable for our food insecure populations. As you said, the victory gardens, the best way to do it, teach people how to grow their food.

Randy Wilburn [17:59] We say this word and I've used it a lot, but could you define in your ability what food insecurity is because we hear it bantered about quite a bit. A lot of people wonder what that truly means? Are those empty cupboards? If your definition from, as Tri Cycle Farm sees it, what is food insecurity?

Charity Jones [18:28] Well, it's more about not knowing where your next meal will come from. Even if you have got a meal on the table, if you are a mother with three kids, and you don't know where breakfast is going to come from that's food insecure, or even just being okay, this week, but not knowing what you're going to do next week. A lot of us live week by week. There's a lot of stress involved in not knowing how you're going to feed your family in the following days, even if you have meals on the table right then.

Randy Wilburn [18:58] It's really tough. You mentioned a buddy of mine, Nate, earlier from Secondhand Smoke and Second Helping, NWA. Nate's an amazing guy. I think what you guys have done to support his efforts, and I was just talking to him last night, and he said, I saw a need out there and wanted to fill it. There is a huge need. I've gone out with him to pass out meals, and there's just something redeeming that makes you feel good when you walk up to a housing development and you can hand out- I knocked on one door this was like right around Christmas, and I think we had like 300 meals with us. I knocked on the door and I was like, how many meals do you want? One house said I want two, the other said I want seven, and the fact that we had them and we were able to give them brought home to me because I'm not food insecure. That's not my struggle, but I realize that so many people, even people you may not think are food insecure. The real issue here is that a lot of times, we think that food insecurity looks a certain way but food insecurity can be somebody walking around that looks like they have it all together, but they don't. They're struggling at home when it comes to food and food items and there's that stigma of, I'm embarrassed even to open my mouth and say to someone, hey, I'm struggling in this area. We are always looking for that person on the corner with the cardboard sign, but it doesn't always look like that.

Charity Jones [20:37] No, it doesn't. I sent out a survey after Thanksgiving to the Pantry Partners, which was exactly what they indicated. Not only have their numbers go up, but the individuals they're serving, it's a whole different clientele that they have never seen before. And that's what's great about our food recovery program, specifically is that we can take fresh produce, it's almost expired, but it's still edible. Some of it, you can't even tell why they got rid of it.

Randy Wilburn [21:11] There’s so much waste anyway.

Charity Jones [21:12] Well, sometimes they just need to change out a display, or maybe the box was damaged, and they're going to get rid of the whole thing. So anyway, that's the difference between us. We can take things from Whole Foods. We take the ready-made meals, the snap meals that I eat all the time. We just pop them in the microwave. But it's different from canned goods and boxed macaroni, and those sustainable foods like a can of tuna that's great if you don't have a kitchen to cook in; that's very useful. But if you can cook a full meal at home for your family, you want more than just canned food and boxed macaroni. It’s nice to offer some foods for these pantries different from what they're usually seeing. I know that we have heard from a full circle that they see a different clientele on our food recovery days when we're dropping off. People want good food, they don't want just to eat canned food, and they don't want just to eat to take the hunger away. They want to eat something good like the rest of us do.

Randy Wilburn [22:30] I volunteered at St. James Missionary Baptist Church because they have an amazing food pantry. We will make sure that we put a link in the Show Notes for all the different food pantries and link directly to your website. I'm sure you update that on a regular basis as people make things available, so people know where to find these options. I was blown away at all the food that was donated. Some of it came from Walmart, and some came from Sam's, some came from you guys. I remember that's where I met Don physically at St. James when I was doing something. Big shout out to the downtown Fayetteville Rotary for volunteering time, which they still do on a fairly regular basis. And that's something that people can do to help out. You can go to one of these food pantries and socially distant volunteer your time and efforts to make sure that when the food items come in, they can be redistributed as quickly as possible. As you said, some things have a very short shelf life and you want to get them into the hands of the end-user or, in this case, the end eater as quickly as possible.

Charity Jones [23:44] You're absolutely right. We ask that all of our pantries distribute the food we donate within 24 hours, so the shelf life that's left is hopefully in the home and not sitting in the pantry. St. James has done some amazing work. Did you volunteer at their new location or where they have relocated the pantry? Or was it over here by Leverett?

Randy Wilburn [24:10] It was wherever the church is. Have they relocated it since then? This was probably in June-July, the last time I did the pantry with them. But they have been doing it since then.

Charity Jones [24:28] Well, they were originally at their church on Northern Leverett.

Randy Wilburn [24:33] Yes, that's where we were.

Charity Jones [24:35] They have moved. They had an old church location that wasn't in use over Willow Heights. It's across from Willow Heights in South Fayetteville. The congregational room upstairs was quite large, and they have turned that into a Committee Room. Whole Foods doesn't have their bar area anymore for people to sit. And so, Whole Foods donated all of that furniture to us, which we don't need, so we took it all to St. James. They have turned that into a Warming Center for the Salvation Army. When it's really cold and you don't have anywhere to go, then you can go hang out at St. James at that Warming Center because I believe Salvation Army only opens at night.

Randy Wilburn [25:31] And I think that's huge to have, so I recommend people to do that. At the time of recording this, it is a little cold in the late afternoon, early evening. And so, anything to take a little bit of that chill off, although, as I say, somebody coming from Boston to live here six years ago, the cold here is different than the cold in Boston. It's all relative, but regardless, cold is cold. Certainly, we want to encourage people to make available to themselves or others that they know may be struggling, these types of locations where they can find respite and pull things together.

Charity Jones [26:18] And Monique, she's just a powerhouse. She has joined the Fayetteville Housing Authority Board.

Randy Wilburn [26:25] What is Monique's last name?

Charity Jones [26:30] I believe it's Jones.

Randy Wilburn [26:31] That's what I thought. Monique is great. I brought my sons with me to volunteer and she put them to work and every time they came in, they were like, we got to go see Miss Monique and find out what we have to do. I would encourage anyone that has an opportunity to reach out to St. James Missionary Baptist Church to volunteer for the food pantry. They may not need you every day, but when they do need you when those trucks come in, you have to stock and put that stuff away, and then get boxes ready for people to come and then they start driving up. And again, that's rewarding too just seeing the boxes of food going into people's trunks and just knowing that you played a part in helping people that need help right now.

Charity Jones [27:22] It's very rewarding work. And I know that St. James is distributing food boxes on Tuesdays right now.

Randy Wilburn [27:31] And they do a lot. They reach more than 200 plus families every Tuesday, which I think is huge. Every little bit helps. So, tell me, because it's really not a competition. If somebody's listening to this in Springdale, or in Rogers, or in Bentonville, are there sister organizations akin to Tri Cycle that are doing what you guys are doing in those cities?

Charity Jones [27:59] Not that I'm aware of. Not exactly food recovery. Whole Foods, encourage a food recovery program at every one of their stores and so, we were lucky enough. Actually, it's a pretty interesting story, I don't even think the store was open yet. But they were just trying to get to know the area and be a part of the community. And so, the store managers came out to the farm and volunteered in the gardens. Through garden work, talking and playing in the dirt with Don, they were telling him about this food recovery program, and that at their stores, the biggest problem is consistency. They will have all kinds of organizations come in, there's a different contact name and number for every organization, they show up at different times. It was a great program they had started, but the logistics were awful. Don said we can be consistent if you just want to do one person, one contact. We can be there at the same time every day. We have heard from other stores that this is one of the best programs that they've been associated with. It has worked out well to just have one partner. Rogers in Bentonville, they don't have a Whole Foods, so I don't know if another organization is working with a different grocer. Now we've reached out to a couple of other grocers because every one of our pantries has so much need that we wouldn't mind adding another grocer and expand our food recovery program. And, so we are in talks to do that.

Randy Wilburn [29:56] There are obviously other local grocery stores like Ozark Natural Foods, Natural Grocers, Harps, and a couple of other options. And then, of course, there's this little company called Walmart.

Charity Jones [30:11] Now Walmart has done a lot for the Arkansas Food Bank. As much time as we've been doing this, you would think that companies would be more aware. But calling around and asking questions, there's still a lot of hesitation on the corporate legal level, giving away food that's almost expired but still edible. And you have to educate them that there's the Good Samaritan act that covers them legally that once they donate, that relieves them of all liability.

Randy Wilburn [30:45] You mean because we are such a litigious society, they're worried about getting sued.

Charity Jones [30:50] …that they would rather throw away good food than deal with legality. Once you can get past those barriers, the conversations are a lot easier. So, I have put it out there with the legal jargon that it's okay.

Randy Wilburn [31:05] You would think that it would be common sense. I know in Europe they don't have those issues they have very strict Good Samaritan laws in place. When I lived over in Germany, I remember the baker, they would give everything away either at the end of the day or the next morning. All the old stuff would be given away and it was just a common thing. Nobody was sitting around saying, oh, if I get sick off this croissant, I'm going to sue you; it was just a different thing. And I realized croissants come from France, just an example. So, please. I think what you guys are doing is important. I'm glad that we are having a chance to share your story. Is there anything else that you think is important to know right now, because sometime down the road, when we get back to some normalcy, I want to come to do an episode at the farm and go through all the cool things that you're doing? I got some feedback the other day. I actually did a behind the scenes tour of the new public library extension and it was just phenomenal. I really enjoyed the walking and talking piece of it, so I'd love to walk with you and Don through the farm. I know it's not that big, but just to talk about the sights and the sounds and capture it from that perspective, so, we will have to come back and do a part two. Is there anything that you would want the listening audience of I am Northwest Arkansas to know about Tri Cycle Farms that would be important now and later?

Charity Jones [32:55] I guess the most important thing is that we just need support. We usually have Pesto Fest, and that's our largest.

Randy Wilburn [33:06] How much do you normally raise with Pesto Fest.?

Charity Jones [33:10] About 25 $30,000 so we've definitely missed out on that this year. What I would like to say to everyone is figure out how to get involved with your community, even if it's not here. And like you said, it just makes you feel good to help others and there are so many opportunities and so many people needing help. Helping Nate or Mayday Community Kitchen and any of the partners really or here at Tri Cycle but just to encourage everyone to really get involved.

Randy Wilburn [33:50] So, I'm going to really impress upon my listeners of I am Northwest Arkansas please if you see any posts from Tri Cycle Farms, please share them far and wide. If you see calls too for support, or they're raising money for something, this is good. There’s good soil and there's bad soil, this is good soil to sow into. I really want to encourage you and so, if you're in a position to put your money where your mouth is, and help out organizations like Tri Cycle that are really carrying the yeoman's task in our community to make sure that people don't struggle with lack. And so, I really want to encourage everyone that's listening to this to both share this episode and encourage others to be a part of what Tri Cycle is doing.

Charity Jones [34:49] Thank you, Randy. And one more little plug if anyone's interested in doing a food drive. We did a food drive with KUAF throughout the month of December and picked up almost a ton of food. We have done another one with the new school here in Fayetteville, and then we did one with a preschool in Bentonville. We have become a distribution company; we pick up and deliver. So, if anybody wants to do a food drive at their business or organization, we don't mind picking up and delivering it to the pantries that we're already going to.

Randy Wilburn [35:27] I love that. That's a good one. I don't have a physical location right now but we're working on that. So, anybody listening to this has an office space with a setup for a small studio, let us know because I am Northwest Arkansas is looking to expand. And if we do that, we would love to do a food drive, because, of course, my wife would kill me if I store anything at my house so that goes without saying. I can't thank you enough for sharing and giving us a little glimpse behind the curtain at Tri Cycle Farms. And I just want to wish you and Don, nothing but continued success. We really appreciate what you're doing because you are making a difference. And I know some days when you get up and you look out and you're like, I'd rather just get back under the covers. We appreciate the fact that you're getting up and doing this every day that wash, rinse, repeat mindset. So, thank you so much for all that you do.

Charity Jones [36:25] Well, we enjoy doing it. No problem. Because of the cold and snowy days, it is hard to get out there and love that trailer. We do it.

Randy Wilburn [36:33] Well, like I said, if there's anything I can do for you guys, please let me know. We will continue to press your information out there and share it with the world. And thank you so much Charity for coming on the podcast and for just sharing the story of Tri Cycle Farms.

Charity Jones [36:56] Well, thank you so much for giving me a platform and inviting me to come on the show.

Randy Wilburn [37:00] We will do a part two coming soon, stay tuned. Well, folks, there you have it. Another episode of I am Northwest Arkansas, I hope you guys liked that. I really enjoyed just sitting down with Charity and learning more about Tri Cycle Farms. I have worked with them in the past, and so, I think this is a great organization. If you can support them in any way, shape or form, whether it's donating something, donating your time when it's possible, donating money. Obviously, if you can do that, or anything else that can help this organization continue to grow, please feel free to do that. And real quickly, I didn't get that but what is the website?

Charity Jones [37:43]

Randy Wilburn [37:47] And all of that will be in the Show Notes as well as information about the sponsors for this podcast. We really appreciate you guys. Remember, our podcast comes out every Monday so you can listen to the podcast and learn something new about Northwest Arkansas. If you're not from here and you're moving here, you definitely should listen to and subscribe to the podcast because you gain insight that you won't get from any other book or anything else about what makes this area great. And remember, you can sign up for us wherever you get your podcasts and rate and review us on Apple podcasts. That's all I have for you guys this week. I will see you soon. Peace.

About the Show: 

Additional Show Notes and Transcript coming soon!

Tri Cycle Farms, Inc.

1705 N. Garland Avenue

Fayetteville, AR 72703


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