Small business support, community collaboration, and food education emerged as the top priorities in the Local Foods Local Places Community Action Plan released by the Environmental Protection Agency. This Action Plan was created with input from a diverse group of citizens who convened in City Hall in late 2019 to discuss ways to strengthen the Russellville food system and increase innovation and entrepreneurship for local farmers.
The initial conversation stemmed from the proposed innovation hub project to be housed in the old fire station. Steering committee members included representatives from the City of Russellville, Arkansas Tech University, Main Street Russellville, and the Conductor, among others.
Action Items from the Community Plan include:
1. Create and convene an entrepreneur development committee
2. Clean the Old Central Fire Station open space to make it a blank slate ready for use
3. Host pop-up visioning event at the Old Central Fire Station space for community to add input and ownership
4. Continue recruiting and outreach in the community to seek support for an innovation/food hub in Russellville
5. Hire Hub Director to support and grow small businesses and connect entrepreneurs to local resources
6. Develop inventory of producers/small businesses needing commercial kitchen space
7. Build a local food alliance to continue the conversation about food security and food access
“This was an exciting opportunity to bring together different community stakeholders to let their voices be heard,” says Julie Paladino, Project Coordinator for the City of Russellville. “Even though we all entered the room with different priorities, we left this experience with a shared vision of working together to grow our local food system.”
Cass Capen-Housley, Event Coordinator/Instructor at Arkansas Tech University Department of Parks, Recreation and Hospitality Administration, shared “The River Valley has so many talented bakers, chefs, and food producers who only need a little help taking their businesses to the next level. This process helped us to identify how the community can help to clear that path.”
The next step in the process is to organize a citizenry group who is committed to implementing the Action Plan. The long term goal is to provide a physical space for farmers to aggregate their crops, a venue for entrepreneurs to scale their business, and a network of people dedicated to educating the next generation on nutrition, culinary life skills, and the benefits of eating locally.
“Russellville is a place unlike anywhere else,” said Tiffany Henry, Rural Director at the Conductor, a publicprivate partnership based out of central Arkansas that supports innovators and entrepreneurs through mentoring, accelerator programs and boot camps, a makerspace, meet-ups, and other similar activities. “I am excited for the possibility to contribute to downtown revitalization while providing a central gathering place for our entrepreneur community. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.” If you would like to be involved in moving the Local Foods Local Places Community Action Plan forward, please contact Tiffany Henry at firstname.lastname@example.org. The full report can be found here: https://www.russellvillearkansas.org/CivicAlerts.aspx