UACES Facebook Northwest Arkansas farmers market program helps growers expand sales opportunities
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April 12, 2022

Northwest Arkansas farmers market program helps growers expand sales opportunities

By Fred Miller
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Fast facts

  • Experiment Station launches program to expand markets for horticultural foods
  • Program helps growers develop shelf-stable products for farmers markets
  • USDA Agricultural Marketing Service funds program with $622,797 grant

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — A new program will help northwest Arkansas fruit and vegetable growers to develop shelf-stable food products and business plans to expand sales opportunities at farmers markets.

Local Farms
VALUE-ADDED — The "Expanding Farmers’ Opportunities in Northwest Arkansas Program" helps farmers turn unsold produce into shelf-stable products for sale in farmers markets. (U of A System Division of Agriculture photo by Fred Miller)

The program will help growers turn their unsold produce into processed food products and develop business plans for selling the products at farmers markets.

“The goal of the ‘Expanding Farmers’ Opportunities in Northwest Arkansas Program’ is to create income opportunities that extend beyond the growing season for farmers selling their produce at farmers markets,” said Ruben Morawicki, former associate professor of food science for the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station. The experiment station is the research arm of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

“Fruits and vegetables have a very short shelf life,” Morawicki said. “Therefore, farmers will extend their productive cycle past the growing season by transforming some of these raw materials into shelf-stable products.”

Program team

Morawicki, Chef Steven Jenkins, department chair at Brightwater, A Center for the Study of Food, and Rogelio Garcia Contreras, teaching assistant professor at the University of Arkansas’ Sam M. Walton College of Business, collaborated to design the program.

Brightwater is an academic department of Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville. Garcia Contreras is also director of Social Innovation in the strategy, entrepreneurship and venture innovation department at Walton College.

Jeyam Subbiah, head of the food science department, and John Swenson, manager of the experiment station’s Arkansas Food Innovation Center, also lend their expertise to the program, Threlfall said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is funding the program with a $622,797 matching grant from the Agricultural Marketing Service Farmers Market Promotion Program, a part of the USDA’s Local Agriculture Market Program.

After USDA-AMS approved the grant, Morawicki accepted a position at another university. Renee Threlfall, a research scientist for the food science department, stepped into his role after he left.

The program

Threlfall said that participating growers will learn to create value-added products from their surplus produce using the Arkansas Food Innovation Center’s food manufacturing facility.

“The Arkansas Food Innovation Center provides clients with the expertise, facilities, and equipment for developing value-added products and moving these products into the marketplace,” Subbiah said.

“I am very excited about this support from USDA Farmers Market and Local Agriculture Market programs to assist even more producers in developing value-added products for the farmers market,” Subbiah said. “This funded project aligns well with the AFIC’s mission and strengthens our relationship with collaborators to enhance and expand our services to our clients.

“The ‘Expanding Farmers’ Opportunities in Northwest Arkansas Program’ is truly an interdisciplinary project involving culinology, food science, and entrepreneurship to assist our stakeholders in the state,” he said.

Jenkins and a team of Brightwater students will develop recipes for the products.

“This grant allows us to bring the knowledge and expertise of our chefs and students to foster entrepreneurship that will financially support our local growers,” Jenkins said. “This effort is an important step in developing the northwest Arkansas food system since eating what we grow beyond the season will require local food processing capabilities.

“This grant will allow farmers to utilize a greater percentage of their harvest and extend their income beyond the farmers market season,” Jenkins said.

Garcia Contreras will lead a Walton College team to advise participating growers by completing market assessment and customer discovery processes. It will advise participating growers on market, brand, and commercialization strategies for their products.

For interested growers, the Walton College team will assist them in developing a plan for small business development, focusing on the manufacturing and commercialization of successful value-added products.

“This grant offers a unique opportunity to foster a multidisciplinary collaboration designed to support the development of value-added products, placing local farmers at the center of our efforts,” Garcia Contreras said. “The intention is to tap on the creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurial skills of farmers themselves, and support them as they explore ways to generate new, viable and sustainable revenue streams.”

Free service

“We will provide these services at no cost to the selected partnering growers,” Threlfall said. “The grower can sell the product at the farmers market or other venues.”

She said that the number of participating growers will be limited. The participants should anticipate a one-year commitment from developing a product idea to launching the product.

“The growers will get a commercially viable recipe, training and help with using specialty equipment for producing low-acid value-added products,” Threlfall said. “They will leave the program with marketing advice and a portfolio that includes a product recipe, a food safety plan for processing, and a business plan.”

For information about the “Expanding Farmers’ Opportunities in Northwest Arkansas Program,” contact Threlfall at 479-575-4677 or

To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: Follow us on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch. To learn about Extension Programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit Follow us on Twitter at @AR_Extension.

To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk.


About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.

The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.


Media Contact: Fred Miller
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station
(479) 575-5647