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Ground breaking for community farm set for March 27

A group of 12 North Little Rock High School students and The People Tree will host their ground breaking for the North Little Rock Community Farm and Research Hub on Wednesday, March 27, at the Freshman Campus Mini-Auditorium beginning at noon.

EAST Initiative and The People Tree will present businesses and community members with an overview of the future plans for the North Little Rock Community Farm and Research Hub, as well as break ground on the first garden. The event is open to the public, media, and local businesses and is designed to inform the community about what is happening and being planned for the North Little Rock Community Farm and Research Hub.

EAST Initiative and The People Tree are working with existing growers, processors, and distributors, as well as, farmers markets, restaurants, and consumers to develop an infrastructure for a long-term equitable and sustainable food system that can address the underlying causes of hunger and poor nutrition created by the current industrialized food system.

In addition to developing infrastructure for school farms and growing and maintain plant and vegetable life, EAST Initiative and The People Tree are working with schools, local initiatives, and coalitions to educate the general public about healthy eating habits, active lifestyles, importance of social interaction and community engagement.

“To me, what we are doing makes a true difference. We are taking a few gardens and a major resource hub and changing North Little Rock and Central Arkansas as we know it. We are changing the community one step at a time, and you don’t realize that until you sit down and think about it. I still cannot capture that this is finally breaking ground,” said Mason Graves, project chairman.

Josh Fendley, President of The People Tree, said the project is a good development for the community.

“This project is an example of what can happen when people come together to address two basic needs we all share: Food and a sense of belonging,” said Fendley. “By working together to ensure that all people have access to affordable, nutritious food, we cannot only strengthen the health and well-being of individual citizens but can also strengthen the health and cohesiveness of the community at large.”

Graves said she is exciting about the project.

“EAST® (Environmental and Spatial Technology) is an educational model focusing on student-driven service projects accomplished by using teamwork and cutting-edge technology. EAST classrooms are equipped with state-of-the-art workstations, servers, software and accessories, including GPS/GIS mapping tools, architectural and CAD design software, 3D animation suites, virtual reality development and more. Students identify problems in their local communities and then use these tools to develop solutions, collaborating with civic and other groups in the process,” Graves said.

The focus, however, is not on the technology itself, but on the unique learning environment of the EAST classroom, where students are responsible for creating their own project-based learning experience. There are no lectures and no tests. Instead, the students are guided by an EAST facilitator (a teacher trained in the EAST process). This radically different approach to learning yields tremendous results. Students are better prepared for both college and the business world, and they care more about learning and serving their communities.

“We have joined up with the People Tree. The People Tree is a Central Arkansas non-profit focused on turning community ideas into community action. Founded in the fall of 2010, the People Tree works with various members of the community to promote societal systems that are economically, environmentally, and socially just. From strategic consulting and project management to and community engagement, we’re working tirelessly to make Central Arkansas a community of service and action,” according to Graves.

EAST Initiative and The People Tree are working with existing growers, processors, and distributors, as well as, farmers markets, restaurants, and consumers to develop an infrastructure for a long-term equitable and sustainable food system that can address the underlying causes of hunger and poor nutrition created by the current industrialized food system.

In addition to developing and supporting the infrastructure for the community-based food system, EAST Initiative and The People Tree work with schools, local initiatives, and coalitions to educate the general public about healthy eating habits, active lifestyles, importance of social interaction and community engagement, and the benefits of a thriving community-based food system.

EAST Initiative and The People Tree are developing and will incubate the formation of a Resource Cooperative to be a hub of interaction for the community-based food system and serve local growers, processors, and distributors of all sizes. The cooperative is to provide technical training for hoop house and grow dome construction and installation, development of aquaponics systems, and general consulting services for its members and customers. In addition to providing professional and educational services to members and the general public, the Resource Cooperative would stock agricultural inputs required to the meet the needs of its members and customers.

“That is a look at what we are trying to accomplish, but it does not nearly tell you everything. To sum everything up, North Little Rock High School EAST Initiative and The People Tree are coming together to make the city and community of North Little Rock a place where people want to come, and where we take care of our people. We want to see change in our community and we are making it happen now.” –said Graves, EAST student Administrator project chairman.

The garden team has leaders who are making everything happen consists of two high school student team leaders — Graves and DeLena Lattimore — who alone spend over 200 hours a month on working on nothing but this project alone. They are backed up by 10 high school students.

“Then they are backed up by the president of The People Tree. Those 13 people are the team members that make every decision and make everything happen, but they cannot do it alone. They use endless support of the community, local churches, schools and businesses that donate their time and money to make this thing happen,” said Graves.

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