Bell Urban Farm brings Conway to the next level
November 26 - December 2, 2018
By Becca Bona
Originally from the Benton area, Kim Doughty-McCannon has always had a thing for the outdoors. Although she initially decided to go the laboratory route with her biology degree, she missed spending time in nature. In her quest to spend more time outside, she landed upon her own unexpected, yet fruitful venture – Bell Urban Farm.
Planting the seed
“I missed being outdoors,” says Doughty-McCannon, on why she first started volunteering for Little Rock Urban Farming (LRUF). LRUF is dedicated to urban organic food production with an educational arm, namely, the organization strives to teach apprentices about the production, marketing and distribution of organic fruits, flowers and vegetables.
The seed was planted for Doughty-McCannon, so she applied for an Arkansas Garden Corp position which lead her to the Faulkner County Library’s garden, locally known as the Faulkner County Urban Farm Project.
Around that time, she met her boyfriend-now-husband and moved to Conway.
“This was all just lawn at the time,” she says, referencing the couple’s front yard, which isn’t all that far from the Faulkner County Library. “When my service term was over at the library, I just decided to start a farm. It was something I always had in the back of my mind.”
Doughty-McCannon utilized the skills she had garnered over the years at LRUF and the Faulkner County Urban Farm Project to transform her yard. While she lives on nearly one acre, she is only able to use about a quarter of it. And, from the get-go she knew she wanted to sell her produce.
“I definitely wanted to sell at the farmer’s market,” she recalls. “We sell there, and then we sell via Conway Locally Grown.” Conway Locally Grown is an online farmers’ market that began serving Conway and the surrounding areas in the Spring of 2008. All of the producers farm using strict standards that ensure clean, safe, and humanely produced foods.
Right now, Bell’s consistently works with locally-owned WunderHaus as well as the New South Produce Cooperative. “The produce coop buys from organic or certified naturally grown farms all around Arkansas,” she explains. Part of their CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) program includes a pick-up on the Bell farm.
“They’re awesome,” says Doughty-McCannon, who is thrilled to see the number of CSA members growing in Conway.
“I feel like it’s all slowly growing in Conway. We’re getting more of a growing-local food scene. Right now we’re maybe at where Little Rock was ten or fifteen years ago,” she says.
Honing in on flowers
Before Doughty-McCannon found her niche, she knew she wanted to have a green impact with the urban farm. Thus, she sought a certified naturally grown distinction.
“We’re certified naturally grown so we don’t use any manmade chemicals, and it’s all natural,” she explains. “It’s similar to organic […] but certified naturally grown is simply another option for small farms that are just getting started that don’t really have as much money to put into an organic certification.”
After two summers of selling, Doughty-McCannon has found her niche in flowers. Part of this has to do with the limited offerings of cut-flowers in Conway, as well as striving for a profit. “We realized we were making money on our flowers. We’re starting to see a trend of people wanting locally-grown flowers for their weddings,” she says. “I don’t mind working with flowers, they’re really pretty, but I want to grow some edible stuff, as well.”
This past summer she implemented a delivery service, taking fresh bouquets to participating restaurants during her busy months.
Doughty-McCannon has also had success growing microgreens, which she hopes will continue, although they are not as profitable as the flowers.
“They are literally baby greens,” she explains. “Think baby pea shoots or baby mustard sprouts, or kale sprouts. You harvest them when they’re really tiny so they’re full of flavor and nutrition. Restaurants really like them as garnishes.”
The farm offers fresh eggs as well, and currently has over 15 hens and one rooster on deck in the backyard coop Doughty-McCannon and her husband built.
“We try to get a mix of breeds that lay all different colors eggs. We have white egg layers, dark brown, light brown, and green. Each dozen we want a mixture,” she says.
Though the spring and summer are busy times on the farm, there are still things to attend to year-round. Right now the farm isn’t capable of growing much, especially since Doughty-McCannon decided not to grow winter greens this year.
“This time of year I start to amend the soil with compost and chicken litter,” she explains. “This builds all the beds back up and gets them ready for bulb planting.”
Building a community
“We really like working with other businesses and nonprofits in our community,” says Doughty-McCannon. The list includes the Locals – a creative, community place-making nonprofit of which Doughty-McCannon is a board member.
Thanks to the Locals, Doughty-McCannon is both a CSA pick-up location for New South Produce and able to participate in a food recovery program.
“Twice a week we have volunteers go to Harps and collect food that they’re going to throw away – that’s ultimately still good food. We donate all the good food to schools and shelters,” she says. “The food that is going to go bad gets taken to farms for composting. Plus, the chickens get scraps too.”
Bell’s has access to a refrigerated trailer that the Locals built. Known as the Food Hub, the farm uses it as the CSA pick-up.
“The Locals got a grant a few years back from the USDA to increase access to healthy food in Conway,” she explains. “They ended up building this. The air conditioner is hooked up to a little machine called a CoolBot – this is what a lot of farms use as a walk-in cooler.”
Doughty-McCannon cleans it up every week before New South drops off their boxes in the spring and the summer. At last count there were 39 CSA members in Conway.
Bell Urban Farm is more than a flower provider, they’re also a community-builder. In the spring Bell’s hosts a plant sale alongside LRUF’s annual sale in Little Rock, but also in Conway, as well. In the fall the urban farm hosts their annual Bell B-Q, a fall festival and fundraiser with a farm-to-table theme.
Next steps for Bell’s involve a Farm Stand, which would serve as a place to buy produce and flowers, but also other local handmade sundries like craft soaps and candles. Doughty-McCannon also dreams of hoop houses one day.
No matter the future, though, she is excited to be in Conway.
“I think we’re just kind of on the verge of something in Conway,” she says with a smile. “I feel like there’s not a lot here … yet.”
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Since starting Bell Urban Farm in Conway a little over two years ago, Kim Doughty-McCannon has watched the scene in Faulkner County grow. As a one-woman operation, the farm takes maintenance year-round. (Photos provided)