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A Day In the Life: ALFN Market Volunteers

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to volunteer at the ALFN Market? This post takes you step-by-step through a day in the life of our Saturday morning volunteers! Our shifts are divided into two sections: 8:00-10:15, and 10:00-12:15.

8:15 – Cofffeeeeeeeeee. The early morning shifts starts….early. Well, 8:15 early. Volunteers roll in to the kitchen at Christ Episcopal Church and fix some coffee before starting the morning’s work.

8:15-8:45 – Setup. After the main room is setup up with tables, volunteers move all the produce that farmers have been dropping off for the market out of the fridges and organize it.

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8:45-9:45 – Inventory. Once the produce is arranged on the tables, the Food Club Coordinator hands out the inventory sheets, and the counting begins. Volunteers must carefully check that each grower delivered the correct number and type of product. Hopefully by now the coffee has kicked in!

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9:45-10:00 – Snack Time. While the Food Club Coordinator vanishes to the office to finish getting ready for opening, volunteers can enjoy delicious snacks and more coffee, most of which are ordered right off the market! This is a great time to take advantage of your $5 volunteer credit and scope out the extras list too…

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10:00 – Customers arrive. Our customers grab their order sheet and hand them off to volunteers in the kitchen and produce room to fill them. A volunteer’s job is to make sure that every customer is getting the correct quantity and type of product. If you’ve ever volunteered, you know how confusing the first few times can be! From a fridge full of eggs you have to find the right grower (usually we have 5 different farmers bringing eggs), the right size (medium, large, or jumbo?), AND the right color (green eggs are a thing!). This is why we encourage our volunteers to come back for a shift every month (plus you can get your free membership this way!)

11:45-12:15 – The Aftermath. Ok, so actually the market is so fun that time flies by while you’re helping customers. Before you know it, it’s time to start wrapping everything up. Volunteers start bagging orders that will be picked up on Monday, leaving messages with customers who missed their pickup (don’t feel bad if you’ve ever missed your order…it happens every weekend!), and tidying up the produce room and kitchen. Every volunteer leaves with some sort of treat, whether it’s discounted groceries or leftover volunteer snacks.

ALFN relies on dedicated volunteers to run our markets. Get involved with local food, and with your community! Now that you know what it’s all about, sign up for an upcoming Saturday shift.

Giving Back Through Fresh Local Foods

“I feel this program is a great resource for my family.”

“[I get]…good quality food I normally can’t afford but helps my health.”

“[Green Groceries]…fills the gap in between shopping weeks and provides healthier options. Some of the veggies and meats I’d never tried before.”

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Marion Hill reacts to the fresh produce offered as part of the Green Groceries program at Christ Episcopal Church. Photo by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

These are just a few of the great comments we are getting from members of the Green Groceries Program at Christ Episcopal Church. The concept of the program is simple: getting fresh, local foods into the hands of low income families in need. Families receive a basket with foods like high quality meats, vegetables, fruit, bread, eggs, and honey every other week, and local growers receive full payment for their products.

Christ Church member Susie Shinn designed and implemented this program over three years ago, and it continues to be a growing, lively service with committed and welcoming volunteers. In February, Candace McCallister took over leadership of the program, with hopes of continuing Susie’s wonderful vision and expanding the program to serve more people in a fresh and sustainable way.

The program is a beautiful circle, supporting local growers, feeding local families with truly healthy food, and offering the rest of us the opportunity to share our bounty. The work of Green Groceries would not be possible if local people didn’t sponsor grocery baskets for their neighbors in need.

Green Groceries also has a strong partnership with ALFN in ordering and delivering the food. This week, if you make a donation to ALFN through Arkansas Gives, your gift will support Green Groceries and ensure that families in Little Rock have better access to nourishing, local foods.

By the 2017 Green Groceries Director, Candace McCallister

Support ALFN on April 6th for Arkansas Gives and help us continue to support programs like Green Groceries!

Timely Tips for the Newbie Gardener

Ahhhhh, Spring is in the air! Literally. Is anyone not suffering from allergies right now? Possible death by pollen aside, now is the perfect time to start your spring garden. Maybe you’re someone with a large backyard garden looking to experiment with a new row of vegetables, or a total gardening-newbie who has a container pot that just opened up (hey, we know you didn’t mean to kill the last plant you had in it). Whatever your mastery level, be sure to check out the “Plants, Flowers, and Seeds” category on the ALFN Market and see what we have to help get your spring garden started. And if you are a total newbie, here are a few tips to help get you started this Spring!

  • Be realistic. I know how it goes – you have that 10’x20′ patch of grass on the side of your house that you just KNOW would make the most beautiful garden. Before you go tilling up the whole thing, be honest about your time commitment. I don’t say this to deter anyone from taking the plunge, but growing your own food can be hard! If you’re a busy person and this is your first time planting, keep it simple. Something like an indoor herb garden can be the perfect thing to get your feet wet.
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Nothing wrong with keeping it simple!
  • Grow in soil, not dirt. If you’re growing in an urban environment, chances are the dirt in your background is not going to cut it. Growing in healthy soil is linked directly to the nutritional value and flavor profile of your plants, so if you’re growing edibles make sure you’re investing in great soil! Consider creating a compost pile to amend your soil, or if you’re not up to keeping up with the nitrogen-carbon ratios and the turning that good compost requires, invest in a quality product from a farmer’s co-op or the local soil experts at The Urban Food Loop.
  • Talk to local gardeners. It can be tempting to click a couple of Pinterest links and think you have it all figured out, but online articles are usually very generalized and don’t take into account the specifics of a region (and our weather is no picnic to navigate). Whether it’s talking to a friend who’s a seasoned gardener or chatting with an employee at a local co-op, make sure you get a few tips from local growers!
  • Try, Try Again! You will kill some plants. You may kill all your plants. It’s ok! The beautiful thing about seasons is they keep rolling around. If your spring garden is a total flop, do some research and try again with a summer garden. Keep it easy and fun!

-Claire H., ALFN Program and Market Manager

Community Cookbook: Bowled Over!

Bowls have revolutionized the way I eat, and I’m not talking about the ceramic Ikea dishes in my cupboard (even though I do think it’s superior to the plate, but that’s another blog post). Bowl dishes are the new trend in cooking that makes meal planning and throwing together healthy dinners SO easy. Really, try these out for a week and I promise you will never want to say “crockpot dump meal” ever again.

A bowl dish usually consists of a couple of veggies (and some fruit if any of your favorites are in season!), a grain or legume, a protein, and a healthy drizzle of sauce. They’re incredibly versatile and delicious, no matter if you make it vegan, vegetarian, seasonable, paleo, whatever. You can have fun and play with new flavor profiles (it’s so easy to stock your kitchen with Thai and Indian spices) or keep it simple! I like to prep a couple of ingredients over the weekend and mix and match ingredients throughout the week. Here are a couple of amazing bowl recipes to get you started – don’t be afraid to substitute in your favorite ingredients and get a little creative!

-Claire H., ALFN Program & Market Manager

Masala Chickpea Buddha Bowl from Full of Plants

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Salmon Roll Sushi Bowl from Savory Tooth

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Mermaid Smoothie Bowl from The Glowing Fridge

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Healthy Chicken Shawarma Quinoa Bowls from Peas & Crayons

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Local Chef Spotlight: Matthew Bell at South on Main

Curious about what Arkansas products local chefs love and where they like to eat, we decided to ask one of our favorites to learn more. 
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What’s a favorite ingredient that you cook with often? 
Bell:  Arkansas Rice*
*We carry a variety of local Arkansas rices at our online market.
What’s your favorite dish at your favorite local hot spot? 
Bell: I love anything on the brunch menu at @ The Corner in downtown Little Rock.
WE DO TOO! 
If you could have any superpower, which would it be? 
Bell: Time travel
Oh, that’s a good one. 
Bell’s restaurant, South on Main is known for its comfortable and hip vibe serving southern comforts and favorite cocktails in imaginative and exciting new ways. He’s also passionate about supporting local farmers and suppliers as often and as much as he can. With a seasonal menu, he takes advantage of what is fresh in and around the state of Arkansas.
From their website: “South on Main is a revolutionary cultural experience that includes a restaurant and performance venue featuring the best of Southern cuisine and culture. With a kitchen helmed by Chef Matthew Bell, the restaurant offers a sophisticated but unpretentious atmosphere and a creative and accessible menu. South on Main also presents programming related to the content of the Oxford American magazine, including musical performances, literary readings, film screenings, and other offerings, making it the place where the Oxford American goes “from the page to the stage.” The venue’s multi-discipline programming provides a forum for established and unknown artists to perform in front of an appreciative audience, providing a full culinary, artistic, and educational immersion in Southern culture.”

Board Member Spotlight: Tifany Hamlin

Tifany Hamlin wears lots of hats with many organizations in central Arkansas. She’s our current board chair, founder of Party with a Heart, market manager at Dogtown Farmers Market, and the new executive director with Be Pro Be Proud. A small town girl at heart, she knows how important it is to support local economies. That’s why she is passionate about local food and supporting our Arkansas farmers. When she’s not working (which is never, really), she and her husband, Harry love to travel all over the world.

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How did you get involved with ALFN and when did you join the Board?

Tifany: We’ve been customers at ALFN since 2013. I loved being able to shop off season when my farmers market was closed. I joined the board in spring of 2015.

You just stepped into the role of board chair. Describe what that job entails and which part you’re most looking forward to.

Tifany: Being board chair really means coordinating all of the various activities that the board oversees as well as making sure that our program coordinator and weekly market has what it needs to be successful. We have such a great team — they make my job easy! I’m excited to serve ALFN in this way.

What would you say to someone considering becoming a board member or a volunteer at ALFN?

Tifany: Our organization is small but very active. There’s lots to do and every volunteer has an opportunity to play an important role at ALFN. The board is friendly and hardworking. It’s a great place to plug in without feeling overwhelmed by a large group of people you may not know. I consider all of my fellow board members good friends who have the same passion about local food and life in general.

What’s your favorite thing to order from the market?

Tifany: Right now I’m obsessed with Barnhill Orchards green leaf lettuce. It comes washed and ready to use and lasts more than a week (if we don’t get it all used up way before then!). I also love Bluebird Hill Berry Farm eggs — these have been a staple in my house for years!

 

Satisfying Vegetarian Chili for the Last Nights of Winter

By Board Member Amy Pritchard

Oh, Arkansas winters! Last weekend, I sat on my porch in the 70 degree weather and planned my garden. This weekend, we’re reminded it’s still winter!  February reminds us that spring is just around the corner, but we’re not quite there yet!

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Even though the spring vegetable season has not yet begun, you can still make a great local meal.  Chili is my favorite winter meal, because they are so easy to make with whatever you have on hand. Some weeks, I make complex meals from scratch. Other weeks, I’m too busy to even think about cooking. A chili is a great option for either: you can make it ahead for the week, or make an elegant meal.  Chili is very forgiving: just throw in whatever you have in whatever ratios you prefer, and you’ll have a great meal!  

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I based this week’s recipe on Minimalist Baker’s 5 Ingredient Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili following the general instructions, but substituting in the ingredients I had on hand.  I used butternut squash, but the market still has some sweet potatoes available.  I added canned tomatoes instead of salsa. While I had planned to cook the black beans from scratch using ALFN’s bulk black beans, I ended up using canned beans.  For my spices, I chose chili, cumin, and chipotle (I love the smoky taste of chipotle. For added depth, add a canned chipotle in adobo sauce).  Let it all simmer together, and, voila!

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