The following is a transcript of Gov. Asa Hutchinson's radio column for the weekend of Aug. 12, 2016:
Arkansas has a rich tradition of family farming. Out of the 45,000 farms in Arkansas, ninety-seven percent are family-owned. We lead the nation in rice production and are among the top ten states in the production of poultry, catfish, sweet potatoes and lumber.
The agricultural industry adds nearly $20 billion to our state’s economy each year, all the while sustaining a long tradition of homegrown production.
Yes, in Arkansas, our agricultural roots run deep.
This week, to show my support of our farmers, I issued a proclamation for “Farmers Market Week” in Arkansas. From August seventh to thirteenth, nearly 100 farmers markets sold their homegrown products in every corner of the state.
These markets – stocked full of everything from bacon to jellies – allow our farmers an outlet to sell their goods and contribute to the health of local communities. And let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like the taste of a freshly picked tomato or ear of corn that was grown less than 50 miles away. In fact, last week I picked up a watermelon and it reminds me that our Hope and Cave City watermelons are the best in the world.
To put the industry in perspective, farms span across 13.8 million acres of Arkansas land and account for one out of every six jobs. But not only are farmers critical to Arkansas’s economic success, they also lay the foundation for a healthier Arkansas.
An important part of our mission is to increase access to fresh, affordable, healthy foods. Farmers markets have played a major role in helping us accomplish this goal, bringing nutritious, top-quality produce right where you live and eat. Through the federal SNAP benefits program, Arkansas can double the purchasing power of SNAP benefit cards at farmers markets. That means more people will have access to healthier food choices and greater opportunities for a balanced diet.
And every year, “Farm to School” programs gain more popularity as schools choose to buy fresh fruits and veggies from local farmers to feed students. These programs provide healthy choices for our kids, invest in communities and support local farms.
The momentum of the farm-to-table movement and our efforts to advocate for farmer’s markets have tripled the number of markets in Arkansas over the last three years alone. That means more jobs are created, families and children are eating healthier and local farms become more sustainable. It’s a win-win. And it is part of my Healthy Active Arkansas plan.
As governor, I am proud to support Arkansas agriculture and the farm community. To our farmers – our greatest natural resource – thank you for bolstering our economy and supporting our uniquely Arkansas way of life.
And to those who have a hankering for some homegrown produce and Arkansas hospitality, find out when a local farmers market is open near you, and come hungry.