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URBAN FARMING CO-OP

Sprout Cooperative seeks to revolutionize city agriculture

By: Lisa Herndon Armstrong   Photography: Lily Darragh

The small cottage in Little Rock’s South Main neighborhood is stenciled with fanciful motifs, the front yard garden teeming with herbs and vegetables. There’s more than just a summer crop blossoming in this small urban plot, however. This is the home of Sprout Urban Farms Cooperative (SUFC), a new agricultural project in central Arkansas begun in 2015 by Benjamin D. Harrison and his wife, Brittany Beckett-Harrison.

Ben Harrison said the co-op idea evolved over the past five years. First, his health and political activism drove his decision to become a vegetarian. Then, in 2014, the Harrisons traveled to Michigan as part of the Detroit Light Brigade, a social, economic and environmental activist group. There, the Harrisons witnessed firsthand the struggles of an area of the country suffering from decades of social breakdown due to a stagnating economy. “I came to the conclusion that doing business solely for aggressive expansion or for profit doesn’t work—it needed to be something more socially minded,” Ben says.

Not long after returning from Detroit, the Harrisons relocated from Joplin, Mo., to Little Rock and began turning their political and philosophical dreams into a viable business. In July 2015, the Harrisons founded the Center Street Urban Homestead, which would eventually become the SUFC. Ben became involved with the local urban farming scene by doing some “small scale gardening” at the St. Joseph Farm in North Little Rock. He also served as garden coordinator with the North Little Rock Community Farm, where he introduced new technologies based on his research. “We set up an automated irrigation system and a system to open and close the chicken coop doors,” he says. 

From top to bottom: The cooperative grows medicinal plants like Tulsi Basil, Ball’s Improved Orange Calendula and German Chamomile for use in their organic tinctures.

These days, he’s focused almost exclusively on the SUFC, which he envisions as “a cooperative of farmers, beekeepers, entrepreneurs, herbalists and nutritionists who will work together to produce more locally grown food.” The co-op uses a “pay-what-you-can” approach to selling produce, a model subsidized by sales of the organic herbal tinctures the Harrisons make. “Our eventual goal is that our value-added products (like the tinctures) will produce the majority of income for the co-op,” says Ben. That added income will allow the group to offset the costs of growing food for others.

The group is currently looking to add more projects to their venture, including an upcoming composting initiative. “About 40 percent of our food waste ends up in landfills,” says Ben. “We’ll be asking restaurants, coffee shops and other establishments about picking up their food waste and coffee grounds. The composting initiative will help keep carbon out of the atmosphere while creating living wage jobs.”

The future looks bright for the cooperative. New products like an herbal insect spray are in the works, while produce is also doing well. It’s all part of the Harrisons’ vision and belief that small changes on the local level can bring about better health and well-being for many—and a new approach to making a living. “There is so much more happening at the local level,” Ben says. “There are people you don’t read about in the news that are making significant changes in our society.” For the Harrisons, giving those people a chance to succeed is what the SUFC is all about.

TINCTURES FOR HEALTH

Herbal tinctures are made by infusing alcohol with various medicinal herbs. Sprout Urban Farms Cooperative’s tinctures are organic, and currently sell for $12 per single bottle or $20 for two. Here is just a sampling of what’s available:

COMPOS MENTIS: This uplifting mixture of valerian root, skullcap and passionflower’s name is Latin for “sound mind.”

MUNDA CORPUS: The name means “clean body” in Latin, and this concoction contains chaparral, milk thistle and yellow dock—all herbs promoted for their detoxifying effects.

SURSUM CORDA: Recommended as a stress-reliever, this stinging nettle and tulsi basil tincture’s name means “hearts lifted.” 

Each of SUFC’s tinctures is formulated by certified holistic nutritionist Lexie Dixon. 

For more information about Sprout Urban Farms Cooperative, visit sprouturbanfarms.co.