It’s still dark at Freckle Face Farm in McRae, but owner Mitchell Latture is used to beating the sunrise, as he has every day since he and his wife Jami began farming his great-grandfather’s land. As usual, his first chore is to feed and water the chickens. Latture’s farm has become a popular supplier of […]
It’s still dark at Freckle Face Farm in McRae, but owner Mitchell Latture is used to beating the sunrise, as he has every day since he and his wife Jami began farming his great-grandfather’s land. As usual, his first chore is to feed and water the chickens. Latture’s farm has become a popular supplier of meat and poultry to butcher shops like Hillcrest Artisan Meats and restaurants like Mylo Coffee Co., which means work at Freckle Face is never done.
Latture’s broilers live inside airy, open-bottomed shelters called schooners, which are moved daily to fresh pasture. These structures protect the birds from prey animals while giving them plenty of room to run around and “just be chickens,” Latture says.
Later today, Latture will move the schooners, a task usually shared with the youngest two of his seven children. “The older ones don’t fall for the line, ‘You’re the best chicken movers ever!’ anymore,” he jokes. But they all help tend to the forested pigs on their property, as well as the dairy cattle and laying hens that provide his family’s milk and eggs.
Taking care of animals is hard work, even for a family of nine. For this reason, just over a year ago, Freckle Face and seven other livestock farms across Arkansas formed the Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative, a group dedicated to helping small farms thrive while practicing ethical animal husbandry and environmental stewardship.
Latture says that Freckle Face Farm became a founding member of the Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative because he saw the benefits of farmers working together. “You can grow all you can and be great at it, but if you don’t have ability to sell, it’s just not enough,” he says. “Through Grass Roots, we all have a statewide market and operational support that goes way beyond what we could possibly accomplish individually.”
Grass Roots general manager Cody Hopkins—who also co-owns Falling Sky Farm in Leslie with his wife, Andrea Todt—said the co-op began as an informal network of farmers who realized they could make farming more sustainable by joining together. They already shared agricultural values, so sharing value-chain services such as accounting, processing, purchasing, and marketing was a natural next step.
When the farmers formally organized the cooperative in 2014, one of their first orders of business was to set standards of operation for all its members.
“When our production standards are used, you really can taste the difference in what ends up on your plate,” Hopkins says. “That’s why we don’t use hormones, maintenance antibiotics, or GMO feed. And we believe in treating the animals with respect and in the importance of caring for the environment with our methods of farming.”
Though they have been operating for a few years, the Latture family still struggles to make a living farming. To help offset the difficulties common to small-scale farms, Heifer International has partnered with the co-op to overcome some of the barriers for beginning and minority farmers. This relationship with Heifer helps Grass Roots farms get access to infrastructure, capital, mentorship, and markets.
Latture said that the cooperative has been instrumental in helping him not only make a living, but practice agriculture in the way he and his family originally intended.
“We were always so busy trying to keep up with having product available—doing the farmers’ markets, going to the processor, getting feed—that we had lost some of our original focus on how we really wanted to farm,” Latture says.
“I might say, ‘I’ll put up those fences tomorrow.’ Then it’s tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. The co-op enables us to focus on the farming, just taking care of the animals.”
Food from Freckle Face—and all members farms—is available through Grass Roots’ CSA share. This program, known as Herds to Homes, delivers pastured pork, chicken, beef, and lamb to the doorsteps of its subscribers. Grass Roots meat is also served in several restaurants, including South on Main and The Root Café in Little Rock as well as The Hive in Bentonville
Each Friday, Latture travels to central Arkansas to make Herds to Homes deliveries, putting the fruits of his labor—as well as that of Grass Roots farmers across the state—directly into the hands of customers.
With each delivery, Latture sees the fulfillment of the co-op’s early commitment to fostering farmer-customer relationships.
“The customers are absolutely excited, like it’s Christmas,” he says. “Delivery is the part that reassures me that we’re on the right track.”
For More Information:
Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative
Herds to Homes Program
Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative Member Farms:
Arroyo Family Farm, Charleston
Cedar Creek Farm, Cedarville
Dettelbach Farms, Wynne
Falling Sky Farm, Leslie
Freckle Face Farm, McRae
Lawrence Farms, Forrest City
Onyekwelu Farms, Jacksonville
The Other Side Farm, Marshall