Through a collaboration of staff, board members and volunteers, Fayetteville, Arkansas-based Tri Cycle Farms offers classes, programs and events with a focus on food security, sovereignty and sustainability. The nonprofit allocates a third of the food it grows to volunteers, a third to food pantries and community meals and a third to be sold to sustain its operations.
Reconnecting with food
Tri Cycle came to life in 2012, after a group of volunteers got together to clean up an overgrown property purchased by the nonprofit’s founder and executive director, Don Bennett. Most of us are disconnected from our food, knowing how it tastes, but little of where it comes from, how it was grown and what labor and resources its production required. Before he launched Tri Cycle, that included Bennett himself. Bennett insists he’s not a farmer – and that he’s learned almost everything from Google, with a handful of local gardeners filling in the gaps.
Applying what he’s learned, with the help of thousands of volunteers, Bennett has transformed the property over the past decade, building a thriving, pesticide-free soil teeming with vegetative and microscopic life.
The seed of the endeavor was personal: having experienced food insecurity during the economic downturn following the housing crisis of 2008, Bennett took matters into his own hands – learning to grow his own food alongside other willing students of the soil, and disseminated that knowledge locally.
For Tri Cycle, however, it’s not just about growing food. It’s about nurturing a more resilient, equitable and healthy world. “Local and regional food systems and networks are at the very core of greenhouse gas reduction, climate change adaptation, energy and water conservation, underemployment, health disparities and all manner of social injustice,” says Bennett.
“Local and regional food systems and networks are at the very core of greenhouse gas reduction, climate change adaptation, energy and water conservation, underemployment, health disparities and all manner of social injustice.”
–Don Bennett, Tri Cycle Farms Executive Director
Sharing, teaching and farming
The acreage Bennett purchased in 2012 is now a full-fledged farm that supplies produce to the surrounding area and hosts community-building events and educational programs. Working with local teachers and farmers, Tri Cycle regularly offers classes and hands-on workshops – covering everything from foraging for native plants, growing mushrooms and building birdhouses to tending chickens, goats and bees.
While some of these programs require a small fee, most are donation-based, ensuring anyone can learn regardless of their financial circumstances. Tri Cycle also runs a robust food recovery program, coordinating the efforts of businesses, community organizations and a small army of volunteers to recover and redistribute tens of thousands of pounds of food before it makes its way to a landfill.
Fighting food insecurity in and around Fayetteville
Jessica Vasquez, owner of Sterling Group Insurance, is a big believer in Tri Cycle’s mission. Vasquez first volunteered for the nonprofit in 2014, helping wrap its first greenhouse in plastic so they could use it to start seeds. In 2021, Tri Cycle approached Vasquez about joining its board as treasurer, and she’s been regularly contributing ever since – keeping the nonprofit’s books, helping with strategic planning and communicating with donors.
“I’ve seen firsthand the impact Tri Cycle Farms has,” says Vasquez. “They’re at the forefront of fighting food insecurity in the local community.” The food Tri Cycle gathers through its food recovery program not only feeds its composting operation, but nourishes people experiencing food insecurity in the area. That lifeline was particularly vital during the COVID-19 pandemic, when Tri Cycle had to keep its public gardens closed.
“I’ve seen firsthand the impact Tri Cycle Farms has. They’re at the forefront of fighting food insecurity in the local community.”
–Jessica Vasquez, Sterling Group Insurance owner