Heather Friedrich works to build support of local agriculture

How many organizations, projects and programs can one person devote their time and hard work to? This is a question that doesn’t seem to cross Heather Friedrich’s mind as she continues to expand her involvement in agriculture and her community.

Heather is a program technician in the horticulture department at the University of Arkansas. In her 14 years at the university, Heather has started, worked with and contributed to many programs connecting farmers and their consumers and promoting sustainable agriculture.

With programs like Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, Double Your Dollars and the Center for Agricultural and Rural Sustainability, Heather has made a great impact on her community.

However, her passion for local agriculture goes back much farther than her 14 years in Arkansas.

Heather grew up in Iowa on a small dairy and grain farm. It was a family farm grown organically for years.

Heather carried her interest in agriculture into college and got a degree in human nutrition from the University of Wisconsin – Stout.

“Before I graduated college I knew I was going to switch gears and get more into the agriculture production side of things,” she said. “But the nutrition side is still really important to me.”

Heather’s time working at a local bed and breakfast during her undergraduate career opened her eyes to the importance of supporting local agriculture.

“I think it was there I was first exposed to local food systems and organic production systems,” she said. “The owner wanted to support local farms as much as possible, so we shopped at the farmers market when we could. That was the entry point for me,” she said.

Transitioning to Iowa State University for graduate school nurtured Heather’s passion for local agriculture.

“There were a couple of farmers markets that were big and thriving,” she said. “It was always so interesting to connect with those farmers and see how they’re growing their products, learn about their families and visit their farms.”

Her major area of study, organic production, was definitely an area of interest for her, but it did not fulfill her desire to support the local food systems she cared so deeply for.

That was not a problem for Heather because she went out and found the community that would satisfy her interests.

“The research I did there was not necessarily about local foods, but there were other opportunities outside of studies to explore local foods,” she said.

Heather finished graduate school with her passion for local food systems solidified, and came to the University of Arkansas in 2003 under Curt Rom to work on a new organic and sustainable research and education program.

Her position started with fruit research examining management practices and organic systems to evaluate fruit production. However, she’s been steered more to the project manager position since Rom left to fill a different position.

“My position has changed over the years, but it’s still largely focused on sustainable agriculture,” she said. “One of the things in my job that I feel really fortunate about is that I get to work on sustainability issues on a local, Northwest Arkansas level, a statewide level and a national level, too”

Her passion for striving for sustainable agriculture truly shows in her involvement in the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative (NSSI). The goal of NSSI is to move closer to a more sustainable production of strawberries. The program went from 2013-15, and Heather is working with a multidisciplinary team of faculty from across the country to get additional funding to continue the research.

Heather’s work in sustainable agriculture stretches beyond just one program. She is involved in many projects in this field, one of which being the Center for Agricultural and Rural Sustainability (CARS), which aims to help growers obtain skills to farm more environmentally friendly.

Another project Heather plays a part in is the Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education Program (SARE) which, similar to CARS, spends resources on educating growers and researchers.

“With SARE, we provide travel expenses and scholarship opportunities for the people that are training farmers,” Heather said. “And we also host workshops. One workshop we have coming up is managing wildlife on your farm.”

Along with these sustainability programs, Heather contributes a large chunk of her career to better the Northwest Arkansas community and its agriculture. Her work in the community shines in two different programs; the Double Your Dollars program and Tri Cycle Farms.

Double Your Dollars provides a dollar for dollar match for purchases made with an EBT card at farmer’s markets.

The program started with a USDA farmer’s market grant which equipped farmers with an electronic system to accept EBT, and the project grew after a receiving grant from the Wal-Mart Foundation.

Double Your Dollars does more than just provide low income families with locally grown food, it supports local producers and serves as a link between farmers and their consumers. Heather firmly believes that connecting the public and the growers is essential for the success of local food systems.

“These systems don’t work in a vacuum,” Heather said. “There has to be that interaction between the community and agriculture for both of them to be successful.”

Tri Cycle Farms is an organization that focuses on improving and giving back to the community. One project they’ve recently ramped up is their food recovery program. They’ve collaborated with Whole Foods to recover some of their foods that were deemed unsellable but are still edible, and give them to food-insecure families.

Although the last decade or more of her life has been decorated with several organizations, programs and projects, she still sees room for improvement.

“We’re always learning what we can do better,” she said. “I really want to see our farmers think about the next level of local food systems. Rather than just farmers’ markets that are open with limited days and hours to, what about a hospitals or other places with food services that serve hundreds of people daily? How can we equip our farmers to tap into some of those markets?”

“Farmers markets reach a small market,” she said. “Larger markets that take a little more coordination would mean supporting more farmers in our region.”

Heather said ultimately, she wants to support the Northwest Arkansas food system and its advancements.

“I’ve been here for 14 years,” she said, “and there’s still so many interesting things to do.”


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