For sisters-in-law Ash Lee Hicks and Jennifer Hudson, their non-profit farm in Fayetteville, Ark., came about by a mix of a class project, the pandemic, and a passion for making sure everyone has enough food to eat. Contributed Photo.
Contributed Photo

Sisters-in-laws start urban garden to help their community

FAYETTEVILLE, ARK. – For sisters-in-law Ash Lee Hicks and Jennifer Hudson, their non-profit farm in Fayetteville, Ark., came about by a mix of a class project, the pandemic, and a passion for making sure everyone has enough food to eat.

Good 2 Grow Farm started in 2020 and is in its third growing season. It is a social benefit corporation; one of the first of its kind in the entire state of Arkansas. A social benefit corporation allows them to make a profit, but it must be to benefit the good of the community.

While both women had backyard gardens before that, they started the joint project to help with food shortages in their area. They both still garden at home, but they now own acreage in both Fayetteville where the majority of the food is grown, and Jennifer and her brother, Ash Lee’s husband Brad, own about 80 acres in Clarksville, Ark., where about 33,000 loblolly pine trees have been planted. They are growing a butterfly sanctuary in the midst of their small forest.

Both are involved in education and the healthcare field; Ash Lee, a former school nurse, recently graduated with her master’s degree in nursing Education from Post University in Connecticut, which is where Jennifer works developing strategic workforce development partnerships for nurse workforce education. Ash Lee is a clinical instructor at Northwest Arkansas Community College in Northwest Arkansas.

Ash Lee took her classes remotely and the first course required the students to come up with a heathcare problem and a hypothetical solution. As a former school nurse before the pandemic, Ash Lee knew that there was a very real problem she wanted to solve, and she and Jennifer came up with the solution. Good 2 Grow Farm was born.

“Hypothetical wasn’t good enough,” Ash Lee said. “While I was working as a school nurse, the school I was in was Title I and was about 80 percent poverty level or below. Food was a big issue already and that problem was exacerbated by the supply chain issues.”

When the pandemic hit, she left her job as school nurse and at first stayed at home to be with her kids while they were in quarantine, Ash Lee said. She then decided to go back to school with them with the full support of her family, including the “Hicks Family Scholarship Fund”, essentially money her family raised to help.

“Mom went back to school with them,” she said.

While Jennifer said she was more involved from the outside, the two sisters-in-law knew they both had a passion and wanted to do something to solve the problem facing their community, especially the kids.

“We needed to teach people how to grow food,” Ash Lee said.

Jennifer said that she’s “always had an interest in health and nutrition since 2015 and I talked to Ash Lee about farming in the back yard.”

Their first year of operations, Good 2 Grow offered “a garden in a box” that had containers, herb, fruit, and vegetable seedlings, soil, recipes, and education. They partnered with other entities who had a way to help and wanted to be involved. Brightwater: A Center for the Study of Food offered the recipes that went in the boxes and Botanical Gardens of the Ozarks provided the education on taking care of the plants. Some public housing doesn’t allow for gardens on their property, so this was a way that clients could easily grow food in their residence, Jennifer explained.

“You can grow these containers on your countertops,” she said. “We also wanted to keep in mind that we have large Hispanic and Marshallese populations here.”

Their business model was “buy one get one,” meaning that every time someone bought a garden in a box, one was donated.

“We partner with local food pantries,” Jennifer said. “We donated about 50 of (the boxes) and 109 pounds of food.”

It was around this time that Ash Lee decided to run for local office and so they decided to focus on seedlings instead of the boxes because there was less time involved. They donated about 80 seedlings based on sales and exceeded more than 150 pounds of produce donated. For the third growing season, they have paused doing the one-for-one sales but continue their garden and will donate food from that. It was during all of this that Jennifer went back to work at Post University and Ash Lee started her job at NWACC.

The ability to still serve, grow, and still work outside their organization is one of the personal benefits of the social benefit corporation.

“That’s the beauty of it,” Ash Lee said.

Jennifer agreed, “There are no shareholders to answer to that worry about profits.”

Contributed Photo

As the organization evolves, Ash Lee said she will always garden for her own mental health and advocate for others wanting to learn to grow their own food.

The family built a greenhouse and a hood house on their property. While Good 2 Grow initially had a variety of fowl and beef cattle, they realized quickly that with the weather being extreme in Arkansas, it was too difficult to safely maintain them unless they were living on one or both families’ property.

“We’ve gotten rid of the animals because no one else lives out (near the farm property) and with the winter weather, they don’t clear the county roads enough for us to get out there to take care of them in the winter,” Ash Lee said.

Ash Lee did bring the birds to her home and they donate what eggs they don’t use.

“We brought a variety,” she said. “We have ducks, chickens, and guineas.”

In the short time they’ve been in business, the two sisters-in-law have been recognized for their efforts, both locally and nationally. They’ve been interviewed several times and Ash Lee earned the Inaugural Woman of Inspiration Award from Post University, which is an award for women in business.

They want to grow the offerings and have been doing research on the best way to do that in a less rural area than you would find most farms.

“I’ve been doing a lot of reading about urban gardening,” Jennifer said. “In an urban farm scape and in 900 square feet you can grow enough to feed up to 10 families.”

Both women said that they encourage people who are interested in urban farming or even starting a similar organization to try it out. Good 2 Grow grew beyond what they initially expected. They agreed, however, that anyone trying to start a similar farm needs to be prepared to not be taken seriously by some and that it will be small.

“You should anticipate it to be small at first but it can turn into something big very quickly,” Jennifer said. “Don’t let lack of knowledge stop you. I grew up with no experience in farming or gardening and now I’m doing this. We were new at this and our intention was to support a community. We are both women with big lives but we can make a difference.”


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