Doing More in Little Rock

North Little Rock Community Farm feeds the homeless, including fellow students.

In a corner of North Little Rock High School’s East campus, across from the expansive parking lot, a small plot of land has been turned into a working community farm thanks to the persistence of students, administrators and one dogged banker.

Delena Lattimore, now a high school senior, was one of the first to envision what would become North Little Rock Community Farm just across the river from the Arkansas state capitol.

“When I got to ninth grade, I knew nothing about farming,” says Delena. “But I remembered a garden we’d had in middle school that we used for science class. I saw the land here, and no one was taking care of it. So, why not a farm?”

Before, during and after school – and on weekends, despite high school football games, dances and family commitments – the students at North Little Rock High toil to turn their urban oasis into something that gives back to the community. With 50-plus vegetable crops and livestock, the students produce food for the homeless.

Including their fellow students.

“For many students, the meal they get at school may be the only meal they’ll eat all day,” says Bobbi Riggins, a social worker who helps distribute the food produced at NLRCF. “These students are putting food on tables, food many students wouldn’t have otherwise.”

According to Bobbi, there were 696 homeless students throughout the North Little Rock school district during the 2013-14 academic year. Seventy percent of the students receive free or reduced lunches, due to their family incomes. Five high school students lived without parental supervision as “unaccompanied youths.”

So, each week, Bobbi gathers the latest food – produce, eggs – and distributes to the families of students who have asked for help, sending it home in unassuming backpacks. The backpacks alleviate potential embarrassment for students who don’t want to be seen receiving extra help.

“This isn’t just a school activity to these students,” Bobbi says. “They’ve accomplished something and they know where the food is going. They’ve learned a valuable lesson: that it makes you feel good to make others feel good.”

The North Little Rock Community Farm recently received a $5,000 cash prize, plus 100 volunteer hours, as the winner of Regions’ What a Difference a Day Makes contest. Nonprofits from the 19 markets in the 15 states served by Regions Bank competed in an online contest, with the NLRCF receiving the most votes. The students received a check at a pep rally and Regions’ associates immediately began contributing as volunteers the same day.

Josh Fendley is a Little Rock-based Regions banker who was instrumental in getting the farm off the ground. Josh also serves as president of the People Tree, a community organization that tackles hunger throughout Central Arkansas by expanding food sources.

“When Delena first expressed interest in revitalizing the garden, I came here and looked around for the best spot,” Josh says, pointing to his discovery. “It was serendipitous.”

Once a month, North Little Rock High senior Mason Graves speaks to the local chamber of commerce about what his fellow students are accomplishing, emphasizing the need to increase the local food supply and rallying more support for the community farm.

“My biggest mission is to help make a difference in someone’s life,” Mason says, “whether it’s growing produce or putting meals on the table.”

Lee Tackett, principal at Lakewood Middle School on the East campus, lauds Regions for its support of the school district.
“Regions has been a wonderful business to work with,” Lee says. “They support our kids whether it’s at a swim meet, a football game or by volunteering to work on the farm. Regions has been a huge part of that success.”

Winning the What a Difference a Day Makes competition this year became a focus of school pride. But that pride wasn’t limited to the student body, which rallied supporters by encouraging voters through the use of Social Media.

In fact, Regions’ associates in Little Rock were motivated to vote in support of the local nonprofit.

“Winning the competition was about the kids and the farm,” says Lynn Wright, Arkansas Area President for Regions. “They went on television multiple times to talk about the contest and anytime the voting got close they’d send out texts and messages encouraging everyone to vote. This was a big deal for our associates, as well. It gave us a chance to show that we are a part of the community and to show that while we’re not the largest area in the country, we take a lot of pride in what these students are doing.”

Just spending a few hours at the NLRCF is eye opening. Students stream in during and after school and immediately go to work, knowing how to cultivate and harvest crops and how to sustain livestock.

Taking it all in, Josh Fendley breaks into a grin.

“I think what I’m most proud of these students is this: they are mature beyond their years but open to new ideas,” Josh says. “They saw a problem with hunger impacting their peers and they created a solution.”

Watch the Regions Bank: Doing More in Little Rock video