Field of View: How Heifer International is Playing the Long Game

Come June, hundreds of locals will gather on the green summer grass, decked in their best white threads, sipping specialty herb-infused cocktails. They’ll mix and mingle and take selfies with baby animals before migrating to the pavilion for a farm-to-fork dinner with ingredients provided by local farmers. There they’ll watch the sun set over Little Rock to cap off one of the most unique fundraising events in town, Feast in the Field, supporting the groundbreaking work of Heifer International.

This year, Heifer is celebrating a huge milestone for the organization — 75 years of working with communities around the world to help end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth. Founder Dan West began the global nonprofit after volunteering during the Spanish Civil War, where he was tasked with providing hungry refugees with a single cup of milk. West then crafted a plan to help the hungry by giving them “not a cup, but a cow.” Since operations began in 1944, Heifer has assisted more than 32.3 million families around the world, from remote villages in Africa to right here in Arkansas.

Most Little Rock residents know about Heifer’s global mission, but when Brooke Vines, co-chair of this year’s Feast in the Field, joined the committee to plan a philanthropic event at the downtown headquarters seven years ago, it was clear that not many knew about the work going on in central Arkansas.

“The purpose of that event was to really highlight to Arkansans what was going on here downtown,” Vines says. “We have this LEED Platinum certified building, we have this whole educational facility down here. It’s very international, but we wanted people local to understand it. I think the school groups knew about it, but I don’t know that the philanthropy community knew.”

That first year, the committee set out to plan an event that was truly different and unique from run-of-the-mill galas. Something that many other nonprofits don’t have is an urban farm in the heart of downtown Little Rock. Capitalizing on that, the committee planned an event that is locally minded, locally supported and truly fun: Feast in the Field.

Credit: Jason Masters

Missions Align

Vines first began working with Heifer 10 years ago when she did a media buy for the company. Over the years, Vines has built her career working for media and advertising companies including Mangan Holcomb and Arkansas Business Publishing Group before she ventured off on her own to start Vines Media. Today, she works with her best friend and Feast in the Field co-chair Bill Brookshire doing the advertising work she loves at Vines Brookshire.

In addition to running her own business and parenting twins, Vines’ other passion is giving back to her community. She remains a dedicated volunteer for Feast in the Field year after year, and part of why she’s eager to continue supporting Heifer is that the mission is so aligned with her own passions.

“As a female business-owner and entrepreneur, I love that they give people a hand up and not a handout,” she says. “Their mission is to teach people how to help themselves through sustainable farming and all of their different techniques. I believe in that.”

One of Vines’ missions for starting her own business was to give flexibility to working moms and return-to-work moms. She always knew she wanted to be a mom and after working in the traditional workforce, she found it to be an unrealistic schedule to work in that world and also be a parent. When Vines adopted her twins at 37, she knew firsthand that the choice to stay home with kids isn’t at all like pressing pause on a woman’s skill set.

“Once you stay home with children, you can do anything,” Vines says. “I joke that you can negotiate with terrorists. You could be a diplomat to a foreign country. It’s such a hard job. But when you put them in the agency world where they have to solve problems and think on their feet? The best problem solvers are moms.”

Here, Vines once again saw a similarity in calling.

“Heifer is not specifically for women; they help women and men,” Vines says, “but a lot of the people that they help are single moms. I just feel like my mission is so aligned with them. They’re helping these women learn how to farm. They’ll train women on what to do with the goat and the milk and how to sell it, and then they have this passing-on-the-gift ceremony, so she’ll train somebody else. It’s not just Heifer teaching people. They’re teaching people how to teach people.”

Credit: Heifer International

Credit: Heifer International

Surprises in Store

Brooke and her committee began planning for this year’s Feast in the Field just months after the 2018 event was over. She says the support from Heifer makes the planning process a seamless one. When the committee needed more tables for this year’s event, Heifer built more farm tables. The first two years, the event was held in a tent on Heifer’s grounds, but renting event tents is expensive. So Heifer built its own pavilion.

Three years ago, the Feast in the Field committee added another event into the mix, making it a two-day experience. The “sneaker casual” Urban Farm Fest, with its food trucks, lawn games and live music, is geared toward a younger crowd than Feast in the Field, but both events introduce guests to the work Heifer does across the world and here in Arkansas.

Urban Farm Fest
June 6, 7 p.m.
Heifer Village & Urban Farm
Feast in the Field
June 7, 6 p.m.
Heifer International Headquarters

Heifer USA is the organization’s national branch that equips small-scale farmers with free farming workshops and training events to help them succeed. Heifer USA also brings farmers together to build rural, farmer-owned cooperatives. These cooperatives provide shared services such as marketing, packaging, distribution and credit and loan services, letting the farmers focus on what they do best.

The Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative provides responsibly raised meat directly to its 250 customers’ doors. The meat is provided by small farms across Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Kansas, Texas and North Carolina and processed with the highest standards from pasture to plate. The New South Produce Cooperative also provides produce boxes packed with in-season, U.S.-grown vegetables, flowers and cheese.

At Heifer’s own three-acre urban farm, local growers have the opportunity to rent the land to grow their own food and sponsors are able to collect food or donate it to Arkansas hunger relief organizations. Over the years, Heifer has partnered with CareLink, Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, Arkansas Foodbank, Fresh2You and others as part of its mission to make a difference in their own backyard.

“That’s one of the coolest things,” Vines says. “Little Rock has a lot of spots that are kind of country in the city. But you can actually go to the urban farm and see baby pigs or baby goats or baby ducks. And it’s right downtown! It really is a working farm. We’re so lucky to have something like that.”

Credit: Jason Masters

Farm Fresh

Maeghen Carter, Urban Farm Fest chair

How did you get involved with Heifer?

Heifer is just such an incredible organization. I’m not from Arkansas, but when I moved to Little Rock I knew immediately that Heifer is “it.” When I was in school, we toured there and I always thought they had an incredible mission so I was super excited to get involved in the capacity that I could.

What drew you to volunteer for and now chair Urban Farm Fest?

This is a great entry-level philanthropy cause. I really liked that about it because that’s what I needed. Through June 5, tickets will be $45 and that’s a steal. I don’t know of another event where you can go try multiple food trucks without having to buy from each truck and there’s unlimited alcohol for less than $45.

For someone who’s never been to Urban Farm Fest, how would you describe it?

It’s cheesy, but the first word that popped into my head was “fun,” but it’s also very unintimidating. It’s casual, it’s breezy, it’s fun. You learn a lot while you’re there and it feels very local. You’re benefiting locally, you’re trying local food trucks, you’re drinking local gin. It’s a great way to support the community while also expanding past that.

What are you looking forward to with this year’s event?

I’m most looking forward to seeing it grow. I just want it to be packed. I’m also looking forward to the new things we’re going to have. I think it’s one of those events you go to once and you make it an annual thing. I’m also excited about unlimited food and drink, obviously. So, all of it.

Credit: Heifer International

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