How locally sourced, healthy food is finding its way into hearts and minds and onto tables in central Arkansas.
LIVING THE LIFE
Dr. Tionna Jenkins
Plate It Healthy
Dr. Tionna Jenkins always knew fruits and vegetables were good for a person, but as her food philosophy has evolved, she has come to fully embrace the health and wellness benefits of proper eating.
Through her cookbook, television segments, workshops and cooking courses, Jenkins stresses the link between food and environment to the health and wellness outcomes of individuals, communities and families.
“I strongly promote the need to teach and change environments to be more inclusive of a whole food, plant-based lifestyle and diet,” Jenkins says. “These teachings and changes can take place in our personal lives, educational institutions, clinicians offices or our work spaces.
I believe it is a positive win for all.”
Promoting and embracing nutrient-rich foods that primarily grow from the earth, Jenkins, through years of study and research, has developed a number of guidelines. These include mindful eating, drinking liquids, modifying versus depriving, fruits as sweets, sticking to whole foods and removing temptations.
Jenkins combats certain misconceptions, like the idea that a whole-food, plant-based diet is protein-deficient or lacking in taste, and enjoys “pushing the envelope” through flavors, tastes and textures.
After 15 years in the public health sector, Jenkins perhaps most importantly influences proper eating by serving as a living example of the positive results.
“I believe a big part of influence is being authentic, approachable and relatable,” she says. “I strive to be those things and I believe people are drawn to those traits.”
David & Micah Rice
The Bramble Market
When it’s time to stock The Bramble Market, owners David and Micah Rice go to the source.
“Know your farmer, know your food,” the saying goes, but The Bramble Market brain trust lives it.
“While most of our farmers and gardeners don’t hassle with the ‘USDA organic’ stamp of approval, by me spending some time in the pastures with many of our growers, I get to see first-hand their fresh, organic and natural operations,” David says. “And then I have the privilege of passing on the knowledge to our customers.”
According to Micah, local food sourcing provides multiple benefits.
“By supporting our local farmers who are using sustainable methods for growing produce, our land and soil is going to be nourished, which is imperative to food nutrition,” she says. “A key factor in eating local produce is that it isn’t harvested until it is nutritionally ripe and it can then be consumed sooner without losing vitamins, minerals and other nutrients in long transport.”
Operating on 4 acres by the Little Maumelle River, The Bramble Market is open year-round and hosts events, dinners, food classes, clinics and more.
The market also operates a coffee shop, hosts food trucks and holds monthly farm-to-table dinners prepared by house chef Seth Bailey or other local chefs.
“We offer a middle ground to connect the consumer with the farmer and that in turn builds community,” Micah says. “That is what we are all about at the Bramble. Gathering, inspiring, cultivating and growing.”
Peter Nguyen & T.J. Clark
Meal prep service Healthy Chew is out to prove you can cut calories without cutting flavor.
Founder Peter Nguyen and CEO T.J. Clark offer a convenient and tasty menu that updates weekly and puts to bed the notion that flavor is a casualty to healthy eating.
“Yes, you can lose weight to our gumbo, chicken and waffles, burrito bowl and more,” Nguyen says. “We’ve taken out all the bad and left the good in all our dishes while tasting amazing.”
Meals are non-fried, never frozen and cooked the same day, and each includes a vegetable serving. Clark says proper preparation helps dispel the notion many people have of vegetables being frozen, soggy or bland.
“We make this attractive by giving them properly cooked, never frozen vegetables that were seasoned by a chef,” Clark says. “We pair these with a dish they already know and love, such as buffalo mac ‘n’ cheese with chicken or a cheesy chicken bacon ranch pasta dish, which allows them to indulge, get their proper nutrition and not feel hungry afterward.”
More than 70% of Healthy Chew’s products are sourced from local farms, which contributes to the freshness. Nguyen says he has gone so far as to offer a free meal to potential customers, which usually seals the deal.
“To see before and after of our weight loss clients, numerous positive reviews and true testimonies from our community, words cannot express how jubilant I am,” Nguyen says.
Arkansas Heart Hospital
Sometimes a recipe is better than a prescription.
Casey Atwood, a registered dietitian and culinary services director at Arkansas Heart Hospital, stresses the preventive health aspects of proper eating.
“With ‘Food is Our Medicine’ as a model, I hope to change the health care landscape by refocusing on wellness and preventative care from our current ‘sick care’ model,” she says.
Atwood digs down to the non-nutrient level to find the health benefits in certain foods. Good food, to Atwood, is “whole, minimally processed foods making sure to focus on foods that are high in bioactives that counteract inflammation in the body.”
Bioactives are non-nutrient components like quercetin in onions, garlic and leeks; caffeic acid in oregano, rosemary, sage and thyme and curcumin in turmeric. In other words, they spice things up.
“Herbs and spice can be such a powerhouse to add to your nutrition toolbox,” Atwood says. “Fresh herbs are packed with bioactives and nutrients, and a small amount can really add a lot of flavor to your food.”
Arkansas Heart Hospital has a greenhouse, garden and full-time gardener on campus producing many of the foods used in the facility’s popular cafe and Food From the Heart food truck. This allows chefs and cooks to confer and coordinate with the gardener when it comes to menu planning.
“When we are able to add food to our menu that is fresh from our garden, we can proudly say that we are serving the best medicine available.”
GOOD TO GO
Lou Anne & Eric Herget
Heights Corner Market
Although it’s existed in the area for more than 70 years, the Heights Corner Market finds success by moving around.
Owners Eric and Lou Anne Herget frequently gas up the FDD (Eric’s term for “food, discovery and delivery” vehicle) and set out to find not only fresh food, but to learn what’s fresh in the food industry. The couple can’t hit the road, according to Lou Anne, without checking out local markets, vendors and farmers to see what tastes and products are trending.
“The food industry is so fast-changing and we focus on learning and sharing what is out there,” she says. “My shopping trait as an interior designer has really given me an edge in looking for new products.”
Bringing in seasonal, fresh food is a constant goal — providing fresh strawberries is a recent achievement — as the Heights Corner Market works with local and small businesses to find eggs, salsa, meat, baked goods, ice cream and more.
The market knows clients individually in order to best meet their needs, and Lou Anne says produce and free-range, additive-free proteins are frequently in demand.
“Our clients trust us to bring the best, not just typical ‘box store’ quality,” she says, “and if the market doesn’t have what a client wants, the market will make special orders.
“Good food is fresh and local and depends on knowing where your food is grown and packaged and processed.”
CLOSE TO HOME
From their two locations on South Main Street, restaurant owners Jack and Corri Sundell are at the epicenter of the local food scene.
At both The Root Cafe and Mockingbird Bar & Tacos, the couple has crafted winning menu items from locally sourced products. Look no further than The Root’s popular hamburger, made with fresh beef ground in-house, buns from nearby Community Bakery, lettuce from Arkansas Natural Products in Malvern and mayo made from farm-fresh eggs provided by Drewry Orchards near Dover.
“The Root has been very fortunate to be part of the conversation about local food in central Arkansas,” Jack says, “why it’s better for our bodies and communities, why it’s better for the environment and why it’s better for the local economy. I think for some people we’ve even been an introduction to local food, and in those cases our goal is to make local food feel accessible, serve them something that might inspire them to go to the farmers market or have friends over for a locally sourced dinner.”
The Sundells have helped open eyes to locally brewed beer, locally roasted coffee and the creative value of local jams and jellies, as well as fermented pickles, meats and cheeses produced by local farmers.
“All of this gives us access to a wider variety of local meat and produce, extended growing seasons and creative products that we’ve never seen before,” Jack says.