Six Small Vegetable Farmers get a Boost from the USDA

June 12, 2006 -- Posted at 5:02 p.m. CDT

PHILLIPS COUNTY, AR -- The same type of produce you can get at your local farmers market will soon be making its way to your store shelves.

Six Arkansas vegetable growers will be the sole producers for new U.S.D.A approved brand "American Heartland".

"Small growers could not really penetrate the market.  They had no noticeable advantage, so this was an opportunity to create a niche in the market place," said J.D. Davis, Vice President of the Arkansas Land and Farm Development Corporation.

Representatives with the U.S.D.A. said they wanted to pick the ''cream of the crop'' of growers.

Even though the farmers are already good growers, the group has been working to make them even better.

"We've gone through a lot of training with these farmers to get their practices up to par," said Davis.

One of the goals of this groundbreaking endeavor is to help the small vegetable farmers.

Another goal is to help build a recognizable brand, one that can be synonymous with their produce.

"We felt that it was important in the market to have a brand.  We wanted something to represent our produce in much the same way that Sunkist represents drinks," said Davis.

For now, the brand ''American Heartland'' consists of the six farmers chosen for this program. One of those farmers is Harvey Williams.

"Our main crops are squash, greens, and sweet potatoes," said Harvey Williams.

Williams has farmed for about 25 years.  It was only in the last 10 years that he started primarily growing vegetables.

He said this new opportunity is great for farmers like him.

"I think we're in an area that's prime for new markets.  We're excited about it," said Williams.

Since the produce farms are small family run farms it takes a lot of dedication and hard work to be successful.

"We're just now hoping that all the efforts are going to pay off in market opportunities," said Williams.

We can expect to start seeing "American Heartland" brand vegetables on store shelves within the next year.