Bell Urban Farm: Connecting the Community Through Local Food
“We met right over there.”
Kim Doughty-McCannon points across Tyler Street to the Faulkner County Library and laughs.
“It was like an urban farm festival,” Kim’s husband and business partner, Zack McCannon, adds.
Kim and Zack came to the event at the county library for different reasons, but shared a love for sustainable, urban farming.
Zack had worked in documentary filmmaking and a particular film about seed saving and swaps piqued his interest in open-pollination and growing food at home.
Kim was a biology major who worked at a public health lab in Little Rock. She wanted to do more outdoors and began volunteering at several urban farms in the capital city, eventually leaving lab work to be an apprentice at Little Rock Urban Farming.
From there, she went to work for Arkansas Garden Corps and ended up running the Faulkner County Library Garden and providing garden education for children.
It wasn’t long after their chance encounter that plans for an urban farm were cultivated.
“Conveniently, Zack had these properties right across the street,” Kim said. “And we said, ‘Well, that would make a great place to start an urban farm.’”
Bell Urban Farm started with a lot of vegetables and flowers. The couple would sell at Conway Locally Grown and the Conway Downtown Farmers’ Market. They ran a small, honor-system farm stand from their front porch on Tyler Street, too.
“Kim developed quite a group of people that would come,” Zack said.
With a nearby Faulkner County Urban Farm Project thriving after nearly 10 years in service, and the buy-in they received from their honor-system stand, the McCannons decided opening a brick-and-mortar farm stand was doable.
And with one small child and another on the way, it had become harder for them to make it to local farmers’ markets to sell products. The McCannons also wanted to provide an option for the community that extended beyond the traditional season of a farmers’ market.
That started the McCannons down the process of rezoning their property and months of community and government meetings. It also meant the launch of a Kickstarter program which raised $155,000.
“We used every penny because the whole inside had to be gutted and redone,” Kim said.
The Bell Urban Farmstand officially opened in 2020.
It has blossomed into a jewel of the local Conway food scene. Bell Urban Farm, located at 2011 Tyler St., offers a grocery store, an urban backyard garden, a chicken house, a couple of greenhouses and honeybees, to boot.
Visitors would never know the Farmstand is located in a once abandoned, dilapidated home. The glass-paneled front door gives way to a modest-sized, open market floor filled with locally grown products. The chalkboard behind the checkout counter maps the location of Bell Urban Farm’s partners, whose products fill the shelves.
Patrons can find meat products from Rabbit Ridge Farms, ice cream from Loblolly Creamery, a host of produce that varies depending on the season, and a wall full of dry goods, including spaghetti noodles and sauce, salsa, grains, rice and more.
Out back, a few picnic tables overlook a garden, a couple of greenhouses, a chicken house and buzzing honeybees near the railroad tracks that run along the back edge of the property.
Through its locally grown and sourced products, the McCannons want Bell Urban Farm to connect the community.
“You’re super close with your customers and local restaurants, or anyone else who shops with you,” Kim said. “For me, urban farming is a no-brainer.”
Not only that, by nature, urban farming leads to a small-scale operation and a more sustainable model, which Kim and Zack value.
“We are very intentional with how we use our space, everything is composted, and there’s not a lot of waste,” Kim said. “We have to think hard about what we’re going to grow, and what is going to be most profitable per square foot.”
Most would be surprised to pass the storefront and McCannon residence on Tyler Street, and learn it’s the home of a small, urban farm.
“A lot of people have ingrained in their mind a large farm with cows and pigs and chicken and all sorts of crops,” Kim said. “People are surprised when they stop and see all we can grow in a small space. We can produce a lot of food, and we’re using less than an acre of growing space.”
To know people patronize their store to feed themselves and their families is special to the McCannons.
“Having them come and see our produce that traveled a few miles and ends up on their plate, it means a lot that we can provide that,” Kim said.