I moved to a small mountain town in Arkansas a few years back, population 399 and falling. Winslow used to be a thriving town a hundred years ago. Banks, mercantiles, a well respected newspaper, a local government run by all women, tourists, hotels, farms,canneries, rogues and gunslingers.Belle Starr was a resident until she was asked to leave town. Politely, I am sure. Once the automobile became king, the railroad declined and so did Winslow. In certain ways, it has been going down ever since.
The nearest town of any size ,Fayettevillle is 22 miles north. The third largest city in the state is Ft. Smith, 25 miles south. There is not a good job or a decent grocery store until you get to one of these two spots. This makes it hard to eat well spontaneously, unless we are in the midst of summer and have a garden or access to abundant local produce. Supposedly the soil here has some magical quality that produces the best tasting tomatoes this side of San Marzano. I am not sure if this is true but this summer you will find me eating tomatoes three times a day and booring everyone within ear shot with my tomato stories. You might not share my passion but I don't mind you humoring me.
There is a grocery store about 12 miles from here but the fare seems to be a lot of processed junk.If you are looking for fresh parsley or a decent lemon, you can just forget it. This might not seem of interest to you but I have become acutely aware these past two years of where my food is coming from and how difficult or easy it is to acquire it. Which brings me to my next point; old people.
We have a lot of old people here. The schools closed here and the jobs moved away and like any small town,the kids high tail it as soon as they are able. They might come back in fifty years but for now, there are no night clubs, there are no jobs. There is beauty and art and people to cherish and love but for a teenager, it is just not happening.So,we have a lot of old people. And people like me who aren't that far away from being old. Like young people, old people need to eat though and that can be a problem.
There is something remarkable about this town and the people who live here. There just does not seem to be any understanding of the words "no" or "we can't do that". The local school closes? They turn it into a public library and internet cafe. The buildings on the town square all burn down and the local mercantile is boarded up? They open it up on Saturday mornings and serve coffee and donuts to all the locals so we can all stay in touch. Need money for local beautification and non profit projects? We stage a half marathon and raise funds. And one of the most wonderful projects here is Winslow Community Meals. Which brings me back to old people needing to eat.
Winslow Community Meals is located in an old cannery on the main drag. Every weekday it is open for lunch and provides a hot lunch for anyone who wants it. And if you can't come to "Meals", they will come to you. Which means if you are elderly and not able to get out, nutrition comes to you. And if you are able to get out, you get a decent meal and get to connect with your neighbors and old friends. My next door neighbor is the cook there and from what I am told, the food is pretty standard Southern fare with an emphasis on meats and potatoes and wondrous desserts. She elevates cinnamon rolls to an art form. I've had them.I know.
Another of my neighbors is the Board President of "Meals".She facilitates grants and donations so that "Meals" is able to keep their doors open. They just this week produced an amateur video to present to Toyota. Toyota is donating a limited amount of vehicles to worthy non profits. "Meals" hopes to win one so they can take people to town to do grocery shopping, pickup prescriptions, go to doctor's appointments, that sort of thing. The things we take for granted. The video is an amateur effort. I think it captures the spirit of the town and urge you to check it out.
Another project we have going on here is a new community garden. If(and I do say if) we get any great produce from it, it goes to "Meals". The garden is an ever changing effort and we utilize any donation of time, compost, plants, seeds, straw, anything we can get. It is on the grounds of a local art center, Ozark Folkways. We've named it the "Keeping Winslow Weird Community Garden". And it is turning out to be weird.. The garden beds have well, beds. We have old display cases and chicken feeders we are planting with herbs, hand made birdhouses, rusty buckets and old metal mobiles swaying in the breeze.
We have no idea where this all going. We don't know if anything much will grow. And, we don't know if the patrons at "Meals" will appreciate our parsley or jalapenos. But we are going to give it a try. We are trying to be mindful of healthy food and access to it. We hope you will be too.