I feel blessed to have grown up in an Arkansas small town. Now, living in Little Rock, the contrasts are substantial.
Atkins, Arkansas, is home to the Red Devils, and I proudly recall those Friday night lights shining on the football field. I graduated with a class of a little over 60. Many of our parents or even grandparents went to school together.
In the school, the gym hung large, framed plaques with the Sports Hall of Fame names. I still remember how proud I was to see my mom and uncle's name on the wall every time I’d walk by. Sports mean a whole lot to small towns.
Sports allowed a peek into other small towns and the culture of their schools. We traveled to play Mayflower, Clinton, Lamar, Clarksville, and many others. It’s interesting to see how some communities have grown while others have stayed frozen in time.
Most towns have a primary industry that the community depends on. A lot of times, that is – sometimes the school system itself is the largest employer of a small town. For Atkins, many generations depended on the pickle plant. That plant is what Atkins was known for throughout the state and even the country: Pickle City, USA.
A festival sprang up from the industry and still runs to this day but, when the pickle plant closed down, it created a negative ripple effect that’s still felt today. A substantial amount of the land around Atkins was used for growing cucumbers to supply the pickle plant, and those farmers are still hurting. Many were unable to make the pivot toward another outlet.
Every community will face some sort of adversity, whether it’s losing a primary industry that provides many jobs and tax revenue or a natural disaster like the tornado that went through our little town in 2008. But what we have to focus on is the solutions that create strength and resilience, the solutions that bring the community together instead of ripping it apart. Although I’ve moved away to Little Rock, I'll always look to see loads of opportunities within the River Valley that can strengthen Arkansas.
I believe the Ralstons have demonstrated how agribusiness can come in and provide jobs, notoriety and awareness for a community. They’ve positively impacted Atkins by doing things primarily through regenerative agriculture and providing quality food. As we get to know the Ralston family and see how they’ve harnessed their 10-generation family farm to practice these agricultural techniques in “Good Roots,” I think farmers across the state will see methods that can improve their business models, their products and – best of all – their communities.
I think the Ralstons’ rice mill is just the beginning of a significant step toward embracing and understanding how much of the future depends on coming together.
With Arkansas PBS, Arkansas Farm Bureau, “Good Roots” and our visit out to Atkins, it feels like my small-town beginnings are coming full circle. I hope you’ll come with us to see how in the premiere segment of “Good Roots” inside “Arkansas Week” Friday, April 16, at 7:30 p.m.
“Good Roots” focuses on the real stories of rural life and highlights rural community life, agribusiness and how they’re evolving through modern advances. I’m proud to be a part of the first chapter of this journey, and I can’t wait to see more on the second Friday of each month to come.
Premiering Friday, April 16, at 7:30 p.m. and rebroadcasting Sunday, April 18, at 10 a.m.