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Feeding People Tubs of Food

When our Purina® feed tub recycling program began several years ago, our goal was to be part of a responsible solution for the thousands of feed tubs we — and our competitors — sell each year. We began piloting the program in 2019, working with a handful of Land O’Lakes, Inc. dealers and cooperatives to collect used tubs and recycle them into benches. Then in 2022, we expanded the program with the introduction of our innovative ClearView Tubs. Because the tubs were clear, they were able to be recycled into other useful products such as stalls and fence posts.

Little did we know that upcycling would become a highlight of the program — all thanks to Farmers Cooperative, a Land O’Lakes cooperative member based in northwestern Arkansas near the Oklahoma border.

It all started with tubs

“If I had to guess, I’d say we’ve recycled over 15,000 tubs,” says Matt Crabtree, president and CEO of Farmers Cooperative.
Several years ago, Farmers Cooperative began its tub upcycling events, offering an incentive for its customers to return empty tubs to any of their locations in Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma. For every feed tub returned, the customer received a $4 voucher toward a future purchase. These feed tubs were recycled and turned into benches — some of which found homes at Farmers Cooperative stores.

“It built a sense of community where our customers were able to do something good with these tubs,” Matt says.

Then in 2023, an opportunity arose for Farmers Cooperative to “do something good” that would both help the environment and help feed the River Valley community.

Growing an idea

Hannah Schultz, then a graduate student working at Baptist Health-Fort Smith, needed a project to complete her Master of Public Health degree.

“I was looking for things that were going on in the River Valley area,” she says. “One of the biggest issues we have is food insecurity — we are nearly 40 times higher than the national average.”

Food insecurity is when people don’t have enough to eat and don’t know where their next meal will come from. They are also forced to buy food that is less expensive and less nutritious, leading to health problems such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity — the very issues impacting the River Valley community.

During her research, Hannah noted many rooftop and community gardens throughout Arkansas, but few that grew produce. That’s when she decided to focus on creating a rooftop garden at the hospital, one that could help feed inpatients after they are released to continue their recovery at home. The produce producing rooftop garden is the first of its kind in the state.

“I sought to do that because it would be safe and we have a large enough area to do it — 6,000 square feet,” Hannah says.

‘What about tubs?’

Hannah then reached out to the Fort Smith community for help with starting the garden. The concept received an outpouring of support, including volunteers from the River Valley Master Gardeners group and Baptist Health as well as grants and in-kind supply donations from Farmers Cooperative and other area retailers.

“Hannah came and presented us with the opportunity [to contribute],” Matt says. “Originally, she was looking for grow bags. I told her, ‘I have another idea. What about tubs? They’re harder plastic and I think you’ll get more life out of them.’”

Farmers Cooperative donated 400 Purina® feed tubs to the project. You read that right — 400. Of those, 360 are on the rooftop of Marvin Altman Fitness Center at Baptist Health-Fort Smith.

Ready, set, grow

Last fall, garden volunteers planted the first winter crops including Swiss chard, turnips and beets. More recently, they planted radishes, arugula, turnips and onions. Over the course of the first growing season, there will be 27 crops planted, including potatoes, tomatoes, strawberries, green beans and carrots. Harvests will be donated to the Food Rx program provided by Baptist Health Community Outreach and the Baptist Health Foundation, which distributes the produce to discharged patients who have been identified as food insecure.

“It’s a pilot program right now,” says Dawn Turner, development and special event officer for the Baptist Health Foundation. “When patients are discharged, they’re given a three-day supply of food for a family of four.”

And there will be more than enough produce to go around.

“With our yield, we can produce enough for 1,500 meals a day,” Hannah says.

A bumper crop of support

In February, Land O’Lakes, Inc. granted Baptist Health-Fort Smith $2,500 to help with its inaugural year of rooftop gardening.
“Land O’Lakes is so happy to support this really cool project. We love that it supports recycling Purina® tubs and feeding hungry people,” says Morgan Kinross-Wright, VP, Community Relations and executive director of the Land O’Lakes Foundation.

“We couldn’t have done this without the support of Land O’Lakes, Farmers Cooperative and other community partners,” Dawn says.

With the grant, Hannah, now a special project manager at Baptist Health, will be able to create a drip irrigation system, allowing the crops to be watered hands-free and in a more timely manner.

Everything’s in place — the crops will be watered and harvested, and the bounty given to people in need. But the ultimate yield? It’s something that can’t be grown in the ground or on a rooftop.

“I’m hoping we’re able to mitigate food insecurity in the area and able to provide people with nutrition that contributes to better overall health for them,” Hannah says. “If we can see a decrease in food insecurity and an increase in individual health and health outcomes—awesome!”

Jackie Koppe

This article was originally published on the Land O’ Lakes Inc. Blog. The full article can be viewed on their site.

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