By Deanna McGill | Photography by Sarah Oden | Shot on location at the Hillman Farm
Tina and Rich Hillman are living out their life’s purpose on a farm. The Hillmans harvest rice, corn and soybeans in Carlisle. They are 6th generation farmers and consider this all-consuming, vulnerable, yet rewarding lifestyle nothing short of a calling. Rich explains,” Farmers and ranchers take enormous pride in the fact they grow the food for the world at incredible risk every year.” Tina jokes, “I even tried to get away from farming after my divorce but God had another plan.” Tina and Rich have been married for 18 years and also work tirelessly to alleviate food insecurity in their community.
The irony of the problem is profound. “Our state’s greatest contribution to the nation is agriculture but we have one of the highest food insecurities as well,” Tina explains. Rural family budgets and fresh local groceries often don’t align and alternative, more affordable, food options are often less nutritious. Arkansas ranks second in food insecurity according to the USDA and second in child hunger according to Feeding America.
The Arkansas Foodbank plays a critical role in the sustainable solution – providing assistance and necessary resources – throughout the state. The Hillmans work with the foodbank as donors of excess crops from their farm. Four years ago, Tina established a local food pantry with the support from fellow parishioners at First United Methodist Church. In partnership with Arkansas Foodbank, the Carlisle pantry serves about 125 people monthly. Rich remembers, “Even going back to the days when it was the Rice Depot, the Arkansas Foodbank has always bridged connections between the farmers and their crops to hungry Arkansans.”
“Hunger does not discriminate and the stigma surrounding it needs to be addressed,” Tina rallies. She relates to the struggles of families in Carlisle that she considers her neighbors. “I was a single mother; my kids thought I was not hungry when I did not eat dinner. I had to make choices to stretch the food we had because of our limited income.” The food pantry welcomes everyone and encourages them “to shop for whatever they need from our pantry to feed themselves and their family.” Tina notes that senior citizens are a demographic that is most vulnerable; most have extremely fixed incomes and judicious household financial decisions must be made – often times around what they eat. Arkansas ranks in the top five for senior hunger and because of the direct correlation between diet and health, this can be detrimental and affects the overall health of Arkansans.
With support from the Arkansas Foodbank, the Hillmans connect people with resources and food providing access to staples as well as nutritious food. “We get 5,000 pounds of fresh food – meat, milk, eggs, fruits and vegetables – delivered to us at the church for a minimal cost,” Tina exclaims. This eliminates the proximity barrier for Carlisle residents who are senior citizens and cannot drive – the nearest bargain store being twelve miles away.
In 2019, the Arkansas Foodbank distributed food for more than 22 million meals to hungry neighbors in Central and Southern Arkansas. The organization serves 33 of the 75 counties in Arkansas and has established 450 local partnerships across the state – including churches, soup kitchens and more than 100 schools. This provides a strategic distribution network for food stored at the 75,000 square foot headquarters in Little Rock. With plans to host Empty Bowls, Tina and Rich will continue this important mission fulfillment work: moving towards a healthier Arkansas by feeding the kids, parents and seniors who are our neighbors.
“The power of kindness is unstoppable.” Tina beams. Rich adds, “Let’s do the right thing and all that entails. It goes back to the Golden Rule – treating hungry neighbors the way I would want to be treated.” Arkansas Foodbank agrees providing dignity, hope and a brighter future for all Arkansans thanks to farmers like the Hillmans.