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Couple growing a farm in middle of Prairie Grove

by Lynn Kutter | June 19, 2022 at 1:00 a.m.
These are starter vegetable plants that Annie Sales is growing to sell at the Prairie Grove Farmers Market. She used the greenhouse in the background to start the plants.

PRAIRIE GROVE -- The home farm, Rio Flora, is much more than a hobby for Annie Sales.

She wanted to make a commitment to stay home with her son. The new farm, which is made up of multiple garden spots located in a neighborhood in the middle of Prairie Grove, has made this possible, while at the same time enriching her family's lives, she said.

Sales has always been a gardener, helping in her grandmother's garden growing up and volunteering with lots of community gardens. But now, for the first time, she and her husband, Max Rowdon, and their young son, Rio, the namesake for the business, have their own space to grow vegetables, fruits, flowers and other plants.

"My heart is in native plants and permaculture," Sales said.

"The idea is to grow food in a more natural way, to mimic the natural system," Sales said.

Sales has a master's degree in fluvial geomorphology, or environmental science, from Missouri State University. Her thesis studied urban recovery and how to create a more naturalized feeling in a city.

Her husband lived in Houston and New Orleans growing up, and they lived in New Orleans before making the decision to move closer to her parents in Springfield, Mo. Sales said she visited Fayetteville while in college and liked the area, so they began looking in Northwest Arkansas for a place to live.

They bought their home in Prairie Grove on Parks Street in fall of 2020, after looking at many houses on the market. The lot is about three-fourths of an acre, and Sales said she started doing what she could while her husband began working as director of sales for Arsaga's.

The primary goal, she said, is to feed their family first and then get the opportunity to teach others about home gardens.

"I think it's empowering to know you can grow your own food in your own backyard," she said.

When they moved in, the house only had grass, boxwoods and hostas, Sales said.

Slowly, Sales started turning parts of the back and front yards into garden areas with one limiting factor. The property has beautiful, older trees that shade parts of the back and front yards. The sunny areas are being used for vegetables and she's exploring more shade tolerant plants for the shady areas.

Sales did most of the work to build a greenhouse for starter vegetable plants and has been selling those at the Prairie Grove Farmers Market. She hopes to be able to sell native perennial plants and berry bushes at the farmers market in the fall.

The family's main garden is located in the sunniest part of the backyard and has plants that include tomatoes, peppers, strawberries and blueberries, cabbage, broccoli, garlic, potatoes and celery. Other plants in her yard include onions, elderberry bushes, radishes and beets.

She has a flower patch and may sell fresh flowers at the farmers market in the future, depending on how many flowers the plants produce.

The couple has planted fruit trees, berry bushes and flowering plants to provide food for critters. She calls one shaded area foodscaping because it has edible plants mixed in with flowering plants.

"We want it to look beautiful," Sales said.

They want to restore native prairies in a couple of areas, are working to eradicate evasive plants and eventually want to get bees. Another section in the backyard has plants that can be used for medicinal purposes. Sales also makes lotions for her family using her plants.

"It's a lot of hard work," she said, but very rewarding because Rio is involved and is learning and working right along with her throughout the day.

The couple, along with help from a friend who lives with them, does all work by hand for the gardens and grows everything naturally without the use of synthetic pesticides.

They use rain barrels to catch rainwater for their plants and so far this year, with all the rainfall, they've been able to water everything from their rain barrels, which hold 900 gallons of water. She plans to install more rain barrels to help during dry spells.

Sales said the couple recycles everything "over and over" and repurposes materials.

They have five hens to provide eggs for the family and use the chickens as their "composting machines." The chicken coop is rotated around the yard. Once it's moved to a new location, that area is the next garden spot.

The big project this summer, Sales said, is to prepare the front yard for more plants. They are covering the ground with cardboard to kill weeds and will cover that with wood chips that come from the city of Fayetteville.

"We get a load of woodchips every week," she said.

She said this is all part of building up the soil. Wood chips and lots of compost are good for the soil, she noted.

They will come back next year and plant in the front yard to make it "more showy and beautiful," she added.

Sales said she's been extremely thankful to be able to stay home and work on their gardens with Rio.

"He's so independent and wants to help us as much as he can," she said.

She's also appreciated the support from her neighbors. They've been curious about what's going in the yard, and she's been happy for them to drop by and ask her questions about it.

"Everyone needs that communication," she said.

She said she welcomes people to stop by when she's outside and ask her about Rio Flora and get advice on growing backyard (and front yard) gardens.

  photo  PHOTOS BY LYNN KUTTER ENTERPRISE-LEADER Annie Sales with her son, Rio, who is 2 1/2 years old, in their backyard in Prairie Grove. Her hobby farm, Rio Floral, which is much more than a hobby, is named after her son. She and her husband, Max Rowdon, have lived in Prairie Grove since fall 2020.
  photo  This beautiful flower that can be seen in one of the gardens in Annie Sales' backyard is called Foxglove.
  photo  One of the rain barrels used by Annie Sales to collect rain water for the multiple gardens planted in the front and back yards of her home in Prairie Grove. She and her husband, Max Rowdon, have named their business, Rio Floral, after their son, Rio. Right now, they have enough barrels to collect 900 gallons of rain water with plans to install more.
  photo  Annie Sales calls this area "foodscaping" because it has edible plants mixed in with flowering plants.

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