GENTRY, Ark. (Sept. 20, 2023) — More than 200 riders converged on the Evans farm Tuesday evening to meet with local farmers and share experiences about gravel cycling, the fastest-growing cycling sport in the US.
Wes Evans and his wife, Laura, were named Benton County Farm Family of the Year in May. They hosted the event in partnership with Arkansas Rural Recreational Roads (Arkansas R3), Arkansas Farm Bureau, and the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.
“These farmers don’t own these roads, but this is their zone,” said Andy Chasteen. “It’s important for us as cyclists to learn about how they live and work out here, which will go a long way to change our behaviors.” Chasteen is well known among the cycling community. He works for Bentonville-based Runway Group, which coordinates and promotes Arkansas R3.
Evans said organizing the event revealed a key fact for him that influenced his decision to participate.
“What I realized working with Andy was that this is the first group of people that farmers have seen in years that actually want to see agriculture in Benton County,” he said.
“There are some things that farmers do that might aggravate cyclists, and vice-versa,” Evans added. “I think we are going to find that common ground and bridge that gap. There’s some work to do, but everybody is here smiling.”
“I can’t think of a more important community development project than this event,” Johnny Gunsaulis, the chairman for the Benton County Ag Extension Office. “Cyclists do a lot of exercise, and people who exercise eat a lot of protein. Guess what we do in Benton County? Protein. Chicken and beef are by far our two biggest ag products.”
“Ag needs friends, we really do,” Gunsaulis added. “There are not enough farmers to impact policies and laws, and you all seem to be a logical fit for a group of friends for ag.”
“Here in northwest Arkansas agri-tourism is real, and it’s the future for us and it’s the future for you guys,” said Kevin Smith, with Benton County Farm Bureau. “A lot of you moved here so you can ride your bikes in the country, and we love it.”
Local cyclist Chelsea Wilson said the event raised her awareness about respecting the agriculture community.
“Riding in the country is a great way to exercise and relax,” Wilson said. “Farmers almost always wave back, and today I got to see a baby cow.”
The event featured food from Simmons Foods and local beef farmer Jeremy Jackson, a neighbor farmer and board member of the International Brangus Breeder’s Association. Entertainment was provided by local musician Cara Hood.
For more on the Arkansas R3 initiative, go to our article from November 2022.