For Tim and Robin Ralston, farming is in their blood. Even before the Ralston ancestors settled in Pennsylvania in the mid-1700s, they were farming in their homeland of Scotland, while Robin’s side of the family has been farming in Arkansas since the 1830s. Today, they sustainably grow, harvest, mill, and package traditional and aromatic rice on their 5,000-acre family farm in Central Arkansas.
A farm, of course, is more than just planting, growing, and harvesting. It’s business too, and for the Ralstons, family is at the core. “We all have our strengths, and it’s rewarding, from a parent’s perspective, to see those skills come together when we’re brainstorming and working on implementing those plans. Everyone is secure and grounded in what they do and we all get along exceptionally well,” says Robin Ralston, the matriarch of the family. She and her husband Tim are at the head of the family business.
Their adult children and their spouses are all heavily involved in the business as well. Tim and their son Matthew each have a background in agriculture and oversee the farming business. Along with Matthew’s wife Brittani, they handle all aspects of farming, from the farm’s crop production to working with Duck’s Unlimited on their environmental stewardship program that the Ralstons were asked to participate in.
Their daughter Jennifer has a degree in design and uses her talents by managing the Ralstons’ social media accounts, in addition to her other responsibilities. She also is the office manager. Jennifer’s husband Willie is the Mill Quality Control Manager and a “perfect fit for this job,” says Robin.
Their daughter Ashley and Robin work together on all outside and Internet sales. Tim and Robin’s grandchildren are involved with the farm and the mill as well. “We are all passionate about the business, the product, and giving back,” Robin says.
“We are committed to donating a percentage of our rice to charities and food banks,” Robin says. They’re currently working with Feeding America and Feed Communities, based in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Ashley, who has a Master’s degree in liberal arts and a background in education, is spearheading those efforts. She also is working on an outreach program to educate schools and other organizations about the family’s rice mill and agriculture.
You won’t be hard pressed to find plenty of family rice farmers, especially in Arkansas, which leads the nation in rice production. What sets the Ralston Family Farms apart, though, is the varieties that they grow. The Ralstons currently grow over six varieties of rice, including traditional and aromatics, such as basmati, jasmine, and beautiful purple rice.
They also offer a one-of-a-kind variety called “Nature’s Blend.” It is naturally pollinated out in the field and includes varieties of aromatic purple, red, and traditional brown
rice. Since this is naturally pollinated and not blended by hand, no one else has this variety. “We have had so much interest in this blend and couldn’t be more excited about it,” says Robin.
“We’re unique in that all the rice is grown in the same place where the mill is located. From the field it’s grown in, to the bin the rice is stored in, it’s all in one place,” Robin says.
The Ralstons’ rice is sustainably grown with irrigation from surface water out of the Arkansas River. Ralston Family Farms also is certified by the Non-GMO Project and are certified Gluten Free and Kosher (STAR-K).
That commitment to sustainability is what led the Ralstons and P. Allen Smith to form a partnership this past year. “I’ve always admired the Ralston family’s authenticity and commitment to sustainability, so our partnership is a natural fit. I am excited to continue working with them as they grow and deliver a great product that is produced in such an earth-friendly way and gives back to those in need,” says P. Allen Smith.
“Allen has been so supportive, and he’s passionate about the rice, our family, and Arkansas. That’s what endeared him even more to us. Thanks to Allen, we’ve met a lot of wonderful people and have had some amazing opportunities,” Robin says.
One of those opportunities is Ralston Family Farms’ partnership with Ben E. Keith Foods, a broadline foodservice distributor. The company is taking steps to provide their customers with local, fresh, sustainable food throughout their five-state reach in the mid-South region. “Ben E. Keith Foods is thrilled to partner with Ralston Family Farms to help tell their story and promote their rice to meet the demand for locally sourced ingredients,” says Yvette Parker, director of marketing for Ben E. Keith Foods.
Now that the mill is finished, the Ralstons are looking forward to more of these kinds of opportunities that will add even more value and longevity to their farming operations for future generations. They are also in the process of expanding their team, which will help create local jobs. Between donations to help feed food insecure Arkansans and the outreach programs, the Ralstons are hopeful that they can make a positive impact in their community and throughout the state.
If you are interested in purchasing Ralston Family Farms Rice, select varieties will be available beginning April 2018 at the following WalMart locations (check with store locations for availability):
FORT SMITH, AR
LITTLE ROCK, AR
MUSCLE SHOALS /SHEFFIELD, AL
NORTH LITTLE ROCK, AR
PEA RIDGE, AR
POPLAR BLUFF, MO
WEST PLAINS, MO