I Lost My Race for Public Office—and It Was the Best Thing That Happened to Me

Thankful for our blessings, we pass them along to neighbors in need.

Why-Losing-My-Race-for-Public-Office-Was-One-of-the-Best-Things-to-Happen-to-MeJackie Sikes/Country ExtraI was born and raised a city girl, but I always dreamed of living in the mountains, wearing mud boots and leading a life rich with love.

My dream came true the day I said “I do” to my best friend; Sean took my hand and led me home.

With the help of his parents, Sean built our house next door to theirs in the small town of Dennard, Arkansas, in the beautiful Ozark Mountains. This city girl moved to the mountains, bought a pair of mud boots and felt the love all around her. (This is how simply being in nature can work miracles for your brain.)

Why-Losing-My-Race-for-Public-Office-Was-One-of-the-Best-Things-to-Happen-to-MeJackie Sikes/Country Extra

Over the next several years, we were busy making a living and enjoying the best of whatever life had to offer. Then one day, Sean and I had become empty nesters. All five of our children had gone off to build nests of their own. So I ran for public office.

My bid for justice of the peace fell short by a few votes, but the desire to serve my community grew stronger.

During a campaign, you get to meet a lot of different people with opinions on what the community needs. The need for a place where farmers could sell their produce kept coming up. Small towns like ours can’t always provide farmers with ample space and opportunity. Holding a farmers market once or twice a month wasn’t working.
So we opened a year-round market and added locally made arts and crafts to the mix. With the help of some amazing volunteers, The Dirty Farmers Community Market opened in May 2013. The first season was a success!

Then life happened. A truck accidentally ran into the front of our building—a minor setback, but we had already been tossing around the idea of adding a lunch cafe. Our lease was up, and we needed a full-size kitchen, so Sean and I moved to Main Street and opened The Greater Good Cafe.

The cafe was our chance to address food insecurities in our community. Arkansas has the highest percentage in the U.S. of older people who are in danger of going hungry. With agriculture being the biggest industry here, we couldn’t just sit by and do nothing.

Running the market and the cafe required two of me, so Sean gave up his job and came to work full time at the market. He came up with the concept, “Eat what you need, and pay what you can.” We wanted to provide guests with a warm and inviting place to have a healthy, home-cooked meal at a reasonable cost.

I’m not a chef by any means, so we served one thing for lunch each day. I ran my cafe like my momma ran her kitchen. She would tell us girls, “If you don’t like what I cook, you can make yourself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”

Why-Losing-My-Race-for-Public-Office-Was-One-of-the-Best-Things-to-Happen-to-MeJackie Sikes/Country ExtraWe used as much local produce as we could, making the cafe farm-to-table. Soon we expanded our mission to include feeding seniors in the community by working with the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, Clinton High School’s agricultural classes and the Clinton First United Methodist Church.

Why-Losing-My-Race-for-Public-Office-Was-One-of-the-Best-Things-to-Happen-to-MeJackie Sikes/Country ExtraIn November 2016, a donor gave us 140 acres of beautiful, fertile land in Botkinburg. We closed our Main Street location so we could focus 100 percent of our energy on growing produce, running our nonprofit and operating a retreat and a summer camp for kids.

Now we have two programs addressing hunger among seniors. Our Daily Bread gives people aged 60 and older a loaf of homemade bread (and sometimes jam or jelly) twice a month, while Seed to Senior gives them fresh produce.

Why-Losing-My-Race-for-Public-Office-Was-One-of-the-Best-Things-to-Happen-to-MeJackie Sikes/Country ExtraThe Dirty Farmers Community Market’s Greater Good Retreat is pretty remote, but the view is worth it. Visitors enjoy two private waterfalls, hiking trails and home-cooked farm-to-table meals, and they stay in a guest cabin and learn about our organization’s mission.

If you had told me my dream would include being called a dirty farmer, I would have laughed. But then again, have you ever seen a clean farmer?

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Originally Published in www.country-magazine.com