Maria Barbarotto creates ‘Country Fare’ from Arkansas ingredients

By Judy Riley

As an Italian and Greek descendant of families that loved to cook and share food as acts of love, one Damascus entrepreneur is spreading sweetness in the 501. Maria Barbarotto makes and sells jams and jellies of every stripe. She simply loves to cook and says her greatest desire is to spread the enjoyment of good food while supporting local producers and farmers’ markets. She grew up at the feet of a grandmother who loved to can. But Barbarotto developed her craft by doing good deeds for those she loved.

As a young mother, she participated in a Bible study group led by Garland Gilliland, a beekeeper and retired manager of Massey Hardware in Conway. She was so appreciative of his tutelage, she wanted to do something special for him. He loved blackberries, so she delivered what he proclaimed as the “best blackberry jelly” he had ever tasted. With encouragement from him, friends and family, Maria’s Homemade Country Fare was launched, but not without great effort.

Photo by Mike Kemp

To meet all food safety laws and policies, Barbarotto built a separate kitchen, a standalone building next to her home in Damascus to process her products. She learned everything she could through classes with the University of Arkansas and has certifications from the Arkansas Department of Health with inspections twice a year.

Barbarotto uses locally grown fruits and vegetables and is quick to give credit to the farmers who produce them. Strack Farms in Conway produces her blackberries, cucumbers, peppers, okra and muscadines. She buys mayhaws and figs from Coke Brothers in El Dorado. Furthermore, she loves helping other small businesses. She can often be found helping other vendors market their products. She gives a shout-out to Crossman Printing in Conway, who creates her signature labels.

Her fare includes 21 varieties of sweet spreads, five varieties of sliced pickles and three varieties of spear pickles. She has launched her own spaghetti sauce, with two different heats and four different heats of her prized salsa. Her products are available in Conway, Little Rock, Sherwood, Damascus, and through her Facebook page, “Maria’s Homemade Country Fare.”

For Barbarotto, what began as an act of appreciation for a favorite mentor turned into a life of sharing the sweet bounty of Arkansas produce with others. In her own words, “I never take my success for granted. The compliments and appreciation I receive from satisfied customers just blows me away. It has become something way larger than me and I am so grateful.” 

For a sweet fall treat, slather some of her jam on a hot buttered biscuit! Divine!