Author: Eric Ball

Looking Back and Moving Forward

A student sits calmly in the rows of strawberry plants

As the weather grows cooler and the days shorten, Rural Studio Farm is preparing for the cold wet winter when most of the field operation will rest as cover crops replace food crops. It has been a busy year of growing and expanding what we do.

In the spring, we hosted our 2nd Annual Spring Farm Dinner along with friends and consultants Brad Hart and Johanna Gilligan. It was a beautiful outdoor evening of sharing an excellent meal—prepared by Brad using farm produce—with our neighbors and friends.

Now that Patriece’s Home has been completed, Laurel Holloway has left Hale County and her two-year role as assistant farm manager. While we are sorry to see Laurel go, she has been replaced by Jake Buell from Austin, Texas, who is part of the team designing and building the 18×18 House. Jake has joined Ambar Ashraf (Rural Studio Bathhouse), and now they are scheming to bring chickens back to Rural Studio Farm. We also welcomed our Project Horseshoe Farm volunteer fellow, Jenna, to the team.

We introduced two new crops to our regular rotation: strawberries and microgreens. Over the course of the summer, we produced around 200 pounds of fresh delicious strawberries—so good that many berries were eaten in the field. The microgreens are our first hydroponically produced crop, and they have been a welcome addition to the salad bar.

Several students and volunteers are gathering and spreading handfuls of microgreen seeds across wetted burlap in a large PVC tray this part of the hydroponic system for growing microgreens

During the summer, Rural Studio Farm hosted kids who were participating in Project Horseshoe Farm’s Summer Youth Program. The students had fun picking cherry tomatoes, digging up potatoes, and pulling cabbages.

Looking ahead to 2024, we are planning on introducing ginger, turmeric, and Jerusalem artichokes to the Farm. We are also changing some of our accessory flower and herb growing spaces to specifically support pollinators, as well as developing a sensory garden which will be filled with plants of varied textures, colors, aromas, and growth habits. Finally, we are planning on reintroducing both honeybees and chickens back to Rural Studio Farm. It’s going to be a great year!

2nd Annual Spring Farm Dinner

On April 1, 2023 Rural Studio hosted our 2nd Annual Spring Farm Dinner event.

A toast is given over a long table sat with guests

Last year’s dinner was such a success, we wanted to bring everyone back together for an evening with friends. Our focus is on smaller-scale sustainable agriculture and ways to invest in our local food system. Along with RS faculty and staff, we were delighted to have folks join us from BDA Farm in Uniontown, the Newbern Library, Schoolyard Roots in Tuscaloosa, and the Black Belt Food Project/Abadir’s.

We shared ideas and updates from the past year. It was also a chance to imagine opportunities to continue working together. Of course, the evening was organized around sharing an excellent outdoor meal, which was prepared by chef Brad Hart and hosted by Johanna Gilligan, both friends and consultants of Rural Studio out of Santa Fe.

A close-up of a plate of food at the spring farm dinner, in this case a green salad with strawberries and parmigiana

Most of the fresh vegetables, herbs, and fruit came from Rural Studio Farm (like the fresh strawberries) and the meat was sourced from BDA Farm.

With such great food and fond company, it was a lovely twilit evening, and we are pleased to make this an annual tradition.

A Productive Year

An aerial shot of the farm taken from a drone that shows the many row crops growing and students working
Photo by Timothy Hursley

It has been quite an eventful year at Rural Studio Farm.

The morning sun in the summer greenhouse with workers busy tending crops
Photo by Timothy Hursley

With the start of the new academic year in the fall, we had to say goodbye to Jackie Rosborough, one of our student assistant managers.

An assistant manager stands with a shovel in front of the tool shed
Photo by Timothy Hursley

Jackie, along with our other assistant manager, Laurel Holloway, was an integral part of what made this year so successful. Though we are sad to see Jackie depart, we are thrilled to welcome a new student assistant manager, Ambar Ashraf from Atlanta, to our team!

In the spring, we began piloting our CSA program to students and staff, which delivered several hundred pounds of fresh seasonal produce, herbs, and flowers to members across 30 weeks.

The CSA allowed us to grow a wider variety of crops for the first time—many of which were very successful, like Chinese cabbage, kohlrabi, fennel, and shallots. It’s our hope that we can broaden the scope of the CSA’s membership for next year’s growing season to include the broader community of Hale County.

This past year, we also began working with the Black Belt Food Project and Project Horseshoe Farm to donate several hundred pounds of extra food to their produce stand, which runs on a “take what you want, pay what you can” model.

To help harvest for and run the produce stand, and to help with the farm in general, we welcomed two new Project Horseshoe Farm fellows, Lauren Widmann and Sonja Lazovic, who have succeeded past fellows Maggie Rosenthal, Ellie Hough, and Bess Renjillian.

The Farm also hosted two events this year: a local food and sustainable agriculture summit and dinner in March and the Food for Thought event in October (with the Newbern Library and the Black Belt Food Project).

Finally, our Farm Manager, Eric, began graduate school in Auburn in the fall, pursuing a degree in crop, soil, and environmental science. The Farm continues to thrive and expand, and the next year is going to be even more productive!

Food for Thought: A Journey through Alabama’s Food History, Culture, and Taste

We had an invigorating weekend for our collaborative food event, Food for Thought: A Journey through Food History, Culture, and Taste.

The two-day event was a joint effort between Carolyn Walthall and Barbara Williams of the Newbern Library, Sarah Cole of Abadir’s and the Black Belt Food Project, and Rural Studio Farm. Food for Thought acknowledged our Southern food history and showcased the work of current organizations and people who are moving these traditions forward for future generations.

The public event started on Friday evening at the Newbern Library, where author Emily Blejwas spoke about her book The History of Alabama in Fourteen Foods. The Friends of Newbern Library provided some of the homemade foods featured in Ms. Blejwas’s book.

On Saturday morning, in beautiful fall weather, the event moved to Rural Studio where our Farm manager, Eric, gave tours of the Farm.

Project Horseshoe Farm, the Black Belt Food Project, and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System had tables set up around the Farm to share their work, as well as a table offering a seed exchange for visitors.

Finally, the event culminated in a lunch that featured North African food from Sarah and West African cuisine from farmer and chef Halima Salazar of Gimbia’s Kitchen out of Oxford, MS.

The two chefs stand smiling together next to their food

The meal, prepared as it was by the two young chefs with both Southern and African roots, encapsulated the theme of the event: as Ms. Salazar said, “Southern food is African food.”

Guest chef Halima Salazar smiles as she prepares stuffed peppers

Rural Studio Farm and the Black Belt Food Project

West Alabama has a new nonprofit working in Greensboro: the Black Belt Food Project (BBFP), started by our friend Sarah Cole of Abadir’s. The BBFP aims to build a stronger, more inclusive environment for children and adults through food-based educational opportunities. Eric Ball, Rural Studio’s Farm Manager, joined Sarah’s newly formed board, which includes Dr. John Dorsey, Director of Project Horseshoe Farm; Stephanie Nixon from Hale County Library and founder of Sacred Space, Inc.; and Amanda Storey, Executive Director of Jones Valley Teaching Farm.

Sarah Cole is standing smiling at a range, seasoning some dishes

Sarah has already collaborated with Rural Studio on several events, like preparing all the excellent food for the Moundville Pavilion Project celebration (made with produce and flowers from Rural Studio Farm).

But now Rural Studio is building a relationship with the BBFP to begin to offer Rural Studio Farm as an educational resource with the broader West Alabama community. Notably, in October, Rural Studio, Newbern Library, and the BBFP are putting together a food event called Food for Thought: A journey through food, history, culture & taste.

And since Rural Studio Farm is producing more food than we can use, this week we started sharing extra produce with the BBFP to be distributed to the public at pick-up points in Greensboro, like in Project Horseshoe Farm’s new “store” space at their headquarters in downtown. It’s a “take what you need, give what you can” market stand.

Meanwhile, on the Farm, we’re moving into Autumn. We are harvesting some of the last warm-season crops like pinkeye purple hull peas, okra, peppers, zucchini, and squash. Sweet potatoes are filling the greenhouse, and we are starting lots of cool-season crops: lettuce, arugula, carrots, kale, spinach, chard, turnips, radishes, broccoli, cabbage, rutabagas, and more.