community

Newbern Library Summer Reading Festival

student reading to children

Last weekend, the Newbern Library brought together kids and community members from across Hale County for the 2nd Annual Summer Reading Festival. This year’s theme was “Oceans of Possibilities,” and it wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of the library board and a host of volunteers. This year’s event featured ocean-themed crafts, face painting, read-aloud story time, fly-fishing demonstrations, live music, and science activities from both the University of West Alabama and Mississippi State University. The first ever craft market was a new addition this year, bringing in local artists and makers to sell their creations to festival-goers. Rounding out the two-day event were door prize giveaways and a delicious barbeque lunch. All of the activities were a huge hit, and the kids of Hale County are ready to get to reading this summer!

Cheers to everyone who made this event possible! A big thank you to library board members Mary Jane Everett, Angela Cabil, Andrew Freear, Jean Watson, Felicia Briggins, Freda Braxton, Kaleda Zanders, Mary Times, and Carolyn Walthall, librarian Barbara Williams, and Rural Studio’s 3rd-year instructor Judith Seaman for planning such a huge event for the community.

Thank you to our current “leftover” students for running the craft and face painting tents; Hale County Extension for providing healthy snacks and story time; Hale County Hospital for running another healthy snack booth; Leah Vaughn with Mississippi State University’s NASA at My Library program; University of West Alabama for bringing out their Betabox activity center; and the McWane Science Center team. Also, huge thanks to Mark Carlisle, Barbara Turner, Kelvin Bell, and Patrick Braxton for lunch; Sweetbriar Tea & Coffee; Emily Neustrom for the music; Frances Sullivan and Bonita Benner for planning the Craft Market; and of course, every single attendee that came out to enjoy the fun! We have such a wonderful community in Newbern! We look forward to more events like these in the future.

Spring Dinner Farm Event

We had an exciting weekend of excellent food and even better company as we gathered with some of our neighbors here in West Alabama for our first Rural Studio Farm Dinner and Lecture Event!

A wide shot of the long table with guests sat around it and the sun's striking horizontal light projecting spears of light over the heads of the attendees

Rural Studio Farm has grown immensely in the past four years, and we have reached the point where we are refining and improving our practices even as the farm continues to expand. Production has increased each year, and there is no sign of this letting up. By all accounts, we have been successful at achieving the goals we set for ourselves when the farm was reinvented in 2019. Now, we wish to expand the scope of the farm toward engaging more directly with our community, to further develop our productive food system as a resource.

In order to expand, we felt we needed to establish new relationships and cultivate current ones with others in our community who might benefit from our growth. So we created a small event to bring folks together with a tour of our farm, followed by some introductions to and celebrations of our guests’ work. Most importantly, the evening culminated in sharing a fine, locally sourced meal together, courtesy of Brad Hart who flew in from Santa Fe along with his partner, and Rural Studio consultant, Johanna Gilligan.

A close-up of the sumptuous salad of local ingredients: pears, lettuce, pecans, beets, radishes, and celery leaves

This was an intimate gathering with few students, and it was meant to emphasize smaller-scale efforts in sustainable agriculture and investments in our local food system.

The event unfolded outdoors on a beautiful Saturday evening. The sun shone with a gentle wind as Farm Manager Eric Ball guided our guests around the farm.

Then, several of our guests participated in mini presentations about themselves and their work: Sarah Cole from Abadir’s Pastry and the Back Belt Food Project in Greensboro, AL; Meg Ford from Alabama Audubon in Greensboro, AL; Nicole Dugat from Schoolyard Roots in Tuscaloosa, AL; Jamie-Lee Steenkamp from Bois D’Arc Farm in Uniontown, AL; John Dorsey, as well as fellows Maggie Rosenthal, Bess Renjilian, and Ellie Hough, from Project Horseshoe Farm in Greensboro, AL; Olivia Fuller, the commercial horticulture agent for West Alabama, from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System; and Johanna Gilligan, who founded Grow Dat Youth Farm in New Orleans, LA. We also heard from Emefa Butler from C.H.O.I.C.E. in Uniontown, AL and Jovita Lewis, the Hale County Cooperative Extension coordinator. Finally, we were happy to have our friends, and fellow growers, Chip and Laura Spencer from Marion Junction, AL in attendance.

One can see the varied expressions of those watching a pecha kucha style lecture given by a guest

We had a fantastic evening together and are looking forward to seeing how the farm can expand with these invaluable relationships!

What do we know?

As part of our ongoing research to better understand the barriers to equitable housing access in our community, Rural Studio students have designed and built numerous affordable prototype houses over the years.

We’ve been working iteratively to develop dozens of prototypes on the ground in Hale County. The following are just a few of the critical lessons that we have learned along the way.

First and foremost, it is essential that a house be designed to be durable, buildable, weatherproof, and secure.

But as important as these basic criteria are, they are just the minimum of requirements. We have also found it to be equally important that a house should be designed to be aspirational as well.

1) A house should directly express a sense of presence and dignity for the homeowner.

Dave's Home with title Presence

2) A house should intentionally foster a sense of community and engagement in its design.

3) A house should actively contribute to the health and wellbeing of those that live in the homes, as well as for those that build the homes.

4) A house should provide opportunities to both age in place with dignity, as well as shelter in place in safety.

And finally, even though our houses are intended for local people, and built with local materials, and with local labor and know-how, above all else,

5) A house must be well crafted.

But knowing these essential criteria is not enough. It is what we do once we know them that matters most. However, the gulf between knowing effective strategies and implementing them is enormous. In medical research, this is often referred to as the “Know-Do Gap,” and we have found it to similarly exist in architectural research as well. In our next post we will outline some of the implementation strategies and communication products that the Front Porch team has developed to begin to narrow this gap between what we know, and what we do.

Rural Studio is Inside Out

The Studio has been making the best of COVID-19 obstacles by prioritizing outdoor work for the past six weeks! Working outside has given students and staff the ability to learn about construction processes while also maintaining healthy and safe work protocols. Luckily, Rural Studio has quite a few tasks to accomplish around Hale and Perry County to keep them busy.

Perry Lakes Park student team at the end of a long work day

In the first couple of weeks of the semester, everyone came together (socially-distanced, of course) to clean up Morrisette campus. This work included laying and tamping gravel in the driveways, demolishing some old mock ups and a couple unused storage sheds, power washing the Great Hall and Fabrication Pavilion, and helping Eric on the farm.

Students have also been helping out at Perry Lakes Park, which has been closed for maintenance for the past few months. The Studio hopes that, after a little bit of work, they can help reopen the beautiful park to the public. Jobs to be completed were: replacing rotting boards on the bridge, walkways, and tower; replacing structural members underneath the walkways; rebuilding walkways that had been hit by fallen trees; and replacing rotting deck boards on the tower. This work is still in progress, but they expect to have the majority of the tasks complete in the coming week.

As the semester progresses, students have been working toward creating a balance between studio work and site work. On designated “studio days,” 3rd-year, 5th-year, and graduate students have been meeting with their faculty at new open-air pin up spots on Spencer House’s porch and under the Fabrication Pavilion. Next week, 5th- and 3rd-year will transition away from studio-wide work toward focusing on their own class projects. The 5th-years will soon choose their project teams and 3rd-years will start making more progress on 20K Ophelia’s Home!

Week 76

Hi friends! Lots to catch up since our last post! After many weeks of rain in April, we have designed, built, put up and down our full-scale mockup. Some on Morrisette to test if the 18’ screens would stand safely, and finally on site. As always mock-ups are the best tool for making decisions, so as we were putting up the screens, we made some changes to the design as we saw how the space shaped out. Also, thank you Andrew, Steve and Mass Timber team for helping us raise the 18′x18′ Screens!

Luckily the mock-up was ready by the time Pig Roast came around the corner, and it helped us study how people inhabited the space. Not only as a large crowd but also when the Horseshoe Farm Fellows had one of their weekly meetings in the courtyard.

We have also had many pin ups and meetings in the last 2 months. We had a chance to meet with Zane Morgan and Cassandra Kellogg twice! They are not only super generous with their time, but also incredibly helpful when talking to us through some of the details we have been working through. We also had a visit from David Hinson, whose excitement about the project energized us to keep pushing forward! As well as a long, but incredibly helpful call with David Hill, in which we learned some more key information about tree choosing, and soil conditions of our site.

Additionally, in the last two weeks, we have spoken to Joe many times, in order to work through some of the structural questions of the walkway and screens. We also visited Jim Turnipseed to update him on the newest design proposal. We are incredibly thankful for Jim’s generosity with material donations and for letting us use his shop when the time comes to fabricate the screens!