organic food

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!

Peanuts: come shell or high water

Since Rural Studio Farm is a not a commercial farm, we get to grow a wide variety of crops that many other small-scale organic farms might find inefficient to grow, in terms of space and time. Lately, we have been enjoying such a treat: peanuts.

We began peanuts in soil blocks way back in May before transplanting to the field. As they grow, the plants produce little yellow flowers, which then fade and produce a peg, called a peduncle, that pushes several inches underground to produce the tasty little morsels. Typically, they require around four months to mature, but are low maintenance and pest-free, making them a great crop for us to grow during the summer when Eric was without his usual student workers.

A few weeks ago, we dug up the plants and left them to dry in the greenhouse for several days.

Then we separated the peanuts from the plant and took them to kitchen where our cook, Catherine, made some delicious boiled peanuts for our lunches. We got 10 gallons of dried peanuts from about 80 linear feet of plants.

Rural Studio's cook, Cat, boils a large pot of peanuts

It is all about ingredients

Each week we celebrate one ingredient from the Rural Studio Farm during a special lunch and discussion (led by Elena Barthel). The ultimate goal of the these Thursday lunches together is to learn about healthier eating habits. We suggest using fewer ingredients and higher quality, organic produce in our meals. Our own farm salad is always part of our celebration with a good dose of Tuscan olive oil.

The first ingredient we celebrated this year is tomato. Tomatoes can be grown in our greenhouse in early March and in the field garden in May. They can be eaten fresh in the hot summer months and easily preserved to be consumed during both the fall and the spring semester as tomato sauce.

Ode To Tomatoes by  Pablo  Neruda


The street
filled with tomatoes,
midday,
summer, light is halved
like a tomato,
its juice runs
through the streets.
In December,
unabated,
the tomato invades
the kitchen,
it enters at lunchtime,
takes its ease on countertops,
among glasses,
butter dishes,
blue saltcellars.
It sheds its own light,
benign majesty.
Unfortunately, we must
murder it:
the knife sinks
into living flesh,
red viscera a cool sun,
profound, inexhaustible,
populates the salads
of Chile, happily, it is wed
to the clear onion,
and to celebrate the union
we pour oil,
essential child of the olive,
onto its halved hemispheres,
pepper adds its fragrance,
salt, its magnetism;
it is the wedding of the day, parsley
hoists its flag,
potatoes bubble vigorously,
the aroma of the roast knocks
at the door, it’s time!
come on! and, on the table, at the midpoint
of summer, the tomato,
star of earth, recurrent
and fertile star,
displays its convolutions,
its canals, its remarkable amplitude
and abundance, no pit,
no husk, no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers its gift
of fiery color and cool completeness.