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 While we are sorry to see Laurel go, she has been replaced by Jake Buell from Austin, Texas, who is part of the team designing and building the 18×18 House.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.
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!
Another two-dayer is in the books! We started Pig Roast weekend on Friday, April 28, in the Project Horseshoe Farm Courtyard in Greensboro, AL. We began with a scrumptious meal, a collaboration between Mo Kitchen of The Stable and Sarah Cole of Abadir’s. The Stable provided tasty wraps, and Abadir’s the viabrant and zingy salads and sweet desserts, including their famous sprintime coconut cake. Sorry, Mo, the wraps were outstanding, but the Sarah’s flowers and petals visually stole the show, especially on the chopped greens and chickpeas AND the strawberry cobbler with lavender biscuits!
Seven alumni PechaKucha-style lectures followed the meal. Our speakers, spanning 12 years at Rural Studio: • Mary Melissa Taddeo, ’12, Auburn, AL • Chris Currie, ’10, San Antonio, TX • Jamie Sartory, ’10, San Antonio, TX • Evan Forrest, ’09, Chicago, IL • Rob White, ’04, Nashville, TN • Patrick Nelson, ’03, Birmingham, AL • RaSheda Workman, ’00, Tuscaloosa, AL
And then . . . great music by Louis V to dance by.
On Saturday morning at 8:30, we gathered at Morrisette House to set out on our journey behind a Ford pick-up truck regaled in American and Auburn flags. The tour of projects included five in progress and several research initiatives, with a break in the middle back at Morrisette for a delicious lunch prepared by Rural Studio’s own Catherine Tabb and Doris Ward. Attendees heard the latest updates on the Front Porch Initiative from the team—Rusty Smith, Mackenzie Stagg, Betsy Farrell Garcia, & Christian Ayala—and toured and caught up on progress on Rural Studio Farm with Eric Ball. Emily McGlohn gave a rousing presentation on the new Wastewater project in Newbern.
Below is the rest of the rundown:
Projects presentations and clients • C.H.O.I.C.E. House. 5th-year team of AC Priest, Davis Benfer, Hailey Osborne, and Yi Xuan (Raymond) Teo. Client: Emefa Butler of C.H.O.I.C.E. (CHOOSING to HELP OTHERS In our COMMUNITY EXCEL) • Patriece’s Home. 5th-year team of Adam Davis, Daniel Burton, Laurel Holloway, and Lauren Lovell. Client: Patriece Gooden • Rural Studio Bathhouse. 5th-year team of Carla Slabber, Ambar Ashraf, Ashley Wilson, and Logan Lee. Client: Morrisette Campus. • 18×18 House. 5th-year team of Naomi Tony-Alabi, Jake Buell, Meagan Mitchell, and Julie DiDeo. Client: Detyrick King • Rosie’s Home. Spring 3rd-year team of Canon McConnell, Trenton Williams, Junting Song, Finn Downes, and Lucas Henderson. Client Rosie and Frankie
Presentations of classes’ semester-long work • History and Watercolor Class by Dick Hudgens • Woodshop Class by Steve Long
We arrived back to Morrisette House for dinner led by Newbern’s fire trucks and the roasted pig! This year’s dinner and graduation ceremony was moved from Bodark Amphitheater to Morrisette House due to impending thunderstorms. (Thanks to our team for swiftly switching venue locations on the fly!) Saturday evening featured Newbern Mercantile’s famous fried catfish and barbecued pork—it is Pig Roast, after all—and all the sides (of course!), with everyone kicking back to live tunes, first from the young performers of the Blues School Graduate Band and then the stylings of Debbie Bond Blues Band featuring Debbie Bond, “Radiator” Rick, Earl “Guitar Williams, Marcus “Jukeman” Lee, and Jonathan Schwartz.
The ceremony introductions began with Joe Lee Hamilton, Hale County Commissioner; Ben Farrow, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and International Programs for Auburn University College of Architecture, Design and Construction; and Justin Miller, Head of Auburn University School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture.
It was our pleasure to honor special guests Melissa Foster Denney and Bobby Scott. We were delighted to have Frank Harmon from Frank Harmon Architects in Raleigh, NC, to give this year’s graduation speech. And it was with pride and sweet tears that we congratulated our graduating 5th-year students: Ambar Ashraf, Ashley Wilson, Carla Slabber, Jake Buell, Julie DiDeo, Logan Lee, Meagan Mitchell, Naomi Tony-Alabi. Huge congrats, folks: you poured your hearts into your work and earned those degrees!
As tradition requires, “Whiffle Dust” shot from the Spencer family’s cannon, and fireworks rose to their heights behind Morrisette House.
We couldn’t have Pig Roast without our outstanding local sponsors! We’d like to thank Alabama Power; BDA Farm; City Furniture; Greensboro Pie; Hale County Hospital; Harvest Select Catfish; NAPA Auto Parts; Parker Tire & Muffler; People’s Bank; Reynold’s Electric; Sweetbriar Tea & Coffee; Blue Shadows B&B; Dozier Hardware; Greensboro Depot; Holmstead Company; M&M Mustang; Newbern Mercantile; The Partridge Berry; Seale, Homes, Ryan, LLC; Stillwater Machine; the Smelley family; The Stable; Citizens Bank; Mosley Feed and Seed; Greensboro Nutrition; Superior Metal Works; Clary’s Country Market; Patrick Braxton; and Wood Fruitticher!
It has been quite an eventful year at Rural Studio Farm.
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.
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!
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 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.”
Summer draws to an end just as new students begin their time at Rural Studio. But all through the summer swelter, it has been last year’s leftover students—now graduated—whose work has kept the farm running.
Summer is the most productive time of the year, and each week we spend three days harvesting such things as fresh corn, cherry tomatoes, an assortment of peppers, eggplants, cantaloupes and watermelons, okra, cucumbers, black-eyed peas, snap beans, blackberries and blueberries, apples, Asian pears, leeks, scallions, and shallots, as well as herbs and fresh flowers.
Summer is also the hardest time of the year in terms of insect pest pressure and fast-spreading weeds. Yet, for the first time it never felt like the insects and weeds grew beyond our control. Each year, we diligently hand-weed and turn over crops to minimize the spread of unwanted seeds, and we are now seeing the long-term cumulative efforts pay off.
Also, we are growing a wider diversity of plants with more aromatic flowers and herbs that make it more difficult for harmful insects to zero in on any one crop. Despite all the hard work and the heat, it’s been a pretty chill summer on the farm.