ruralstudiofarm

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 While we are sorry to see Laurel go, she has been replaced by Jake Buell from Austin, Texas, who is part of the team designing and building the 18×18 House.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!

Hello, Goodbye

Rural Studio Farm is a small-scale, organic vegetable production farm run by our farm manager, Eric Ball, who relies on the labor of each and every Rural Studio student who passes through the program. Each year, two new 5th-year students are hired part time to work alongside Eric in co-managing the farm’s operations.

Eric poses with two student workers

With the beginning of a new academic year, it means we must say goodbye to our two former farm workers: Cory Subasic and Madeline Ray. Madeline and Cory were both diligent and hard-working students who, together, managed the operations of the farm and acted as leaders to the other students for several months while our farm manager, Eric, was away on parental leave. Cory, who worked on the Thermal Mass & Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project has since taken a fellowship with Brian MacKay-Lyons in Halifax, Nova Scotia. And Madeline is devoting all her time to finishing up work on the Myers’ Home. Their contributions to the farm were essential, and their presence will be greatly missed.

Two new student workers pose in front of the greenhouse
Jackie (L) and Laurel (R)

We are also excited to have two Project Horseshoe Farm fellows working with us on the farm as part of their community engagement. This will be Maggie Rosenthal’s second year working at Rural Studio Farm, and we welcome Diana Omenge to Hale County!

Fall 2021 Neckdown Week

three young people stand together smiling wearing hard hats and harneses

This semester, Neckdown Week was as productive as ever, with the sun shining on us all week long. Neckdown is a studio tradition, during which all students and faculty work together to mend, clean up, or push forward our past and current projects. This time around we worked on student projects in Newbern and sent teams all the way out to Perry Lakes Park in Marion, AL.

At Perry Lakes Park, we cleaned up debris from a big storm that hit the park last year. We also worked on the plumbing for the bathrooms, which included a lot of digging. And we mean A LOT. Up on the Perry Lakes Birding Tower, we finally completed our objective of replacing all the rotten boards that we began removing during Neckdown last year! We hope all of you will be able to come visit the beautiful park as soon as it reopens in the very near future.

Back in good ole Newbern, teams of helpers working a several maintenance projects at our headquarters at Morrisette House. A few teams also worked alongside Eric at the Rural Studio Farm constructing raised garden beds. These beds, made from concrete blocks, are very time consuming to build correctly, and our helpers worked hard in the sun to make them look good and function well! We’d also like to give a shoutout and a big thank you to all of the Auburn University Landscape Architecture students and faculty who came out to Hale County to help us nourish Rural Studio’s outdoor spaces. The AULA cohort not only helped out at the Farm and Morrisette property, but they also worked in our courtyards in downtown Newbern and at Lion’s Park in Greensboro. Our plants and ground surfaces would not be as happy as they have been lately without you all. Thank you!

Our recent graduates also took advantage of a few Neckdown helpers this week to make some progress finishing up their projects! With assistance from new 3rd and 5th-year’s capable hands, our three “leftover” teams accomplished a huge amount of work! The Thermal Mass & Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project team constructed two sets of stairs that lead down into their cooling porch. They also worked on installing battens on the exterior of their Research Pods!

The Myers’ Home team installed tongue-and-groove cypress boards on their interior core walls, and they worked with their helpers to nail their exterior flashing in place. Siding is coming up next for these folks. At Rev. Walker’s Home site, the team completed a massive amount of earth work in order to prep their site for its final grading. This process also included creating an outdoor gravel patio for their client to create a smooth transition from concrete slab to the adjacent ground surface.

Thank you to all the students, staff, and faculty that made all of this work possible this week!

Preparing for Spring

We began cultivating additional land for crop production last fall, which will add about 33% more growing area. Using the walking tractor, Eric and the students first shaped the new in-ground raised beds before adding soil amendments and compost. Since we are promoting soil health, it is best to have something growing in the beds at all times, so it is important to start growing as soon as possible.

Students planted seed potatoes, which we covered in a layer of hay, and transplanted out collard greens. In some beds they also sowed a cover crop mix for early spring—hairy vetch, field peas, and oats—all to improve soil health and to keep the ground growing before crops are added later in the spring.

We are no-till, but we just tested out a new tool, the tilther. Run by a cordless drill, the tilther is like a baby rototiller, only working the soil to a depth of about two inches. This improves the tilth of the soil by fluffing and smoothing out the soil surface, making it ready to be transplanted into. It also mixes in any amendments, fertilizers, and minor crop residues.

In the greenhouse meanwhile, more seedlings are being started, and the early crop of tomatoes are being moved to larger quarters to allow their roots to expand and grow before they are transplanted to the greenhouse once March arrives.

Welcome to the Rural Studio Farm blog!

The Rural Studio Farm is all-organic, small-scale, and intensively managed, making use of sustainable agricultural practices. In addition to providing fresh, organic produce for students and staff, the farm has become an integrated part of all the architecture students’ experience coming through Rural Studio.

Bright and early each morning, a group of students works with our farm manager, Eric Ball, in all aspects of crop production, from seed-starting, to transplanting, to harvesting—and finally enjoying the fruits of their labors during shared meals prepared at the Studio. We feel this is important way to better understand the realities of living in a rural place, especially in Alabama’s Black Belt region where the historical and social legacy is etched into the very landscape.

This is the beginning of the second year of food production since the farm has undergone a major reboot, and you can catch all the updates on what is happening right here every week.

Learn more about the mission and history of the Rural Studio Farm here.