Aug. 12, 2013
Just got back from an incredibly packed two-day tour of farms in Alabama conducted by the Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network. The farm tour was videoed in collaboration with the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network. Clips will appear in the future on both MSAN’s and ASAN’s websites. We’ll keep you posted on that.
The tour included seven farms of various types in two days that spanned a couple of hundred miles across Alabama north to south, from Jasper to Montgomery, including: Camp McDowell, Jones Valley Teaching Farm, Petals From the Past, Downtown Farm (EAT South, Montgomery), Hampstead Insitute, Oakview Farms, and Druid City School Farm (Tuscaloosa).
Here’s a photo essay.
Let me say that I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to meet the farmers, handing out info for the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT). Some of these initiatives are squarely in NCAT’s mission to help people by championing small-scale, local and sustainable solutions to reduce poverty, promote healthy communities and protect natural resources. And, of course, a big part of that is the ATTRA program – The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service!
Camp McDowell (Nauvoo, Ala.) http://campmcdowell.dioala.org/
We started out at the conference center for the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Alabama at Nauvoo, Ala.
Camp McDowell hosts the McDowell Farm School which currently has several farmers growing food for the camp. But the big message at this farm is its expansion plans, which includes the addition of eco sensitive buildings to be constructed that will be using geothermal energy. Pipes will be laid in an adjacent lake which will allow heat transfer units to heat and cool the complex. The farm currently allows local farms to grow on the fields and the camp buys the local food from the farmers. Plans are to make the camp self-sustaining.
Jones Valley Teaching Farm (Birmingham, Ala.) http://jonesvalleyteachingfarm.org/
Jones Valley Teaching Farm in downtown north Birmingham, Ala., was a surprise. Here in an utterly urban area, the 3-acre farm has hoop houses, food plots, chickens, compost, a farm stand, and collects its own rainwater for use in the gardens. It’s a fascinating place to spend a couple of hours.
One of the funnier aspects of it is where it gets its manure for compost: from elephants! Farm director Katie Davis said that the elephant doo is traded by the local zoo for garden consultation work. There seems to be plenty of it!
Every farm needs a “chore board” in order for everyone to know what everybody’s doing and what’s getting done and needs doing. I love this one at Jones Valley Teaching Farm: get, got, finished!
However, I know via personal experience from our little ShooFly Farm that chores are never finished. Nor can they all get done, certainly not in a day. You just do the ones you can and must and get to the rest when you can.
Petals From The Past (Jemison, Ala.) http://www.petalsfromthepast.com/
Petals From the Past was a great stop on our farm tour. Owner Jason Howell explained that he chooses to offer plants based on their ability to survive. His garden shop is a demonstration farm of sustainable plant varieties. Many are heirloom varieties more than 150 years old, many from the early 1800s. He grows about 75 percent from stems, 20 percent from seed and 5 percent from grafting, he says. Of that, about 70 percent are heirlooms and the rest are modern.
Eat South Downtown Farm (Montgomery, Ala.) http://www.eatsouth.org
Next stop….. Eat South in Montgomery:
If I only had one urban farm to show people on how to do urban farming, I’d choose the EAT South Downtown Farm in Montgomery, Ala. Why? one might ask. Especially since I spent so much time here on the blog showing the Jones Valley Teaching Farm in north Birmingham, Ala. The reason is this: The Jones Valley farm has all the bells and whistles and lots of really great ideas; it has it all. But the EAT South farm has all the elements in a way that anybody could do it.
Anyone interested in creating an urban farm could just look at the EAT South farm and recreate it. Of course, one might do more here, or little less there, but all the elements for a sustainable agriculture and/or organic farm are included.
In addition to being an urban farm, it’s located on a Brownfield site that in most communities would be “written off” as unusual, too polluted for any use. But director Edwin Marty has designed the farm so that it does two things at once: growing in a sustainable, healthy way by separating contaminated soil from productive soil; and reclaiming areas of the soil through biological remediation.
I like the photo above because it shows air and water and biomass. The windmill uses wind power to pump water that is collected by the butterfly room and stored in the cistern. The (recycled) compost material is awaiting being used to grow healthy vegetables in raised beds.
EAT South encourages healthy lifestyles through education and sustainable food production in urban areas throughout the Southeast. EAT stands for Educate, Act, Transform.
EAT South is largely a teaching tool. About 5,000 school children pass through it annually.
EAT South Hampstead Farm
The other campus of EAT South is the Hampstead Farm, located a few miles away at the Hampstead Community, a planned, “new urbanist” community. The campus provides greenspace, acts as a community garden, provides food for the communities restaurants and has a 40-member CSA or “shares” in a community supported agriculture operation.
Oakview Farms (Wetumpka, Ala.) http://www.oakviewfarms.com
Next, stop…. Wetumpka!
I have to admit, I really enjoyed meeting Joe Lambrecht of Oakview Farms. He is a study in contrasts. While unabashedly proclaiming “I love Monsanto!” (because he grinds GMO corn in his mill), he also practices sustainable growing methods.
He explains the contractions by unabashedly saying that his is a pursuit of the dollar. If a farming method doesn’t make money, he won’t do it. And the more money, the better (presumably).
While I abhor GMOs and RoundUp (which he uses in spot spraying to keep weeds down around his farm buildings), Joe is an example of economic sustainability as defined by the USDA and the Farm Bill. Economic sustainability should definitely part of the definition of sustainable agriculture, and while I think he could use some other non-chemical methods to achieve his goals and still be economically sustainable, he’s an example of farming as a profitable enterprise.
He wastes nothing on his farm, using everything, and limits outside inputs as much as possible. He eats everything he grows and considers his customers the same as his own family when it comes to food safety. He rigorously practices all safety handling techniques and, while hundreds of people may visit his farm, he’s careful to explain good agricultural practices and why it’s important to ensure food is kept clean, healthy and fresh. He’s an innovator, a shrewd practitioner and wonderful example (except for the GMO & Roundup maybe) of successful farming today.
We talked a good bit about hydroponics versus aquaculture. I think that if anybody could make a profit at it, Joe would be the guy. But he’s unconvinced. He didn’t rule out expanding in that area, but didn’t embrace it, either. We’ll see.
Druid City Garden Project (Tuscaloosa, Ala.) http://www.druidcitygardenproject.org/
Our final stop was the Druid City Garden Project in Tuscaloosa, Ala. http://www.druidcitygardenproject.org/
Many people outside of Tuscaloosa, Ala., may not remember how an April 27, 2011 tornado left the city in shambles. The E4 tornado flattened houses and leveled the landscape, including the tiny garden of University Place elementary school. A Title I school, where over 90 percent of the student population is minority and 83 percent of the students receive a free or reduced lunch, students replanted their garden in the days after the devastation and it became a place of beauty while the community sought to recover from the storm.
Now part of the EAT South “A Garden at Every School” project, the Druid City Project has 2,500 square feet of growing space that soon will double in size. As we were visiting, a new greenhouse had just been completed, and water was about to be installed in it. The school system had also installed lines for a 1,700-gallon cistern with rainwater catchment from the school gymnasium, and plans are to add more rainwater catchment and a tank so the garden can be self-sufficient for water at 3,000 gallons.
Students are active participants in the garden, said Executive Director Lindsey Turner. They not only plant and pick the produce, but they sell it at their own farm stand as part of its Budding Entrepreneur Program.
Back to Oxford, MS
The Alabama Farm Tour concluded with a trip back to Oxford, MS.
While those who attended the tour may go their separate ways, they had the opportunity to see some top notch farming operations. Special thanks are due to Daniel Doyle, executive director of the Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network for designing and orchestrating the tour, and to MSAN Outreach Coordinator Shaundi Wall, Ole Miss Associate Professor Greg Johnson and videographer Mike Stanton for sharing transportation.
For more information, see the MSAN webpage: http://www.mssagnet.net
Or, MSAN Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MississippiSustainableAgricultureNetwork
Alabama Sustainable Ag Network: http://asanonline.org/
Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.