Rural Studio® is a design-build project of the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture of Auburn University. The “Farm” part of Rural Studio® was designed to address the nutritional, social, and architectural needs of rural Hale County. It’s design, organization, and planning was amazing.
The Farm is managed by Eric Ball, an agricultural visionary. I attended his tour and he spoke of how the land has been transformed over time to accommodate the greenhouses, student housing, and edible plants and trees. The Farm tour was part of the Food for thought weekend and provided an education on what growing food looks like and can look like in Alabama.
The Black Belt region is called that because enslaved Black people constituted more than 50% of the population. Those enslaved people were forced to grow cotton in the fertile soil. But decades of cotton farming and lack of crop rotation led to nutrient depletion and soil erosion. Farming today can be difficult without immense soil improvements, farming alternatives, or growing crops that thrive in poor soil. One of the visions of the Farm is greenhouse hydroponic gardening which could bypass poor local soil, allow farmers to continue to grow nutrient dense crops, and give them time to improve their land.
The Farm is designed to provide food for the students, staff, and local community. Students plant, care, and harvest the bounty by hand. This literal hands-on experience is an education on food sustainability, food justice, and food sovereignty.
My primary community volunteering experience has been providing medical care to people experiencing homelessness. Lack of quality food contributed to their medical issues. Meals provided by homeless shelters is often high in sodium, carbs, and sugars, and seldom fresh. I saw many clients who were unable to manage their medical conditions due to their poor diet. Standing at the Farm adjacent to rows of fresh peppers, cherry tomatoes, and asparagus made me consider how a patient’s heath would immediately improve with a consistent diet of fresh food. The Farm is making an immense enhancement to the health of the local community by providing free fresh food boxes from its garden overflow.
I helped myself to some cherry tomatoes, still thriving in October, and they were firm and sweet. That was just the beginning of my taste of the farm since the weekend included a meal featuring produce from the Farm. I knew coming West was the right decision this weekend and the chefs were about to prove it.
Rural Studio® is located at 8448 AL Highway 61, Newbern, AL 36765. There are self-guided tours available Monday through Friday and a monthly weekend guided tour by appointment only. If you need housing while visiting, their website has a list of options in nearby Greensboro and Marion. I rented a delightful Airbnb in Selma, about 45 minutes away. Look for a post about it.
Have you visited Rural Studio® or the Alabama Black Belt? I’m placing another visit with a tour in my planner. I’d also enjoy another meal created from the on-site produce!