By Ann Cipperly
On a recent sunny morning, roosters were crowing at the pet farm with chickens and goats next to the Ogrows Community Garden. Two sprayers were watering small vegetable plants in raised beds. Along with other farmers, Ogrows will have ornamental plants and produce at the Farmers Market on Tuesday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. through Aug. 28 on Glenn Street in Opelika, across from the Brown Cultural Arts Center.
The annual Farmers Market in Opelika has changed locations over the years. First located near the depot, it changed a few years later to Railroad Avenue and then to Courthouse Square. In 2016 it settled in the current location on Glenn Street near the Ogrows community garden.
After being under Opelika Main Street for several years, the market has been operated for two years by Ogrows. The change was made to promote Ogrows and its goal in food security, community involvement, as well as to meet the needs of the community. Susan Forbes is manager of the Farmers Market.
Ogrows is an organization that engages students and citizens in gardening to address community service and food security. Ogrows is building capacity as a hub of local food systems by employing students, selling produce and donating produce to the Food Bank of East Alabama.
Under the umbrella of Envision Opelika, Ogrows began in 2012. Susan’s husband, Sean Forbes, the founder of Ogrows, is a professor in education psychology at Auburn University. He was inspired to start the program when his son was attending kindergarten at Southview School. When he asked his son about his day, Sean realized he was only outdoors for a small portion of the day. He developed the idea to get children out of a traditional classroom and create an outdoor learning space.
“In addition to the garden at the Opelika Learning Center,” says Sean, “Ogrows works with Opelika City Schools to direct the instruction of an agricultural science class with at-risk students. The class serves 12 students on average each semester for one class period (1.5 hours) per school week.
“Instruction focuses on elements of food security, including availability,” adds Sean. “OLC students come to the community garden and other school gardens to assist with garden and plant maintenance.”
At first, the garden was in front of the Brown Cultural Arts Center where the market is being held. They moved the garden to the back of the building and constructed a greenhouse. Students at Auburn University helped with the project.
A hydroponics system in the greenhouse grows vegetables and ornamental plants, including perennials and annuals.
At the community garden a plot can be leased for growing your own vegetables or for them to grow the vegetables for you. On your own plot, they will till, prepare the soil and provide irrigation. They will let you know if there are insect and nutrient issues. A 1/8 raised bed (approximately 75 sq. ft.) costs $30, while a 1/4 raised bed (approximately 150 sq. ft.) is $45.
The other option is having your plot to plant what you want to grow, and they will feed, weed and do pest management. They will notify you when it is time to harvest. You can visit your plants anytime. For this service a 1/8 raised bed (approximately 75 sq. ft.) is $45, and a 1/4 raised bed (approximately 150 sq. ft.) costs $65.
Plots are available to lease or you can donate a plot. On a donated plot, the produce is given in your name to the Community Market of the Food Bank of East Alabama. These beds are $20 and $30.
Plenty of parking is available at the Farmers Market. Volunteers assist in finding parking spaces.
Ann Cipperly can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mexican Street Corn
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream or Mexican crema
1/2 cup finely crumbled Cotija or feta cheese, plus more for serving
1/2 tsp. ancho or guajillo chili powder, plus more for serving
1 medium clove garlic, finely minced (about 1 teaspoon)
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
4 ears shucked corn
1 lime, cut into wedges
Prepare grill. Combine mayonnaise, sour cream or crema, cheese, chili powder, garlic, and cilantro in a large bowl. Stir until homogeneous and set aside.
When grill is hot, place corn directly over hot side of grill and cook, rotating occasionally, until cooked through and charred in spots on all sides, about 8 minutes total.
Transfer corn to bowl with cheese mixture and use a large spoon to evenly coat corn on all sides with mixture. Sprinkle with extra cheese and chili powder and serve immediately with lime wedges.
Homemade Pico de Gallo
Use ripe tomatoes that are deeply colored and firm, smell good and have a little give.
1 1/2 lb. tomatoes, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped (about 2/3 cup)
1 to 2 jalapeño or Serrano peppers, finely diced (seeds and membranes removed for a milder salsa)
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Juice of 1 lime or lemon
Kosher salt to taste
Place tomatoes, onion, cilantro, diced peppers and lime or lemon juice in a bowl. Generously season with kosher salt — start with 1/2 tsp. and go from there. Set salsa aside for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, stir salsa, making sure to distribute juices left at the bottom of the bowl. Taste and adjust with more salt. Enjoy!
Store for up to 3 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
*Leftovers are great heated up with a little olive oil and tossed with pasta or as a bread topping. Makes about 8 servings or 3 cups.
Pasta Salad with Smoked Chicken
2 cups halved baby heirloom tomatoes
2 small zucchini, thinly sliced into half moons
1 small red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1-cup fresh corn kernels
1 cup diced firm, ripe fresh peaches (about 2 medium)
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
1 (8-oz.) pkg. penne pasta*
2 cups shredded smoked chicken (about 10 oz.)
1/3 cup torn fresh basil
1/3 cup torn fresh cilantro
Parmesan Vinaigrette (recipe follows(
Toss together first 7 ingredients in a large bowl, and let stand 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare pasta according to package directions. Add hot cooked pasta and chicken to tomato mixture; toss gently to coat. Toss with Parmesan Vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a serving platter, and top with basil and cilantro.
*1 (20-oz.) pkg. refrigerated cheese-filled tortellini may be substituted.
Parmesan Vinaigrette dressing
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tsp. lemon zest
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves
2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. table salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Process Parmesan cheese, olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, garlic, pepper, and salt in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add basil and cilantro; pulse 5 or 6 times or just until blended.
Fried Green Tomatoes
3 green tomatoes, sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 1/4 tsp. kosher salt, divided, plus more for serving
1/2 cup (2 oz.) all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, beaten
1/3 cup plain yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup fine, dry breadcrumbs
3 cups vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. buttermilk
2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. sour cream
1 Tbsp. fresh dill, chopped, plus more for serving
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. black pepper
4 oz. (1 cup) feta cheese, crumbled, divided
Set a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet. Place tomato slices on wire rack, and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. of the salt. Turn slices over, and sprinkle with another 1/2 tsp. of the salt. Let stand 30 minutes. Blot tomatoes dry with paper towels.
Place flour in a shallow dish. Place eggs in a second shallow dish. Stir together cornmeal and breadcrumbs in a third shallow dish.
Working with 1 slice at a time, dredge tomato slices in flour; dip in eggs, shaking off excess. Dredge slices in breadcrumb mixture, pressing gently to adhere. Place tomatoes in a single layer on wire rack.
Heat oil in a large, heavy skillet, preferably cast-iron, over medium-high. (When a few breadcrumbs dropped in the oil sizzle, it’s ready for frying.) Fry tomatoes, in batches, until golden brown and crisp, turning halfway through, about 2 minutes per side. (Be careful not to overcrowd the skillet.) Transfer to wire rack to drain. Top each tomato with a pinch of salt.
Whisk together buttermilk, mayonnaise, sour cream, dill and lemon juice in a small bowl. Whisk in black pepper, 1/2 cup of the feta, and remaining 1/4 tsp. salt.
Spoon about 3 Tbsp. of the dressing onto each plate; add 3 or 4 tomato slices. Sprinkle with dill and remaining 1/2 cup feta.
Heirloom Tomato and Chicken Pasta
Serve this fresh summer salad with plenty of crusty bread to soak up the flavorful tomato juices.
4 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
3 cups shredded cooked chicken
2 pounds heirloom tomatoes, cut into 1/2- to 1-inch wedges
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh chives
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
Whisk together vinegar, olive oil, sugar, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Gently toss together chicken, tomatoes, onion, basil, chives, parsley, and thyme in a large bowl.
Add vinegar mixture, and gently toss until thoroughly combined.
Serve immediately, or cover and let stand at room temperature for up to 1 hour.
1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 Tbsp. 2% milk
1 tube (16-1/2 ounces) refrigerated sugar cookie dough, softened
2 cups fresh blueberries
2 cups fresh raspberries
8 fresh strawberries, sliced
3/4 cup apricot preserves
In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and sour cream until smooth. Beat in confectioners’ sugar and milk. Chill.
Meanwhile, press cookie dough onto an ungreased 14-in. pizza pan. Bake at 350° for 15-18 minutes or until deep golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack.
Spread cream cheese mixture over crust to within 1/2 in. of edges. Arrange fruit over top.
In a small microwave-safe dish, microwave preserves, uncovered, on high for 45-60 seconds or until melted. Drizzle over fruit. Chill until serving. Refrigerate leftovers. Makes 16 servings.
Zucchini “Pasta” with Shrimp
To create this “pasta,” use a vegetable peeler to shave the zucchini into thin ribbons. Discard the peel, and go until you hit the seedy core.
4 large zucchini (about 2 1/2 lb.)
1 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. large shrimp (about 22), peeled and deveined
Salt and pepper
2 cups fresh corn kernels
1 1/2 cups fresh peas
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 cup torn fresh basil
Using a vegetable peeler, shave sides of zucchini to create ribbons (discard peel), turning zucchini once you hit seedy core.
In a deep, heavy 12-inch skillet, warm oil over medium-high heat. Season shrimp with salt and pepper and cook, turning often, until just pink and cooked through, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
Add corn and peas to skillet and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add zucchini and wine. (Don’t worry about crowding skillet; zucchini will wilt.)
Cook, tossing with tongs, until zucchini is crisp-tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Add butter and continue tossing until all vegetables are tender, about 1 minute.
Add shrimp and cook, stirring, until shrimp are warmed through, about 1 minute more. Remove skillet from heat. Stir in lemon juice and basil, season with salt and pepper and serve. Colorful Corn-Shrimp Sauté Cut kernels off corn cobs. Sauté corn in a bit of olive oil. Add shrimp and cherry tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and sauté until shrimp turn pink. Grilled Peaches Grill halved, pitted peaches until grill marks appear. Top with a dollop of honey-sweetened yogurt and crumbled amaretto cookies.
1 qt. strawberries
1 (3.5-oz.) pkg. watermelon Jell-O
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
In a large bowl, toss strawberries with lemon juice.
Place watermelon Jell-O into a shallow bowl. Roll each strawberry in Jell-O powder to coat and arrange on a serving dish. Serve immediately.
Approximately 1 pound fresh, washed and chopped collard greens from your local farmers market
4 bacon slices, chopped
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
3-4 fresh garlic cloves finely chopped
1 Tbsp. onion powder
1 Tbsp. white sugar
1-2 fresh cayenne peppers finely chopped (or a pinch cayenne pepper)
Water to cover
Combine collard greens, bacon, salt, garlic, onion powder, sugar, and cayenne pepper(s) in a large pot. Pour enough water over the greens mixture to cover completely.
Bring the water to a boil, reduce heat to low, and cook at a simmer until the greens are tender, about 2 hours.
Summer Vegetable Lasagna With Zucchini, Squash, Eggplant and Tomato
About 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3/4 lb. zucchini (about 2 medium), ends trimmed, thinly sliced crosswise between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick
3/4 lb. summer squash (about 2 medium), ends trimmed, thinly sliced crosswise between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick
3/4 lb. Japanese eggplant (about 2), ends trimmed, thinly sliced crosswise between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick
15 no-boil lasagna noodles (1 box)
3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 quart whole milk
2 oz. freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 quart homemade or store-bought crushed tomatoes
3/4 lb. fresh mozzarella cheese, torn into rough chunks
Handful of basil leaves
In a large skillet, heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil over high heat until shimmering. Working in batches and being sure not to crowd the pan, add zucchini, season with salt, and cook, turning, until just tender and browned in spots, about 4 minutes per batch. Add more oil as needed to prevent pan from drying out, and adjust heat as needed throughout to maintain a very hot, but not heavily smoking, pan.
Transfer each batch to a baking sheet and spread in an even layer to cool, then transfer cooled slices to a second baking sheet or plate. Repeat with remaining zucchini, squash, and eggplant until all vegetables are lightly browned.
Place lasagna noodles in a 9- by 13-inch casserole dish and cover with hot water. Let noodles soak while you prepare the white sauce, agitating them every few minutes to prevent sticking, about 20 minutes total.
Heat butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until melted. Add flour and increase heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring butter and flour with a whisk until pale golden blond, about 1 minute. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in milk. Continue to cook, whisking frequently, until mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Remove from heat and add Parmigiano-Reggiano. Whisk until smooth. Season to taste with salt. Set aside.
Season crushed tomatoes to taste with salt.
Preheat oven to 375 and adjust rack to center position. Transfer noodles to a clean kitchen towel or layer with paper towels to dry them. Dry the casserole dish carefully and brush with olive oil.
Spread a thin layer of crushed tomatoes on the bottom of the baking dish. Layer with 3 lasagna noodles. Top with 1/4 of eggplant, zucchini, and squash, 1/5 of crushed tomatoes, and 1/5 of white sauce. Repeat layers three more times.
Place the final lasagna noodles on top and spread with remaining crushed tomatoes and white sauce. Scatter mozzarella evenly over surface and add basil leaves. Drizzle lightly with olive oil.
Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil and place in oven. Bake for 30 minutes, uncover, and continue baking until lightly browned on top. Remove from oven, let rest 10 minutes, slice, and serve. Makes 6 servings.
Packaged corn tortillas vary in quality. Look for a thick tortilla, it will hold up better in the cooking. Otherwise, if your tortillas are more fragile, you may need to double them up – 2 per taco.
1 cup of roughly chopped zucchini or summer squash (1-2 zucchini or squash, depending on the size)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 large fresh mild green chile (Anaheim or Hatch), seeds and stem discarded, chopped
1/2 fresh jalapeño or Serrano pepper, seeds and stem discarded, minced (or more, if you desire more heat)
Pinch of cumin
Pinch of fresh oregano
1 small to medium tomato, chopped
4 corn tortillas
1/4 cup crumbled Mexican Cotija cheese (a salty, crumbly cheese, you can substitute feta)
Fresh cilantro, chopped (okay to include the stems, if small)
Heat a Tbsp. or two of oil in a large sauté pan on medium high heat. Add zucchini, onions, garlic, green chiles and peppers to the pan. Sprinkle with kosher salt and cumin. Stir to coat the vegetables with the oil in the pan.
Spread veggies out in the pan and then stir only occasionally, until they are all lightly browned. Stir in chopped tomatoes and oregano; lower heat to low. Let gently cook for several minutes while preparing tortillas.
Heat tortillas first to soften them, and then to melt cheese. There are two basic ways of doing this. One way is on the stovetop, preferably in a cast iron pan. Another way is to use the microwave. In both methods you will work in batches.
To prepare tortillas on stovetop, heat a dollop of olive oil (or other vegetable oil) in a large cast iron frying pan, on medium high. Add a tortilla to the pan, moving it around a bit, and turning it over, so that it spreads around the oil. Let the tortilla heat until it develops little bubbles of air pockets.
To preparing tortillas in the microwave, place a paper towel (or half a paper towel) on the heating surface of your microwave. Spread out 2 tortillas on the paper towels. Cook on high heat for 20 seconds per tortilla, in the case of 2 tortillas, 40 seconds. The tortillas should develop air pockets. (Note that every microwave is a little different, and corn tortillas differ as well. So you may need to adjust the times for your particular setup.)
Open tortillas and spoon some of the cooked veggie filling. Sprinkle chopped cilantro, cheddar and crumbled Cotija cheese over filling. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 tacos for 2 servings.