Auburn professor, community members team up to offer Opelika a unique farmer’s market experience
By Anna-Claire Terry
When Opelika City Schools, the Food Bank of East Alabama, Keep Opelika Beautiful, Hootenanny Farm and Auburn University partnered to form O Grows, the seeds of a beneficial program for the community were planted.
O Grows is a non-profit partnership with the goal of modeling an approach to civic engagement that relies on local capital and capacity to address local needs. Produce is grown, partly to be given to the food bank and partly sold and delivered to customers. The most unique aspect of O Grows is the opportunity that is given to Opelika City Schools and the Opelika Learning Center (OLS) to be a part of something that benefits the entire community as well as benefiting the students themselves. Many students take part in the program in and outside of the classroom.
Currently, O Grows employs four interns from OLS.
Produce and ornamental gardens and orchards are planted and maintained locally at schools and other public venues in an effort to raise awareness of food security and school reform issues. Students and community members are involved in planning, installing and maintaining the gardens and orchards.
Executive Director Dr. Sean Forbes said the program has been established and remains active with large scale installations with Southview Primary, Northside Intermediate, Opelika Middle School and the Opelika Learning Center.
“While the gardens help to beautify the campuses, our activities with students in the gardens reflect Alabama state standards,” Forbes said. “Each week, we work with over 100 K-12 students in providing instruction and practical application focused on vegetable production, food insecurity, and community involvement during regular school hours.”
According to Forbes, O Grows’ partner schools have thus far received more than $45,000 in personnel support and approximately $25,000 in materials from Auburn University and local business sponsors. Last year, O Grows established the Opelika Community Garden on Glenn Street and produced more then 1000 pounds of produce for donation to the Community Market.
Daniel and Ashley Turner of Hootenanny Farm recently came into the picture when their 52-acre farm became the O Grows Teaching Farm. The farm is staffed by O Grows volunteers and the four interns from OLS.
All interns are ages 14-18 and receive career-ready training in vegetable production, warehouse management and food preparation. The students are paid for their non-school hour work.
Forbes said the program is beneficial to the interns in a number of ways, and it has offered a positive alternative for non-school activities that capitalizes on helping others.
“These kids have had the opportunity to demonstrate their individual potential in a novel way,” Forbes said. “They get the chance to see that they can develop a good product that people want.”
Steven Carson, principal at OLS, said the hands-on career skills are much needed. “The student interns are learning how to be productive and are being taught about the world of hard work,” Carson said.
Fifteen-year-old Stanley Woods, one of the interns. said he has enjoyed being involved with O grows. “Some kids might think it’s boring, but I like the work we do because we get to learn how to plant and grow things on our own,” Woods said.
This month, O Grows began offering weekly vegetable delivery baskets for a $15 weekly minimum. All of these proceeds will fund future OLC interns. Online ordering will also soon be available at Ogrows.org.
Forbes said the Community Garden is on pace to produce 3000 pounds of produce this year for donation and O Grows will continue work toward their goal to making Opelika aware of food insecurity, increasing involvement and connecting different neighborhoods in the community to each other.