By Ann Cipperly

After serving as principal at two Opelika City Schools, Laura Hartley retired in 2017 and has been enjoying gardening with her husband Marrell at a farm where her grandparents and parents farmed. Laura also enjoys making fruit jams, canning and freezing the bounty of fresh vegetables and sharing them with family and friends.

Laura was principal of Southview Primary School for six years and then became the principal at Northside for five years. When she retired from Opelika schools, Laura began working at a school in Lanett where she was administrator of their cafeteria program.

With a love for children, Laura missed kids and went back to the classroom in Georgia and taught fourth grade. While she enjoyed teaching, she resigned when her mother became ill in order to help take care of her.

 After their son, Graham, graduated early from Opelika High School, the Hartleys moved to Pine Mountain, Georgia, last winter. Their other son, Bence, lives in Montgomery and is serving in the Alabama National Guard. Marrell has continued to work at Beshears Kubota in Opelika.

The Hartleys downsized from their spacious home in the Camelot neighborhood to a 1,000-square-foot cottage near the Lodge on Callaway Gardens property. They enjoy living there and not having yard work to do. Instead, they are spending time at the lake and beach, as well as riding bikes on trails throughout the property.

“There are so many incredible things right here, and we spend time at all the different  places,” Laura said.

When family and friends visit, they take them to the butterfly center and the discovery center. She volunteers in the gardens and helps water some of the displays.

Laura also volunteers at Focus, a nonprofit Christian outreach program, in Pine Mountain. This fall she will be teaching a cooking class one day a week for teenagers and their mothers.

While they are enjoying living at Callaway, this summer they have spent most of their time at their farm, which is an hour and a half away in Clay County, Alabama. Laura’s father grew up at the farm and helped build the farmhouse when he was 20 years old.

Laura and Marrell garden on the same grounds that her grandparents and her parents farmed. While the Hartleys had not gardened before, they decided to give it a try since most of the equipment was still at the farm.

Laura had helped her parents garden when she was growing up on Andrews Road in Opelika. She remembered the names of the vegetables that she helped her parents plant. The Hartleys purchased seeds, asked a lot of questions and watched YouTube on gardening.

When it came time to plant, they couldn’t find the roller that went behind the tractor. They planted their first garden with Laura driving a four wheeler while their son Graham sat on the back dragging a hoe to dig rows.

“As we planted the seeds, Marrell asked if we knew how to do  this,” Laura said. “I told him I couldn’t remember how, but my feet do. My Dad would plow and till the garden. Then my mother would plant seeds, and I would go behind her with my bare feet, pushing a little dirt over the seeds.

“I am doing what I remember from my childhood growing up in Opelika. They are such good memories on Andrews Road before the businesses were there.”

When her Dad’s parents owned the farm, they also had a grist mill and country store. They had tiny houses called Florida shacks that they would put on the back of a truck and carry to Florida where they would pick strawberries. They would bring the strawberries back and sell them at their grist mill and country store.

Laura’s father donated the major mill stone from the grist mill to the municipal park on Denson Drive in Opelika. The grist stone belonged to her great-great grandfather, William Sanderson Anderson Bence.

“Whether you are preserving fruits and vegetables or preserving history, you are saving a memory for a future generation,” Laura said.

The Hartleys have “loved” gardening, and Laura has enjoyed making fruit jams, canning and freezing vegetables. “I didn’t know how to can or plant a garden,” Laura said. “We had to call on people constantly, and I still call on people.”

Her sister was a former home economics teacher and has helped her with the canning.

“I call her constantly. I learned early on in education that you ask for advice. The business world calls it networking. I call it asking for advice from other people, but you have to be willing to listen. I don’t do anything on my own. I learned early on that you ask for advice.

“My whole background is being a teacher,” Laura added. “This entire process has made me be a lifelong learner. I keep my mouth shut, listen and learn.”

The Hartleys share their garden and feel there is no way to put a price on the time, love, sweat and tears.

“People ask why we are sharing with people instead of selling,” Laura said. “My parents drilled into me if you divide, it multiplies like the fishes in the Bible story. It is the idea of God multiplying. People won’t understand it. I have easily given away half of my garden this year.

“Marrell and I take so much joy in giving away. It is a way we express our love and express who we are as individuals.

“Never ever be afraid to try something new and always remember your roots. If your mind doesn’t remember everything, there is a good chance that your heart will. Never shy away from whence you came. Your mind might forget, but your heart remembers.”

Ann Cipperly can be reached at

Mama’s Peach Jam

Dene Bence

8 cups crushed peaches

6 cups sugar

½ cup water

Combine peaches and water. Boil for 10 minutes. Add sugar and cook until thick, over low heat.

Place in sterilized jars ([pint, or ½ pint). Use a damp cloth, or paper towel, to clean the tops and rims of the jars before sealing with rings and lids.

Optional Water Bath: Place jars in a boiler which is deep enough to allow you to cover jars completely with water. Once water comes to a boil, set timer for 10 minutes.

Turn off the burner and let set for 5 minutes. Remove jars and allow them to cool before storing.

Frozen Peaches

Fresh peaches, peeled or sliced, to desired size

1-3 Tbsp. lemon juice

Wash the peaches. Cut into slices. Soak peach slices in a lemon juice bath for 5 minutes. Drain. Transfer to a freezer bag, (I typically use pint or quart bags) labelled with the contents and date. Freeze for up to 1 year.

Canned Okra

Gail Carroll

I lb. cut okra

½ cup vinegar

4 Tbsp. salt


In large boiler, add enough water to completely cover the okra. Add vinegar and salt. Boil until the color of the okra changes.

Use a ladle to jar both okra and liquid. Use a damp cloth, or paper towel, to clean the tops and rims of the jars before sealing with rings and lids. NO WATER BATH IS NEEDED.

When ready to fry the canned okra, drain fluid from the okra in a strainer before battering.

Oven Blanched Okra

Linda Dixon

Cut okra

½ cup all-purpose flour

1 cup cornmeal

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Toss cut okra in flour and cornmeal until fully coated. (Depending on the amount of okra you’re processing, you may need to add more flour and cornmeal using the 1:2 ratio mentioned in the ingredients.) Shake off excess coating and place okra in a single layer on large baking sheets. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes. You should be able to smell the okra and notice a color change. Remove from the oven to let cool. Then, place in pint, or quart freezer bags.

Cowboy Candy

Daniel Greathouse

12-15 pepper sliced
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar
Combine all in sauce pan and cook down to syrup consistency.
Pour in jar and seal. Once cool enough to handle place in refrigerator.

Canned Green Tomatoes

Gail Carroll

1 gallon water

½ cup vinegar

2 Tbsp. salt

Put sliced tomatoes in jars.

Bring to a boil 1 gallon water, 1/2 cup vinegar, 2 Tbsp. salt.

Pour over tomatoes. Put in water bath and bring to a full boil.

Turn off heat and let sit 10 minutes


Vista Blair Bence – my Grandmother

Enough snapped beans for 7 quart jars., tightly packed.

3 Tbsp. water

1 tsp. salt

Pack beans, add water and salt. Cover with water in pressure cooker. Bring to between 10 and 11 pounds of pressure for 45 minutes. Remove from heat and let set for 5 minutes. Beans will rehydrate when cooking.

Zucchini Casserole

Karen and Russell Bush

2 cups cubed zucchini

1 cup cubed yellow squash

1 onion, chopped

3/4 cup diced tomato

6 slices of bread, cubed

3 Tbsp. melted butter

2 cups shredded cheese, divided

2-3 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese

1 egg

Seasoning to taste (salt and pepper/Cajun/Greek/Emeril’s, etc.)

Mix all vegetables in a bowl, then season with about 2 Tbsp. Cajun seasoning and mix again. Then put about a cup of cheese in and mix. Sprinkle some Parmesan cheese in and mix. 

Pour the melted butter over cubed bread and mix well. Then mix the bread with the vegetables and add 1 egg and mix well.

Pour into a lightly greased baking dish. Place another cup of shredded cheese on top. Cover and bake in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Remove cover and bake 30 more. 

Blueberry Pie

Mrs. Phoebe Heath Mrs. Heath was the kindergarten aid when Laura was in kindergarten at Jeter and when Bence was there.

I cup sugar

1 stick butter, melted

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla flavoring

¾ cup self-rising flour

½ cup chopped pecans

¼ cup shredded coconut

1½ cups blueberries

9- inch deep-dish piecrust

Using mixer, blend first 4 ingredients together. Add flour, mixing well. Using spoon or spatula, gently fold in pecans, coconut and berries. Pour into 9-inch deep-dish piecrust.

Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes. It’s yummy as is but reaches a whole new level when served warm with vanilla ice cream!

Blueberry Cinnamon Rolls

1 pkg. refrigerated crescent rolls

Squeeze butter (enough to cover rolls in a thin layer)

3-4 Tbsp. sugar

1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon

¾ cup fresh or frozen blueberries (if frozen, allow to thaw)

2 cups powdered sugar

3-4 Tbsp. water (Milk can be substituted for water)

Do not separate crescent rolls. Unroll dough into a rectangle and place on a lightly floured surface. Cover dough completely with a thin layer of butter. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon; adjusting amounts to fit individual tastes as needed.

Layer blueberries next, leaving about an inch of dough uncovered on one short edge of dough.

Roll dough, jelly roll style, from one short edge to the other. Slice into ¾ inch pieces. Place in 9-inch cake pan or pie plate, lightly coated with cooking spray. Bake according to crescent roll directions, approximately 11 minutes at 350 degrees.

While rolls are baking, combine powdered sugar and water to create a sugar glaze. Top rolls with glaze after removing them from the oven and allowing them to cool slightly. Best when served warm.

Recipe Variation – Blueberry Butter Rolls

Follow all directions above to create rolls. Place rolls in a 9 x 9 or 9 x 13 baking dish. Substitute butter glaze for sugar glaze. Once again, cook according to crescent roll directions.

Butter Glaze

1 stick butter

1 cup sugar

3 Tbsp. water

Bring ingredients to a boil on stovetop. Pour over rolls before beginning the baking process. Cook according to crescent roll directions. Serve warm. Goes great with vanilla ice cream!

Blueberry Cream Cheese Danish

2 pkg. refrigerated crescent rolls

2 blocks cream cheese, softened

½ standard size box of powdered sugar

1½ cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)

Lightly grease a 9 x 13 casserole dish. Roll out one pack of crescent rolls without tearing apart and cover bottom of casserole. Bake according to package directions for 5 to 8 minutes.

While first crust is baking, cream together powdered sugar and cream cheese. After removing first crust from oven, top with cream cheese mixture. Evenly distribute blueberries on top of cream cheese. Roll out second pkg. of crescent rolls and top blueberries. Cook entire casserole according to crescent directions. Serve warm.