The two started their raised-bed garden in 2011 and shortly after began a program called The Garden Box Club. For a fee, the club delivers fresh, organically-grown vegetables to customers’ homes in Jacksonville and Piedmont each week, as well as to a central spot in Anniston. Orders jumped from 11 that first month to more than 40 this summer, demand which forced the couple to begin buying organic produce from other local farmers. Their current farming plot is on James Street.
When Roxanna spotted the nearly two acres next to the Piedmont museum, complete with a store on one end and a two-story home on the other, she thought it would make the perfect location for the learning farm.
“There is not a downtown project like this until you get much farther north,” Roxanna said. “This will be, to my knowledge, the only working garden in a downtown district in the state.”
Plans call for 22 raised garden beds and 6,000 square feet of in-earth planted row crops. Two greenhouses would serve as models to teach visitors other gardening methods like vertical and hydroponic farming. As is the case in their current operations, no pesticides or other chemicals will be used, Dave said.
Dave has drawn in plans for a packing shed so that local farmers can bring in produce, wash it and sell it to the store, or to the garden box program. A walk-in cooler will allow them to grow and store more vegetables than currently possible, Dave said.
They would also give tours, much like they do at their farm now, Dave said, where they often host students from The University of Alabama’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and others curious to see what a real organic farm looks like.
Classes would be offered to teach people how to grow their own gardens and cook what they’ve grown, Roxanna said, while the store will sell fresh and preserved organic produce, flowers and grains.
It’s a big project, they admit, but after receiving support for the project from the Piedmont City Council in August, Roxanna said things have been falling into place.
They are currently completing the paperwork necessary to become a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt organization, and they’ve found an accountant to help them through the process.
Possibly the most promising news is that a local organization — which Roxanna declined to name as talks are in the early stage — has expressed interest in awarding a grant to help fund the project, Roxanna said.
Currently they have an agreement with the landowner to lease or purchase the land, Roxanna said, and they may open up the store to start, which would help bring in funds for the remainder of the project.
The desire for organically-grown fruits and vegetables is growing, Roxanna said, and having a farm located in Piedmont could only increase the numbers of visitors already coming for the Chief Ladiga Trail and to paddle down the Terrapin creek.
The White House released a report in June prepared by the Council of Economic Advisers, the White House Rural Council, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture that showed U.S. organic industry grew by 9.5 percent overall in 2011, reaching $31.4 billion in sales.
Ultimately, it may come down to how the community responds to the project, Dave said. He would like to see the people of Piedmont become as enthused about the learning farm as he and Roxanna are, he said.
“I’d be so happy. I really would,” Dave said. “By the grace of God we’ll have Piedmont eating organic.”
Visit Forever Sunrise online at www.foreversunriseorganics.com or call them at 256-282-1183.
Star staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563