“It’s how plants make food,” said farmer Roxanna Sims, while standing in front of the children in the shade of a small grove on the lot. “Not only do the plants provide food for us, they help provide food for the animals.”
Sims was teaching children who are participating in the Piedmont Public Library’s summer reading program, Dig into Reading, but she and partner David Clark have a larger vision. They plan to transform the 1.5 acre lot into a learning farm to teach organic gardening techniques to people from across the region and to attract business to Piedmont.
“People will come here to visit this and they will spend money in the rest of the town,” Sims said. “We believe in this for the entire region.”
At The Learning Farm they will have a program that allows participants to work for credits, which can be exchanged for produce or donated to local charitable organizations. They also plan to have a program that will teach teens how to market and sell produce, in exchange for a cash profit, Clark said.
Sims and Clark also own Forever Sunrise Organic Farms, a small residential farm not more than one eighth of an acre big. They say they’ve hosted gardening classes at their own farm, which has also drawn out of town visitors.
“If they’re going to come that far for our little old place, imagine what it’d do for the community if we had a larger place,” Clark said.
What Clark and Sims are talking about is agrotourism, a term used to describe people who travel to an area to experience agricultural aspects of a region. They think the farm can draw people to Piedmont through agritourism, the same way the Chief Ladiga Trail has drawn people to Piedmont through ecotourism.
Business owners on North Center Avenue in Piedmont, just blocks from The Learning Farm, said they believe in the work Sims and Clark are doing even though most were only vaguely familiar with it.
“I would like to try and use their products and offer more organic items on our menu,” said Jennifer Gillette, owner of Solid Rock Cafe. “I definitely think it would be good for everybody.”
John Strickland, owner of Strickland Hardware, and Curtis Pope, owner of Curtis Pope City Barber Shop, also said they believe in the project. So, too, did Piedmont City School Board member Lin Latta, but Sims and Clark said they’ve had a hard time finding support for The Learning Farm.
In addition to that, people from outside the community have said the project won’t work in Piedmont and few people from within the community have come forward to support the development, but the people who support the project aren’t giving up on it.
“I believe in this project,” said board member Mary Fagan. “It’s just a slow and tedious process.”
The couple began developing the idea for the farm in the fall because they wanted to begin teaching people how to use organic garden techniques, but lacked the space at their own farm. Three months later they formed a seven-member board for the organization and are now seeking nonprofit status.
The Learning Farm planted a small garden at the corner of the property and is doing its first outreach program through the library’s summer program. If the farm develops as planned, it will include two greenhouses, a 6,000 square foot garden, and 22 raised fruit and vegetable beds, Clark said.
In addition to that the couple plans to host organic gardening classes on site, he said.
The couple is also planning to build the farm using organic practices and is seeking an organic certification from the federal government. That will make the development more marketable, but it also makes it more costly.
Clark said he has to purchase special building materials to ensure the farm is chemical free so it will meet the federal requirements for organic gardens. That can drive the costs up, he said, adding that each of the raised beds is expected to cost about $5,000.
Without the ability to seek grants as a nonprofit and absent financial support from the community, the couple has begun seeking personal business loans to pay for the development. Clark said they already procured a loan to purchase the property in Piedmont and they are now pursuing a loan through the USDA to help pay for the rest of the development.
“We really believe it’s a good idea and this is the perfect place to do it” Clark said. “I know in my heart that it’s going to bring all kinds of people here.”
Staff Writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LGaddy_Star.