Educating the Future of Agriculture
North Alabama Agriplex Heritage Center
by Rachel Dawsey
May 4, 2021
The North Alabama Agriplex Heritage Center is located in the heart of north Alabama off of Interstate 65 and Highway 278 in the agriculture mecca of Cullman County.
The Agriplex’s mission is to cultivate a community passionate about preserving our agricultural heritage, educating and feeding our neighbors, and growing a sustainable future.
Since 2012, the Agriplex has been a community hub of hosting events for local farmers and Alabama Cooperative Extension System, providing agricultural education for kids of all ages, offering farm tours and local farm promotions, and encouraging new farmers. In a non-pandemic year, the Agriplex has over 20,000 participants in its programming. A majority of those participants are reached through off campus programming at schools in Cullman and surrounding counties.
These school programs include assisting classes in their school gardens, teaching about bugs and other parts of our natural world, planting seeds and plants to take home, and learning about Alabama history through agriculture. The Agriplex has seasonal favorites like lessons on apples in September and pumpkins in October. The Agriplex is trying to reach out to our next generation of farmers and local consumers.
One of the Agriplex’s most successful programs has been the Power of Produce (POP) program at the Festhalle Farmers Market in Cullman. This program is a win-win for all involved. POP is a national program run by the National Farmers Market Coalition and is free to join. To be a part of POP two requirements must be met: provide fresh produce for children to taste and then distribute market money to the kids to spend at the market. At the Festhalle Farmers Market, we give two dollars of market money to each child that tries our samples. The children then spend their POP bucks on fresh fruit or vegetables, herbs, honey, peanuts, or other products. At the end of the market, our market manager reimburses the farmers cash for POP bucks. Thanks to our generous corporate sponsors, we have reimbursed up to $4,000 for a POP season.
This program is great because it encourages children to bring their families to the market and increases their amount of fresh produce consumption. Our partner agencies provide recipes using local in-season produce for the children to take home. This program hopefully increases the cash flow to our local produce growers!
Due to the pandemic, the Agriplex halted all school programming and in-person public programming. It was a year like no other for the Agriplex, along with the rest of the world. We looked for new opportunities to help our local farmers and those who are locally food insecure. While Festhalle was closed, we offered an on-line drive through farmers market for our local growers. Once the market opened back up, we sourced local produce from our growers to donate to our local feeding agencies through grant money. This kept us busy through the end of the summer, until we could start back with outdoor public programming.
Now we are back in full swing hosting all our programming outdoors. We are excited to be members of Sweet Grown Alabama and to see all the benefits of this awesome new growers network! We are slowly getting back into the schools, and May is the beginning of POP again. The Agriplex Board and staff are focused on helping our local growers.