Meet Farmer Caylor Roling

By on 12 December, 2016 in Farming, Food with 0 Comments
Caylor Roling and E.A.T. South Executive Director Beth Anne Dunagan.

Caylor Roling and E.A.T. South Executive Director Beth Anne Dunagan.

If you go to Montgomery’s beautiful Curb Market or eat a meal at Central or A&P Social, you’ll routinely see fresh produce that was grown right here in the downtown of our great city. We were curious about the downtown farm and how it works, so last week MML sat down with Caylor Roling, Montgomery’s own urban farmer, to talk about her job. Roling is an Alabama native who returned to the state from Oregon less than a year ago to take this new job. She works for E.A.T. South as the Farm Director, which means that she manages the operations of the downtown farm and teaches gardening classes.

Although E.A.T. South has been around for a while, for the last several years it has been a standalone nonprofit based at the downtown farm (behind the Montgomery Advertiser headquarters). The farm was founded in 2011 by the Hampstead Institute, and is still a work in progress, as crops and livestock continue to expand and diversify. Right now the farm boasts about 600 feet of raised bed space. In addition, the farm has a greenhouse, a potting shed, 22 chickens, a chicken coop, and bees.

Because it’s a teaching farm, E.A.T. South offers classes. Roling teaches six gardening workshops a year, typically on Saturday mornings for a few hours per session. Already this year, she offered an introduction to organic gardening and a special Halloween class in conjunction with New South Books. That class blended garlic with ghost stories, both of which flourish well in Alabama. January’s class will focus on gardening tools, and Roling hopes that it might introduce gardeners to new and unusual tools, including something called a hori-hori, which is a Japanese digging and planting tool. In February, the discussion will turn to livestock like chickens, rabbits and bees. Spring classes will return to organic gardening and, possibly, worms. Roling is particularly enthusiastic about worm bins.

A father and son planting garlic at the Ghouls & Garlic event.

A father and son planting garlic at the Ghouls & Garlic event.

In addition to teaching classes, Roling serves as the farm host. “If you show up at the farm and you have a question, I’ll try to answer it,” she says. “I’ll tell you what we’re doing and maybe give you a little tour. We’ve had visitors this summer from Chicago, Florida and more. The farm’s always open, so people are welcome to come by any time of day.”

Because of its small staff, the farm relies on volunteer support. The first Saturday of every month is a volunteer action day. This past Saturday, volunteers helped to take in all of the drip irrigation lines in advance of a possible freeze. It’s not just physical labor and hard work, though. Roling hopes that volunteers might learn something to help their own gardening: “If you were curious about how to add irrigation to your garden at home, you could learn to do that by helping us gather it all in, take it apart, and unwrap it as we work.”

While the farm can be challenging to find (it’s just behind the Montgomery Advertiser building), Roling says that E.A.T. South is seeing more foot traffic these days, with the new paved sidewalk that runs all the way from Maxwell to the riverfront, the new apartments located on the ridge above the farm, and the new playground at Wright Brothers Park. The stairs leading into the farm get a lot of use by local folks exercising, but Roling hopes they’ll bring more people to the farm as well: “Come down the stairs! We’re here! Visit the farm and see the chickens.”

“I think the farm provides downtown Montgomery with a lovely, open green space that you can come and spend time in,” says Roling. “It has been a destination for people who are actually touring and visiting Montgomery. And if we work on more promotion, providing maps and information, I think even more people will come to see it.”

Hands-on learning at the fall garden workshop.

Hands-on learning at the fall garden workshop.

Right now, the farm’s produce (and the chickens’ eggs) are mainly found at the curb market, but E.A.T. South is working to develop the site as a place for downtown residents to get their produce. The farm is collaborating with SLT Grocery on Commerce Street, which offers healthy foods in addition to convenience-style wares. In the future, Roling hopes that the farm will be able to sell vegetables from the site as well, with a market stand modeled on an “honors system” sliding scale stand they observed at the Jones Valley Urban Farm in Birmingham.

Roling is enthusiastic about the many ways the farm can integrate into the life of the city. “I think it fits as a learning space, as a place for people to come and get exercise, and a place to learn about gardening for the city. Our adult workshops are sponsored by Baptist Health, so while we ask for donations they’re really free. So you can come and learn … You can just relax and enjoy nature. And eventually, you can come there and just buy food.”

Upcoming E.A.T. South events:

  • Dec 13 – VegOut Potluck on the Farm, 6 p.m., bring a plant-based dish
  • Dec 21 – Winter Solstice Potluck, 6 p.m., celebrate the turning of the year and shortest day, bring a dish
  • Jan 7 – First Saturday Community Project, 8 – 10 a.m.
  • Jan 21 – Farm in the City Workshop: Tool Talk for All, 10 a.m. until noon
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