Agriplex Drive Up Farmers Market

North Alabama Agriplex Director Rachel Dawsey loads a vehicle during a previous drive-thru sale in April.

With the coronavirus keeping people from gathering in large groups, the Cullman County Agriplex’s annual Harvest to Home event is taking on a new look this year with an online silent auction and food boxes available for pickup.

On Thursday, Agriplex Director Rachel Dawsey updated the Cullman Rotary Club on the activities of the Agriplex since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Rotary makes an annual donation to the Agriplex.

Bidding on the items donated by local businesses began Friday and will continue through Sept. 13. “Businesses have been very generous,” said Dawsey. Also, to keep the “dinner” portion of the event going, the Agriplex has paired up with Dreher’s head chef Braxton Taylor to create a recipe using locally grown produce. Each box serves two people and costs $50 each. Orders for the food kits are being taken now and will be available for pickup on Sept. 17.

The process of distributing the food boxes is similar to how the Agriplex helped farmers sell their produce through an online farmers market when the coronavirus first became an issue. Buyers could go online and place their orders and then drive by the Agriplex to pick up their produce. The “virtual Farmers Market” ended when the Festhalle Farmers Market opened this summer, but Dawsey said it will resume Sept. 21 and run through Thanksgiving.

“It’s a good way and an easy way to support local agriculture,” she said.

With just a few weeks of the Festhalle’s season remaining, children who visit can receive $4 in POP bucks to purchase local produce. The Agriplex’s POP Club (Power of Produce) encourages kids under the age of 14 to try locally grown produce, said Dawsey.

The Agriplex was one of a handful of grant recipients in Alabama to get funding through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to participate in the Farmers to Families program. The Agriplex received a $100,000 grant that allowed them to purchase produce from local farmers, box it up and distribute to families.

Through that program, Dawsey said the Agriplex was able to provide nearly 4,000 boxes for families and purchase nearly $80,000 in produce from growers in Winston, Blount and Cullman Counties. She said they received local donations of the cardboard boxes as well. “We’ve had lots of different organizations supporting us,” she said.

“I think it’s been a success,” she said. “It’s helped the farmers and the families.”

She said they may apply for another grant in the spring if the USDA goes back to produce-only boxes.

Dawsey also shared that the Agriplex is resuming its outdoor programs, such as the Farm Kids Club. She also encouraged anyone with extra produce that they don’t need or don’t want to pick to contact the Agriplex. “Let us know and we’ll come pick them or get someone to come pick them,” she said.

Amy Henderson can be reached at 256-734-2131 Ext. 216.

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