From Fertile Minds come fresh foods

Market-goers snatched up fresh-from-the-earth carrots from the Fertile Minds stand at Pepper Place Market June 27.

“We sold out of the carrots, tomatoes and okra before we knew it,” said Jake Woodham, a student at Indian Springs School.

Woodham and four other ISS students rotate Saturdays selling produce from the school’s garden at the downtown Birmingham market.

Instructor Bob Pollard built the school’s organic garden with students five years ago.

“I wanted to teach them how to grow their food and about sustainable agriculture,” Pollard said. “It was to get them to appreciate where good, quality food comes from.”

Fertile Minds started out as a meager garden from which deer ate up all the produce most years. With the help of Jim ‘N Nicks owner Nick Pihakis, and partner John Michael Bodner, the garden expanded to a fenced-in, one-acre farm. The program now provides a large portion of the food served in the school’s cafeteria.

Pollard himself was 19, just a few years older than his students are now, when he first tilled the soil of an organic garden. Pollard believes he gains better taste and nourishment from unprocessed produce. He also thinks organic gardening lessens the effects farming has on the land.

“I started into it because it was the right thing to do,” Pollard said. “Most pesticides and fertilizers are petroleum based, which is just not sustainable. I want the students to understand it can be done without all of the chemicals.”

John Willingham had never tried his hand at farming before. “It’s been a lot of hard work, but interesting,” Willingham said. “Instead of using Roundup we’ll use other methods. For example, on corn we’ll use a bacteria solution that gets rid of bugs.”

Willingham plans to study environmental sciences in college. He said he became really interested in the field after taking his first science class with Pollard who makes everything hands on.

Woodham’s been around more farming, but now he doesn’t get as lost in the jargon.

“A lot of my family members are farmers, so when we have a family reunion its fun to be a part of that conversation,” Woodham said.

The students also have great conversations about food with strangers.

Willingham and Woodham took turns throughout Saturday giving customers ideas for how to cook the vegetables. Both said almost everything is good sautéed in garlic and butter.

“It allows them to be a part of the community,” Pollard said. “We want to be a part of providing fresh and local produce to the community.”