News North Alabama Agriplex Cultivates Community Passion for Agriculture

North Alabama Agriplex Cultivates Community Passion for Agriculture

North Alabama Agriplex Cultivates Community Passion for Agriculture
June 3, 2024 |

By Tanner Hood

Amid beds of purposeful produce, eye-catching blossoms and colorful creatures sits a rustic, wooden building — the Agriplex Heritage Center housing the North Alabama Agriplex. Located in Cullman, the Agriplex provides agriculture-based education for adults and children across the state. 

“One thing I love is the community that’s been created,” said North Alabama Agriplex Executive Director Rachel Dawsey. “We go into schools and educate students, and we have programs tailored to adults and children who come to the Agriplex for camps and classes. A wonderful community has been built around us.” 

That community includes members from the Cullman County Farmers Federation, Master Gardeners, Alabama Cooperative Extension System and other ag-based groups.

Alabama Farmers Federation support runs deep, too. Federation Executive Director Paul Pinyan and Area 2 Organization Director Tyler Monday, both Cullman County natives, serve on the Agriplex board. 

North Alabama Agriplex Executive Director Rachel Dawsey believes in hands-on education.

In 2000, the Alabama Legislature commissioned a board to oversee the Agriplex, which previously operated as the Alabama Agriculture Museum and Hall of Fame. One of Dawsey’s grandfathers was a member of the Lion’s Club that created the museum in the ‘90s. Her other grandfather donated land for the Agriplex Heritage Center in 2012. Dawsey was the first on-site employee hired to manage the center, which includes a large meeting space, raised beds, pollinator gardens and animal habitats.

“With our new location, we started the Farm Kids Club, began reaching into schools and hosted farm and garden camps,” Dawsey said. “Our board has been very supportive of our projects and ideas. I feel like I’m doing what both of my grandfathers would love.”

Agriplex staff conduct nine monthly programs, plus summer camps and outreach into local schools. They reached over 26,000 people from 37 counties last year, Dawsey said. 

“We’re currently maxed out with staff and programming,” Dawsey said. “Our schedule is already booking up for fall.”

Autumn and Amber Adkins use lessons learned at the Agriplex on their farm.

Local homeschool teenager Autumn Adkins attested to the Agriplex’s impact. 

“We’ve been coming to camps and classes for a long time,” said Adkins, who also volunteers at the center. “It really helped us get started in farming because we came from a subdivision with no experience whatsoever. This is great for children not on farms to somehow bring a little bit of the farm to their home.”

To continue providing unique ag experiences, a capital campaign is underway to fund an 8,500-square-foot community hub. The new building will include a teaching kitchen and administrative areas shared with Cullman County Extension.

The facility will allow staff to expand programming and introduce new activities, Pinyan said. 

“We’re excited for the possibilities that will come from the new addition,” Pinyan said. “The Agriplex has worked for years educating and informing the community about agriculture. We look forward to seeing what they accomplish with this resource.” 

 Dawsey echoed Pinyan, saying the new hub will enable increased collaboration with local groups. 

“We’re working to promote locally grown foods and find ways to eliminate waste while promoting a healthy lifestyle,” Dawsey said. “We want to teach people not just how to grow or purchase food but what to do with it and how to make the best choices. This new center will help us do just that.” 

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