March 2017
Homeplace & Community

A Garden for Giving

An Educator and Political Leader Who Keeps on Growing

 

Dr. Prince Preyer Jr. looks over the winter garden.

While his hometown is Monroeville, Dr. Prince Preyer Jr. is well-known throughout Madison County as a longtime educator and politician. He served 12 years in secondary education, then came to Alabama A&M University and served from 1970-1990 as a professor and eventually as chairperson for the Department of Agribusiness. As he completed his time at Alabama A&M University, he was elected and served four terms (16 years) as representative for Madison County Commission. After that, he retired from public service where he continued to help others with agriculture interests. This past year he took up residence at Millennium Nursing Home in Huntsville and pursued his passion for gardening while showing other residents how to garden utilizing raised bed gardens for easy access. Preyer keeps on giving.

While serving as county commissioner, Preyer initiated community gardens within his district and made free vegetables available to residents who were willing to pick their own produce. He said this came about as the local public sought assistance with purchases of groceries.

His philosophy was, "If you provide people with groceries one time, they will eat for a meal or two; teach them to grow and harvest food, they will eat for a lifetime."

Making sure people had access to basic vegetables was his passion. Commissioner Bob Harrison has continued with and expanded this project into a whole new level.

The big winter garden with starter trays.

 

Upon visiting the courtyard of Millennium Nursing Home, you will find three raised bed gardens – two older rectangle shapes and a big square one. Irene McCallie and Margaret Smitherlin are associated with the two older raised beds and Preyer assisted with the design and construction of the newer, square raised-bed garden. Not only did he come up with the concept and design, he also has a canvas template that determines spacing for specific plants and can be rotated to naturally control disease problems.

"I’m always trying to make improvements and strive for efficiencies to accommodate year-round production," he said.

He estimates two 8-by-8 gardens can easily feed a family of four.

He chooses not to use commercial fertilizers or pesticides. Instead he uses livestock manure, organic composting materials, and other vegetable and citrus scraps from the assisted-living facility. He brags about sending soil samples to Auburn University Soil Lab and getting pH results of 7.18, which is very good.

 

The summer garden has an interior entrance to the facility.

Evelyn Barns, one of the residents, was unable to access the gardens and requested a bird feeder be placed outside the window of her room. Ann Barns, her daughter, accommodated this wish and set up the feeder. Preyer noticed the birds stopped scratching in his gardens for seed and took to the feeders. Therefore, his gardens were more prolific.

This was a learning moment for Preyer.

"I have great respect for Dr. Preyer’s enthusiasm and passion for agriculture and helping others," Ann said.

Within these three gardens, you will find cool-season vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, greens, snow peas, cabbage and lettuce. During the summer, you will find herbs, peppers, okra, tomatoes, squash and zucchini.

While the facility kitchen may not be able to utilize these vegetables (health regulations), the vegetables find their way into the hands of employees, management, and friends and family of the residents. Preyer estimates 75-80 people consume vegetables from these gardens on an annual basis.

The most popular cooked vegetables are fried green tomatoes and fried okra. When asked what motivates him to pursue this endeavor, he said, "The joy on people’s faces and I enjoy gardening."

 

Robert Spencer is an Urban Regional Extension Specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. You can contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..