Like so many of our farmers, Robyn Jones Mitchell of Manna Market got into eating and growing organic produce for her health. After a terrible battle with strep-A that left her weak and near death, Robyn began seeking out ways to heal her body through healthy eating. The doctors had told her they couldn't do anything else for her, and she had four little kids to take care of, ranging from 15 months to 9 years old. Luckily, a friend from Sunday school told Robyn about the health benefits of organic food, and after eating as much raw, organic produce as she could afford, she slowly began to heal. Her problem, like many of us, was that eating organic food 100% of the time on a budget was nearly impossible, especially in 1994 when this all happened. Not many people in Birmingham at the time had even heard of organic eating, much less had access to it. Robyn gathered a group of likeminded friends, many recovering from illnesses themselves, and began an organic co-op in Cahaba Heights in order to be able to purchase her life-sustaining produce in bulk. Now, so many years later, Manna Market has two farms, one at Oak Mountain and one at Lake Mitchell, where they grow organic vegetables to sell at Pepper Place and Valleydale farmers' markets each week as well as in veggie boxes online and through Freshfully. What they can't grow themselves, like bananas, they source regionally, but they've planted an orchard by the lake so that even their dependence on regional fruit will be lessened in the future.
Robyn says being one of the first co-ops to sell organic produce in Birmingham has been a real learning experience. "I had to tell each family what organic was," she says. And now they grow food biodynamically, which is a spiritual-ethical-ecological way of farming that is as much about the health of the land, plants, and animals involved as it is the health and well being of people planting, weeding, and picking. "We're digging beds every Sunday at Oak Mountain," Robyn says. "We don't till at all, and there's no heavy equipment. This works great with kids. Everybody can pull weeds." Manna Market even participates in a program called Will's Place that trains special needs young adults how to grow vegetables and gives them skills to find jobs in the future. Robyn says the fact that these kids aren't stressed while they're planting is perfect for biodynamic growing, and she believes the plants do better for it as well.
Now that Robyn has found her way to health, she's more motivated than ever to "eat pure." "Eating organically is my love and my passion," she says. "The goal is to make it easy and affordable." Birmingham has definitely come a long way since Robyn first gathered a few friends together to buy organic produce, and what's so special about Robyn and Manna Market is not only that she's helped pave the way, but that her business is continuing to grow while she does what she loves and is passionate about. The increasing popularity of organic food is just a side benefit.
As a freelance writer and copy editor, Emily Brown gets to juggle many roles, including work-at-home mom. She likes to cook more than she likes to follow recipes, and she likes her vegetables extra crunchy – no beets allowed. If she could make you anything, it would be a roasted chicken. Her baby is beyond adorable.
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