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Alexe van Beuren Will Be The 11th Recipient Of Community Enrichment Award

Alexe van Beuren (right) will be the 11th recipient of the Luella Fair Community Enrichment Award, presented by the Town and Country Garden Club during the Watermelon Carnival Music Festival. She is pictured in front of her store with her husband, Kagan Coughlin, and children Annaliese and Caspian.

By Lucia Holloway

Herald Contributor  

One weak-stemmed zinnia, blooming on a sandy clay hill above Davidson Elementary School, awed the observing students and spelled failure to their mentor, Alexe van Beuren. Initially, the spot was tilled, composted and pumpkin seed cultivated and watered by carrying it from a truck in five-gallon buckets. 

“Squash bugs attacked and there was not much rainfall,” Alexe recalled. “This project was  not a huge success, but the children were so appreciative that I felt like we needed to keep going.”

This was 2016. Prior to that first year’s effort of establishing a school garden, Alexe proposed such a plan toPrincipal Breanna Franklin and volunteered to spearhead the project. According to details of their agreement, every week she would teach two classes of 40 students  each.

“At that pace, a student (approximately 600 attended Davidson) would have a hands-on experience in the garden two to three times a year,”she said.

Progress occurred. Now, through Reedy Acres Foundation, established by Brownie Crawford and Arnold Carothers for the purpose of assisting town projects, an irrigation system was installed by Alexe and her husband, Kagan, and 14 raised garden beds and a fence were built by B. J. Chinault.

The students grew beets, lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, and strawberries. Tulips, daffodils, blackberry bushes and fig trees were planted. “We have the nicest students who interact well together. During class we plant and weed, discuss the history of our vegetables and flowers and enjoy some exercise,” she said.

“We listen to students. Some requested that a salad bar be added to cafeteria choices,” she noted. In response, food services coordinator Meridith Richmond has applied for a grant to sponsor a salad bar. 

Because fresh produce is rarely available, Alexe plans to ask local farmers to donate watermelons to the cafeteria on August 20. In addition, she hopes to offer sweet potatoes on the menu in November and locally grown strawberries as a special treat in May. 

  A native of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, Alexe grew up on a farm among apple orchards and cattle farms. Her love of gardening stems from helping gather vegetables in her Mother’s big garden.

After graduating from Vanderbilt in 2005, she and Kagan married and moved to Washington, DC, where he worked for Fannie Mae and she found a position with The American Journal of Public Health. 

“Because both of us were from rural areas (Kagan was from Vermont) we jumped at the chance to leave city life and  move south to his new job in Oxford with FNC,” she remembered. After their three-month apartment lease ended, they moved to Water Valley because it seemed like a nice small town. While in high school, she had worked for a weekly newspaper in Charlottesville, Virginia, so she contacted the Herald, offering to write a  column, “Talk of the Valley,” featuring local citizens. 

“It was a great way to meet people,” she explained. Some of those interviewed were Dessie Caulfield, Danny Ross Ingram, John Herod, Julia Thompson, Paul Parker, and Dudley Kelley.

Another of her Main Street duties was overseeing the Farmer’s market. “In 2006, Justin McGuirk got the ball rolling,” she said. When he moved she took his place arranging for produce vendors, publicizing the events, and providing coffee.

After their children, Annaliese and Caspian, were born in 2008 and 2009, Alexe was a stay-at-home mom until 2010. 

“I missed seeing and interacting with people so, although I had no business background, I opened the B.T.C. Old Fashioned Grocery. (The store name was a short version of Gandi’s famous quote, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”). “I made a lot of mistakes. The store has been an education, so it’s not something I take for granted at all. I’m so grateful that we’re still here,” said Alexe.

“It’s hard to be a store owner and a mom at the same time, so the store has been a big part of our children’s lives and they love it,” she said. This summer, when Red Hatters were having lunch, our waiter was late so Annaliese and Caspian pitched in. They helped serve lunches and cleared the tables. At 10, Annaliese enjoys working in the kitchen with Chef Dixie, and nine-year-old Caspian is a natural with customers.

Luckily, the location of their home in Water Valley helps Alexe’s  work life, because living only two minutes from downtown is the best of both worlds, Alexe feels. The family moved into the Norris and Donna Harding home place in 2012. 

“We wanted some space and this is a beautiful spot. The footprint of the home has been kept basically the same. I like to think that we are carrying on what they started. There’s room for animals and gardening.” 

“Soon after a story appeared in “The New York Times” in March of 2012 about Water Valley’s young female entrepreneurs, a cookbook literary agent reached out to us to author a cookbook,”said Alexe. “On the second anniversary of the grocery/diner, the proposal was sold to a major publisher.” Two years later, Co-owner Dixie Grimes compiled the recipes and Alexe wrote the essays. Today the cookbook is listed in the top 10 favorite cookbooks in the country.

On Thursday night Alexe will be the 11th recipient of the Luella Fair Community Enrichment Award, presented by the Town and Country Garden Club.  The award will be presented at the Watermelon Carnival Music Festival at the Civic Auditorium which begins at 6:30 p.m.   

Named for the club’s first president,  the award recognizes a local lady who has demonstrated continuous dedication to the betterment of Water Valley through community involvement, service and leadership.  

Past recipients are Teresia Edgar, Dale Tyler, Martha Edwards, Dot Trusty, Lucia Holloway, Mary Lou Jones, Dorris Crawford, Mary Lou Williams, Toni Hill and Jonnie Mayo.

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