"Welcome to our ongoing conversation about local farming, food and the joy of eating. Please feel free to participate with any question or comment."

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Who Grows Your Food?

If we as a community, as a state, are to ever thrive economically and as healthy people, we must bring back sustainability through local farming. Alabama farmers are hard working folks who work everyday to grow their crops and bring them to the largest market possible. GROW ALABAMA provides them with that market, in a way unlike

When you go to the grocery store to purchase your food, do you know where it comes from? Over 95 % of all fruits and vegetables in our local chain grocery stores comes from California, Florida or elsewhere. GROW ALABAMA is in the process of changing this dismal statistic. We strive to use Alabama farmers for all our vegetables, fruits and berries. To honor our commitments to you, we will supplement when necessary from the closest sustainable sources, until we can grow it ourselves. That's what it's all about - sustainability, not continuing down the path that we are on.

When you subscribe to receive fresh, locally grown produce from GROW ALABAMA each week, you have our promise to provide the following:

1. Quality: Only the freshest fruits and vegetables carry the nutrient content and flavor of the real thing.

Take away the chemicals and hormones and you do have the real thing—true quality.

2. Convenience: The freshest food in Alabama brought right to your doorstep or a nearby location.

3. Choice: Either online or by phone, customize your weekly order to accommodate your family’s tastes and needs. Suspend while on vacation.

4. Community: By re-directing your food dollars to get the best that Alabama has to offer, you are supporting the economy of the state, Alabama’s rural communities, and your own Alabama farmers. Economists say that every dollar spent in a community is multiplied 7 times.

Our local farmers are committed to bringing you the best of what they grow - fresh, healthy and not lacking in flavor.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Farmers who grow for GROW ALABAMA are real people, with families, hopes and dreams like many of us. They are deeply grateful for the opportunity to bring their crops to market in a much larger way than they would be able to by sitting in a farmer's market or some roadside stand. GROW ALABAMA enables these farmers to sell their crops in an efficient, cost effective manner.

Last week, one of our farmers, Matthew Pippen of Luverne, Alabama sent us a message regarding how he personally relies on the efforts of GROW ALABAMA to bring his crops to market. Here is his letter in unedited form:

"Thanks for the help today. One important question: I forgot to ask today. Before I invest in equipment, what are your plans for the coming years with Grow Alabama? We have started a good working relationship and want to continue to have one with you. Without your efforts I would have no market for my crops."


Our local farmers are committed to bringing you the best of what they grow - fresh, healthy and not lacking in flavor.

Please pass along this good news by forwarding to a friend. We all need to do our part, and support our local farmers. Together, we are bringing back sustainable agriculture to the State of Alabama. Thank you!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Local Dale County Farmers up for National Award

The State of Alabama is known for being on a few, well more like half a dozen, national lists. We rank at the top of the chart for childhood obesity, poor air quality and a higher than average high school drop-out rate, to name a few. So, when Dale County husband and wife farmers Earl and Charisse Snell won the honor of Alabama Small Farmer of the Year, we at GROW ALABAMA thought that was cause for celebration. We buy a great deal of produce from these fine people.

Not only were Farmer Snell and his wife honored by the Alabama Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), they are now in the national spotlight as a result of their innovative farming techniques and will represent the state in the national competition. The Snell family was recently featured in a U.S. Department of Agriculture video highlighting seasonal high tunnels or hoop houses, as they are sometimes called. This video is part of the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative which connects farmers and consumers and promotes the purchase of fresh, local food. The Snells hoop house operation adds many benefits to the land including energy reduction, increased water quality (with reductions in pesticides and nutrient inputs and outputs), and improved soil quality. They are also extending their growing season. GROW ALABAMA is proud to be representing the Snell farmers.

“The Snells are pioneers in the field,” said NRCS State Conservationist Dr. William Puckett, “they were the first farmers in Dale County to construct a seasonal high tunnel and they have been instrumental in adopting and promoting this new technology in the area.”

Our local farmers are committed to bringing you the best of what they grow - fresh, healthy and not lacking in flavor.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

AFTER THE STORM: State of Agriculture in Alabama

It's been a little over two weeks since "The Monsters" came through Alabama, ripping and killing their way through towns, businesses and farms. The tornados of Wednesday, April 27, 2011 forever changed the lives of many Alabamians.

While the damage is still being assessed by state and federal government officials, a few solid numbers have emerged:
According to the State Commission on Agriculture and Industries, "damage reports indicate that poultry losses were in the millions with more than 200 poultry houses destroyed and over 514 poultry houses damaged. 30 cows and 19 horses have been reported dead. Officials expect these numbers to rise as they learn more about the extent of the destruction."

As overwhelming as the damage is and the loss seems, there is something that you can do. Now, more than ever, buying locally grown food has become a way to help sustain not only our farmers, but our economy as well. GROW ALABAMA supports local farmers by buying from them, then bringing their harvest to market in a much larger, more efficient manner than a farmer's market. GROW ALABAMA buys in quantities that would normally require a farmer to sit and wait for someone to come make a purchase at the local farmer's market. Instead of spending time sitting, waiting for a customer, GROW ALABAMA supplies that customer (you), so that the farmer has time to do other things that increase productivity.

Supporting local farmers is not just a "feel good" issue; it's one that will go a long way to help lower our obesity rate, too - (which is one of the highest in the country). The health benefits as well as the economic ones make buying locally grown food an idea whose time is right this minute - and not a moment too soon! Spread the word by forwarding this newsletter to a friend.

Most produce in chain grocery stores is shipped-in from California or overseas. Because shipping time has to be considered, produce is often harvested before optimum ripening can occur. The result is fruit and vegetables that may appear shiny and "perfect" in appearance, yet lack flavor and nutrients that would otherwise be in place had they been allowed time to ripen properly. GROW ALABAMA is proud of the fact that we pick our produce at peak freshness and get it to you within days of its harvest.

Our local farmers are committed to bringing you the best of what they grow - fresh, healthy and not lacking in flavor.

Please pass along this good news. We all need to do our part, and support our local farmers. Together, we are bringing back sustainable agriculture to the State of Alabama. Thank you!

We are also doing all we can to introduce you to our farmers and their current development thru our website, newsletters, Facebook and Ambassador Program.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Our promise is to provide you with the best quality food available from the State of Alabama. This means in environmental sustainability, in freshness and variety. This will be done while growing and expanding this availability to all and for the economic benefit to our farmers, rural communities and our State. This does not preclude the use of fruits and vegetables from other states in order to give you the quality and variety that we know you want. Our mission and commitment is to the economic and environmental sustainability of our farmers and our state. You, as a customer, have the right to inquire into anything that may seem to you as unclear about this statement.

Our farmers are in all different stages of sustainability development. Some are certified organic or naturally grown, some are growing organic and not certified, some are no-chemical spray, some are no-spray at certain times of the year and some are minimal spray (mostly fruits). We do our very best to use the farmers that are not spraying chemicals. And we are working with our farmers to transition to chemicals that are approved for organic production, and other procedures in organic production. We are not a certifying agency, but we do closely observe what the farmers are doing and we teach and suggest what they might do to improve their environmental sustainability, as well their economic sustainability. We are also doing all we can to introduce you to our farmers and their current development thru our website, newsletters, Facebook and Ambassador Program.

A few years ago, upon starting Grow Alabama, I made a bold promise: “Absolute Alabama, absolute organic." My vision of this need and my vision of this being doable were very real to me. I did not declare this as a “vision," I declared this as “our promise." And I went about putting this together with appeals to other farmers.

I worked very long and hard to honor this promise; to make this promise a reality; and I am still doing so. This opened a whole new reality to me regarding the world of Alabama agriculture.
I have had to re-define the “promise” as a “vision” and face the realities that I discovered as I launched Grow Alabama. It was a heart-breaking discovery.

The condition (at that time) of Alabama agriculture became very clear:
1. There were less than 10 crops (out of 75+ that would grow in AL) that had but very small commercial viability. We could not feed one-tenth of 1% of the population of AL with all crops available.
2. Our farmers knew almost nothing of environmental sustainability. They did not know enough to care about environmental sustainability. They were too poor to care about environmental sustainability. And, there was no State agency supporting environmental sustainability with the farmers.
3. The infrastructure necessary for our farmers to get food to the grocery stores, and other markets, was non-existent and not being trained, i.e.,
A. Post-harvest production
a. Scheduling of harvest for the different markets

b. Cleaning

c. Grading

d. Packing

e. Labeling

f. Temporary Storage

g. Delivery

h. And now, on-farm inspections are added to this list.

B. Brokerage
a. Grocery stores now have food brokers -mostly in California/Florida- through whom they purchase their fruits and vegetables. They cannot/will not buy from our farmers because of the above mentioned loss of post-harvest production.

b. The in-store infrastructure no longer exists that support our farmers selling to grocery stores, as they did in the 50s and 60s. And this was such a gradual and deliberate occurrence that hardly anyone noticed it; there is almost no local purchasing or delivery infrastructure. Less than 5% of all food bought in Alabama comes from Alabama. And this amounts to over $50Billion per year lost to our farmers, rural communities and State.

Grow Alabama is a broad-based, self-funded project. Great progress has been made in the last few years. And Grow Alabama is THE STAND for economic and environmental sustainability for Alabama through Alabama agriculture. I am happy to see that grocery stores and State agencies are responding, even at at minimal level, to the findings and efforts of Grow Alabama.

The condition of Alabama agriculture is as big an embarrassment to the state as the condition of health, education, crime and public assistance. And Alabama agriculture has the best opportunity to contribute to the correction of these conditions than any other state or federal agency.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

What Happened to Farming in Alabama?

Meet Buddy Lovetto and his wife, Diane, Grow Alabama farmers.
Buddy, and his father, in 1953, were the principle growers for the new Bruno's chain of grocery stores around Birmingham.

Back then, farmers were productive, profitable and happy. And the stores were happy with the farmers. And the people were happy with the farmer's food. What happened? The Birmingham Farmer's Market was THE place to be on Saturdays. Getting cooking quantities for the week and canning/freezing quantities for the Winter. What happened? In 1953, The Weekly Reader wrote, "Alabama is one of the few states in the country that can provide most of the food that its people need.” What happened?

It was at that time the farmers of California took on the goal of growing all the food for the entire country. They partnered with the USDA to develop Farmers Marketing Cooperatives. These were groups of farmers growing thousands of acres of every imaginable crop, and each crop had its own packing house that processed and packaged each crop for the farmers. Then those farmers hired a marketing company and a "broker" with a telephone. Those farmers were willing and able to take less money for their goods. Local Alabama farming has been disappearing year by year ever since. The infrastructure for our farmers to provide for our grocery stores no longer exists, and this is why you will find almost no Alabama farm products in our grocery stores. This entire scenario unfolded over time without anyone telling our farmers that this it was happening, and no one provided any protection for them. No defense was provided; no opportunity to compete; left to literally "die on the vine.” Our self sufficient farming system has now been gone for so long that the grocery store managers and State agriculture professionals have not fully realized that this has occurred because they grew up in the new system and the new infrastructure, created by the USDA and California. There is much more detail, items and issues to address on this subject. More later. And always feel free to ask questions.

Grow Alabama is happy to provide you with crops grown by Buddy and Diane Lovetto, and many of their friends and colleagues. Without their success, there will be no children following in their footsteps. Our supply of food from other places is in jeopardy.

Support Grow Alabama, and Buddy Lovetto, by helping us create enough demand for their great locally grown food. We can, and it is necessary that we have food grown closer than California. It is necessary for our farmer's success and to bring back the wonderful life and culture of our rural farming communities. They need and want this to work. It will only work through your support.

Jerry Spencer
Grow Alabama

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Best of Grow Alabama to Come

Supply and Demand Economics Rule

Without demand, there would be no supply. Therefore, Grow Alabama must be a “two-headed” operation: One “head” to create demand, and a second “head” to create the supply. Our customers are the demand, and Grow Alabama represents our farmers, the supply, to you in the best ways possible. Our job is to supply you with a variety of products at a fair price. We are working diligently with our farmers to provide this to you, yet there are still big hurdles to overcome. We are thankful to those of you who have stuck with us throughout our learning years.

The mission of Grow Alabama is to create both economic and environmental sustainability for the state of Alabama through agriculture. Our farming efforts are now organizing around 1,000 acres of table food from each of the 67 counties across the state. As we grow, the statistical information per county will become clearer and we will keep you updated with acreage, crops and farmers.