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Home > Archives > April 2009

April 2009

AG ALUMNI HONOR FIVE: Hall of Honor, Pioneer Awards

Five men who have made major contributions to Alabama agriculture and agribusiness were honored recently by the Auburn University Ag Alumni Association during the association’s annual Hall of Honor ceremony. Three individuals — Ronnie B. Holladay of Trickem, who was chosen for his work in the production agriculture category; Richard L. Guthrie of Auburn, the education/government award winner; and Wyeth Holt (Chuck) Speir, Jr., of Daphne, winner in the agribusiness category — were inducted into the Hall of Honor, which recognizes living Alabamians for their contributions to Alabama agriculture. Also during the ceremonies, the association presented its 2009 Pioneer Awards, which are presented posthumously to Alabama agriculture leaders, to the late Samuel H. Booker and Ralph W. Martin, Jr. Pictured at the ceremony are (from left) Holladay, Guthrie, Speir and Ag Alumni President Jim Tollison.

April showers? Build a rain garden.

Build a rain garden to take advantage of areas that get a lot of water with rain.

By Kenn Alan

Natural drainage patterns of homes are often overlooked during the construction process. Countless communities have been built without much educated consideration to just where the rainwater will subsequently go after a heavy rainfall. With all of the concrete and asphalt, along with the footprint a house makes on the land, it’s no wonder some neighborhoods have water issues due to areas of impervious surfaces versus percolating soil areas.

Rain aids in moving particles of contaminants to and through Mother Nature’s all-natural filtering system, earth, thereby replenishing the aquifers with clean water.

If you have an area in your landscape that seems to get the worst of a rain storm, why not build a rain garden? It will, at the very least, give you less lawn to mow, decrease your carbon footprint and give you something cool to look at and brag on.

Let’s get started with a plan to use the rainwater from your downspouts to create a new rain garden. How big should we make it? Here’s a formula to use.

· You will want the rain garden to be at least 10 feet from the foundation of your house.

· Choose a shape that compliments your landscape.

· To estimate the size of the garden, measure the footprint of your home’s roof by multiplying the width by the length of your outer walls. Then you should estimate the percentage of area serviced by the downspout you will use to supply the rain garden with water and again multiply that number. Example: House measures 40 x 60 = 2,400 square feet. House has five downspouts equally servicing the roof. 1 downspout = 20 percent. Multiply 2,400 square feet x .20 = 480 square feet. Then use a simple calculation to estimate the area to build. A rule of thumb factor for an eight-inch deep basin is 25 percent. Multiply 480 x .25 = 120 square feet of area to be dug for your rain garden.

· Select plants, then plant them.

· Mulch using leaf litter rather than tree bark. Leaves are nature’s own mulch.

Use as many native plants as possible. Remember when selecting your plants to take into consideration the light and water requirements, as well as the height at maturity.

When planting, be sure to place the plants that like wet feet at the lowest end of your garden.

Remember to select plants that don’t mind a little extra water during the rainy season and somewhat of dry conditions during droughty times.

For a list of plants suitable for Alabama rain gardens and some design ideas that can be printed or downloaded to your computer, go to the official Home Grown Tomatoes website at
and click on the "Rain Garden" tab. (NOTE: This link will be up and running on the website by 03-27.)

Good luck with your rain garden!

Email me at kennalan@ if you need further information on rain gardens or other gardening projects.

Friend me at and go to to listen live and access the new podcasts coming soon!

I hope you will all tune in each Saturday from 8 until 10 a.m. CDT for Home Grown Tomatoes. If you are not in the local coverage area, then tune in on the Internet by going to and follow the links to listen live!

Battle of Selma Reenactment to Commemorate 144th Anniversary

“Mayor Calls for Reinforcements to Protect Selma”

On January 15, 2009, Mayor George Evans asked for the Alabama Division of Reenactors to man the "works" in this year’s Annual Battle of Selma Reenactment.

General Ken Sumner, the Alabama Division Commander, telegraphed a reply after the Division’s annual meeting Saturday: "The Unit Representatives voted unanimously to fully support the Battle of Selma and offer our services to see its continued success."

The Battle of Selma Civil War Reenactment will take place April 17-19. This year’s living history will mark the 144th anniversary of one of the last Civil War battles.

The Confederate Naval Ordnance Works, Iron Clad Shipyard and Army Arsenal located in Selma were key targets for Union General James H. Wilson. Destruction of the Selma facilities in April 1865 would ultimately seal the fate for the CSA war effort.

Since 1987, the Battle of Selma Reenactment has been a major contributor to the area’s tourism economy. City officials said recently the Reenactment had to be continued.

"The City of Selma recognizes the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Selma is approaching and the need to authorize a new entity to plan and coordinate the Reenactment. Mr. James H. Hammonds, the original founder and past Chairman of the Battle of Selma Reenactment has consented to act as its interim Chair and coordinate the activities needed between the City, Reenactors and the Community. It will also be his task to form the new group to plan and administer the Reenactment.

"Their goal will be to remove uncertainty about the Reenactment as a yearly historical and tourism event, emulating the successes of the past, stimulating the economy, the imagination of our citizens and creating an atmosphere imparting that all of Selma’s unique history belongs to us all," explained officials.

The event will be conducted annually and this year it will be hosted by the 4th Alabama Infantry Regiment, 31st Alabama Infantry Regiment, Jeff Davis Artillery and the Alabama Division of Reenactors, Inc.

News media passes are available upon request along with staging for photography and videography. Media hospitality will be provided on the evening of Friday, April 17, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

For a complete schedule of events and additional information, visit the website at or contact James Hammonds, 334-872-0901 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">

Cool Tools for the Food Plot Planter

Most ATV implements simply do not have enough weight to break sod. The new GroundHog Max uses the weight of the ATV and the driver to make an aggressive cut.

By Todd Amenrud

In my humble opinion, I believe some of the worst terminologies to hit the food plot industry are "no-till" or "no-plow." It gives many consumers false hope – they think they can whip out some seeds onto a bunch of matted-down leaves near their treestand and grow a beautiful food plot. It doesn’t work that way. With that said, it is possible to grow a food plot under certain conditions by not turning the soil, but you will almost always get a better stand and higher yield by preparing a proper seedbed. There are many acceptable ways to do this, it all depends upon the tools you have and the conditions you’re faced with.

Twenty some years ago when I first started planting food plots, I used to borrow my mom’s hand tiller she used in her garden. I didn’t plant vast acreage but, even way back then, I had some very respectable food plots. I would simply use a trailer and an ATV to get back into remote locations, but really there wasn’t anywhere where this set-up wouldn’t work. Again, I was planting two acres or less. Afterwards I would be sweaty, sore and tired, but I grew some great looking plots. Garden tillers are available at most rental shops so anyone can have access to this method.

With more than about ten acres to work, it is suggested to use a tractor. Where it will typically take six hours or more to work an acre from scratch with an ATV, a utility tractor 35 HP or larger can reduce that time to 30 minutes.

Because of the popularity of planting food plots and many consumers already owning ATVs, an explosion has happened in the ATV implement category. Unfortunately, I have found very few worth a darn. Most simply do not have enough weight to bust sod. Once you have the soil turned for the first time, then various models will do fine. But from my experience when breaking soil from scratch, with most ATV implements you will go through many tanks of gas and you’ll be sore, dusty and end up blowing brown stuff from your nose for a week after because you have to go over the area so many times to get the job done.

I’ve found two exceptions to the rule, one being the new GroundHog Max. This implement is different from all the rest. It’s actually mounted directly under the ATV’s rear-end and uses the weight of the ATV and driver to achieve direct down-pressure so it easily busts through the layer of sod. You use the 42-pound plow like a fifth wheel. You don’t need to trailer everything to the location, simply turn it around and go. ATVs weigh on-average 600 to 800 pounds, the unique design of the GroundHog Max uses this weight and the weight of the driver. The combined weight gives the downward pressure creating its aggressive cut. Some claim it is too small and not wide enough at 21 inches. But if you figure you can go three to six times faster than all other pull-behinds, you more than make up for that difference. In fact, this implement finishes the job faster. It shines when it comes to doing those "hunting plots" back-in, off-the-beaten-trail. You can even use this implement in reverse.

When you have vast acreage to plant, you will want to resort to standard agricultural equipment. This will make short work of tracts 30 acres or more.

The other ATV implement deserving mention is the largest ATV disk made by Monroe Tufline. Their model ATVD71016 is 64" wide, has ten blades and weighs 498 lbs. You’ll need a 500 cc engine or larger to pull it with, but this ATV disk has the weight to "get ‘er done." It’s also unquestionably the best built ATV implement I have ever used.

With most ATV implements, I don’t think I would want to commit to doing over eight to ten acres per year. For larger tracts I would highly recommend a tractor. How much acreage you need to do would depend upon the recommended size.

The tool I use for 99 percent of all of my food plot work is a 48 HP John Deere 4-wheel drive tractor. A 73-inch tiller makes turning the soil quick work in most situations. It’s small enough and combined with the 4-wheel drive, I can get back into remote locations. But it’s also large enough and powerful enough so I can do some decent sized plots. This size tractor, often referred to as a "compact utility tractor," works great for almost any food plot chore. It is "tractor enough" to do as much as 40 acres of plots per season.

Any more acreage than 30 to 40 acres per season and I would suggest you go with standard agricultural size equipment. Tractors of 58 HP or greater that can pull implements wide enough to get the job done in a realistic timeframe. I must admit I enjoy my time on a tractor, but you get to a point where you simply need to get the job done.

It depends upon how much acreage you have to plant and how hard you wish to work, but where there’s a will, there’s a way to get it done. There are many acceptable methods to create a proper seedbed for planting. No matter what level you are on or what tools you have at your disposal, you can plant a successful food plot.

Todd Amenrud is the Director of Public Relations, Territory Manager & Habitat Consultant for BioLogic.

Cow Pokes


Entrepreneur Corners Success in Animal Control Business

Chris Keenum with muskrats removed from a gated community where they were undermining the banks.

By Keith Johnson

Many folks dream of quitting their job and starting their own business, but few do. Even fewer who do start a business are successful. Chris and Allison Keenum are the exception on both counts. Whether or not they feel ready, a lot of folks may be forced to start a new venture thanks to a lost job, and perhaps they can learn something from the Keenums’ story of success in a most unusual venture.

The Keenums have developed their business in the highly unlikely area of pest animal control. This is probably not one of those suggested business start-ups one would see in Entreprenuermagazine, but the Keenums may be fortunate it is not. Recent business research has shown most successful new businesses start in a niche market larger companies cannot or will not serve. They begin in a very small way and they are, surprisingly enough, what most people would call undercapitalized.

When I asked Chris about this, he quickly agreed. "We started with about $2,000 worth of equipment and liability insurance and a borrowed extension ladder from my father-in-law."

Chris grew up in the woods and on the creek banks of the Tennessee Valley hunting, fishing and trapping every spare minute he had.

"I just loved that stuff," he said.

But, it was Allison who came up with the idea.

"She never read my magazines, but one day she happened to pick up one of them and saw an article about animal damage control," Chris explained.

She asked Chris what they were talking about. He explained wildlife could be a big problem in some situations and some businesses, mostly in the Northeast, had developed to take care of the problem.

She was quiet for a few minutes and then she said, "Chris, that’s what you need to do on your days off from work. You’re perfect for it."

Chris tried to explain to her those businesses might work up North, but not in the South.

"I told her, if folks down here have a problem with wildlife they just take care of it themselves. They don’t need to call anyone," he related.

Allison said, "Chris, every Southerner doesn’t live in Massey (the rural community where the Keenums reside). A lot of them live in cities, and they don’t feel comfortable handling those types of problems."

She also pointed out there were many Northern transplants here who were often afraid of the unfamiliar Southern wildlife.

Allison stayed after Chris for two weeks to get him to look into it, and he kept giving her reasons why it wouldn’t work until, just to get her to leave him alone, he made a few calls and then began to get excited himself. He readily gives Allison all the credit for the birth of the business saying there is no way he would have ever have pursued it if not for her.

It took five years of working at it part-time until they felt it was time to go all the way with it. In 2001, Chris quit a good job with benefits and set out into unknown territory. He was now in business for himself.

"I woke up with sore jaws every morning from grinding my teeth until I finally made the decision. Once I actually turned in my notice, my appetite came back and I was sleeping well again. A huge weight was off my shoulders," Chris said.

As you might expect, Chris has a lot of wild stories to tell. Once he was called to a house to remove a raccoon from under the floor. He put his head in a spot so tight to find the animal that both his ears scraped against the sides of the hole. Checking first to the right and not seeing anything he moved his light and then checked to the left only to see a very angry, bristling mama coon with three babies at her feet less that a yard away. He was blocking her only escape route with his head!

Knowing a coon can kill a dog twice its own size he said a fast prayer and as quickly as possible pulled his head out.

He said, "If she had attacked me I couldn’t even have gotten my hands over my eyes to protect them. You’d better believe I was scared."

Once he was called to an elderly lady’s house to get a snake out of a toilet (a call not as uncommon as one might expect). By the time he arrived, the snake was down the drain and stopping up the toilet. This meant he had to remove the toilet in order to get the snake. That turned into a major job since the bolts were too rusty and had to be cut off.

While he worked, he saw the lady walk by the door a couple of times and stare at him in an odd way. In a few minutes he heard her call the police and tell them that a man was in her bathroom stealing her toilet! It turns out the lady had Alzheimer’s and had completely forgotten why she had called him. Fortunately, her son was there to straighten everything out.

Chris said the biggest problem he has is that some people just don’t see this as a real business with expenses that must be paid and a family of four to live off of it.

"Sometimes I get a call out to a subdivision with half-million dollar houses in it and some guy wants me to catch some problem beavers and let me keep the pelts as payment," he stated.

Needless to say those guys get a lesson in economics very quickly.

His regular checks come from large industrial plants that are usually on the river. These plants own large tracts of land that are inhabited by a great deal of wildlife. Occasionally the animals end up in the plants where they are a danger to themselves and the employees. That’s when Chris comes in to relocate the animals.

He has captured everything from gators to bats to geese gone bad. Chris generally does what he refers to as critter control in Morgan, Madison, Limestone and Lawrence Counties, but he travels around the state to take care of bats and birds.

Chris said one thing that surprised him was how much of what he did depended on what he learned from his father in the construction business as he was growing up.

"You’d think this is all about animals, but at least half of what I do hinges on understanding how buildings are constructed," he explained.

It is refreshing to hear a man give his wife so much credit for his success. He repeatedly emphasized that because of Allison’s encouragement and faith in his abilities he was able to try this venture. He said she really does all the business end of things, and he just does the field work.

Chris grinned and said, "She often threatens to fire me, but so far has let me stay on."

"I’ve got the perfect job for me even though it is a whole lot of work. I know it would not exist if not for the Lord," Chris added.

Chris and Allison are available for speaking to groups and they have some more humorous and interesting animal stories to tell. To contact Keenum’s Problem Wildlife Control call (256) 462-3919.

Keith Johnson is a freelance writer from Morgan County.

Family Brings Cajun Flavor to Black Belt

John Broussard has become known throughout Alabama’s Black Belt for his restaurant in the tiny town of Faunsdale.

By Alvin Benn

John Broussard spent his first 11 years deep in Cajun country, but he’s never really left it behind in the half-century since his family moved to Alabama’s Black Belt where crawfish were as alien to local folks as New York cheesecakes.

Members of the Broussard family, who trace their ancestry to descendants of exiles from a French colony in Canada, quickly adapted to their new environment, but stayed close to their roots.

They raised dairy cattle in Louisiana and still do in Alabama, along with catfish, soybeans and other row crops. Whenever the urge struck, however, they’d make native dishes to savor the food and their heritage.

Crawfish lovers dig in at a boil that brought lip-smacking smiles. Photo courtesy of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry

Friends were aware of their Cajun backgrounds, but few ever heard of crawfish, let alone tasted any of the bottom-feeding crustaceans.

That began to change when Broussard decided to build a crawfish pond to augment his thriving catfish business. It was as much for his family’s enjoyment as anyone else’s, but he quickly discovered that wouldn’t last long.

His friends couldn’t get enough of the Cajun delicacy and thousands mark their calendars for when to head for this pit stop in the road about halfway between Demopolis and Selma just off U.S. Highway 80.

The Alabama Crawfish Festival will be held for the 18th consecutive year — on April 17-18 —- just behind Broussard’s popular restaurant in the sleepy little town where the population explodes two days a year.

According to the 2000 Census, Faunsdale has 96 residents. According to Broussard and others in the know, Faunsdale averages 20,000 or more visitors during the two days of the festival.

Boiled crawfish aren’t the only things attracting the big crowds. Country, rock, blues and other forms of music provide a huge outdoor jukebox throughout a weekend where the good times roll from 10 a.m. to midnight and, at times, beyond.

Crawfish like these will be served at the annual Alabama Crawfish Festival in Faunsdale on April 17-18. Photo courtesy of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry

Admission is only $5, but Broussard said his traditional $5 a plate for crawfish, an ear of corn and a boiled potato may have to be adjusted. He’s thinking of increasing the plate by another $1.

"Expenses keep going up," he said, during an interview with the Cooperative Farming News inside Ca-John’s Faunsdale Bar and Grill which serves as headquarters for the festival. "It’s only been $5 a plate since we started and that was a long time ago."

One of the most popular activities of the festival is the crawfish-eating contest. Former Tuscaloosa Mayor Al DuPont, a proud Cajun himself, serves as emcee as contestants try and eat as many crawfish as possible within a prescribed period of time.

DuPont became involved in the festival after he learned Broussard had invited friends to try some at a crawfish boil and hadn’t asked him. That would have been difficult for Broussard to do because he didn’t know the mayor.

This cuddly crawfish draws atten-tion at Ca-John’s Faunsale Bar and Grill.

"I finally met him two weeks before the first festival and DuPont said, ‘You’re the SOB who had the crawfish boil and didn’t invite me,’" Broussard said, which drew the response of: "Well, that’s what I’m doin’ now. You’re invited."

"He’s only missed one festival and that’s because he had another commitment while he was still mayor up there," Broussard. "We look forward to having him here every year."

The annual crawfish event has put Faunsdale on the map because there isn’t much else going on there and Broussard is the main reason.

"Everybody knows about Faunsdale because of the festival," said former Councilman George McKee, a Marengo County farmer who eats at the bar and grill as often as he can. "I never ate a crawfish until John got here and it’s gotten to be a great thing for us. My favorite is the Crawfish Etouffee."

The restaurant, with its wooden floors, ceiling and walls and wood-burning heater in the middle of the serving area, was built around the turn of the 20th century and looks it.

Marine veterans who hold their annual birthday ball each Nov. 10 said the bar and grill must look like Tun Tavern in Philadelphia—the place where the Corps was organized in 1775.

The annual Marine Corps Birthday Ball for Black Belt Leathernecks is held every Nov. 10 at Ca-John’s Faunsdale Bar and Grill.

Broussard liked the ambiance the first time he saw the restaurant, which had been a mercantile store most of its history, and he eventually bought it and began operating it with his wife, Barbara.

Alternating between the restaurant and his farm in Hale County, Broussard finds himself working as hard today as he did as a kid when his family lived in the little Louisiana town of Geismar about 15 miles south of Baton Rouge.

They lived so close to the Mississippi River, he said, that "if it wasn’t for the levee, we’d have been in the river."

In 1955, Broussard, his brother, Charles, and their dad, Ed began driving to Knoxville, Tennessee, to buy some registered Holstein calves to add to their herd back home.

Along the way, they wound up in Uniontown and then drove into Hale County to Newbern and liked what they saw so much that, three years later, the whole family packed up and headed to Alabama.

This old wood stove helps keep patrons warm at Ca-John’s Faunsdale Bar and Grill.

It happened when chemical plants began to pop up along the Mississippi and land suddenly became a lot more valuable than it once was.

They bought about 1,700 acres in Hale County where they settled down and became permanent members of the Black Belt region.

John Broussard attended Greensboro High School, played football and pitched in to help at the farm. At the age of 61, he’s never thought of anything else but being a farmer—when he’s not at the restaurant.

"It’s good for ya," said Broussard, who’s as solid as a rock and bronzed from his days in the sun minding the catfish ponds and row crop production. "It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do with my life."

He’s also familiar with the vagaries of farming, hoping prices remain high and expenses low. Soybeans have provided him with plenty of challenges, especially when the bottom dropped out of that market in the early 80s and slowly worked their way back up.

"Like everything else in farming, things come and go through the years," said Broussard, a proud grandfather of three who ditched his end of the catfish operation several years ago because of the intensity of the business. "Soybeans got pretty tight once, but the prices are going up again."

Broussard does his shopping at Central Alabama Farmers Cooperative in Faunsdale—a business located just across the street from his restaurant. He relies on the Co-op for his feed and seed throughout the year.

Those who attend the Crawfish Festival and see all the people milling around must think Broussard makes a fortune. He’ll be the first to say that’s hardly the case.

He said expenses cut into whatever revenue is raised, but he still enjoys overseeing a festival where he does much of the work, including boiling the crawfish.

There’s no way he can raise enough crawfish to feed everybody for the two-day event, so he has up to 20,000 pounds imported from Louisiana where he was raised. Little, if any, is left by the time the last morsel is digested.

He, relatives or workers leave late in the evening on the Thursday of the big event, arrive in Louisiana, load up and arrive back in Faunsdale by sun-up the next day. That means the crawfish are about as fresh as fresh can be.

Crawfish don’t like hot weather because warm water usually has them climbing the walls of the ponds where they’re raised. That’s why the growing season ends before the really hot weather sets in.

Broussard named his restaurant after a mixture of his name and his upbringing. It was also a way to protect his business from possible enterprising interlopers.

Ca-John’s Faunsdale Bar and Grill is a combination of Cajun and John, lest anybody ever question the name. That’s hard to do because, although he lives in another city in another county, everybody knows his name—just like in "Cheers."

Broussard plans to keep farming and running the restaurant as long as he’s healthy and he looks fit enough to keep at it for at least another two decades.

By the time he was 5-years-old, he’d be splashing into the muddy swamps of South Louisiana to catch a mess of crawfish, then bring them home so his mother could use them in her special recipes.

He said the late Justin Wilson, who became a national celebrity for his television cooking shows, lived nearby and was a family friend.

Cajun food and music are in his blood and he’s happy to pass along the wonders of a way of life few can enjoy outside southern parishes in Louisiana.

The festival is ranked as one of the top events in Alabama during the month of April and John Broussard is the reason why it’s become such a big success.

"I never knew it would get as big as it has, but I’m not complaining," he said. "It’s a lot of work, but I’m up to it."

And, if any newcomer asks him how to eat a crawfish, he’ll be happy to tell them: "You just pinch the tail and suck the head."

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.

FARMER AT WORK: Safety Campaign Strives to Save Lives

Martin Anderson, whose brother David was struck and killed while pulling a tank sprayer behind his tractor on U.S. 431 near Guntersville, said motorists should be better educated about Slow-Moving Vehicle signs.

By Darryal Ray

It was a day like any other when David Anderson hitched a fertilizer sprayer to his Ford 5610 tractor and headed south on U.S. Highway 431 near Guntersville.

Even at his usual full-throttle speed of 25 mph, the 3.8-mile trip to his coastal Bermuda hayfield on Baker’s Chapel Road shouldn’t have taken long. It was a trip he’d made countless times, usually about six times a week, as he’d go from field to field tending his cattle and hay fields.

But on April 30, 2007, the trip would be Anderson’s last. Just a few hundred feet before turning off the four-lane highway, an 18-wheeler slammed into the rear of the sprayer tank filled with 500 gallons of nitrogen. David Anderson, president of the Marshall County Farmers Federation, was dead at 42.

"He was like a son to me," said 71-year-old Martin Anderson, David’s eldest brother who had helped raise him after their father died.

According to the Alabama Department of Public Safety (DPS), David Anderson was among six highway fatalities involving farm equipment that year. It was the most highway fatalities involving farm equipment since 1999.

Figures aren’t yet available for 2008, but DPS spokeswoman Martha Earnhardt knows one thing: One farmer killed is one too many.

"We’re not looking at a lot of collisions involving farm equipment," said Earnhardt. "It’s a small number, but one fatality isn’t small if it’s YOUR family. So whenever we see a way to bring those numbers down even further, whether it’s through education, enforcement, engineering or partnerships, that’s what we try to do."

With that in mind, the Alabama Farmers Federation, the Alabama DPS and the Alabama Department of Transportation are partnering to launch "Farmer At Work," a statewide safety campaign to create an awareness of slow-moving farm vehicles on the road.

The campaign will feature radio and television public service announcements, newspaper and magazine advertising, promotional materials, and print and Web coverage.

"Every farmer has a story," said Dan Rhyne of Benton, president of the Lowndes County Farmers Federation whose own stories of death, injuries and near misses were the impetus behind the campaign.

Rhyne said one of his own workers was moving equipment with a tractor when he was struck and killed by an 18-wheeler about a decade ago. Since then, Rhyne has seen or heard of numerous other farming accidents on U.S. Highway 80, a four-lane highway with a 65 mph speed limit.

He quickly reels off five other accidents, including another of his workers who miraculously escaped injury when the cotton picker he was driving was struck from behind and destroyed by a passing 18-wheeler.

"And those are just the ones I know about," said Rhyne. "All of those happened within a 20-mile stretch of Highway 80."

Allen Jones, a former state Alfa Young Farmers chairman, sits in his pickup truck waiting for a single car to pass before he pulls onto Highway 79, a fairly straight two-lane blacktop that cuts right through the middle of his Blount County farm. The car is at least a quarter-mile away, but Jones has been extra careful since his accident in 2005.

He had just steered his John Deere 5310 onto the highway and was about a half-mile from home when he heard a car horn behind him. As he turned in his seat to see who was blowing their horn, a woman in a compact car struck the tractor, shearing off its left fender and wheel.

"As I turned around, she was about a foot from the back of the tractor. I was looking right at her when she hit," said Jones. "She had long blonde hair, and I can still see it flying toward the windshield."

The car screeched to a halt about 70 yards up the road. Jones and his tractor were thrown to the right shoulder of the road; the new armrests he had installed that morning had kept him in his seat.

"I got a face full of anti-freeze and diesel and couldn’t see," he recalled. "And I could hear kids crying like they were hurt. I thought, ‘Oh, no! There was a child in that front seat!’"

Two young children were strapped into the backseat of the car, but the only injury was a slight cut on one child’s lip.

"I’m lucky to be alive," said Jones, who was only bruised and sore.

But six months later, on a vacation to Disney World with his family, Jones began getting sick. After a battery of tests, he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition for which he still receives treatment.

Whenever possible, his wife, Connie, now follows her husband in the truck, escorting him whenever he has to turn onto Highway 79. Of course, with their cattle and poultry farm split by the highway, that is almost daily.

Now, other farmers who operate tractors and farm equipment along Highway 79, are following the Joneses’ lead and having family members or neighbors accompany them whenever they take to the road.

Such escorts are really the best solution for farmers, said Dr. Jesse LaPrade, an Extension agent who tracks such accidents from his office at Auburn University.

That’s because so few motorists either don’t know what the reflective triangle on the back of farm vehicles means or that tractors can’t go any faster.

"Some don’t have a clue what that means," LaPrade said of the yellow-orange fluorescent Slow-Moving Vehicle (SMV) sign in use since 1971. "They see the triangle and the bright color, and they know it means something. If they’d just realize the triangle means it’s a vehicle that can’t go more than 25 mph … we’ve got to get that message out."

According to state law (Title 32, Chapter 5, Sections 246-251), the SMV sign is required on the back of every vehicle that has a "maximum potential speed of 25 mph." The law specifies the size of the sign as well as requirements as to how it’s to be affixed to the vehicle.

More important, LaPrade said, is drivers understand just how quickly an automobile moving 55 mph will close the gap on a tractor a football field away. At that speed and distance, the car and tractor will collide within five seconds. By the time a driver realizes he’s about to rear-end the tractor, he/she will only have about three seconds to act.

"You need to slow down as soon as you see that sign," said LaPrade. "Don’t wait until you’re up on it — it’s not going to speed up."

Still, LaPrade said, even with the SMV signs affixed to their tractors, farmers remain extremely vulnerable to inattentive and impatient drivers.

"You can have flashing lights, you can have a Slow-Moving Vehicle sign, and they’re still going to say they didn’t see you — that’s the only defense they’ve got," said LaPrade. "So, farmers should never get out there on the highway — even when the weather is nice and clear — without turning their lights on. If both flashers will flash at the same time, do that."

LaPrade said today’s hurry-up culture may be a factor in highway accidents involving farm vehicles.

"Patience is a virtue, but it can also save lives," he said. "Some may see a tractor that’s slowing them down as a hindrance. They don’t think much beyond that, but all the farmer is doing is trying to make a living."

"We do all we know to do," said Rhyne. "We don’t risk traveling in late afternoon, we travel on Saturday mornings a lot of time when it’s a light travel day. We teach our employees to pull off the road when there’s a line of traffic behind them and let traffic by. I tell them, ‘You’re not going to get to the field five minutes sooner — it’s not going to make that much difference.’ But a lot of the people on the road are in a hurry. I just wish we had more understanding."

As farmland continues to be sliced into smaller portions by development, more farmers will be forced to take to the highways to get their equipment from one field to another. "The farmer has to manage more land now than in the past just to make ends meet," LaPrade said. "He’s got to get from one field to another and a lot of times, the only thing that connects that is the highway."

Rhyne agreed, "When you farm in three counties the way we do, it’s inevitable you are going to have to move equipment. The good farm land is up and down this river (the Alabama River) on both sides and you’ve got to get to it."

The same was true for David Anderson the day of that fateful trip.

Martin Anderson was at church the day he received word there’d been an accident.

"I don’t know for sure, but I think they indicated David didn’t make it," Anderson recalled.

When he arrived on the scene about two hours later, Martin said the tractor’s lights were still flashing.

"I don’t know how the wreck happened, but the truck probably ran over almost everything except the tractor, which landed on the left side of the road," said Anderson.

"With somebody as close as David and I were — we sweated together, played together all those years — it’s very difficult," Anderson added. "When I pass there, it’s tough. And to think how close he was to where he could’ve gotten into the turn lane and gotten out of the way of the truck . . . just a few more hundred feet and he would’ve been safe."

For more information on "Farmer At Work," visit

Feeding Facts

By Jimmy Hughes

With the rise of mineral cost over the past several months, I am concerned about either the use of no minerals or using the wrong mineral as a way to cut cost. There are several nutritional disorders like grass tetney and milk fever that can be traced to an insufficient or wrong mineral program. I am concerned this practice could lead to increases in milk fever (hypocalcaemia) cases in Alabama beef cattle. While most producers focus their attention on grass tetney during the spring, we should not ignore milk fever as another nutritional disorder in beef cattle during this time of the year.

What milk fever is, how to prevent it, its common signs and whether you can treat the disorder are all common questions that need to be addressed. While milk fever is most common in dairy cattle, beef cattle can also be affected. Milk fever is a condition caused by low blood calcium and is characterized by general muscular weakness, circulatory collapse, terminal coma and death. The condition usually occurs in cows at calving or within three to four days post calving in high-producing cows. Cold, wet conditions only elevate the incidence of milk fever. The frequency also increases as the cow gets older and if the cow is fed heavy amounts of grain before calving.

Signs of the disease are common and can be often confused with grass tetney. The cows will be excited, have stiff legs and a staggery gait. It will become drowsy and unable to rise. An affected animal will turn her head into her flank and will have a dry muzzle. Untreated, the cow will go into lateral recumbancy, become bloated and often dies.

Treatment for this disorder must be prompt. Calcium injection applied slowly either intravenously or subcutaneously should correct the problem, but not the cause. Be aware that rapid intravenous injection may lead to cardiac arrest, so a combination of intravenous and subcutaneous injections is useful. Also, realize under dosing is often the cause for a relapse. Cattle will respond rapidly and will get back on their feet rather quickly with this treatment. A producer needs to make sure an adequate dosage is provided according to the directions on the product.

The best way to prevent a case of milk fever is to understand the causes and prevent the problem from occurring. As mentioned earlier, milk fever is caused by low blood calcium. Calcium rich milk is needed for the development of bone in the young calf along with other functions like muscle contraction and transmission of nerve signals. When milk production increases the cow’s calcium demand, her body must be prepared to supply the extra calcium. This calcium must come from her diet and from a process pulling some of the calcium from her bones. Milk fever will develop from her inability to pull the calcium from her bones.

Milk fever can occur in one of the following situations:

Phosphorous within a poorly-balanced mineral program can lead to a mineral imbalance in your cowherd. Phosphorous is a common mineral that will bind to calcium making it unavailable to the cow for utilization. Therefore, a diet with a higher percentage of phosphorous over calcium could lead to milk fever because the cow cannot use the calcium in the diet.

How do you correct this situation? You must first run nutrient analysis on your forage, feed ingredients and soils. Then adjust your mineral program based on this information to prevent disorders. Pay very close attention to your forage and soil information if you use chicken litter as fertilizer. Over 90 percent of the reported cases have occurred in fields fertilized with litter or cattle consuming hay fertilized with chicken litter. Chicken litter has a high percentage of both calcium and phosphorous which could lead to an imbalance.

Calcium levels - A second cause is from either depressed or excess calcium levels in the diet. I do not believe you will have a problem with depressed calcium levels unless it’s from being tied up by phosphorous. Most commercial minerals will provide a high percentage of calcium in their product for cow utilization therefore making low calcium levels in the diet very rare. Excess calcium in the diet can be a major problem and is usually the number one cause for milk fever in beef cattle. This is especially a concern this year due to the use of higher calcium, lower cost minerals. Excess dietary calcium can cause the cow to use dietary calcium less efficiently. Therefore, when the demand for calcium increases at calving, the cow’s body is not prepared to start the process of supplying the additional calcium. This will lead to low blood calcium levels and milk fever. The cause of excess calcium is usually found in a nutrition program utilizing several products high in calcium. The use of chicken litter as a fertilizer source seems to be a common thread in excess calcium levels being found in cattle. This along with a complete mineral that is over 16 percent calcium and/or in combination with cattle being fed a product like soyhulls, also high in calcium, can lead to excess calcium in the diet of cattle.

If you have cows exposed to two of the three situations listed above, you should be very aware of the possibility of milk fever occurring as they prepare to calf.

Prevention is always the easiest to incorporate into your program. Be aware of the calcium and phosphorous levels of your total feeding program, including soil composition. Regulate the amount and the number of times you utilize chicken litter as a fertilizer source. Provide cattle with a complete mineral and vitamin supplement in the proper ratios that meets all of the needs of the animal. Know the mineral composition of any feed ingredients provided to your cattle. While milk fever is not a disorder beef producers are familiar with, it is increasing in frequency and can cost you a lot of money in cattle losses.

Your local Quality Co-op can assist you in putting together a feed, mineral and fertilization program that will prevent nutritional disorders like milk fever. I can also be reached at (256) 947-7886 (cell) or you can e-mail me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it."> and I will be glad to help you with any questions or additional information.

Jimmy Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist.

Happy Hunting Ground

By Ralph Ricks

Deer season is over and the long wait for turkey season is upon us. Now is the time of year that drives my wife nuts. It is the time when I am trying to find all of my turkey hunting gear — which cannot be found — and I’m always convinced she has hidden it somewhere or at least put it where I cannot find it. She just does not understand that just because I put my crow call in a particular spot last April, it should be right there.

She can’t understand that I can’t understand why it’s not exactly where I put it last April.

But I’m jumping the gun here. This past deer season was anti-climactic. I’m not sure what that means but, to put it another way, it started out with high hopes, as every season does, but then got disappointing when boredom set in and I had time to think about how much more I preferred turkey hunting and ended just plain frustrating. I finally did get a buck on a weekend near the end of the season and it was the first hunting trip in which I saw nothing but bucks for two days. Of course, I only saw three but for me that’s a bunch.

One of those days, I sat on a stand that from the aerial map looked great. From the logbook at the lodge, it had not been hunted all year. It was located next to a sanctuary area on the property and the deer were in full rut. I thought this one would be pay dirt. I pictured huge racks cruising through the timber in search of hot does. I headed out to the stand and it was daylight when I finally found it. I climbed up into the shooting house and got ready so when the buck of a lifetime came running through the plot I could harvest him. Four hours later I was still waiting. Not only did I not see a monster buck, I never even saw a little yearling doe.

That got me to thinking, have you ever really sat on a "bad" stand? I’ve been on some that when I got there my first thought was, " This really stinks."

But when you’ve been either placed on a stand or have been sent there, its kind of hard to go somewhere else, so in order to be polite, you stay. As you sit there longer and longer, things begin to look better.

Your first thought is there is no way a deer would be seen in this particular spot. Then as you look around, you begin to see things that make you think maybe one could be slipping through. You begin to convince yourself this is the out-of-the-way spot a buck would use to get from point A to point B and you are smart enough to be the only one in the world to be here waiting on him. As you sit there you begin to see places where your future buck was going to cross. You see trails where he has ran chasing does and avoiding hunters. You almost see tracks. Sometimes you can even smell the venison cooking. You sit there knowing any minute a deer is going to try slipping through the woods and, if you are not watching, you won’t see the deer. Basically, the longer you sit the more you can convince yourself you are in a good spot no matter how bad it is. Every squirrel that rattles a leaf or snaps a twig makes you forget the rule that if it sounds like a deer, it probably isn’t. If you are near water and some ducks are splashing, you convince yourself that it’s a deer crossing the creek, until you hear the quacking. As dusk approaches and you begin to hear rifle shots in the distance, you are convinced the deer are moving. You reach down and place your hand on your hunting knife just to make sure you have it with you to field dress the deer that even now is on its way through the woods in your direction.

Darkness comes and goes and no deer shows up. There is a good chance a deer has never set foot in that particular spot in the woods.

You make the long walk back to the camp and tell yourself this is why it’s called hunting. As you make the drive home and begin to shift your mind to the chores and responsibilities waiting at home and work, you are actually kind of glad you don’t have a deer to clean when you get home. NOT!!

Ralph Ricks is the manager of Quality Cooperative, Inc. in Greenville.

How To Grow A Gigantic Pumpkin

By Jerry A. Chenault

"Is it time to plant tomatoes yet?" she asked.

"Naw," said the elderly gentleman sitting next to her in the waiting room, "… you can’t plant that kinda’ stuff until after all the frosts are over!"

That’s a conversation I recently overheard while waiting my turn at a doctor’s office in Decatur. But there are lots of people who don’t know what to plant when. Like pumpkins. Pumpkins are usually planted sometime in June; but it depends on the variety and when you want to harvest them. Let’s look deeper, shall we?

The little numbers on the back (top) of a seed packet that say something like "110 days" are a pretty good guide as to the length of time it will take to produce the vegetable (pumpkins) you want, so let’s start there. But how to get the giant pumpkins? Relax, it’s coming!

Howard Dill has been a well-known producer of giant pumpkins, and he is responsible for the pumpkin seed variety "Dill’s Atlantic Giant." Let’s take a look at some of the secrets Mr. Dill used to get in the record books.

Dill had always said the first step is proper seed selection. One of the seeds he grew in the early 1990s reached a weight of over 700 pounds in only 40 days, but it eventually exploded! Too much too fast! But this doesn’t mean you don’t need proper seed varieties. And you’ll also want the sunniest spot you can find.

Pumpkins are a sensitive crop, so Dill always sheltered his from wind as well as frost, and he even covered them during heavy rains. Dill was known to rig shade tents on summer’s hottest days; but growing 1,300 pound pumpkins requires some unusual care.

Pumpkins like and need a lot of water, but don’t plant pumpkins in wet or dense soil. They need good, well-drained soil. You can dig it up by hand. Dill never used a tractor and found over the years that pumpkin roots didn’t go down very far. Prepare the soil in early spring, as soon as the ground is warm. Fertilize the patch with a good four inches of rotting cow manure. Pumpkins do best in soil that is slightly acid or nearly neutral.

If there is still danger of frost in late April or early May, start seeds indoors about two weeks before planting. Sow one seed for every four-inch peat pot filled with growth mix. Keep the pots watered.

"Never let them dry out," Dill always said.

When seedlings have the fourth or fifth leaf, set them outdoors in hills about the size of a pitcher’s mound, one plant to a hill. Protect them the first few weeks with plastic-covered cold frames. Space each hill at least 20 feet apart. Some of the vines can reach 60 or 70 feet in length so they need plenty of growing room!

Here’s the sexy part: Pumpkins have two kinds of flowers, male and female, which appear in early July. The male flowers show up first, followed by the females.

Dill was known to be outside every morning by seven o’clock, watching for those first females. He was always looking for the vines to be strong and well established before he would let a female flower set fruit, so he would break off the first female on each vine and wait for the second or third, when the vines were at least ten feet long. A female is easy to recognize: she has a baby pumpkin at the base of each flower.

Dill always emphasized you need a big vine to produce a big pumpkin, so in a sense you’re choosing the vine before the pumpkin. When he would find a vine strong enough and a female flower on the verge of opening, Dill would bag the flower in cheesecloth for the night to keep insects out. The next morning he would pick a fresh male bloom, trim off the corolla or outer petals, and rub the pollen-laden stamen in around the center of the newly opened female bloom.

That’s just the beginning of a summer of long but rewarding work toward the "Big One."

Dill always said, "What you have going now is actually a pumpkin-producing factory. Remember there are 100 or more leaves to each vine and if you are trying to grow a 400-pound pumpkin, each leaf is responsible for up to four pounds of weight in your pumpkin. Every leaf, every stem, every hair root is now receiving sunlight. All are traveling down the all-important stem to your prize pumpkin."

Giant pumpkins balloon out from the vine and if precautions are not taken, they will tear away and lose touch with their all-important stem. Since vines put out roots at every leaf, Dill always tore out the roots of the vine up close to the pumpkin. This would give it free room to grow without damage to the vine. He would also gently train vines away from the pumpkin to prevent it from crushing the pumpkin. He would give them a nudge in the right direction every day.

When two or three fruits on each plant reach the size of softballs, Dill would remove all but the most promising one and start to prune the plants. After the primary vine had reached 20 feet, he pinched off the tips and the side shoots so the vines wouldn’t divert resources from the fruit. He would break off all the other female flowers. A potential prizewinner is forming. The work of the plant now must go entirely toward nurturing this fruit alone.

Dill liked to dispel the myth of the milk-fed pumpkin, which he always called a "folktale."

"Farmers who’d win the prize at the fair would be asked how they did it, and since they often milk-fed their livestock for special care, they’d say the pumpkin was ‘milk-fed’. People would hear that and go home and start feeding their pumpkins milk. I’ve also heard about fertility pills and soft music. These are amusing, but the only thing that will increase the size of the fruit comes out of the vines, and the vines must get the support from the natural root. For growing really big pumpkins, the most important things to remember are seeds, soil, sunshine, and water," Dill explained.

By mid-August the plants are pulling in water and nutrients at a great rate. Dill believed nighttime is when they do their growing; most expand two inches in circumference every night. Dill measured each fruit daily, always watching for the one that would be the contender at the fair.

If it was a dry season, Dill would give each plant 15 to 20 gallons of water twice a week. He watered in the evening, watering only the base of the plant to keep the leaves dry, and to reduce the risk of disease.

Dill found the most stressful time of the growing season is just before harvest – stressful for him as well as for the pumpkin. There was always the danger of frost. In addition, the pumpkins had to endure an incredible surge of growth. This causes risks. The most common mishap near the end of this surge toward gigantism is the pumpkin can collapse on itself. Usually this happens when the pumpkin develops a small split in the skin that admits moisture and the fruit rots from the inside.

Unfortunately we lost Mr. Howard Dill on May 20, 2008; but his records and his teachings will continue to help us to remember him as "The Pumpkin King," Why not grow some giant pumpkins of your own this year?

Jerry A. Chenault is an Urban Regional Extension Agent.

How's Your Garden?

By Lois Trigg Chaplin

See White House Garden Exhibit in Anniston

Learn some history of the White House gardens at the Anniston Museum of Natural History. The exhibit about the 18-acre gardens runs from now until Sunday, May 24. Organized by the White House Historical Association and Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibits, this exhibition traces the history of the grounds from the 1790s to the present via photographs, drawings, maps and correspondence to convey the historical significance of the gardens. The gardens have been shaped by America’s Presidents and First Ladies, some of the nation’s best-known landscape designers and architects, and generations of dedicated gardeners and horticulturists. The exhibit is included in Museum admission; so if you’re in the neighborhood, stop by. You can contact the museum at (256) 237-6766 or get hours and other information at They are closed on Mondays.

White spireas can make a beautiful addition to your spring garden.

Great White Shrubs

When spring inspires you to add something pretty to your garden, consider the early-blooming white spireas, among them bridal wreath, baby’s breath and Vanhoutte. The tiny petals of their pure white blooms are like snowflakes. These spireas are arching shrubs taking up a lot of space, so it only takes a few to make a big show. You can plant three to five of them at least five feet apart to make an impressive sweep. Although their blossoms are small, spireas bear so many blooms that the arching branches are literally a fountain of white when in full bloom. When they stop blooming, the fine-textured foliage blends into the backdrop until fall, when the leaves turn. Use them for a nice show out by the road, at a distance from a favorite window or close up to enjoy the delicate blossoms, which make good cut branches. Once established, spireas are drought-tolerant and won’t need any care. Just give them room to spread because pruning ruins their arching shape.

Try your cucumbers and cantaloupes on a trellis this year.

Fence Panel Trellis is Very Stable

Try your cucumbers and cantaloupes on a trellis this year to save garden space and help keep the foliage dry to prevent mildew. A sturdy trellis like one made from a fence panel folded into an upside down "V" shape makes a stable support. You can easily reach under the trellis to harvest, too. As cantaloupes start to get big, make a sling for them if it looks like they are going to break the vine. Old stockings work, as does any soft fabric you can tie to the support.

Which Squash Will You Plant?

A gardening acquaintance once commented the only reason he locks his car door in town in the summer is to be sure it isn’t full of zucchini when he gets back. If you’ve ever grown zucchini, you know why. Anyway, now is the time to think about what kind of squash you will plant this summer. Consider some winter storage types like Waltham Butternut if you have space for eight-foot or longer vines to run along the ground. I’ve been reading about gourds and squash in book called The Compleat Squash, by Amy Goldman. She inspires me to try Sugar Loaf, a delicate-type winter squash bred by the University of Oregon prized for its sweetness, and perhaps an acorn-type named Thelma Sanders, which also supposed to be good and sweet.

Chives and rosemary are hardy plants that can fit many places in a landscape.

Chives and Rosemary Fit into the Landscape

Chives and rosemary are hardy plants that can fit in many places in a landscape. Rosemary forms a woody shrub with a shape that varies according to which one you buy. Arp rosemary is a popular strong, upright variety known for its cold-hardiness. Other forms of rosemary include weeping types you can plant at the edge of a wall and, of course, the common upright spreading form. As for chives, this perennial member of the onion family makes a sweet little clump that works in well with other spring flowers. Or, if you really like chives on baked potato with sour cream, you’ll want more, perhaps a whole row you can work in as the edging to a bed. Both tolerate drought well, too.

Art on the Pond

These glass figures by German artist Hans Fodo Fräbel adorn the ponds and landscape vistas of McKee Gardens in Vero Beach, Florida, enhancing the awareness of light in the landscape. The exhibit remains on view through April.

On a recent visit to McKee Gardens in Vero Beach, Florida, I happened upon the art of German glass artist Hans Fodo Fräbel, whose pieces were catching light across ponds and landscape vistas throughout the gardens. Readers with an artistic-bend may find inspiration in how this artist enhances awareness of light in the landscape, perhaps with your own work. The exhibit at McKee Gardens will remain in place through April.

Lois Trigg Chaplin is author of The Southern Garderner’s Book of Lists and former Garden Editor of Southern Living Magazine.

Landscaping With Herbs: Planning Your Kitchen Garden, Part 2

By H.T. Farmer

Last month we talked about perennials and biennials for your kitchen garden. Now let’s address some of the tender perennials and annuals.

The annual culinary herbs should be in stock now at your local Quality Co-op or nursery. Since I forgot to include oregano in last month’s article, we’ll include Cuban oregano in this one as it is usually grown as an annual.

Cuban oregano, aka Spanish thyme (Plectranthus amboinicus), is a tasty herb used in meat dishes, as well as in stuffing, rice or potato dishes. Cuban oregano, like other Plectranthus species, makes good accent plantings in your landscape. Swedish ivy (Plectranthus verticillatus), a cousin of the P. amboinicus, makes an interesting groundcover or can be interplanted with taller herbs in a container.

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana), pictured here, is another tender perennial that should be included in your kitchen garden. The sweetness of the leaves is incredible. Stevia can be used as a sweet addition in salads, coleslaws and collards, as well as other dishes. Its leaves can be steeped in coffee and tea to sweeten them without sugar or genetically-altered sweeteners.

Salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor) makes a good mounding evergreen border plant. It grows to a height of about 12 inches. Salad burnet tastes great on a lettuce and tomato salad. It has a flavor similar to a cucumber. Keep this herb deadheaded and older leaves trimmed off in order to keep it producing young and most flavorful leaves. If you allow the flower heads to mature in late summer, salad burnet may reseed itself.

Borage (Borago officinalis) is another good salad herb whose leaves have a cucumber-like flavor. Borage produces star-shaped flowers that begin as pink then turn blue. These flowers are sweet as honeysuckle and make a good looking garnish.

These herbs, when properly placed, will add color and imagination to your kitchen garden.

E-mail me if you have any questions.

Thanks for reading!

If you have any questions about uses for any herbs, email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it."> and I’ll tell you all I know. As always, check with an expert, like your doctor, before using this or any other herbal remedy.

Learning While Having Fun at Elmore Co. Sheep & Goat Expo

Gracie Anna Green, 5, of Roanoke and her doe, Sweetie Pie, won first place in the youngest costume class in matching outfits made by Gracie Anna’s mother, Wendy.

By Kellie Henderson

While cool spring showers fell on the metal roof of the Elmore County Farm Center on Saturday, March 14, 2009, the sounds of bleating goats and sheep mingled with delighted squeals of children’s laughter at the Elmore County Farmers Federation Sheep and Goat Expo.

And besides the sheer joy spreading over the faces of young boys and girls holding and petting small animals, older heads nodded as experts offered answers and advice to a range of experienced sheep and goat owners as well as those newly interested in these animals.

"We’ve never been to anything like this before, so we didn’t know what to expect," said 11-year-old Zac Hay of Alexander City, as he held a young kid in his arms. The tiny goat was so playful and comfortable with the excited children, its demeanor more closely resembled that of a puppy than any type of livestock.

"We used to have a goat, and we want to get some more," said Zac’s younger brother, Hunter; and the two boys couldn’t have been more pleased with the small bundles of brown and white running around them in the barn area.

Limestone Co.’s Bonsmara Herd Is First East of Mississippi River

Dan Rollins feeds out Bonsmara cross steers for customers who want to know where their beef comes from and what it is fed.

South African Breed Thrives in Heat, Drought Conditions

By Susie Sims

Elkmont’s Dan Rollins is excited about his cattle. He has a "new" breed of cattle most folks have never heard of. But he doesn’t mind. He likes the story that goes with his herd.

Rollins and his son, Eric, own and operate Elk River Farms in Limestone County, a small operation big on quality cattle.

The farm is the first east of the Mississippi River to have and produce the Bonsmara breed of cattle, which originated in South Africa in the 1930s.

Rollins explained South African scientist Jan Bonsma developed the breed at a farm called Mara Station. His goal was to produce a breed that would rival European breeds for quality yet would be able to withstand subtropic climates.

Limestone cattle producer Dan Rollins has the first Bonsmara herd east of the Mississippi River.

After more than two decades, Bonsma developed a breed that was a composite of 5/8 Afrikaner, 3/16 Hereford and 3/16 Shorthorn.

Rollins said each breed brought something valuable to the process. Afrikaners are a hardy breed that can thrive in harsh conditions with less-than-ideal feed sources. The Herefords and Shorthorns brought high productivity to the match. The result is a hardy animal that produces well and is desirable as a food source.

Even so, how does a cattle breed developed more than 50 years ago in South Africa end up in Limestone County?

To make a long story sort of short, Rollins had a business partner who lived in Oklahoma. They sold agricultural products as a side business to their careers.

Bonsmara bulls are quite docile and easy-going.

Rollins’ partner had a friend who was acquainted with George H. Chapman, who brought the cattle to Texas from South Africa.

Several years ago as fires and drought devastated Texas, Chapman realized that in order to protect his herd he would have to relocate some of the animals to other areas. He moved some of the herd to Oklahoma but wanted some to be further away.

Rollins’ partner suggested the cattle be sold to Rollins in Alabama. It was a perfect match. The group formed the Bonsmara Natural Beef Company to protect the genetics of the herd.

With so few animals in the U.S., Rollins and his partners had to make sure the herd’s bloodlines were guarded.

Rollins’s location made him an ideal choice from the marketing standpoint as well. Once the herd became more established, his location would provide access to the breed for Southeastern producers.

Initially, Rollins purchased 10 cow-calf pairs and one bull. He later returned to Oklahoma and purchased two more registered heifers and another bull.

He has spent about five years growing his herd and experimenting with crossing the Bonsmara with other breeds.

High-Quality Commercial Cattle

Rollins thinks crossing the Bonsmara with Angus cattle is the way to go for beef production. He said the Bonsmara lend an extra measure of tenderness to the Angus but the real advantage comes from what the Angus cattle receive from the cross-breeding.

"The Angus becomes a lot more hardy. They’ll eat a tougher forage," said Rollins. "In hard times, in the summer when the fescue goes dormant, they’re not as selective."

Rollins also noted the Bonsmara-Angus cross animals are more heat-tolerant and insect-resistant than Angus or Red Angus purebreds.

He explained Bonsmara are loose-skinned and can shake insects from themselves where English breeds cannot.

Sure, they’re hardy and produce well. But how do they taste?

"If you ever taste any of this beef, you don’t have to be sold on it," said Rollins. "It is remarkable."

As you would expect with its genetics, Bonsmara beef is leaner than Angus but is every bit as tender, according to Rollins.

He noted he finishes out Bonsmara-Angus cross steers on his farm for the public.

He has several local customers who like knowing where their beef is grown and what it is being fed.

Rollins said, in addition to the high-quality product derived from the cattle, the Bonsmara is a gentle breed.

"They are a wonderful cattle to handle—that’s what I like," said Rollins. "You can get in there with them and push them around. They’re really good cattle."

Small Calves, Big Weaning Weights

Even though the Bonsmara are known for their small calves, the breed has become known for its ability to put on lean weight in a hurry.

Rollins said calves typically weigh 70 to 75 pounds, but in just over 200 days they range in weight from 635 to 660 pounds.

The meat is super lean, yet tender. According to, Bonsmara beef contains 63 percent less saturated fat than average commodity beef.

Calving is easy for the breed, which requires little to no assistance, said Rollins.

What the Future Holds

Rollins said he believes once the benefits of the breed are widely known, there will be a large demand for Bonsmara in commercial herds.

"I think they’re really going to work in the Southeast once people become familiar with them," said Rollins. "They’re ideal for our weather and climate."

Rollins, 56, grew up farming and would love to get back in the lifestyle.

He works for Aviagen, a breeding firm for poultry near his home.

"I’ve traveled all over the world for the work I do—Europe, UK, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean—and I don’t want to travel anymore," said Rollins. "I want to retire and stay home. I’ve worked all my life to get to where I can farm again."

Rollins trades at Limestone Farmers Co-op in Athens. He relies on the Co-op for his STIMU-LYX mineral tubs as well as for his animal health needs. He also purchases his fescue and clover seed from the Co-op.

Contact Information

Persons interested in more information about Bonsmara cattle may contact Rollins at home by calling (256) 233-7199.

They may also visit the following website for additional information:

Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.

Looking for Time Well Spent in April

Episode 23: April 4 & 5

Jim goes to Jimmy Jones’ longhorn cattle farm near Greenville where he finds the animals’ horn length is more important than their carcass weight.

Grace introduces us to some folks from Eufaula High School who won the Chevron Delo Tractor Restoration Competition at the National FFA Convention. Watch as these students share with us their dedication to the success of their local FFA chapter.

Chuck travels to Mississippi to talk with professional trapper Robert Waddell about proven beaver trapping techniques.

Episode 24: April 11 & 12

Jim travels to Untamed Mountain in DeKalb County to visit Susan and Wilbur McCauley at Tigers for Tomorrow, a wonderful place that is home for, among other critters, very large cats.

Grace visits in Montgomery with Jackie Bushman of Buckmasters to learn more about the Young Bucks activities at the 2008 Buckmasters Expo and how this program is helping hone the skills of Alabama’s youngest hunters.

Chuck will discuss the benefits of using supplemental feeding to provide nutrition for deer during stress periods.

Episode 25: April 18 & 19

Jim goes to see Joe Sims in Hartselle as he shows off some of his antique and unique musical instruments he’s repaired or built over the years.

Grace visits former FFA member and college freshman, Bethany Lewis of Ashford, whose hard work on the farm has helped make her family’s dairy operation a success.

Rod Pinkston of Jager Pro shows Chuck how he handles wild hog problems.

Episode 26: April 25 & 26

Jim makes his way to Alabama Gold Camp in Clay County and talks to Miner Mike about prospecting for gold.

Grace takes us to Talladega, home of the Marianna Greene Henry Arena, where several dynamic young people are overcoming the burdens of physical therapy in some unconventional ways.

Chuck visits with Dr. Lee Youngblood to discuss how to establish a successful chufa plot for turkeys.

Novel Endophyte Tall Fescue

By Don Ball

It was only a little more than ten years ago scientists began to use the term "novel endophyte" in connection with tall fescue. It describes tall fescue containing a desirable endophyte (internal fungus). This is in contrast to the wild, toxin-producing (and thus undesirable) endophyte usually present in the ‘Kentucky 31’ fescue variety dominating tall fescue acreage in Alabama and the United States. Toxic endophyte fescue results in animal gains commonly 50 to 100 percent lower, and reproductive efficiency that may be more than 30 percent lower, than occurs with non-toxic fescue.

It was the late 1970s when it was discovered (thanks largely to Auburn University research) most of our fescue contains a toxin-producing fungus, to which the animal disorders fescue foot, fat necrosis and fescue toxicity have been linked. It was quickly found that it was an easy matter to remove the fungus from fescue seed and the fungus was only transmitted through seed. Consequently, by the early 1980s fungus-free fescue seed became commercially available. Animal performance on fungus-free fescue was excellent, but it soon became painfully clear that fungus-free fescue does not persist well in Alabama.

In the 1990s, New Zealand scientist Dr. Gary Latch identified several endophyte strains that do not produce the toxins associated with animal disorders and poor animal performance, but did produce the compounds that result in good persistence of fescue. One of these was inserted in fescue varieties named ‘Jesup’ and ‘Georgia 5,’ developed by University of Georgia plant breeder Dr. Joe Bouton, and these varieties began to be marketed under the name "Max Q" in 1999.

Subsequently a novel endophyte named "ArkPlus" was developed through cooperative work by scientists at the University of Arkansas and the University of Missouri and was marketed for a short while. Another novel endophyte named "Fletcha" is now being marketed in states west of Alabama, one named "BarOptima" is just coming available, and one inserted in Kentucky 31 (no commercial name announced yet) is expected within a year or two.

Novel endophyte fescue has now been around for years, and here is what we can say about how it has performed. First, there have been no fescue-related animal disorders associated with novel endophyte tall fescue. Second, animal gains and reproduction are as good as obtained with animals consuming fungus-free tall fescue. Third, persistence (even through the recent severe droughts) has been similar to that of Kentucky 31. Much research data and lots of producer experience back up these statements.

Close to a half million acres of novel endophyte tall fescue have been planted in the United States. However, in view of the dramatically higher animal production potential on this type of fescue, it seems there should have been even greater acceptance and use. By comparison, in New Zealand, novel endophyte perennial ryegrass varieties (which became available only a few years before novel endophyte fescue was introduced in the USA) now occupy over 80 percent of the acreage of that grass in that nation.

What explains the difference in the level of acceptance of novel endophytes in New Zealand versus the USA? There probably are several reasons. Regardless, it is clear the potential of increasing our novel endophyte fescue acreage constitutes a great opportunity we have for substantially increasing animal production in the future. In fact, it can be argued development of novel endophytes is one of the most important (perhaps the most important) forage research achievements in history. The economic implications of this technology for livestock production are immense.

Don Ball is an Extension Forage Crop Agronomist with Auburn University.

Peanut People

Raid Reenactment Commemorates Blountsville History

By Suzy Lowry Geno

When Tim Williams and his wife, Irene, were first married, they never bought a loaf of bread. Instead Irene kneaded the dough, let it rise and cooked it in their antique wood-burning cook stove, adjusting the amount of wood needed in the firebox, until the light brown crust was "just right."

They also never ate store-bought meat. Instead they raised chickens and cattle themselves. Not because they had to, but because somehow it just seemed better.

While technology grows by leaps and bounds around him, Tim still has one foot (or maybe a foot-and-a-half!) in the past! He feels you can’t move forward unless you know where you’ve been!

This year, once again, Tim is in charge of the Blountsville Historical Society’s reenactment of the Forrest-Streight Raid through the area. Tim himself conceived and planned the first such event in the small town in 1999 so it’s only fitting he’s the coordinator of the reenactment activities ten years later.

Tim is joined by event-coordinator Joyce Thompson in planning what will be the 146th Anniversary of the May First Raid, with the Blountsville event fittingly to be held on May 1st (when many of the re-enactors and others will gather to get ready), and then the second and third with day-long events planned for the public.

Tim Williams, right, is in charge of this year’s re-enactors. A member of the Blountsville Historical Society, he planned the first event in 1999.

The jewel of the event is certainly the Blountsville Historical Park, an on-going project of the Blountsville Historical Society and an amazing feat considering the small size of the group in the small town which was originally known as "Bear Meat."

The Park, two miles north of the town’s one traffic light on U.S. 231, includes the restored historic Freeman House, original to the site; the old Blountsville Calaboose, (the first jail); the Brooksville Post Office; a small hand-hewn log cabin; and, its newest addition, a larger cabin with a sleeping loft bought from the McCullough family.

The McCullough family had purchased the cabin from Tennessee in the 1970s, numbered each log, and moved it to the Blountsville area. Tradition has it belonged to John Coffee, Andrew Jackson’s brother-in-law, one of the first settlers who came through the area along about the time Davy Crockett visited.

Joyce explained, "This was when all our ancestors first came to the area; so that makes the cabin’s link to us very special."

The area was originally called "Bear Meat" after an Indian who lived in the area.

But the settlement came on the backs of persecution of the Native Americans. Information provided by Joyce shows there were permanent white and black settlements in the area following the Treaty of Fort Jackson in 1814 when most of the Creek Indians were removed. General Coffee’s troops had wiped out most of the Indian settlements in the area in 1813. The Cherokees gave up their lands a little north of Blountsville in 1816.

Cantinieres served as nurses on the battlefield. Reenactors from the 11th Calvary pose in the “newest” cabin to be moved to the Blountsville Historical Park.

But not all the Indians were killed or driven out. Several current residents have Native American ancestry where early settlers married into the tribes.

A spring near the Historic Park was the area where travelers stopped to rest on their seventh day as they traveled from Huntsville to the north or to more southern areas.

Tim explained, "They had to stop to rest their horses or mules, grease the wagon wheels and cook up enough food to keep them going another few days."

Williams and others have been clearing that spring, along about a half-mile of the old Bear Meat Road, which sits on Historical Society President Jane Wright’s land now. There will be tours to the spring during the May weekend activities for the first time!

Reenactor Shawn Shotts, Hayden, stands guard over the old Brooksville Post Office which has been restored in the Blountsville Historical Park.

Marlin Beasley serves as the Society’s vice-president.

Joyce explained the biggest change this year will be the Civil War battle will take place in the actual village.

While Tim’s group is known as the 11th Alabama Calvary, during the weekend some members will portray the 13th Wisconsin Infantry. Tim explained northern sympathizers from Claysville were given horses and guns to point out the homes of Confedeate Army families to raid and destroy.

Union Colonel Abel Streight and Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest battled off and on throughout the area, including the Battle of nearby Hog Mountain on April 30, 1863.

Streight and his men arrived in Blountsville on the morning of May 1, 1863, resting and raiding the citizens of food and anything else they wanted. Forrest and one squadron of the 4th Tennessee Regiment rushed in and had a "lively skirmish" according to local history books. The two forces fought off and on along a ten mile stretch.

Two youngsters enjoying learning to wash with a rub board on the porch of the historic Freeman Cabin during a previous reenactment. The Settlers Village will have even more learning events this year.

In the nearby Royal area of Blount County, the Murphree sisters marched three Union "marauders" into Forrest’s camp, and received two horses for their heroic actions and quick thinking!

The entire historic raid path has been marked by the Sons of the Confederate Veterans and makes an interesting day trip for anyone in the area.

Since all Field Trips in Blount County have been cancelled this year because of the economy, the big all-day usual Friday event for school children from all over the county cannot be held. So re-enactors are going into the schools by invitation and giving short programs.

On Saturday, May 2, gates open at 9 a.m. Admission is $10 each day. Kids are invited to participate in a period-area school from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. Wagon rides to the spring will be available from 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. A Maypole Dance will take place at 10 a.m. and there will be singers, musicians, lecturers and soldier activities throughout the day.

Singers at the Sunday Morning Arbor-Styled Church Camp Meeting from two years ago.

The battle will take place in the Village at 2 p.m., with the camp closing at 3:30 p.m.

Saturday night events are free with gates opening at 6:30 p.m. and include a period fashion show, entertainment and camp dance.

On Sunday May 3, events follow basically the same schedule as Saturday except for an Arbor-Styled Church Camp Meeting from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.

Joyce said, "We hope everyone enjoys this new and more authentic version of the era. We invite everyone to be a part of 1863 village life. Let your kids attend school, dance at the Maypole and then attend the period church service. You’re invited to talk with participants and stroll around the park. There will be a lot to learn but a lot to enjoy as well."

Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County.

Sheep Shack: Build Your Own

By John Howle

"All I want for Christmas is a pair of overalls and a sheep." This is what I overheard while my son made his request to Santa a few months ago. For the overalls, I thought, this will be no problem. There are quality Co-op stores all over our fine state. The sheep, however, brought to mind heavier responsibilities like "where is this thing going to be housed on our property?"

Jake Howle with his new overalls and sheep.

Raising livestock like sheep can be an educational experience for children. Whether it’s for their 4-H project, through the FFA or simply for fun, a sheep can be just the ticket to build responsibility for youngsters, and the whole family can take part.

Raising sheep isn’t much more involved than raising cattle, and I had worked with cattle since boyhood. Sheep, however, do better when they can be on dry ground since they are more susceptible to conditions like hoof rot. With this in mind, I realized a small structure with a floor would suffice as a barn, and the upper level could be used as a small loft big enough to house two square bales of hay and a container of sheep ration.

Sheep shack dimensions

This project only takes a couple of days, and if you let the youngsters take part, they will learn woodworking skills as well. What I call a "sheep shack" can be constructed with two-by-four lumber for the framing and rafters, four-by-eight sheets of plywood for the walls and hay storage shelf, two four-by-fours for skids, and used tin will suffice for the roof.

The sheep shack dimensions are six feet wide and four feet deep. There is a top level for hay and feed storage, and during the winter, one sheet of plywood serves as a useful windbreak for the front of the shack and still allows a two-foot entryway.

A mobile unit

Begin by using two-by-fours to create a four-foot by six-foot rectangle. Once you’ve constructed a rectangle that is perfectly square, brace the floor frame with diagonal bracing. This will be stronger for bracing since the sheep shack can be moved from place to place.

Flooring should be braced and attached to two-by-fours, which will then be attached to the four-by-four skids.

Attach the floor frame to the four-by-four skids with lag screws.

Once the floor frame is braced, attach two eight-foot two-by-fours to the bottom of the floor frame on the six-foot long sections. These two eight-foot two–by-fours will extend beyond the ends of the floor frame one foot on each end. These protruding two-by-fours will then be bolted to two four-by-fours. Before attaching the two-by-fours to the four-by-fours with lag screws, use a chainsaw to create a 45 degree angle on each end of the four-by-four rails. This will allow the unit to be moved on sliding skids.

Attach four two-by-four posts to each corner of the floor frame.


Once the floor has been braced and attached to the four-by-four skids, attach the four two-by-four wall posts to each corner of the floor frame. Measure four feet high from the floor on each two-by-floor and mark the spots. Next, create the loft frame by attaching two-by-fours to the wall posts with screws and brace in between the loft frame leaving a two-foot entryway on one end of the loft.

At this point, the floor and loft have been framed and attached to the four-by-four skids. Next, attach a two-by-four plate across the front of the wall posts and on the back side of the wall posts. The rafters will rest on these plates. Space the rafters two feet apart and attach them to the front and rear plates with wood screws. Finally, attach the lathing two-by-fours across the rafters with wood screws. The tin will then be attached to the lathing.

Space rafters onto the front and rear plates and attach lathing on top of the rafters.


Since tin roofing has gone up in price dramatically, you might consider used tin. If there are nail holes in the used tin, the holes can be patched with roofing tar. I decided on used tin after a brief pricing call to my local hardware store. The tin can be nailed to the lathing with rubber washer roofing nails.


The most cost effective wall covering is plywood. I used plywood for the sheep shack floor and loft. The walls were covered with plywood as well. For around $150 of materials, the sheep shack was constructed in a couple of days. Since home construction has slacked off, the prices for lumber and plywood have dropped, making this an ideal time to construct projects on your property like the sheep shack.

Sheep shack advantages

The sheep shack will comfortably house a sheep and her lambs and gives plenty of dry storage in the loft for hay, sweet feed and other equipment like lead halters, cleaning rakes and feed scoops. During the summer, the front of the shack can be left open, and during the winter, one piece of four-by-eight plywood can be attached to the entrance for protection from cold winds.

The final advantage is portability and mobility. Because of its small size, the sheep shack can be towed from one paddock to another with a small tractor, side by side or a large ATV. The sheep shack is also ideal for lambing. Since the lambs are usually born in late winter or early spring, they will appreciate the added warmth and protection of the sheep shack.

It was a profitable Christmas for my son because he not only came out of the deal with a new pair of overalls and a sheep, but he also learned how to construct a sheep shack and care for newborn lambs.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.

Jake holds a newborn lamb. The sheep shack has the windbreak piece of plywood on the front.

Finally, attach tin to the lathing with rubber washer roofing nails.

Shipmans Win NRCS Small Farmer Award

Alabama landowners Roy and Barbara Shipman (right and center) are winners of the Alabama Small Farmer Award and placed second in the national competition for the Lloyd Wright Small Farmer Award. The Shipmans are congratulated by Alabama NRCS State Conservationist Gary Kobylski.

By Fay Garner

Roy and Barbara Shipman found their niche in their local community in rural Southeast Alabama. Much of their time is focused on helping feed the community by growing produce and selling it at local farmer’s markets, offering area youth the opportunity to experience working with livestock through the local 4-H, and giving youngsters and senior citizens a place to go and things to do at a place called the Cottage House.

Because of this commitment, the Shipmans were nominated as the Alabama Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Small Farmers of the Year and placed second in the national competition at the National Organization of Professional NRCS Employees meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.

The Shipmans returned a few years ago to become fifth generation farmers on land in Barbour County that has been in Roy’s family since 1862. The extended Shipman family owns about 690 acres, but Roy and Barbara are currently improving about 40 acres around their homestead. The land had grown up over the years, but they are working hard to get it productive again. They have a small herd of meat goats and grow seasonal produce.

They realized early they needed a better water source. Their goat herd had grown to about 40, but they had to sell some during the drought because they did not have enough water. They were also unsuccessful in their first attempts at growing vegetables because of the water problems.

(From left) Jimmy Hatcher, Barbour County NRCS Soil Conservation Technician, talks with Roy and Barbara Shipman about their farm plan.

The Shipmans contacted the local NRCS office for help. The Barbour County NRCS staff visited the farm.

Soil Conservation Technician Jimmy Hatcher said, "NRCS has been working with the Shipmans for about three years and we created a conservation farm plan for them. They had a lot of trouble during the droughts of 2006 and 2007 and had lost some goats because of both insufficient water and poor water quality. They needed a dependable water source, not only for the goats, but their collection of smaller animals like quail, ducks and rabbits they raise on the farm. We discussed different ways to secure the water. We decided the best way to go was to install a well, especially since it could also be used for a micro-irrigation and plasticulture system for their specialty crops."

Following the conservation plan, and using practice payments from the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), they installed a well in May 2008. The well provides water for their animals, a flower and vegetable garden, and a micro-irrigation system. In 2009, they were approved to fence about 7.6 acres into five rotational grazing pastures with watering troughs for the goats through the EQIP program.

Barbara and Roy Shipman opened the Cottage House in 2007 and offer a variety of programs to local residents.

The Shipmans contacted the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries and were approved for a special micro-irrigation and plasticulture project.

Barbara said, "The leader of the project, Harold McLamore, brought the equipment to the farm and helped us set up the system."

Before installing the system, the Shipmans said they lost more crops than they harvested because they did not have enough water.

Barbara commented, "Drip irrigation works much better because we can water our crops less frequently, use less water and grow better vegetables."

Micro-irrigation with plasticulture works by using special equipment to lay down plastic in rows over a drip irrigation system fed by a well or stable water source. Holes are punched through the plastic and the seed is planted about two inches into the soil. The plastic cover helps maintain soil moisture, prevent soil erosion and control weeds.

The Cottage House, above, is a home Roy Shipman inherited. The Shipmans have added a conference room and remodeled it to meet the needs of the community.

The Shipmans recently planted a crop of collard greens, broccoli, carrots and mixed salad greens.

Barbara said, "I sort of took a survey of what people like to eat in this area. I’ve found it’s better to plant what people like to eat rather than what I like. At one time I grew some round eggplant, a new version about the size of a softball and a lot of people would not even try one. Then I grew some white eggplant and no one enjoyed those but me. Now, I just plant what I know people will enjoy eating."

Roy said, "We are learning as we go about how to plant using plastic and micro-irrigation. We do not plant back-to-back, but rotate plantings every few weeks so we can keep our garden growing all season long."

Barbara said, "Our most consistent crop is winter greens. We know we will have them through May. Everything else is trial-and-error because of the inconsistencies in Southern Alabama weather and the soil we have. We have to plant things the soil will enjoy, and what we know will grow well."

With their bountiful vegetable crops, Barbara realized they needed a market place to sell the produce. She sought approval from the Alabama Farmer’s Market Authority to re-open the community farmer’s market in nearby Clio. Each farmer approved to sell produce at a farmer’s market receives a vendor numbered stamp.

Two Alabama Farmers Market Nutrition Programs (FMNPs) — the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the Senior — provide seniors and nutritionally at-risk women and children the opportunity to buy fresh, local produce directly from farmers at local farmer’s markets and roadside stands. Before vouchers can be exchanged for cash, they must have the vendor’s number stamped on it.

Charlie Mason of the Bullock County Cooperative Extension System said, "The farmer’s market is a great asset to the community. The Shipmans’ dedication in re-opening the local market gives the voucher recipients a place to get fresh vegetables which results in a value to them, the other residents of the community and the farmers who sell here. Voucher recipients appreciate the variety of fresh produce to choose from and enjoy the experience of meeting local growers."

Barbara said, "We keep the market open as long as we, or other farmers in the surrounding area, have fresh produce."

The Shipmans also have a passion for working with the area youth. Barbara works with a local 4-H group of about 11 students ranging from ages 7-15. She takes every opportunity to incorporate character building elements, as well as practical life lessons, when working with them.

The 4-H youth learn about agriculture by helping plant and harvest the vegetables on the Shipman farm. They develop marketing skills by making jams and jellies to sell at the market and by working at the farmer’s market. The students receive income for their services, but are required to invest their earnings in U.S. Savings Bonds. Barbara said this is a great way of keeping them busy, helping them learn life-skills and keeping them out of trouble.

The youth also help the Shipmans with their goat operation.

Roy said, "When our veterinarian visits to worm the goats, give shots or trim the hoofs, we invite the 4-H group to observe and help. We loan out our baby goats for 4-H projects."

When the baby goats are born, the Shipmans loan them to students who want one to show for 4-H. The youth have to bond with the animals and to train with them at least 30 minutes every day to be able to handle them properly in a 4-H show.

Barbara said, "Hopefully we can get more young people interested in raising goats. We heard they are going to open a new goat processing plant near us, and are going to need more goats. I tell parents, ‘Here is something your kids can do. We live in a rural area and we have to be creative. You have to take what you already have and make something more of it.’"

The Shipmans also have a genuine concern for the welfare of the residents of the county.

Barbara explained, "We’ve lost all of our business structure in the county when about four companies closed their doors. We struggle to keep the youth and adult residents of the area motivated. That is what got us thinking about renovating the Cottage House for a community resource center."

The Cottage House is a home Roy inherited.

Barbara said, "When the house was left to Roy by his grandmother, we really did not know what to do with it. After some thought, we decided to remodel it to meet the needs of the community."

They opened the Cottage House in December 2007 for individuals who wanted to study for the GED exam. They currently offer a variety of programs to local residents. A new conference room that holds about 75 people has been added for seminars and meetings, and individual rooms are fully equipped and supplied for projects like crafts, sewing, flower arranging and cooking. Current organized Cottage House programs include GED classes; tutoring in math, English and reading using donated programs; computer classes; cooking and marketing like canning, making syrup and jellies, and producing homemade breads and rolls; and "Teach a Trade" classes in auto mechanics and small engine repair.

They also organize special programs at the Cottage House. A youth entrepreneur workshop was held in February 2007. The event, sponsored by Alabama A&M, attracted over 135 adults and youth.

Barbara stated, "If they come to the Cottage House to learn, we are going to teach them whatever they need. That is basically what the Cottage House is all about. We are looking forward to doing more things as we get our plans more structured. We have just started and we still have a lot of work to do."

Barbara is involved with community-based organizations in the area. She is the President of the Barbour/Bullock Small Farmer Association that works through a Cooperative Agreement between Alabama NRCS and Ala-Tom Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D). The purpose of the agreement is to increase an awareness of NRCS conservation programs and provide assistance and implementation guidance to limited resource/small scale farmers and the State Indian Tribes of Alabama through workshops, hands-on assistance and media publications.

Barbara works with the Southern Rural Black Women Initiative (SRBWI) and "Women in Ag" to sponsor agri-tours to encourage community sustainability and productivity. She is working with Tuskegee University to develop a program to design and market products the community seamstresses produce at the Cottage House. She has worked with other community gardens like the Wiregrass Farmer’s Cooperative in Geneva County where youth operate and sell produce from a 40-acre operation and "People Helping People" project in Bessemer where local youth helped establish a school garden and a community garden.

NRCS State Conservationist Gary Kobylski commented, "We were proud to offer the assistance Roy and Barbara Shipman needed to help make their small farm a success. They have worked hard and are deserving of the small farmer award. Through our EQIP program, NRCS in Alabama has special emphasis programs targeting beginning, limited resource, small scale or socially disadvantaged farmers." (For more information about NRCS conservation programs visit online at or the local USDA Service Center.)

Through their cumulative efforts of farming and community involvement, Barbara and Roy Shipman are reaping huge benefits.

Barbara remarked, "We enjoy what we do. Not only do we farm, work with young people and help the community through activities at the Cottage House, hopefully, we are making a difference."

Southern Translation

SENTENCE USAGE: "I caught somebody stealing something from the smokehouse and ran them about half a mile before I got a Charlie horse and had to let him get away."

How do you get a "horse" and who is "Charlie"?

Back in 1946 the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article entitled ‘Treatment of the Charley Horse,’ rather than ‘Treatment of Injury to Quadriceps Femoris.’ This would indicate ‘Charley horse’ has been a part of formal English for better than 50 years.

Unfortunately, no one knows for certain how "Charley horse" came to mean a muscle cramp or soreness in the arm or leg. A variety of theories have been proposed about the origin of the term.

One theory holds that, since "Charlie" was once slang for a night watchman and night watchmen were generally elderly and prone to limping, "Charlie" became a slang term for lame old horses as well, and, eventually, a term applied to any sort of lameness.

Some have this term for a ‘leg cramp’ arising from a lame horse named Charley that pulled a roller across the infield in the Chicago White Sox ballpark in the 1890s.

Another derivation that seems likely but hasn’t been proven traces ‘Charley horse’ to the constables, or Charleys, of 17th century England. According to this theory, ‘Charley,’ for ‘local police,’ survived in America through the 19th century and because aching legs were an occupational disease among Charleys, ballplayers suffering such maladies were compared to the coppers and said to be ‘weary from riding Charley’s horse.’

Yet another theory holds a player for Boston in the 1880s named Charley Radbourne was popularly known as "Old Hoss." As reported years later (1907) in a Washington Post article, Radbourne was rounding the bases after hitting a home run in a game with Providence when his leg muscles seized up, bringing him painfully to the ground. Another player rushed to his aid, asking, "What’s a mattah wit you, Charley Hoss?" And, said the Post, "from that day to this lameness in baseball players has been called ‘Charley Hoss,’ or "Charles Horse.’"

Supermarket Savings: 16 Tips that Can Total Big Bucks

By Angela Treadaway

It’s possible to save money shopping for groceries without cooking everything from scratch, packing your purse with coupons or purchasing foods in season. Here are 16 easy tips that can total big bucks:

1. Keep a grocery list. Gas for an extra trip to the store easily can add a dollar or more to your grocery bill. And the less you shop, the less likely you will make an impulse purchase. Keep a grocery list where it’s easily accessible, like on the fridge and remember to take it with you. Stick to your list for added savings, but do stay flexible if you encounter a sale.

2. Garbage check. We lose money whenever we toss food because it spoiled before we got around to eating it. If leftovers get the "heave ho" because they’re left too long, we’re putting money in the garbage can. Make planning to avoid tossing foods a priority.

3. Avoid shopping when hungry. Everything looks good on an empty stomach. And, it’s all too easy to buy something to tide us over in the car until we make it home. Eating before going shopping not only helps forestall impulse buys, it may save calories. If you’re shopping with your kids, feed them in advance, as well.

4. Brown bag it. If you normally eat out at noon, consider brown bagging it at least one day a week. The typical fast food meal easily can cost $5 or more. Take food left over from the evening meal to work the next day. A peanut butter sandwich and a piece of whole fruit quickly can be packed from foods on hand.

5. Coupon common sense. Use coupons only for foods you normally would eat, rather than for "extras." Don’t miss out on potential sources of valuable coupons. Check your grocery receipt – sometimes there are great coupons on the back to help save money. Also, if you have access to a computer, check online for coupons. For starters, check the website of the store where you shop or of products you use. Often the website address for many foods is given on the product label. If possible, shop on double or triple coupon days when a store increases the value of coupons. Grocery store loyalty cards may be another source of savings, offering in-store discounts to cardholders.

6. Check expiration dates. Avoid buying food past its prime. If it’s on sale and near its expiration date, use it soon.

7. Small scale experiments. Before trying a new food, buy the smallest size of package. If your family doesn’t like the food, you won’t be stuck with a big box of it.

8. Costly convenience foods. How much time do you really save when you buy a convenience food? It takes just a few seconds to mix your own sugar and cinnamon rather than buying it pre-mixed. Microwaving a bowl of regular oatmeal rather than pouring hot water over a pre-measured package adds only a few minutes. You’re likely to save by cutting fruits and veggies yourself. Plus, the precut ones won’t keep as long.

9. Staple food stock up. Invest in staple foods when they’re on sale. Buying a boatload of bananas (and other perishable foods) isn’t a very good long-term investment. Stocking up on staple items like reduced-price canned tuna, tomato sauce or mandarin oranges can be. Remember to check expiration dates.

10. Bulking up when the price is right and you can use it. First, do the math and check if you actually do save by buying a larger package. The cost of two foods of the smaller size may be a better price than the larger one. Plus, will you use the food while the flavor is still tasty? Always check it out and if the larger size meets your criteria, go for it!

11. Store brand savings. Store brands are comparable in nutrition to name brands. And, taste-wise, there may be little difference. In some comparisons, they have been preferred over the name brands.

12. Prevent food flops. Check preparation methods for unfamiliar foods. Perhaps that tropical fruit looked enticing at the store. However, if you’re not sure how to prepare it or where to find more information once you bring it home, think again. Or, that new cut of meat – do you slowly roast it or can it be grilled? Either way, find out or risk having a food flop.

13. Beware of snack attacks. Unless you’re fairly active and need the calories, enjoy snacks, like chips, cookies, candy, etc. in limited amounts. You’ll save money and may lose unwanted pounds at the same time!

14. Shop the specials. Plan your menus around sale items, especially more expensive purchases, like meat. A dollar saved is even better than a dollar earned, as you don’t have to pay taxes on it! Buying several packages of meat when it is on sale and freezing it may save quite a bit. It is safe to freeze meat or poultry directly in its supermarket wrapping, but this type of wrap is permeable to air so unless you will be using the food in a month or two, over wrap these packages as you would any food for long-term storage using airtight heavy-duty foil or freezer plastic wrap or place the package inside a (freezer) plastic bag. While raw ground meat maintains optimum quality in the freezer for three to four months, larger pieces of meat like steaks or chops will maintain optimum quality for four to 12 months. Make sure your freezer temperature is zero degrees F for optimum storage length and safety.

15. Think before you drink: Buy a reusable water bottle and fill it with tap water. Your investment soon will pay for itself. Limit consumption of soft drinks and fancy coffees.

16. "Checkout" temptation. OK, you’ve almost made it to the finish line … don’t stumble now as you approach the checkout lane. As you’re waiting in line, think twice before buying some last-minute temptation.

Angela Treadaway is a Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety. For any questions on food safety or preparation of vegetables, contact her at (205) 410-3696 or your local County Extension office.

The Bensons Settle In

Larry Benson and one of the farm’s donkeys.

St. Clair County is Now Home

By Suzy Lowry Geno

Faye and Larry Benson moved to their tidy farm in St. Clair County in a round-about way.

While Faye grew up in Jasper, Larry was raised in Kansas City, Kansas!

They met in California when Larry was in the Marines (where he served two tours of duty in Viet Nam) and the Air Force (from which he retired after more than two decades of military service).

They lived all over the world, but eventually settled in Fultondale where Larry worked for Pemco Aeroplex as a flight engineer, flying along as pilots did test flights of C-130s there for repair.

Faye worked in management for several companies through the years including being Club Manager for the Musgrove Golf Club in Jasper. She lastly owned an antique shop in Gardendale and then in Fultondale.

Granddaughter Gracie enjoys all the animals, especially the first kid born this spring.

Larry enjoys hunting, especially deer. About five years ago, Faye found 30 wooded acres for sale on Mountain Spring Road about two miles off Highway 411 in St. Clair County.

They moved a little travel trailer there and often spent weekends while Larry hunted.

But life doesn’t always go exactly as we plan.

Faye, who had done all the housework, yard work and tending of the animals while Larry worked long hours at his jobs, was diagnosed with emphysema with severe damage to her lungs.

As Larry neared retirement from Pemco, she said, "I knew he’d always been so active. I just couldn’t see him staying busy on our little city lot in Fultondale."

The beginnings of the Benson’s Pygmy goat herd (with a couple of extras).

So three years ago, the couple built an attractive farm home on their St. Clair County property with spacious and alluring front and back porches so Faye can easily watch Larry’s comings and goings as well as those of the animals who now reside there.

"We were just going to live there for a while and see how we liked it. We didn’t sell our house in Fultondale," she explained. "That way, if it didn’t work out, we could move back. Our son was living in the house then."

There’s no question why this goat is named Fifty-fifty.

The family had just completely remodeled that 100-year-old Fultondale home when it burned completely.

"Now we’re here for good," Faye stated. "And I do believe I’m feeling a little better here. I know the air is cleaner."

Larry retired about two years ago and now he’s the farm’s "full-time farm hand."

The couple hired an excavator to slope the land for the house site and gently provide areas for about seven acres of pasture. But the crowning glory was to be the pond, to be stocked with bream and bass, providing not only water for the livestock but a source of recreation and pleasure.

The pond was to be 15 feet deep in the center.

"That’s been our biggest disappointment so far," Larry said. "We just can’t get that pond to hold water like it’s supposed to…but we’re still working on it."

Larry Benson bonds with each animal while they’re young so hoof trimming, vaccinating and other chores are easier later on.

But there are many triumphs on the farm that equal out, even though there have been tragedies and other learning experiences.

They, at first, wanted a pony for granddaughter Gracie Benson, who now lives with her one-year-old brother, Gavin, in Oneonta with their parents.

And Faye initially wanted miniature horses as well.

But with Faye’s health as it is, horses have now been placed on hold. Instead there are five miniature donkeys demanding a lot of attention and petting and give back unconditional love in return.

There’re about 30 chickens who enjoy a bright red barn, with practically all brown-layers represented along with a few "Easter egg" chickens, the Ameracuanas who lay blue-green eggs. There’s also a beautiful and noisy flock of 25 to 27 guineas patrolling the pastures.

Faye Benson and one of the beautiful farm pictures she painted.

Faye hopes to begin selling eggs soon.

But the main occupants of the pastures are a herd of Pygmy goats. Their care has also been a learning experience.

The first three were bought from a man who "guaranteed" they were the smaller pygmies. But as they grew to adulthood, it soon became evident they were normal size goats!

So the couple bought a few REAL pygmies.

One day they came home to see a big dog running from the farm and found all the goats but two had been brutally killed by two dogs. One of the larger goats had a huge gash gnawed in her side but she was still alive, and one of the pygmies was terrified but remained unhurt because she had hidden under some steps and had not been seen by the dogs.

Tender care by Oneonta vet Dr. Jason Coe resulted in the bigger goat completely healing and she will always remain at the farm with her smaller counterparts.

The Bensons feel no family farm would be complete without chickens.

Faye and Larry then purchased additional true registered Pygmies from Freida and Mark Burdette at HorseNAround Farm on Ricetown Road in Blount County.

The Benson’s first Pygmy kid was born January 11th and was rightly named "Uno."

The couple hopes to continue to increase their breeding stock and eventually sell Pygmies as pets and small dairy animals. One small buck has unusual coloring, solid black in the front and solid white in the rear! Of course his name is "Fifty-fifty"!

Larry discovered hard rains had washed a small gully under the fence and that was how the dogs had entered the goat area. He continues to be vigilant on predator control and the safety of their animals.

The couple shop at St. Clair Farmers Co-op in Ashville and Blount County Farmers Co-op in Oneonta when they visit their family there.

Larry and Faye have a Kubota so Faye can ride to the top of "our mountain" on warm pretty days.

But while the couple’s days are filled with animal chores and more, their home is decorated with beautiful oil paintings they’ve done.

"I took art back in 1997 for a while," Faye explained. "But just didn’t have time to pursue it because I had the antique shop in Gardendale. But I just asked Larry one day if he’d like to take art lessons with me and he surprised me by saying yes!"

The couple now take weekly art lessons at Margaret’s Studio in Gardendale but it is evident they each had a world of natural talents. And it’s not surprising several of the pictures feature old farm scenes!

Faye enjoys reading Countryside, Hobby Farm Magazine and Mother Earth News about others who are enjoying their time "back on the farm."

"We’re here now for the duration," Faye simply said.

Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County.

The Co-op Pantry

"I never thought food would be my calling," said Rebekah Johnson of Fitzpatrick, as she recalled her first job at the Dairy Deluxe, a fast food restaurant in Union Springs. But since that time, Beck, as she is known to friends and family, has made a career in the food service industry.

"I managed the Union Springs Country Club for six years before I moved to Montgomery and worked at the Capital City Club as a banquet captain," she said.

In 2000, Johnson returned to the Union Springs Country Club and moved back to Fitzpatrick to help care for her father J.P. ‘Bubs’ Tompkins, Jr., who is battling Alzheimer’s disease.

"Money is money, but your family you only get once," said Johnson, adding she counts it a blessing to have this time with her parents.

"I grew up on a farm, and mother did the cooking," Johnson remembered, adding her mother’s cooking put food on the table in more ways than one.

"Mother loves to say her cheese straws saved the farm. When farming was so bad and others were going out of business, mother would take orders for cheese straws and I’d take them into Union Springs for people to pick up while I was at the Dairy Deluxe," she explained.

Today Johnson and her mother Joyce Tompkins take orders for those cheese straws and other treats like homemade biscuits, jellies and preserves.

"We make almost any kind of baked goods, and make gift baskets, too," she added.

Johnson has a son, Craig, and a daughter, Farrar, and her favorite thing in the world is to have what she calls a big family pig-out. The middle of three children herself, she said her mother has passed most of the cooking responsibilities over to her.

"Both my brothers work for Bonnie Plants," said Johnson, "and they’ll come to lunch at Mama and Daddy’s house when they’re home, and I love to cook for them all. It’s a real blessing for our parents that all three of their children live within a mile of them."

Johnson said she and her mother share a love of cookbooks, but she admitted her collection is much smaller than her mother’s.

"I’ve really learned to love gardening, too," she said. "We’ve got pear and fig trees for preserves, and I put up peas, tomatoes and squash. I’ve gotten to really enjoy it and take a lot of pride in growing things."

Her vegetable plants are, of course, Bonnie vegetables. She also said her vegetable recipes are favorite ways to prepare the fresh vegetables from her garden.

Johnson said going through her recipes with her mother brought back many happy memories for them both. "Mom’s Chicken Spaghetti was hands-down the most favorite dish of the whole family, and the appetizers are from my daughter, who has turned out to be the third generation of cooks in the family," she said.

Kellie Henderson is a freelance writer from Troy.

White Rotel Dip

2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, softened
1 pound hot bulk pork sausage, browned and drained
2 (10 oz) cans Rotel tomatoes, drained
1 (16 oz) container sour cream

Stir together first three ingredients and transfer to the bowl of a slow cooker. Cook until ingredients melt together. Stir in sour cream just before serving. Serve with corn chips.

White Cheese Ball

2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, softened
2 green onions, finely chopped
2 (1 pound) packages shaved beef, finely chopped
2 (1 pound) packages shaved ham, finely chopped
Dash of Accent seasoning

Mix all ingredients together very well and form into a ball shape. Chill before serving with club crackers.

Oyster Stew

1 quart milk
1 pint oysters, liquid drained and reserved
½ cup (1 stick) butter, divided
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat milk, liquid from oysters and 4 tablespoons butter in a stockpot, but do not boil. In a skillet, melt remaining butter; add oysters and sauté until the ends begin to curl. Add to milk mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with oyster crackers or saltines.

Pistachio Salad

1 (3 oz) package pistachio instant pudding and pie filling mix
1 (20 oz) can crushed pineapple
½ cup miniature marshmallows
½ cup pecans, chopped
1 (8 oz) container non-dairy whipped topping

Stir together pudding mix and pineapple with juice. Add marshmallows and nuts. Fold in whipped topping. Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.

Cornbread Salad

4 cups cornbread, crumbled
2 to 3 tomatoes, chopped
1 to 2 bell peppers, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 cucumber, chopped

Stir together cornbread and vegetables. Add just enough mayonnaise to bind ingredients together; mixture should not be too wet. Refrigerate before serving.

Mom’s Chicken Spaghetti

1 (5 to 7 pound) hen or 2 fryers
3 large onions, chopped, plus more for stock
1 bunch celery, chopped, plus more for stock
Carrots for stock
3 large bell peppers, chopped
1 (14.5 oz) package vermicelli pasta
½ to 1 pound sharp cheese, grated
1 (4 oz) can sliced mushrooms, drained
1 small jar pimento, drained
2 (10 oz) cans cream of mushroom soup

Boil chicken with onion, celery and carrots to make a rich broth. Debone and chop cooked chicken. Remove onion, celery and carrots. Reserve 3 cups broth. Cook pasta according to package directions in remaining broth, adding additional water if needed. Drain pasta.

Cook peppers, onions and celery until tender in 3 cups reserved broth. Stir into chicken, cheese, pasta and remaining ingredients. Transfer to 2 large greased casserole dishes. Bake at 350o for 45 minutes. Makes 18 servings. Freezes well.

Shrimp Casserole

1 ½ pounds small shrimp, cooked and peeled
1 (10 oz) can cream of mushroom soup
1 (10 oz) can cream of chicken soup
1 soup can of mayonnaise
1 (8 ½ oz) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 cup cooked rice
1 (4 oz) can sliced mushrooms, drained
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Crushed buttery round crackers

Combine shrimp and next seven ingredients. Mix well and pour into a 3 quart casserole dish. Top with cracker crumbs and sprinkle with paprika. Bake at 300o about 40 minutes or until bubbly.

Pan-Fried Summer Squash

Slice equal amounts fresh squash and onion. Simmer in enough water to cover until squash is tender and onion is clear. In a cast iron skillet, melt about ½ cup butter and ¼ cup bacon drippings. Add drained squash and onions to skillet. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until nicely browned. Season with salt and pepper to taste before serving.

Fresh Green Beans

Wash and snap about 1½ pounds green beans. If using beans from the garden, pick smaller ones about as round as the little finger. In a stockpot, brown slices of salt pork. When fat is rendered, remove from the heat and add about 6 cups water. Return to stove and add beans. Cover and simmer 25 to 35 minutes or until beans are tender.

Cream-Style Fresh Corn

2 pints (12 to 14 ears) fresh corn
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) butter
1 to 2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2 ½ cups sweet milk
1 Tablespoon sugar

To remove corn from the cob, cut half the kernel off then scrape off the rest. This is the secret to the best corn. In a large cast iron skillet, mix all ingredients. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low and cook 25 to 35 minutes, stirring often as corn will easily stick to pan and burn.


2 cups White Lily self-rising flour, plus more for kneading
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon each baking powder and baking soda
½ cup lard or vegetable shortening
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450o. Whisk all dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add lard or shortening and combine until mixture resembles coarse meal. Make a well and add buttermilk. Mix well.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead several times, adding more flour if mixture becomes too sticky. Roll out to ½-inch thickness and cut out biscuits. Place close together on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes or until brown.

To freeze, bake biscuits only 5 to 6 minutes or until biscuits rise but are not browned. When ready to cook, take out of freezer and thaw. Cook 5 to 6 minutes more in a preheated 450ooven until browned.

Mom’s Caramel Crunchies

½ cup (1 stick) butter
1 (16 oz) box dark brown sugar
4 eggs, beaten
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup nuts, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 300o. In a mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs and mix well. Sift together flour, salt and baking powder. Add to creamed mixture. Add vanilla and fold in nuts. Transfer mixture to a greased 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes. Cut into squares to serve. Finished product will be sticky.

The FFA Sentinel

By Philip Paramore

There is a poem entitled "The Dash" written by Linda Ellis. It tells of someone who has died and the person’s date of birth and death is given. The poem describes how the dash represents the person’s life and all accomplished during her life, yet no one who would look at her headstone would know what she had achieved in her lifetime unless they had known her.

This month’s article features Alabama FFA’s 45th year which was 1973-74. From its beginning in 1929 it is now in its 80th year. Since Alabama FFA’s 45th anniversary, much has changed in FFA and more so in the United States. Without the written record of the Alabama FFA Association, we would have no idea of what occurred during the dash.

Historical events to trigger one’s mind to happenings of 1973-74 include the October 1973 resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew and Gerald Ford becoming the new vice president in December of the same year. 1974 saw the U.S. economy in its worst recession in 40 years. On a positive note, Hank Aaron slammed his 715th home run on April 8, 1974, topping the previous record set by Babe Ruth.

The first issue of The Alabama FFA Reporter in 1973-74 featured highlights from the State Convention held in June. The September-October issue stated more than 1,000 members and local advisors attended the convention. Top recognition of the Convention went to Future Farmers from Evergreen and Oakman. John Crum Sessions, a Conecuh County farmer and agribusinessman, received the Alabama Future Farmer of the Year, while Ray Fields, a graduate of Oakman High School, was designated Star Farmer of Alabama.

Elected to serve as State Officers for the year were Elton Bouldin, president, Crossville Chapter; Albert F. Blankenship, vice president, Stanhope Elmore Chapter; Pat Jones, secretary, Gurley Chapter; Spencer L. Means, treasurer, Carver Chapter; Kenny Brown, reporter, Evergreen Chapter; and Kenneth M. Spivey, sentinel, Enterprise Chapter.

Terry Johnson, a member of the Geraldine FFA Chapter, won the coveted public speaking contest with his oration, "Water Pollution." Terry served as state secretary in 1972-73 and currently teaches agriscience education at his alma mater. He went on to place second at the Tri-States (Alabama, Florida and Puerto Rico) Public Speaking Contest in August at Miami.

Etowah County High School at Attalla earned top honors in the agricultural mechanics competition. Other judging winners were Southside, land; Gordo "B," livestock and West Limestone, dairy. The West Point Chapter won the string band contest while the West End quartet won that competition.

In chapter-wide competition, Crossville, Fairhope, Russellville, Sparkman and Sylvania were designated as the state’s five most outstanding chapters. Crossville was top in the chapter safety competition, while Gordo "A" captured first-place in farm woodland improvement.

Gary Gibbs, Sparkman, was named state champion corn grower and Bobby Martin, Geneva, received the M.K. Heath Animal Health Award. Boaz received the Governor’s Citation as the best entry in the Building Our American Communities (BOAC) program. (BOAC was a joint effort by the Farmers Home Administration and FFA to improve local communities.) Other state winning BOAC chapters were Sparkman, Citronelle, Centre, Semmes, Hayneville and York West End. A record number, 729, FFA members were elevated to State Farmer status.

The following is a message from the new editor of The Alabama FFA Reporter, Frank B. Killough, who had previously served as vocational agriculture teacher at Auburn High School.

"With 1974, The Alabama FFA Reporter takes on two new faces. The spring 1974 issue will drop its usual red and white glossy face and begin as a black and white with a mat finish.

"Another new face is found with the new editor. This face is new to The Reporter, but an old hand in agribusiness.

"The changes in the size and paper used in the publication were brought about by the decision not to ask Future Farmers for a subscription price and the exclusion of advertising. Without these revenues we will be sending only five copies to each chapter and the reporter will be published quarterly with only four pages.

"Your advice and encouragement is urgently needed. I must ask for stories and pictures from you, The FFA Reporterand the agribusiness teacher. You make the news; just give me an opportunity to reflect it in The Reporter.

"I’m optimistic about the future. I’m optimistic about the Future Farmers of America. I’m optimistic about America. It’s great. We have a great people, a great land and a great future. I refuse to listen to the doomsayers who can only report the bad things about our way of life.

"It’s a real pleasure to be assigned the job of reporting on the FFA. Every time I find a story it’s refreshing and positive.

"Thank goodness Future Farmers are busy building and feeding a great nation and I don’t have to report on news of a negative nature."

With that said, the extensive coverage of FFA events in Alabama was no more. However, for those chapters which submitted information to the editor of The Reporter, coverage continued about FFA activities throughout Alabama.

The spring 1974 issue of The Reporter featured an article from former State FFA President and National Secretary Jerry Batts, Clements Chapter. Batts encouraged FFA members to get involved in FFA activities, because "the Alabama FFA is probably stronger than it has ever been. Your family, your friends and advisors are waiting to help. It gets down to whether you want to do it."

Four proficiency winners from the 1973 National FFA Convention were also featured in this issue of The Reporter. Mike Fuller, Enterprise Chapter, placed second in Agricultural Production; Anthony Wells, Sylvania Chapter, won first place in Poultry Production, Edward Minton, Attalla FFA, placed second in Agricultural Mechanics; and Curtis Massey, Coffee Springs Chapter, won first place in Agricultural Electrification.

Fourteen new chapters were chartered in the 1973-74 school year. Fifty-five chapters had 100 percent membership and 70 chapters reported having more than 100 members.

The top ten chapters were Choctaw County, 216 members; Wetumpka, 215 members; Hokes Bluff, 203 members; West Point, 191 members; Jacksonville Lab, 190 members; Pickens County, 190 members; Bibb County, 172 members; Foley, 172 members; Winfield, 171 members; and Stanhope Elmore, 169 members. The Alabama Association had approximately 26,000 members in 1973-74 year.

The summer 1974 issue of The Reporter gave a tribute to Spencer L. Means, Jr. At the time of his accidental death, Spencer was serving as treasurer of the State FFA Association. Spencer was from Eutaw and had won the state public speaking contest in 1973 and placed second in the Tri-States Public Speaking Contest.

According to this issue of The Reporter, a national record had been set by the Sidney Lanier Chapter (Montgomery) for having 46 State Farmers. W. C. Locke was the advisor. The article stated many of the boys met a portion of their requirements for the state farmer degree by working on the 455-acre school farm, as well as attending county, district and state FFA contests; entering county and state steer, heifer and bull shows; and entering area flower and horticultural competition.

Also in this edition, the Alabama Association broke all records in securing 101 donors in 1973 to the National FFA Foundation. Contributions to the National FFA Foundation reached the record high under the leadership and inspiration provided by Mrs. Mary George Waite, president of the Farmers and Merchants Bank of Centre. Mrs. Waite was instrumental in the formation of the Alabama FFA Foundation in 1977 and served as chairperson and board member for many years.

Recognition of these individuals was made during a luncheon for donors at Birmingham in February. A goal of 200 donors was set for 1974. And finally, State President Elton Bouldin issued a call to all Alabama FFA members to attend the State Convention to be held June 4-6 at Montgomery.

Philip Paramore is an Education Specialist with the Alabama Department of Education.

The Flat Rock General Store, Economic Stimulus Package (ESP)

Political Pork Fur Flat Rock community improvement projects (CIP) …

By Joe Potter

It was Wednesday in the full far day, movin’ clear past suppertime when Slim rang me on my cellular phone. He offered I should present myself down to The Store, declarin’ there was a high end announcement a comin’ pertainin’ to Flat Rock folk.

At this point, I pulled off County Road 131, arrived at The Store and committed my pick-up for parkin’. Inside there was a full nestin’ of regulars includin’ Essex, Ms. Ida, the widow Cora, Farlow, Willerdean, my Daddy "Pop" C.C., "Truth," Estelle, Bro., S.R., J.R., "Hatch," Heath, Dustin and the music man himself, Harley Hood. Course there were a few other folk also a hoverin’ about the old potbellied heater in the rear of The Store, includin’ my friend Mr. Ed Lovelace from over to Lauderdale County who had been a negociatin’ with Slim over some cheap cattle feedin’ substances.

At this point Slim was a leaned on the counter clear straight at the backside of The Store. He was a actin’ near giddy as he offered up to all the folk gathered that the USA Government was grantin’ aid monies for Flat Rock community improvement projects (CIP). He yanked this sheet-type cloth off the rear wall. This exposed a full listin’ of project words on white butcher paper in red marker. At Slim’s directin’, Bro. comminst to readin’ the list aloud for all those gathered.

Flat Rock (ESP) — (CIP) List

*New store potbellied heater or alternative heat source.

*Funds for to hold eatin’ day two times per month down to The Store.

*Professional horse pitchin’ shoes and stobs for the oak tree shade.

*New bale of cotton motes for sightin’ in deer huntin’ bows.

*Slim a new behind-the-Store-counter recliner.

*New checker board, dominos and two sets of ones high Rook cards.

*Imberse Harley Hood and friends for four musical gigs per month in Flat Rock.

*Replace the Stores outdoor privy/john with a new in-store necessary room.

*A second beautifyin’ station for Estelle’s hair factory with usage directed t’ward notchin’ up prettiness in Flat Rock.

*A decoupage and ceramic firin’ ladies craft room.

*Construction of a deer cooler and processin’ shed.

*Funds for convertin’ The Flat Rock Community House to a weddin’ house.

*ATV and truck washin’ station beside The Store especial for usage in huntin’ season and after livestock trailer haulins’.

*Combination commercial community shotgun shell reloader and clay target molder.

Bro. ended his readin’ at this stage, as mouths dropped clear wide open and near all those folk attendin’ started talkin’ jointly. At this point, Slim stood up clear straight from the end of the counter, turned with a full-mouth grin and approached the back wall. In red marker across the penciled words he wrote:


At this point mouths dropped full lower and most all the Folk gathered started to motorin’ about The Store. Many were shakin’ their heads in bewilderment as they exited the old double front doors. Farlow and Willerdean commented t’ward Slim with a near-equaliness they needed to sleep on this one. The widow Cora noted to Slim this was one for all the ages, even got Essex. "Truth" rose up from his nail keg seat carrin’ a full-mouth grin, facin’ Slim he just offered a "you-got-me" shakin’ pointer-finger. Estelle gave Slim the thumbs-up sign as her and "Truth" exited. My Daddy "Pop" C.C. noted to Slim as he headed fur his John Deere Gator that he missed the full-early, late-night news for this April Fools prank pullin’. Mr. Ed Lovelace seemed to carry some confusion as he headed out and back cross the Tennessee River (without a cheap cattle feedin’ substance deal). All this a followin’ Slim’s early late-night April Fools "GOTCHA" down to The Flat Rock General Store…




Joe Potter is a former vocational agriculture teacher, FFA advisor and retired county agent (Colbert County).


By Baxter Black, DVM

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways."
E.B. Browning, 1857
"How can you get bucked off? Let me count the ways."
B. Black, 2009

Over the years I have chronicled hundreds of horse wreck stories that have been told to me. I still marvel at the uniqueness of each one and how it stretches the imagination. One only need look through any rodeo photographer’s scrapbook to see the spectacular displays of flying bodies, nose-diving human projectiles and the continuous collection of cringing, crashing, crumpled cartwheeling cowboys caught catapulting on camera!

There is a fine line between getting on a horse you hope will buck and one you hope won’t! At least in the bucking chute you are forewarned.

Ron is an outfitter in Washington state. Packers and outfitters, in my opinion, look at horses differently than cowboys. Cowboys expect a degree of cow savvy, quickness, refinement and good looks. They might even sacrifice a little ‘usefulness’ for a good head or pretty color. Packers put very little store in lookin’ good. I don’t mean personally, but in a horse they want a stout one with stamina and strength. Long hair, big feet, blemishes, Roman noses, bob tails or the disposition of the Unabomber is okay as long as he packs his share of the load. After all, packers never shave either!

Bill is a carpenter with a bad back who, at the time of this story, was wearing a body cast. He asked Ron if he could put a ‘handle’ on a new horse he had just purchased. Ron mounted the beast. From the start it was obvious the light-colored, long-headed, round-withered, spooky-eyed devil had not spent much time in the Western Pleasure Class.

They started making circles in the round pen. Then Ron attempted a sliding stop. Hammerhead stopped abruptly and then backed up. Ron swiveled to the right, then to the left, but Hammerhead kept backing. Then he reared up on his hind legs and began hopping backwards! Ron clung like a monkey on a flag pole until he bailed out and slid off the rump where he landed on his butt in the sitting position.

He was looking up at the crazed horse who was still hopping toward him! Ron scooted to the aft, crablike until he hit the solid uprights of the round pen. The horse crashed tail first into the posts and sat on Ron!

Bill, who had watched this circus-like performance, hobbled over to his crushed companion.

"Are you alright?" he asked.

"No," said Ron.

"Are you sure?" asked Bill.

"Yes," said Ron, "My leg’s broke!"

Realizing he could not lift his friend by himself, Bill ran to the barn and came back with his stall-mucking wheelbarrow.

"Are you sure you can carry me in that?" asked Ron, thinking of his friend’s back.

"Yeah," said Bill reassuringly, "I’ve hauled bigger loads of manure than you in this rig!"

Baxter Black is a former large animal veterinarian who can be followed nationwide through this column, National Public Radio, public appearances, television and also through his books, cds, videos and website,

Tis the Season for Taxes

By Robert Spencer

If you are reading this article, it is probably April and either you have already done your taxes for 2008 or you are scurrying about trying to get them done. If you have already done your taxes, this article will apply for 2009; if you are in the process of doing them, let this serve as a helpful reminder. As financial manager of your farm, it is up to you (and possibly your accountant) to fully credit all farm-related expenses and document assorted revenues. Whether you are fortunate enough to actually show a profit from your farm, or laugh in the face of adversity (like most of us), there may be a few items you are over looking.

As far as farm-related expenses and deductions, take a look at some of the items we may overlook. From what I understand, this year a farm can claim real estate taxes paid. Don’t forget simple things like a portion of your utilities, interest paid (mortgage) and possibly office space in your house. If you have a cell phone solely used for the farm, it MAY be tax deductible. Was there a new computer or office equipment purchased for farm-related use? Go back through your records and see if there are any receipts for vet expenses. What always amazes me is travel-related expenses. Not just travel to meetings, but to the feed and supply store or building material store. You will be surprised how quickly all those short trips add up. Last year and this year on my personal farm expenses, I had about 2,000 miles each year for simple trips to local stores. At approximately 50 cents a mile that gave me about $1,000 in travel related deductions.

Don’t forget those dues, memberships and registration fees for meetings. Take a look at your vehicle tag and insurance expenses specific to farm vehicles. Find those receipts for other items like building materials (for that new shed built last year), farm supplies (tools, hardware including bolts and screws), repairs and maintenance (repairs on the tractor, servicing the farm truck), breeding fees, as well as vet bills and livestock health care expenses (wormer, antibiotics). Also, don’t forget those magazine subscriptions relevant to farming, or that new animal purchased. And, find all receipts or canceled checks relevant to expenses for feed, hay, mineral and protein blocks. Ask yourself: was there any new farm equipment purchased this year and how do I want to write off the depreciation? Don’t forget depreciation on brood stock and herd sires. Do you have receipts for fertilizer, soil analysis (surely you do that) and lime? These are all important items to remember.

A few other items to consider: tax preparation services or tax preparation software if you do your own taxes. AND, two things my accountant reminded me of were last year’s federal tax refund (Alabama taxes require that) and that economic incentive check many of us received last year. Yes, that is considered income, even if it was our tax money coming back to us!

Enough about farm expenses, time to take a look at farm revenues.

There’s livestock, grains, hay sold. Did you follow my advice (from an earlier article on getting lean) and sell off equipment no longer needed? Did you lease any equipment, your services or animals?

If you produce value-added products on your farm, make sure to document sales from those items.

Always look for opportunities to improve record-keeping skills. My system is to have a box holding the entire year’s receipts and duplicate copy checks. Either quarterly, biannually or at the end of the year, my wife and I go through them and log them into a computer spreadsheet. The advantage of logging all this information into a computer spreadsheet is it allows for financial analysis when comparing expenses and revenues, including pie charts if you want to get fancy (make sure to use bright, cheerful colors). Then again, at the end of each year when I take a look at my expenses versus my revenues, I have to remind myself I farm because I enjoy it, and my wife tells me I need something to do with my spare time.

I’m sure there are some things I failed to mention, but my hopes are you get the idea and think of many more things we tend to overlook. Take advantage of every deduction to which you are entitled, and include relevant revenues. It is easy to remember the big items, but the small ones do add up. I’ll be the first to admit that even though my educational background is farm management, I am not diligent in my record-keeping.

Try and keep a checking account for your farm separate from your personal account, it makes record-keeping somewhat more traceable. I’m not implying you will not use your personal checking account to cover farm expenses, but a separate account also allows for farm specific deposits. Whether doing your own taxes or utilizing a professional, you should claim all possible legal deductions; farming is a business and should be managed as a financial entity.

Robert Spencer is a contributing writer from Florence.

Wild Hogs (No, It’s Not the Movie)

By Dr. Tony Frazier

This little piggy went to market. This little piggy stayed home….. Once upon a time there were three little pigs….. And who could forget that saying, "b’dah, b’dah, b’dah. Dat’s all, folks!" made famous by that great American philosopher, Porky the Pig. Pigs have always had a fond place in American culture. In addition to the contributions of those characters, the swine industry has contributed greatly to our American way of life. There is bacon and eggs, ham and cheese, bar-b-que on the Fourth of July. I appreciate the place the swine industry holds in animal agriculture. However, this article will not be devoted to domestic swine, but their roguish cousins running wild and plundering the country side. I am talking about feral swine or, if you prefer, wild hogs.

I am not a wildlife biologist, do not play one on TV and I did not stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night, so I will try not to venture too far into the wildlife technical areas about feral swine. I will address the headaches those pesky characters cause the Office of the State Veterinarian. What is the distinction separating feral swine from their domestic relatives? From my perspective that would be a fence. If hogs are on the inside of a fence, they are domestic; if they are on the outside, they are feral. Well, I’m not necessarily talking about those hogs your neighbor down the road owned when you were growing up. You know the ones I’m talking about. About one Sunday a month, right after the preacher got into his sermon, someone would ease in the back door and tell the farmer his hogs were out on the road again. Then the farmer and his two sons would "quietly" exit the worship service to round up their hogs.

The point I want to make is a disease makes no distinction of whether a hog is domestic or feral. While most wild hogs have some ancestry other than Hampshire, Yorkshire or Duroc, there are typically no diseases that occur in feral swine but not in domestic swine, or that occur in domestic swine but not in feral hogs. Diseases like brucellosis, pseudorabies and trichinosis, which are all rare in domestic swine, are not uncommon in feral swine. Government eradication programs have nearly eradicated swine brucellosis and pseudorabies, yet the disease lurks in the wild population waiting for the stars to line up and a biosecurity break at just the right time, and we could face those old problems in domestic swine again. Intense biosecurity practices and the nature of commercial swine operations today make disease breaks between feral and domestic swine more difficult, but by no means impossible.

Early in my tenure as State Veterinarian, one of our Agriculture Compliance Officers stopped a livestock trailer coming into Alabama out of Florida. Among chicken, turkeys and maybe one or two other species, there were 22 "feral" swine on board. Recall the difference between feral and domestic is "confinement." Because these hogs had no health certificate and had not been tested, and because of the risk posed to our domestic swine industry, it was decided those hogs be humanely destroyed and tested. The test results were almost shocking. Seventeen of the 22 hogs were positive for brucellosis or pseudorabies or both. The scary thing about that is these hogs were likely going to be turned out in some area in Alabama to be hunted. So even if these hogs never came in contact with any domestic hogs, they would pose a public health threat to those who dress or process these hogs. There have been some serious swine brucellosis outbreaks in packing house workers who were unaware they were working with brucellosis-infected product. That was several years ago when brucellosis was still prominent in domestic swine.

Another concern with feral swine meat consumed for food is the potential of contracting trichinosis. Trichinosis is a disease caused by a microscopic parasite that can end up in human skeletal muscle tissue, the heart or the central nervous system. To destroy trichinella, meat should be heated to at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit to kill the organism.

The final area I want to discuss is how feral swine fit into the regulatory world of meat inspection. Here’s the deal, PORK is considered an amenable species to be under either state or federal meat inspection. What that means if anyone other than the owner of the hog (which gets a little murky when talking about wild hogs) processes the meat, they must be under the oversight of a federal or state meat inspection program. There are some wildlife and conservation laws that do not allow for transporting a live feral hog. There is also a regulation not allowing a killed feral hog to be taken to a slaughter or processing facility.

No one actually knows how many feral swine are out there, but according to a USDA fact sheet, a single female feral hog can be responsible for around 1,000 descendants by the time she is five years old. They are indeed a growing problem and are found in practically every county in Alabama. As their numbers continue to grow, we will need effective management techniques to deal with the feral swine problem.

Now, speaking of a Wild Hog, have I ever told ya’ll about my Harley Davidson Road King Classic?

Young People Master New Skills

Junior Master Gardeners learn the rewards of getting their hands dirty.

By Luci Davis

Since my colleague Amy Burgess is on maternity leave, I’ve stepped in to update you on a program dear to the hearts of Cooperative Farming News readers: the Alabama Junior Master Gardener (JMG) Program. Hi, I’m Luci Davis, the state JMG Coordinator. I’m housed in Auburn, but I travel around Alabama promoting a program which is strongly supported by Bonnie Plants.

Through the years, Bonnie Plants has worked closely with 4-H to help Alabama youth learn gardening skills while increasing their science, math, history and literature knowledge. Alabama Farmers Cooperative should be very proud that Bonnie Plants provides funding to train teachers, volunteers and Extension Agents to lead JMG groups. You have had a real impact on Alabama’s youth!

The JMG Program was started by the Texas Cooperative Extension Service and has been enthusiastically embraced by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. The program provides educational material and training used by teachers or volunteers to teach plant growth, soils and water, ecology and environment horticulture, insects and diseases, landscape horticulture, fruits and nuts, vegetables and herbs, and life skills and career exploration. The mission of JMG is "to grow good kids by igniting a passion for learning, success and service through a unique gardening education."

Master Gardeners and other volunteers are enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge and experience.

You have heard the saying about "teaching a person to fish…." Well, the JMG program takes that philosophy further. Learning the lifetime skill of gardening has implications that go beyond a classroom project on planting a sunflower or learning how peaches grow. Youth do develop skills that can put food on the table, but they also build leadership skills, and learn social and personal responsibility.

First, let’s think about the practical aspects of learning to grow your own food. Consider what might be on a plate of fresh, Alabama-grown vegetables: butter beans, black-eyed peas, creamed corn, vine-ripened tomatoes, squash and okra. If you watch the salt and fat – and include a skillet of cornbread! – you would be hard-pressed to find a meal as nutritious, delicious and inexpensive to produce.

4-H was built on the tradition of providing the people with that sort of meal. 4-H Corn Clubs and Tomato Clubs were direct precursors of the JMG program, and they had a direct and crucial impact on Alabama families. It was through 4-H youth that Cooperative Extension taught small farmers the values of scientific farming. Superstition and folklore were overcome by techniques like crop rotation and the safe uses of pesticides and herbicides.

New Brockton Junior Master Gardeners plan and plant an ornamental bed in front of their elementary school.

Until fairly recently, it seemed most Alabama families had a small garden patch. Long summers, ample rainfall and rich soil literally put food on our tables. In days-gone-by, it made good economic and culinary sense to have at least a few tomato plants in the backyard. It still makes good sense, and although we have very few reasons to doubt the reliability of American food production, you always know homegrown is just as safe as you make it.

We would all agree there is something fundamentally good about "getting your hands dirty" by working in the garden. Gardening is a means for our increasingly-urban kids to regain contact with the earth, and the rituals and cycles of agriculture. Issues like climate change, drought and global food production become much more meaningful when you have tended your own watermelon vine or picked your own eggplant.

Pond building and planting at St. James School in Montgomery requires “hands-on” labor. It’s part of the 4-H tradition.

We believe that "If it isn’t fun, it isn’t 4-H," so JMG provides fun and creative activities. Like everything else in 4-H, the purpose of the JMG program is to help develop Belonging, Independence, Generosity and Mastery (our "BIG M").

Belonging is built on team projects sharing both the labor and the rewards. Young gardeners also get a sense of belonging to the larger community, often working in inter-generational activities where older youth or adults serve as mentors or guides.

Independence comes with the satisfaction of individual learning and success along with personal pride and responsibility.

Generosity is seen in good deeds like sharing your flowers and fruits or by teaching younger kids skills you have learned. The JMG program incorporates service learning and volunteerism, allowing young people to make a positive contribution to Alabama communities.

The Mastery of science, horticulture and agronomy can have tremendous implications for developing problem-solving, leadership, communications and many other crucial life skills.

Community service is important for Junior Master Gardeners. Making your environ-ment attractive with flowers is an excellent service.

The JMG Program builds youth leaders by using environmental science as a vehicle to develop academic skills, character education and service learning. It enhances reading, writing, science and math skills through "hands-on" and applied learning. It provides certification and recognition for youth when they attain their personal goals. In a state which is a national leader in childhood obesity and diabetes, JMG can also play an important role in improving youth health and nutrition through gardening and nutrition education.

The program works through schools, volunteers, cooperative extension networks and other youth organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs. The training is closely aligned to Alabama academic standards, so a growing number of teachers have been trained in the JMG curriculum and are bringing it to their classrooms.

Are you interested in starting a JMG group? The JMG leader does not have to be a Master Gardener. If a JMG leader needs garden resources and information, they can contact me or their local county Extension service for gardening support. You will need to identify a group of youth to participate. The program is flexible and can be offered to many different groups and in many different settings. A JMG group must have a minimum of five youth. An important step is to register your JMG group. I will be glad to walk you through this simple process.

Who can participate in JMG? JMG is a project of the 4-H program. However, the strength of the JMG program is its flexibility. We do not restrict who can participate. Most groups are associated with a school or home school group. JMG is also used as a part of many traditional youth clubs like 4-H, Boy/Girl Scouts, YMCA and faith-based groups. In addition, public and botanical gardens, children’s museums and libraries typically have great educational environments and are using JMG in their programming. JMG is a great match to these groups and an excellent educational outreach program for youth.

Luci Davis is an Alabama JMG Coordinator and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">

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