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July 2010

Entrepreneurial Spirit Adds Value to This Family Farm

John Locker in the garden.

by Suzy Lowry Geno

When John Locker was growing up on his father’s dairy farm just outside of Florence, he was always working on inventions which he hoped would lessen the labor and improve profits.

It was only when the young entrepreneur began trying to develop a Perpetual Motion Machine that the elder John finally put his foot down.

Now, after obtaining a civil engineering degree from Christian Brothers University and working and traveling in more than 40 countries in the petroleum and energy business, John continues that entrepreneurial spirit back on the family’s 300 acre farm.

As President of Xton Corporation, which is physically based at the farm, John oversees the selling and distribution of Hay Gards and Turf Gards, which he laughingly explained gives him the capital to continue experimenting with other ideas, some which spring from those original products like dominoes falling in a row.

Put Garden Gards over grass and you have an instant garden.

Hay Gards are both "breathable and water-resistant," with John noting that when the hay is stacked "it sheds water much like a duck’s back. At the same time it is so breathable you can hold two layers over your mouth and still breathe through it."

The Turf Gards use a similar one-layer fabric and are used to protect golf greens at some of the country’s most recognizable courses (like Augusta) as well as to cover soccer and football fields.

When John’s mother, Alice, who still also lives on the farm, decided a few years ago she wanted to continue with her productive garden, John was tied up farming and taking care of 200 heifers.

He used one of the Hay-Gards, placed it directly down on an area of lawn complete with weeds and grass, used a branding iron to make holes for the plants and discovered by accident what may be one of his most useful ideas.

"At that moment I just didn’t have time to help her with the garden," he explained. "But with this, she didn’t need any help."

Lucy Crosby, John’s sister, demonstrates that using the Garden Gards allows you to garden even in white pants!

That prototype, Garden Gards, has been down now for more than ten years.

When John’s sister, Lucy Crosby, and her husband retired to the farm to live with Alice, the garden size was increased to 50 x 50 ft.

Lucy had just picked butter-beans as this article was being written and noted "how easy" it is. "I just sat down on the garden mat and scooted along and didn’t even get my pants dirty."

John noted even after a usual rain, you can sit or kneel on the mat and not get wet or muddy while completing your garden work.

One of the mats is currently being tested through the Southern Gardening program at Mississippi State.

"They realized the potential for its use with elderly and handicapped gardeners as well," John explained.

"With more people realizing the importance of having even small home gardens because of the costs of transporting food and the importance of knowing the quality and safety of your food, these mats can make gardening a lot easier for the beginner and for the established gardener."

John recommended placing the mat on your garden plot in the fall so all grass and weeds will be killed before the upcoming gardening season, although you can just "throw the mat down and plant."

Alice Locker, John’s mother, finds it easier to enjoy the vegetable garden with the help of the Garden Gards.

"I’ve covered Bermuda grass and it killed it," he noted.

"I don’t even recommend tilling the ground first. You can put it over tilled ground but you need it as flat as possible."

John will sell the now-manufactured Garden Gards in 6 x 12 feet sizes and larger. He will also custom burn the triangular-shaped planting holes. (After you harvest your crops and then pull up the plants, you fold the material back over the holes to make sure no unwanted weeds germinate there before the next growing season.)

The Garden Gards can last from 10 to 20 years with little upkeep. John said you might want to remove it every three or four years and spread compost evenly over the site and then immediately recover it.

John is particular about the quality of the fabric. It was made in the United States until two years ago when most weaving machines moved out of the country. He has traveled to India and other countries to assure quality control.

A couple of years ago, John developed Body Chillers, which are strange-looking jackets which can keep firefighters, football players and others cool while in dangerous heat situations. He worked with Auburn University to develop that technology.

He’s also working with folks at Auburn to help design a machine that will climb trees AND de-limb them, featuring a chain saw on a robotic arm. This would be a boom to the pine logging industry and others, if it can be safely developed AND wouldn’t be cost prohibitive.

John doesn’t feel like he’s straying from his farm background by developing so many products while living on the multigenerational farm.

When he first graduated college, he worked in the Gulf oil field areas briefly before moving overseas, around the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

While there, the company he worked for had set a platform for a gas well which caught fire and burned about a year. That company moved a jack-up, a rig about a mile away, drilled and intercepted the other well, putting mud and cement in it to stop the leak, similar to what they are attempting in the Gulf of Mexico now.

But what John explained is different is that in the Arab world they were working in about 150 feet of ocean while the problem in the Gulf requires working at a depth of about 5,000 feet, causing tremendous problems.

A sweet potato plant placed in one of the openings in the Garden Gards.

"It is just extremely complicated there," John explained.

After working in the drilling and energy industry, John came back to the family farm and built a home. His father’s health was failing and John stayed on to assist.

John’s father later passed away, but by then John was back firmly established on family soil.

Many of his family members had been instrumental in forming Alabama Farmers Cooperative and Lauderdale County Co-op, including his uncle, Alex Blocker.

John buys almost all his plants and seed from the Lauderdale County Co-op and counts Manager Reggie Shook as one of his biggest supporters, both on the farm and concerning his inventions.

John noted some of the products he’s developed, like the Body Chillers, still haven’t "taken off," because they are "just not pretty."

"They’re a success engineering-wise, but not market-wise," he noted.

But the success of the company’s Hay Gards and Turf Gards give John leeway as he thinks up new ideas.

"Sometimes some of the most important discoveries happen by accident," he noted.

More information on any of Xton’s products can be obtained by phoning (256) 766-2091 or by e-mailing

Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer who lives on her family farm in Blount County. She can be reached through her website at

4-H Has It “Going On” During Summer Months

What could be a better part of summer camp than canoeing on Lay Lake? It requires teamwork and the development of new skills – and it’s fun!

by Chuck Hill and Amy Payne Burgess

In 4-H, we often suggest some of the best things we can offer children are experiences they would not otherwise have had. For some kids, that means a trip to an aquarium or a university campus. For others, it can mean something Alabamians of previous generations considered their birthright: a chance to wade in a creek, hike through a forest or walk along our beautiful Alabama beaches. And to those of us who are a little more worldly, it is sometimes surprising to realize how many of our kids have never been away from their home communities and for whom a visit to a mall or the county court house is an amazing new experience.

Did you go to 4-H summer camp when you were young? In the summertime, Alabama 4-H still offers tremendous, enriching new opportunities to young people. 4-H Summer Camp is a safe and nurturing environment where kids (and Mom and Dad) often test their independence through those first nights out from under protective parental wings. The summer camping program at the state-of-the-art Alabama 4-H Youth Development Center on Lay Lake provides a low-cost mixture of education and adventure. It introduces many young people to Alabama’s outdoors. Camp gives kids a chance to meet new friends, challenge themselves and learn in the great "hands-on" tradition of 4-H.

Catching crawfish should be a part of every Alabamian’s childhood experience. This young lady in St. Clair County could be looking at something for the Clover Classroom’s science lab or the classroom’s gumbo pot.

Young people compete in 4-H events ranging from eXtreme Birdhouse to Chicken-Que. What says summer more than the smell of barbecued chicken?

Summer is the time when 4-H club members gather for regional round-ups and for our State Competitive Events Day. Competition allows young people to demonstrate their level of knowledge and mastery against their peers, and these regional and state events can help young people build their self-assurance and test themselves. Contemporary round-ups also have an educational aspect matching fun with learning in the best 4-H tradition.

Every county 4-H program provides day camps and special events helping young people productively fill those long, summer hours. For Cleburne County, that includes June’s 4-H Red Cross Babysitting Course and the Cooking School held in July. As a university-based educational youth development program, we are well aware students traditionally lose ground during the summer when school is out. Research indicates out-of-school time programs can make a difference.

With that in mind, St. Clair County 4-H created their Clover Classroom. For the past five years, county youth have participated in great workshops. This year’s topics include archery, culinary arts, sport fishing and a GPS scavenger hunt. There is even a Road Trip to Auburn so the kids can get a sense of what life is like on a college campus. With the involvement of volunteer leaders and the support of community partners, the Clover Classroom is a great example of how 4-H allows children to learn and have fun while avoiding the proverbial "summer learning slump."

With our ongoing initiative to assist Alabama’s military families, this year we have offered three great camps for military youth. Fort Clover is our largest and oldest camp. For a full week, Fort Clover hosts 120 children of deployed members of our armed forces for a full week at the 4-H Center. Camp We Can is a unique and amazing summer opportunity for military families who have children with special needs, including not only the special needs youth, but engaging the full family. Our third military summer camp is Camp Amazing Race. This four-day camp is designed especially for teens, involving 50 older youth in learning teamwork, creativity and problem-solving.

A great new opportunity for youth ages 9-13 is our Youth Leadership Conference is August. The Conference, held at the 4-H Center near Columbiana, emphasizes service and personal growth.

Yes, somewhere people can say: "Summer time, when the living is easy…." In 4-H, there are many more adjectives that come to mind: exciting, fun, instructive and, sometimes, a little bit strenuous. But no matter the event or activity, 4-H ultimately provides young people with experiences we hope are enriching and rewarding for them. We hope you will encourage young people to participate in those experiences. If you share our commitment to Alabama’s young people, we also hope you will turn that commitment through service as a 4-H club leader or volunteer. Talk with your county Extension office about how you can "make the best better."

Chuck Hill is the 4-H Youth Development Specialist.

Amy Payne Burgess is a 4-H Regional Extension Agent in Northeast Alabama. She may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">

Alabama School Teams Finish Big in National Archery Championship

Ashville Middle School Archery Team won the Middle School Division at the NASP Championship. Members are Jeremy Stewart, Lacey Shiflett, Sebrina Colvin, Caleb Wise, Sam Howard, Hunter Roberts, Nikki Moss, Sam Sager, Selena Chacon, Kylia Cook, Kyle Marcrum, Crimson Self, Ryan Whisenhunt, Autumn Urban, Corey Butts, Zack Smith, Haley Vining, Jessica Sybert, Tabitha Tucker, Chase Roberts, Erin Smith, Jordan Clifton, Jordan Oubre, Robby Griffith. Their coach is Jeremy Cox and Gary Moody (far left), assistant director of wildlife at ADCNR, was present to present the award.

The Ashville Middle School Archery Team recently brought home top honors in the National Archery in the Schools (NASP) Championship held in Louisville, KY, on Friday, May 7, 2010. The students scored 3,378 out of a possible 3,600 points and placed first out of 106 middle school teams. Ashville qualified for the national championship when they won the middle school state title in Birmingham in April.

Also taking top honors were ninth grader Stephanie Whisenant from Ashville High School, who tied for first place in the Individual High School Female Division; and tenth grader Joshua Clarke of Alma Bryant High School (Irvington), who tied for second place in the Individual High School Male Division. Both Stephanie and Joshua shot a near perfect 296 out of a possible 300 points.

Alabama was represented by 16 teams from 11 different schools at the national event. Alabama schools placing in the top five in team competition include: Ashville Middle School, first place, Middle School Team Division; Breitling Elementary (Grand Bay), second place, Elementary School Team Division; and the Alma Bryant and Ashville High School teams placed fourth and fifth place respectively in the High School Team Division.

Individual Alabama students who placed in the top ten include:

  • Nathan Owens, Ashville High, 6th, High School Division, Male.
  • Jeremy Stewart, Ashville Middle, 7th, Middle School Division, Male.
  • Ryan Whisenhunt, Ashville Middle, 6th, Elementary School Division, Male.
  • Miles Wilson, Breitling Elementary, 7th, Elementary School Division, Male.
  • Tabitha Tucker, Ashville Middle, 4th, Elementary School Division, Female.
  • Jessica Sybert, Ashville Middle, 4th, Elementary School Division, Female.
  • Bailey Felps, Breitling Elementary, 9th, Elementary School Division, Female.

More than 7,000 students from 33 states and one Canadian province were represented at this year’s national tournament. Scoring for the championship is based on Olympic style, target archery in three divisions: elementary, middle and high school. Competition included team and individual levels. NASP archery is a co-gender sport with every team required to contain boys and girls.

The NASP was founded in Kentucky in 2002 and has since spread around the country. The program was introduced in Alabama in 2003, and approximately 202 Alabama schools participate in the NASP program. In Alabama, the NASP is a joint venture between the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division and the Alabama Department of Education.

The program promotes participation in the lifelong sport of archery as part of a school’s physical education course and after-school programs. The NASP program can also be included as a unit or activity in the Lifelong Individualized Fitness Education (LIFE) course as part of the Alabama Course of Study. The program meets the criteria of one credit for physical education required for high school graduation.

Another “Redneck” Test Passed

by Lisa Hamblen Hood

The comedian, Jeff Foxworthy, has built a career with his famous line, "You might be a redneck if…." There are lots of those tests that have hit me close to home, like "You might be a redneck, if your child’s first pet is a chicken." I never thought that was unusual at the time…

Our kids have experienced some wonderful adventures they’d never have known had they lived in town. Some of those unique ways to have fun include: wallowing in our muddy driveway when a long drought finally broke, making tunnels in a truckload of warm cottonseed, taking a refreshing dip in the horse water trough, catching grasshoppers to feed their pet chickens, riding in a feed trough tied to a back of a truck while their dad moved it to another pasture and using the bathroom out in the woods when they couldn’t make it to the house.

I know my city friends would laugh if they knew I’d stopped in the middle of a dirt road coming home from school one time to catch a red-eared turtle crossing the road. My 11-year-old son just had to have it.

"Mom," he said, "you promised we’d stop and catch one, the next time we saw one."

Not wanting to disregard the integrity of my word of honor, I backed up and got out.

We scooped up the muddy reptile in a Wal-Mart bag. He scratched and clawed and thrashed in that plastic bag all the way home. We examined it when we got back and decided it’d be happier living in the wild — thank goodness! I’d always thought turtles moved slowly, but after spending some panicky moments confined in a bag, that one scrambled off lickety-split toward the nearest creek. I’m pretty sure that would earn us lifetime status as "rednecks" right there.

Last summer, in between camps and visits to grandparents’ houses, there was a momentary lull. (God-forbid we’d have a minute of down time!) There had been a big hatch out of those emerald-green dung beetles. They buzzed around the water troughs in the shady horse pens and zipped by our heads like little kamikaze planes. My son decided it might be fun to catch some of those bugs and play with them. His dad told him how he used to tie a thread around one of their legs and watch them fly around as he held on to the other end.

After a few failed attempts, my boy finally caught one with a butterfly net and brought it to his daddy in a Mason jar. They spent the next hour trying to gently tie a length of fine dental floss to one of the beetle’s legs.

What happened next was delightful: a 12-year-old kid outside, enjoying some old-fashioned country fun — not messing with an iPod or a handheld computer game — but watching a tethered dung beetle fly in countless circles around his head while he stood atop the brick barbecue pit. It looked like a tiny motorized kite or toy airplane as it buzzed by him.

I’m sure my father, had he lived to see that moment, would have really enjoyed the sight. I smile now, remembering that incident, not just because of the cuteness of watching our boy have such a good time, but also the camaraderie he developed with his dad that day.

Hopefully he is learning that living in the country has its own unique diversions. I hope he will remember that day, too. Maybe when he has a son, he’ll remember how to catch a dung beetle and how to employ the precise floss-tying technique. If so, he and my grandson can enjoy one of the many simple pleasures of growing up in the country.

Lisa Hamblen Hood lives near Priddy, Texas, where she teaches English, Art and Spanish. E-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">

Aquafarm Raises Shrimp in the Salty Waters of Greene Co.

David Teichert-Coddington holds a bag of frozen shrimp raised at Green Prairie Aquafarm. The shrimp are available year-round at his Boligee farm.

Fresh Seafood Produced 150 Miles from the Nearest Coast

by Mary-Glenn Smith

From the road, the ponds sitting off to the side of Highway 43 in Boligee look just like a catfish farm. It’s not uncommon to see a catfish farm while traveling through the southern part of the state, since Alabama is the second largest catfish producing state in the country behind Mississippi. But when travelers pass Green Prairie Aquafarm they will quickly notice this is not a catfish farm at all.

At the entrance of this Greene County farm, a wooden sign painted yellow sits near the road with red and black letters exclaiming "SALTWATER POND-RAISED SHRIMP HERE."

Saltwater shrimp? A passerby might do a double-take and check to see if the sign was read correctly. Most people think fresh, saltwater shrimp in Alabama just comes from the Gulf of Mexico. But the truth is you can get fresh shrimp 150 miles from the nearest coast.

The sign at the entrance of Green Prairie Aquafarm advertises the saltwater shrimp available for sale on the farm.

David Teichert-Coddington owns and manages a farm that produces and sells 170,000 pounds of saltwater shrimp a year. Many people might be surprised to know there is even saltwater in the state outside of the Gulf, but there is.

"There are two saltwater wells on the farm that are 650-680 feet deep," Teichert-Coddington said. "There is only salty water in this area; we don’t have any fresh water around here."

Teichert-Coddington is originally from Western New York, but moved to Auburn in 1980 to attend school at Auburn University. After graduation in 1986, he went to work at the University in the fisheries department. While he was working with the state Extension specialist for aquaculture in Auburn, a couple of men approached him with the idea of trying to see if shrimp would grow in the salty water of Greene County.

"I had worked with shrimp for ten years and I thought it would work," Teichert-Coddington recalled.

So, in 2001, he began the first and only aquaculture farm in Alabama strictly dedicated to shrimp production.

"A few other farms around here have some shrimp, but it’s mostly catfish farmers who only have a small pond or two of shrimp," he explained. "But we are the only one in the state that actually makes a living doing it."

Large ponds at the Green Prairie Aquafarm are used to grow saltwater shrimp.

Green Prairie Aquafarm consists of 54 acres of ponds. There are 17 earthen ponds going all around the large farm. The ponds range in size from 1.1 to five acres, the largest ones sit nearest the road.

Teichert-Coddington gets the post-larval shrimp from two different disease-free hatcheries in the United States. One of the hatcheries is located in the Florida Keys and the other is near Brownsville, TX. When the shrimp arrive, they are only about 12-days-old and very small.

"They are about half the size of mosquito larvae," Teichert-Coddington described the post-larval shrimp. "We bring them in and have to acclimate them to our salinity because the salinity of the water we get them from is near seawater strength, about 30 parts per 1,000, and ours is about 3.5 parts per 1000. We have to acclimate them down to our salinity and it takes several days.

"We put them in large tanks in a greenhouse and salt the water up to about 30 parts, or whatever the salinity is we are bringing them in at. Then we slowly add our pond water to that water to bring it down to our salinity."

The ponds around Green Prairie Aquafarm are stocked with the small shrimp in May. The shrimp are fed daily and stay in the ponds for four-and-a-half to five-and-a-half months. By the middle of September, the shrimp harvest begins.

"We harvest from the middle of September all the way through October. We hope to have everything out by the end of October, because it gets cold and these are warm water animals," Teichert-Coddington said. "If we keep them in the pond they will die."

To bring in the shrimp, he uses a "harvest machine."

"Basically it’s a big centrifugal pump which we put at the drain site and we have a big discharge pipe; the machine pumps the water and shrimp up on shore," Tiechert-Coddington explained the harvest process. "The water is discharged from the center and the shrimp come out the side.

"We pull trailers up underneath with a scale, weigh the shrimp and put them in big, insulated totes and layer them in ice. We send them to a processing plant in Mobile and have them custom-packed there. Or we bring them in and sell them fresh on the farm."

Green Prairie Aquafarm sells shrimp year-round on the farm. They offer three sizes of shrimp for customers to choose from: medium, large and jumbo. The price varies by the size of the shrimp.

"The shrimp being locally-produced is our main selling point," Teichert-Coddington said. "We have a hard time competing against imported shrimp because they can produce it a lot cheaper than we can."

In addition to selling shrimp directly from the farm, Teichert-Coddington makes a regular run to Birmingham to sell the shrimp.

"We have several stores around Birmingham we sell to and a number of restaurants that use them," he said. "We deliver to them once a week."

The shrimp farm also has a contract with the Whole Foods Market located on Highway 280 in Birmingham.

"The market uses a lot of locally-produced food and we are one of their local vendors," Teichert-Coddington said. "They have fairly stringent regulations at the market."

"You have to produce the shrimp using a certain kind of feed; you can’t use certain kinds of products in the feed. You can’t use chemicals. We don’t do that; we have an all-natural product."

From November to May, when the shrimp aren’t in the ponds, Teichert-Coddington spends his time selling shrimp and maintaining equipment around the farm.

For more information on shrimp and Green Prairie Aquafarm in Boligee, visit

Mary-Glenn Smith is a freelance writer from Snead.

Be Efficient in the Outdoors With These Tips for Saving

A 140-gallon stock tank holds everything from camping supplies to gravel.

by John Howle

"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Thomas A. Edison

Many of us are looking for opportunities in today’s economic climate to make our farms more productive, hunting for ways to stretch the food dollar and conserving in ways to cover shortfalls. Hopefully, this July, you can use these tips to provide productivity while you are in the outdoors working or playing.

Put Stock in Stock Tanks

Polypropylene stock tanks used for watering cattle make great storage bins for pickup beds. The oval, 140-gallon models will fit between the wheel wells of a full-sized, short bed pickup allowing the tailgate to be closed even with a toolbox attached to the front of the bed. I’ve used my tub for watering cattle in drought times, used it for a brood-rearing area for baby chicks, a swimming pool for my children during the hot summer and keeping rolls of barbed wire and propane tanks from bashing into my truck bed.

The tanks are also useful for hauling hunting and camping supplies, and hauling gravel to fill potholes in access roads in pastures and hunting areas. The tub will hold close to a ton of gravel. The sturdy sides allow you to fill the tank to the top and simply shovel out gravel until the tank is empty keeping the pickup bed free of scratching gravel.

An exclusion cage will tell you precisely how much forage chickens are eating and when it’s time to hold them off the grazing to allow forage to catch up.

Grazing Chickens

One way to stretch your food dollar is with home-raised chickens. I have a fenced in area approximately a half-acre planted in clover, oats and fescue. The four-foot tall fence consists of field fence (hog wire) lined with chicken wire. Simply crop the feathers off one of the chicken’s wings and the fence should keep them in.

The chickens get much of their food intake from green forage, and the remainder comes from bugs and worms found while scratching in pine straw and under leaves. The only feed I give them is in the late afternoon to lock them into the roosting pen at night. I use a small exclusion cage placed in the middle of the plot of clover and grasses to determine how much forage the chickens are eating.

To make the exclusion cage, I simply rolled a piece of dog wire into a circular hoop and secured it with a piece of rebar driven into the ground. This allows me to determine how much the chickens are eating because the grass inside the exclusion cage is ungrazed. This makes it easier to tell when it is time to pen the chickens up to allow the forage growth a chance to catch up with grazing.

A Stringer Full

A metal clip fish stringer allows you to keep camping items handy during the campouts.

The metal clip fish stringers are good for more than holding a day’s catch of fish. Around the campsite, the stringer can be secured between two trees to hold various camping items ranging from a lantern, to binoculars, camp tools and flashlights. Keep the lantern attached to the stringer and you can see to remove your camping items from the stringer clips.

Toothpicks for Loose Screws

Kitchen cabinets, wooden ammunition boxes, or other gear storing boxes and cabinets made of wood may have screws holding the hinges that have become stripped from repeated opening and closing. If a screw becomes stripped from the wood, remove the screw, push a toothpick into the screw hole and break it off even with the surface. Pour a drop of wood glue onto the toothpick and twist the screw back into the original hole. The screw will now hold tight.

Predictable Persimmon Tree

Persimmon trees have bark that is dark-colored and deeply-divided into thick, square plates. The reddish-purple fruit is edible and quite tasty when ripe. In Alabama, the fruit ripens from late-August to late-September.

Now is the time to locate these trees on your hunting property. During July, the tree limbs will be heavy laden with fruit. The fruit draws wildlife like raccoons, deer, fox, hogs, opossums and coyotes. Deer can be seen standing on their hind legs eating the fruit not yet fallen.

Sites with persimmon trees are one of the best places to hunt. Every year when the fruit is ripe, I often see coyotes eating persimmon fruit. I use this to my advantage when keeping the coyote population in check. Once they become ripe, you’ll see very little fruit on the ground because the wildlife know it’s "first come, first serve."

Look for persimmon fruit in July because they attract wildlife.

In addition to serving as a congregation spot for wildlife, the wood of the persimmon tree has many uses. For years, the wood was used in golf club heads. Wedges used to be cut from the tree and baked in the oven to remove moisture and harden the wood. These persimmon wedges were hard enough to effectively split firewood or fence posts. Persimmon wood was also used for handles in hand tools.

No Broken Eggs

A discarded plastic jar is an ideal item for holding eggs for a campout. This prevents breaking eggs while transporting them. Simply crack the eggs, pour the contents into the jar and keep the jar in the fridge until you are ready to use them. Just pour out the amount of eggs and yolks you want to fry.

A plastic jar will hold the egg yolks and whites, thus preventing them from getting crushed in transportation to the campout.


Opportunities come in many forms, and even though they may be dressed in overalls and look like work, when taken, they pay off in dividends that money can’t buy. Teaching youth the value of a strong faith and work ethic, the importance of the search for wisdom and the idea that the most-valuable things achieved are the ones they have to work the hardest to attain are values I hope Alabama’s families continue to hand-down to future generations. Let’s work together to provide opportunities for those who don’t mind a little hard work and who like to use ingenuity.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.

Build Rain Gardens to Hold Run-off, but Not for Long

Rain Garden Before

By Jerry A. Chenault

Want to help improve your landscape while also helping provide sustainability for our environment? Sure you do! One way you can do that is with a rain garden! Rain gardens increase water infiltration back into the earth (rather than run-off and erosion) while cleaning up the water before it goes into our lakes and streams! It’s a win/win thing!

If this is your first real introduction to rain gardening, you’ll need to know rain gardens impact watershed management as well as water quality. That’s a good thing! Complicated? Not really. A rain garden is basically a shallow depression in a landscape capturing water and holding it for a short time to reduce downstream flooding. Notice, I did say a "short" time, so get the swamp or pond scene right out of your mind! It is not there!

Rain Garden After

To build a rain garden, you’ll want to look for an area that holds water or where water runs from downspouts or driveways and sidewalks. You’ll want to avoid those "mushy" areas where water stands most of the year. Soggy areas like that can be made into an entirely different thing – crawfish ponds. Just kidding! Those can be made into wetland areas. Be sure to watch out for septic systems, field lines, gas lines, cables, etc., in your site selection.

Dr. Cathy Sabota, Urban Extension Horticulturist, provides some additional information on testing your site and sizing your rain garden.

The next step is to test the water-holding capacity of the soil. Dig a hole in the middle of your site about one-foot deep and one-foot wide. Fill the hole with water. If it takes less than 12 hours to drain, you can plant a regular rain garden. When the drain time exceeds 36 hours, your site is considered a wetland. But if it drains in less than 36 hours but more than 12 hours, you will have to zone your rain garden (add-in high spots or mounds).

Rain Garden Before

Sizing the rain garden. For water quality, the rain garden will need to capture a depth of six inches. Water should get in easily and, in the case of larger storms dropping more than one inch, the water needs to overflow into the lawn area without causing damage or erosion. If you will be collecting water from the downspouts, calculate the square feet of the area of the roof served by those downspouts. You may be adding your driveway, as well. Measure or pace off the driveway and sidewalks draining into the rain garden. Add the square feet from the roof area, driveway and sidewalks, and divide by 20. That will give you the area requirements for a garden water-depth of six inches. Divide the area figure by ten instead of 20 for a three-inch-deep rain garden. If, for example, the first floor area of your home is 1,800 square ft and you plan to collect water from gutters serving a quarter of the roof area, your calculation would be: 1,800 sq ft X ¼ = 450 sq ft/20 = 22.5 sq ft or a four-and-a-half ft by five ft garden that will hold six in. of water would be sufficient.

Remember, a rain garden should receive its water at the flush end and the water should move toward a berm (or elevated section) at the other end of the garden. The garden should be dug four to six-inches deep with a slight depression in the center. Hint: Keep the soil you dig out to use later in building the berm! Cover the berm with mulch or grass to prevent erosion.

Rain Garden After

Planting a rain garden isn’t rocket science, but you do want to choose plants tolerant of fluctuations in soil moisture. A plant list is available at Also, remember to plant "high" on the edge of the rain garden or on mounds for plants not as tolerant of the moisture.

Be sure to water your plants regularly (once per week if it doesn’t rain) and to fill your garden with an even coat of mulch, two inches deep.

If you’ll look at some photos of rain gardens, you’ll see they are not only functional and helpful to us and our descendants, but they are also very attractive. Start today to learn more about rain gardens. It’s the smart thing to do!

Jerry A. Chenault is an Urban Regional Extension Agent with The Alabama Cooperative Extension System, New & Nontraditional Programs division.

Corn Time

Cow Pokes

Dakota Missildine is Living Her Dream – Miss Rodeo USA

by Alvin Benn

From the time she first grabbed a saddle horn and slowly comprehended the world around her, Dakota Missildine had one major goal in life — to become Miss Rodeo USA.

Few people ever realize their dreams, but Dakota achieved hers in a spectacular way on Jan. 17, 2010, in Oklahoma City.

That’s when and where she basked in the glow of cheers and applause as she galloped around the huge arena before thousands of spectators at the International Rodeo Finals.

"I was up on a horse the first time when I was three," she said, during an interview with AFC Cooperative Farming News. "Since that time, it’s been my life. I don’t know of any other way to live."

With her crowning, Dakota undertook a major responsibility — one that will continue through the rest of this year until she turns her title over to her successor.

She hasn’t been home much since mid-January because part of her victory entails traveling across the country to represent the rodeo industry.

Dakota Missildine of Montgomery County waves to the crowd in Oklahoma City after being named Miss Rodeo USA. (Photo courtesy of Paul Cain)

Once she gets into "Ruby," her 2004 Dodge 3500 truck, Dakota knows she’ll be driving thousands of miles from one state to another — participating in local and regional rodeos, visiting hospitals, lining up at fish fries and anything else to help promote her favorite sport.

She once spent four days in the Volunteer State where part of the trip included attendance at "the world’s biggest fish fry" in Paris, TN.

"I don’t take my own horse," she said, as customers began to arrive at the Tin Top Café her grandfather, Robert Missildine, has owned and operated for many years. "I ride what they provide and that’s fine with me."

She started out at the age of three on a pony named "Oreo" and gained experience as she grew older. It seemed a natural fit for an athletic girl who would also star on her high school’s basketball and track teams one day.

She began to compete in rodeos at the age of six and quickly won her share of ribbons for first place finishes, especially when it came to barrel racing and pole bending.

Dakota won her first belt buckle at the age of 11 at an event in Greenville and it wasn’t long before a room in her house began to fill with more awards signaling just how good she was and still is.

When her college years arrived, she continued to win in a variety of rodeo events, adding even more awards to what she had already won. She’s lost track of all the trophies, ribbons and belt buckles presented to her, but they easily total more than 100.

Achieving so much at such an early age was part of her dream because she knew hard work was her key to success and she had time to prepare for it.

Other little girls her age fell asleep at night after their mothers read fairy tales to them. Not Dakota. Her bedtime stories involved real rodeo people, not fictional characters.

Dakota Missildine has helped her grandfather, Robert Missildine, around his Tin Top Cafe for many years.

"My mom would read old rodeo magazines to me," she said, referring to Pam Missildine, a divorced mother of three. "From that time on, I just had to compete and I’ve been both thrilled and honored by what I’ve been able to accomplish."

One of her first indelible memories from those bedtime story sessions was learning about Lisa Watson Lance who became one of America’s most acclaimed rodeo performers and, today, is a successful attorney in Oklahoma.

Lance continued as an inspiration for Dakota as she grew older and the impact she’s made has been evident to the woman she idolizes.

"Everyone I have talked with about Dakota has said they fell in love with her Southern charm on impact," Lance said. "She is genuinely nice and brings across a beauty that comes from within and just shines for all to see."

South Montgomery County Academy is a tiny school, but that enabled Dakota to be closer to her friends and classmates, including the other 12 in her senior class.

She was class president, served on the student government association and didn’t have to worry about identities when it came time to deliver her commencement address.

She didn’t need a list of the graduating seniors "because I’ve known them since kindergarten and had no problem with their names, including their middle names."

She didn’t have Troy University (TU) in mind at first because she felt it was too close to home, so she opted for the University of West Alabama (UWA) in Livingston.

The late Don Hines, who was one of Alabama’s top promoters of rodeos, helped launch teams at UWA and, later, at TU, became another inspiration for Dakota.

Dakota and “Ruby,” her 2004 truck, have already traveled thousands of miles this year during her reign as Miss Rodeo USA.

An academic with expertise in business and community development, Hines was also an athlete and experienced rodeo performer in his younger days.

Having Hines in her corner didn‘t hurt Dakota a bit and when she transferred to Troy after one year at UWA, she picked up right where she left off.

"I knew Don Hines before I went to college," she said. "It’s important for people to know how many lives he touched. He certainly became an important person in my life."

Some athletes have difficulty focusing on anything but their sport, but Dakota knows she won’t be a competitive rodeo rider all her life and that’s why she’s also concentrating on her broadcast journalism major at TU.

She is captain of the women’s rodeo team and takes part in breakaway roping, goat tying and barrel racing. She’s also been sports anchor for the Trojan Vision News, a member of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee and has a sparkling grade point average.

Her first stop along the way to Miss Rodeo USA was in Athens where she captured the Miss Limestone Sheriff’s Rodeo title. That put her into the national competition in Oklahoma City where several other contestants sought the same crown.

Dakota took top honors in horsemanship, speech and appearance. Her "Golden Heart" platform showed her altruistic spirit.

"Golden Heart is a program I’ve developed to teach others about opening their heart and living by the Golden Rule — ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’" she said.

Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely was thrilled by Dakota’s victory and said she is "a very classy young woman and we appreciate her serving as our ambassador this year."

"The success of Dakota will help to promote our pageant and will make our entire rodeo more beneficial toward raising funds for equipment and training needs of the sheriff’s office," Blakely said.

One of Dakota’s biggest supporters through the years has been Debra Davis, a magazine editor at Alabama Farmers Federation.

"There aren’t many young people as driven and focused as Dakota these days," Davis said. "I can remember watching her grow up and I always marveled at her competitiveness."

Davis said Dakota has shown a willingness to help others, even those she competes against at rodeo events.

"She was always a good sport and willing to lend a hand to those competing against her," Davis said. "She’s still that way. She’s a great ambassador for the sport of rodeo as well as an inspiration outside of that arena, too."

As a young girl, Dakota made sure she did her part in helping the family, including her two younger brothers — Dallas and Austin — and the Tin Top Café which became her second home.

"I remember working here when I was little," she said, as customers began to fill up the restaurant just south of Montgomery on U.S. 231. "I did about everything — from taking orders to cleaning tables. I can just about run the place if I’m needed."

Her grandfather beams when he thinks of Dakota and can’t wait for her to return from one of her long trips.

"We’re all very proud of Dakota," Robert Missildine said. "We’ve all watched her grow up here and she has done so well in everything she’s tried."

Life is a learning experience and Dakota’s idol believes the new Miss Rodeo USA is getting quite a lesson as she travels the country.

"Even though Dakota got the crown in January, it is pretty neat to watch as she is becoming Miss Rodeo USA more and more each day," Lance said. "She is really making this year hers."

Halfway through her reign, Dakota Missildine is learning each day just what Lance meant.

At the end of her special year, she will receive a $5,000 scholarship which will help pay for her master’s degree studies.

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.


Feeding Facts

by Jimmy Hughes

With an improving cattle market and what appears to be a good market this fall, several cattle producers have weaned or will be about to wean and precondition calves. Most agriculture economists believe weaning and preconditioning your calves will make you money nine out of ten years. The benefits in heavier weights, reduced shrink and a more favorable market for preconditioned calves make this a very viable consideration. If you are considering holding your calves with the possibility of higher prices in mind, let’s discuss a preconditioning program offering more flexibility in marketing your cattle this fall.

A complete preconditioning program will require the producer to meet certain standards feed yards look for when purchasing such cattle. A properly preconditioned group of calves usually has a lower death rate, less sickness, fewer days on feed and better performance in the feed yard over non-preconditioned calves. A proper preconditioning program will include a complete health and vaccination program; management practices like castration and dehorning; 45-day weaning program and calves will be trained to eat from a bunk and drink from a trough. To meet these standards, a producer must carefully plan their program to eliminate as many potential problems as possible.

The first consideration in a preconditioning program is to accept the fact it is time-consuming and there will be bumps in the road along the way. If you make it through the 45-day period without any sickness and no other problems, consider yourself in the minority.

After realizing there will be pitfalls, your next goal will be to have a small area with plenty of shade to wean your calves. You should make sure the pen is well-built and durable to reduce the chance of cattle getting loose. Fresh-weaned calves will put a lot of pressure on a pen; the stronger the pen, the less chance of pulling up and finding your calves are loose and on the run. It is also important to build a pen that is not only durable, but adequate in size, based on the number of cattle being weaned.

I would recommend a smaller area for the first week until you get the cattle comfortable with their surroundings and settled down from the weaning process. A smaller pen will also allow you to keep a closer eye on the cattle initially and will encourage the calves to start on feed in a quicker manner. You should also make sure to provide at least 18-inches of bunk space per calf to allow all calves to get around the bunk.

You also need to provide a clean water source. Do not allow cattle to drink from a pond or creek, but provide them with a water trough so they can learn to drink from such. Producers would be surprised to learn calves that have been drinking from ponds and creeks have a very difficult time learning to drink from a trough.

Finally, in selecting a proper weaning location is to make sure the area is well-drained and offers plenty of shade. Wet, muddy areas offer a lot of problems during the preconditioning program as well as inadequate shade.

The second consideration after pen selection will be nutrition. Cattle need to be started on a palatable and digestible feed. It does not matter how good you think your feed is or how cheap your feed cost, if the calf will not eat it, it will not work. Start the calves on a complete feed providing protein, energy, minerals, vitamins, digestible fiber and is medicated to help reduce any initial respiratory sickness. Feed at the rate of five pounds per head per day along with a high-quality forage source. This high-quality forage will be very beneficial in keeping your cattle full and reducing any digestive disorders during the preconditioning period.

I would also encourage you to consider a low-moisture molasses tub like STIMU-LYX during the initial weaning period. These blocks are very palatable and calves will normally lick these blocks on the first day they are weaned while it may take a couple of days before they readily consume feed.

After your cattle are consuming feed, prepare to feed them at a rate of two percent of their body weight on a daily basis. Keep in mind you will increase the pounds of feed offered to cattle as cattle gain weight during the preconditioning program. Research also indicates most of the weight gain during a preconditioning program occurs from day 30 to day 45 of the preconditioning program. The biggest key to a successful nutrition program is providing a feed that is palatable, nutritionally-fortified and readily accepted by the calf. Again, if a calf will not eat the feed, then it will not help you. I would also encourage you to keep up with feed cost on a cost-per-pound-of-gain basis. What might be your cheapest feed on a ton-basis might be the most expensive feed on a cost-per-pound-of-gain basis.

From a nutrition standpoint, it is important to always provide a complete mineral and vitamin supplement at all times. A good mineral/vitamin supplement will reduce sickness, encourage feed intake and help prevent dehydration if a calf does get sick.

The third consideration is a complete health and vaccination program. A complete health program will require cattle be vaccinated and boostered for blackleg (7-way), IBR, PI3, BRSV and once for pasteurella. Cattle should also be treated for internal and external parasites. Cattle should be vaccinated using standards set forth through The Beef Quality Assurance Program including location of shots and proper handling of vaccines. Also keep in mind some of the cattle will get sick to some degree. Producers who precondition calves should look and walk through cattle at least two times daily to find changes in calves showing a sign of possible sickness. If you do have a calf that gets sick, isolate this calf away from the other calves until the calf gets well. Also, remember a sick calf will not eat and a calf not eating will get sick meaning a proper vaccination and feeding program is essential in a successful preconditioning program.

A final consideration is proper record-keeping. To determine the success of a preconditioning program, a producer must keep detailed records on cost, performance and problems. At the end of the program, detailed records will let you evaluate the success of your program and will offer a way to make changes to improve your future programs.

I would also encourage you to tag and individually identify each calf. This will allow identification of calves that may be showing sickness and will allow you to trace poor performing calves back to their sire and dam for potential culling from your herd.

While a preconditioning program takes a lot of planning and additional work on the part of the producer, it can be financially rewarding. To do this, you must control sickness and death loss along with selecting a feeding program to put weight on your calves at the lowest cost-per-pound-of-gain. While I believe there will always be a place for stockyards, I also realize the cattle industry is evolving and your greatest potential for profit is to provide what the market wants. The market wants cattle that are healthy, ready-to-eat and source-verified, and they are willing to pay additional money for these calves.

Your local Quality Co-op is standing-by ready with products and knowledge in developing a successful preconditioning program. Each Co-op can provide you with fencing supplies, feeders, vaccines, parasite control products, mineral supplements and high-quality feeds to put you on the right track.

If I can help you in developing this program or making recommendations on your feed and health program, please contact me at (256) 947-7886 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">

Jimmy Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist. If you would like to contact him, please feel free to call at (256) 947-7886 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it."> He looks forward to hearing from you or visiting with you in the future.

Haitian Visit a Rich Experience “From Farm to Fork

Overall health of rabbits was much improved due to better management and quality of shelters.

by Robert Spencer

I recently had the pleasure of returning to Haiti. I always enjoy my visits; each is a rich experience. The trip was sponsored by Partners of the Americas, specifically the Farmer to Farmer Program. The Farmer to Farmer Program improves economic opportunities in rural areas of Latin America and the Caribbean by increasing food production and distribution; promoting better farm and marketing operations; and conserving natural resources. The program is supported by Congress and the Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of the United States foreign assistance program. Farmer to Farmer brings together agricultural professionals and practitioners from the U.S. and the Caribbean. Volunteers from the U.S. work with farmers and agribusiness owners in Guyana, Haiti, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic to identify local needs and design projects to address them. Partners is a private, nonprofit, non-partisan organization with international offices in Washington, D.C. For additional program information visit

New rabbitry in a remote village. Toilet tissue had been used to decorate for the grand opening celebration.

This was my third visit to Haiti through Partners of the Americas’Farmer to Farmer Program, prior visits occurred in 2006 and 2008. My most recent visit took place May 9–23. The project I continue working on is the "Haiti Small Animal Project," specifically rabbits and food safety. Rabbit production has become quite popular in Haiti. During this visit, I noticed a great deal of improvement in the small animal production; however, opportunities for progress remain in the areas of food safety standards for all meat products. On this volunteer assignment, I traveled to Cap Haitien, in the north of Haiti, to provide trainings on meat quality and food safety. While there, I conducted two seminars with Haitians involved at all levels of the value chain, "from farm to fork," providing training on the importance of Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) and stressed the importance of meat quality standards for Haiti’s future. Other activities included eight farm visits to rabbitries located in various communities in and around Cap Haitien; a visit to an abattoir (processing facility) for cattle, hogs and goats; and tour of a huge farmers market and two stores. Because I speak no Creole (native language, a variation of French), I generally have one of my associates do the translating during most activities.

Improved facilities and wire cages have significantly improved production.

As you will see from the following report by another volunteer, the scale of rabbit production in Haiti is rather impressive.

Farmer to Farmer supports 790 rabbit production units, five of which are managed by Makouti Agro Enterprises (Makouti) in Northern Haiti. These rabbit production units average 300 rabbits per year, of which 120 are sold, 41 are consumed domestically by the families…. These rabbitries benefit from selling does and bucks (breeders), rabbit meat (fryers), rabbit feet (for keychains) and rabbit skin (to extract glue when appropriately harvested).

Prices for rabbits vary depending on rainy and dry season, but average $3 per pound for fryers in the rainy season to $7.50 per lb. for fryers in the dry season. These price fluctuations are due to the diminished supply and increased production costs during dry seasons when water and forage are less prevalent. The average fryer weighs between three and four pounds. Thus, the average sale for a fryer ranges from $12 to $30. Breeders (rabbits used for starting new rabbit farms) sell on the average for $15 per buck and $20 for does; these prices generally remain constant throughout the year.

At these prices… the average rabbitry at a minimum has the potential to generate gross annual sales of $1,220 per rabbitry. Existing data in the country indicates the average rabbitry generates net sales of $775 per year…

Sweet potato vines have proven to be an ideal food source since grain feed is too expensive to truck into Haiti.

While this may not sound like much money to people in developed countries, in Haiti the per capita income is less than $2,000 per year, so to make net sales of $775 per year is a significant income for most households. I cannot take credit for all the progress that has taken place within Haiti over the past few years, but can savor the fact I played a role along with an array of other experts provided by Partners of America.

I consider these visits to the Caribbean to be a "working vacation." Most of my activities occur with people who are associated with Makouti, a cooperative with 170 members and member groups focused on vegetable production, processed food products, honey, small animals, eggs, root crops and more. Makouti provides marketing services, technical assistance and has established its own label and product line. Their current product line includes honey, chocolate, coffee and jellies. Makouti is a model of development in Haiti being successful where others have failed.

Old style wooden cages hold moisture and disease. These cages are avoided where possible.

During this visit, I learned Makouti had recently run short of meat rabbits to market. Upon further inquiry, their leader explained the problem is twofold: 1) As a gesture of good will during the month of December (prior to Christmas and New Year), they had marked down all meat rabbits to half price, expecting this to ensure people would have some meat product for their families during the holiday; and 2) right after the earthquake in Port Au Prince, when food supplies were running short, Makouti had given away meat rabbits to those in need of food. Once they explained this to me, I better understood and appreciated why meat rabbits were is short supply.

Working with the people of Haiti is an enriching experience, I feel like I gain a significant amount of insight on the country, the people and their culture in comparison to the knowledge I share during seminars and other outreach work. Everyone I work with makes me feel so welcome I feel as if this is my home-away-from-home. Next month I will share more about other aspects of my visit to Haiti.

Robert Spencer is a contributing writer from Florence.

How's Your Garden?

Night-blooming daylilies can make a lovely addition beside a porch or patio. (Photo © G.A. Cooper. USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database. Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution, Department of Systematic Biology-Botany. United States, MD, Belmont Estate.

Night-blooming Daylilies?

I just learned about a couple of daylilies that bloom at night, which makes me wonder, "Where have I been?" A gardening friend, Marty Ross, who writes for various publications, posted a blog about Hemerocallis citrina and Hemerocallis lilioasphodelis. These are tall, night-blooming daylilies with lemony-yellow flowers.

Here is what she said, "The charming blooms are smaller than big hybrid daylilies, with something of the delicacy of wildflowers, and they tend not to open very wide. I believe they are mixed up in the trade, so it’s hard to tell which of the two you are buying — but they both have tall flower scapes (40 to 60 inches) and thrive in full sun or light shade. My pretty Hemerocallis citrina ‘Yao Ming’ came from Tony Avent’s Plant Delights Nursery (in the Raleigh, NC, area). After a couple of years in my garden, it has grown to a handsome clump blooming for weeks. Plant them by a porch or patio where you are most likely to enjoy their flowers and their soft, sweet fragrance. The flowers stay open until mid-morning. So if you miss them in the evening, you can catch them on your way to work."

These daylilies are hardy from zones 3 to 9, so we should be fine. Daylilies are really tough, but if you should decide to order any of these to plant now, be sure to water them until they are established.

Snip the tips of Joseph’s coat to encourage it to branch and fill out.

Baking the Ground on Purpose

Use the sun to help you rid a garden spot of nematodes and disease by baking them out under a sheet of clear plastic. The process traps heat from the sun to kill the pests. Soil solarization depends on sunny weather, so a stretch of cloudy or rainy days could decrease its effects. However, it’s worth a try since the process is simple and chemical-free. To solarize the soil, first be sure to clear the ground of all plants and weeds, because nematodes may live in their roots. Then cover the area with clear plastic, weighing it down with bricks or boards along all sides so it doesn’t fly up. Leave the plastic in place until it’s time to plant again in fall.

Leggy, Leafy Annuals

Sometimes leafy annuals we grow for their beautiful leaves, like coleus, Joseph’s coat stretch up and get leggy, especially as it tries to bloom. You can snip back the tips of the plants to encourage them to branch and fill out through summer. Be sure to water the plants during dry weather and a little liquid plant food to encourage new growth, too.

Be a Butterfly "Investigator"

Recruit the children in your family ages nine to 13 to sign up for WINGS (Winning Investigative Network for Great Science), a partnership between 4-H and scientists to monitor butterflies. They don’t have to be member of 4-H to participate. What they find can help scientists determine the presence or absence of butterfly species by state and county throughout the country to help butterfly scientists better understand their populations. Adults or 4-H leaders can register students at the WINGS website, There is a small cost for a leader’s guide and student guides. This sounds like a great project for family, group of friends or home-schoolers.

Fix Those Yellowing Leaves

Crotons (shown), hibiscus and palms can dress up your patio for a summer event.

Azalea, camellia, gardenia, pyracantha and holly are prone to yellowing leaves for lack of iron in sandy soil and alkaline-limestone soil. Typical signs are leaves with a faded-yellow color while the veins in the leaf remain green. In severe cases, new growth is stunted and almost white. To correct the yellowing, scratch a little chelated iron product like Ironite to the soil around the roots at the rate recommended on the label. You may need to do it again before the end of the growing season. Don’t be tempted to use an iron spray in the heat of summer or it might scorch the leaves. Beware, iron products stain surfaces, so be careful where it falls.

Last Minute Color

Keep tomatoes evenly moist. Drying encourages blossom-end rot.

If you want to dress up your patio for a Fourth of July party or other event quickly, look to tropical plants. By now these plants are big and at their best. Look for crotons, hibiscus and palms in garden centers. You can also look through the houseplant section of your favorite greenhouse garden center because many of these pants will do well in shaded spots outdoors in pots, too.

Keep Tomatoes From Drying Out

Keep the soil around tomatoes evenly moist. If the soil goes from dry to saturated, the skins may crack, which ruins their keeping quality. Drying also encourages blossom-end rot, the condition where the end of the tomato turns soft and brown with rot. If you can put soaker hoses around your tomatoes to get them through dry spells that is ideal. If not, water them using a sprinkler, but do it at sun-up so any foliage already wet from dew will dry out as normal. Water thoroughly so the water soaks down deeply.

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

I Have to Eat There — I Would Love to Eat There Again!!

My Personal Recollection of
Past and Present Good Eatin’

by Joe Potter

It was Saturday near ‘bouts 2 P.M. Joyce and I was a ridin’ in the Polaris cross Potter’s Mud Creek Farm. We were a discussin’ good country vittles. I had just offered her a special "Thank You" for some fine noon-day vittles of a smothered pork chop bake (Vidalia onions, sliced potatoes, mushroom soup), fried okra and corney-corn bread, with strawberry shortcake for dessert.

Our discussion continued ‘bout good country vittles, her favorites — mac and cheese, pinto beans, hush puppies, catfish, steak, etc. — and my favorites — her meatloaf and Swiss steak, my green bean casserole, soupy sweet chili, baked ham, steak, omelets, fried squash, green tomatoes and my Daddy "Pop" C.C.’s "best in the world ever" country breakfast. Course there are a few (very few) vittles this Southern country boy will not eat — black-eyed peas, turnip greens.

Actually there are a few vittles Joyce don’t like to eat — carrots, pickles, ribs and cottage cheese, but she purely loves turnip greens and black-eyed peas.

I love to cook myself and the key, for me with cookin’ country vittles or most any foods, is simple recipes with proper seasonin’. Most folk don’t know basic seasonin’ and some folk will eat anythin’ seasoned or not. Actually, as I "think about" vittles and cookin’ today, lots of folk don’t cook on a regular basis, period.

Growin’ up, Heath and Dustin lived off mac and cheese, French fries, skillet corn, hamburgers and chicken fingers. To this day, Heath will take hamburger over steak on any day.

As Joyce and I continued our farm drive, I recollected ‘bout some of my past favorite eatin’ places — Burn’s Mid-City, Singletons BBQ, Woodall’s BBQ, The Fifth Quarter, Whispering Pines, Sparky’s, Gower’s, Fisherman’s Resort, Kent’s, The Townhouse Restaurant, Leon’s, Deenie’s, Princeton’s, Court Street Café, The Blue Goose, Quincy’s, Tina’s Lodge, White Lake, S.D. Most of these eatin’ places have gone with time. A few may still exist, but some, with other folk as with me, only in special memories of great vittles.

Nextly, there is my further recollection of all those places, mostly still operational, I have full anticipation on eatin’ there again as part of my bucket list. In some cases, I plan on goin’ there to fill several more of my buckets. Grace Bishop’s scalloped potatoes and green beans, Bishop’s BBQ, Lloyd’s, The Shrimp Basket, Wintzell’s, Bell Buckle Café, Price’s BBQ House, Mamma Goldberg’s, Good Ole Boy’s, Pick Wick Landing Restaurant, Cracker Barrel Restaurant, Miss Mary Bobo’s, Abe’s Diner, Margarita’s Mexican Grill, Western Sirloin Steak House in Moulton, Oh’Bryan’s, Stanfield’s Steak House, Granny Fish’s, Rolo’s, Dot’s Diner, Russell’s Steak House, Nikki’s, Coldwater Café, Yonah Burger, Dillard House, Blue Willow Inn, O.K. Corral, Barry’s BBQ, Demo’s, and Buffalo’s in Murdo, S.D.

I am sure I failed to pencil down a few of my special favorite eatin’ establishments. Hopefully, I caused a recollection for you of some of your favorite vittles gettin’ places past or present. With me, as for any eatin’, the more folk the merrier. Now, "Are ya’ll hungry?" Then Let’s Eat!!!


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

Independence Day, the Promise of Hope

by Baxter Black, DVM

July 4th. Independence Day in the United States of America; the more it changes, the more it stays the same. Our prosperity, armory diplomacy, generosity and faith in democracy are on display around the world as it has been for a hundred plus years. Iraq has stabilized, but Afghanistan’s kettle still boils; every week the newspaper prints the names of soldiers who have given their lives. Sacrifice…all in the name of freedom.

The span of countries owing the United States, in part, for the independence they enjoy today covers the globe. From the Philippines to Western Europe, to China and South Korea. History also includes the present day citizens of Russia, Japan and Germany who were freed from oppressive regimes. Canada and Mexico live under the shade of our military might.

We, as a nation, seem to be stewing in discontent, recession, terrorist threats, sadistic reality shows, the unending pessimism of the news media and the gloom emanating from Washington, D.C. But underneath the oil fire sitting on top of this American Sea, the majority of us…the 90 percent who didn’t lose our homes or jobs…are busy taking care of ourselves, our neighbors, our friends and our relatives who did take a hit.

Farmers are still going into the field to insure nobody goes hungry. Teachers, public servant bureaucrats, mechanics, bus drivers, handymen, policemen, firemen, hospital workers, plumbers and airline pilots show up to work every day ready to carry their share of the load…and more.

The strength of any country’s productiveness lies in the character, work ethic and compassion of each individual. In countries where individual effort is discouraged, personal responsibility is diminished, and faith in God is disregarded, the incentive to overcome adversity disappears. Countries like that offer the security of a subsistence socialism in trade for the Promise of Hope.

July 4th we celebrate this Promise of Hope. We draw on our historic patriotic roots and our deep American values brought us to this day, through harsh wars and hard times, from Valley Forge to 9-11.

Life is not supposed to be easy. It is supposed to be as good as you can make it. That is the Promise of Hope. It is what makes America great. It’s why immigrants flock to our shores and why we really ARE different. Of the people, by the people and for the people, under God, indivisible.

Put your hand over your heart, bring on the fireworks and hang out Ol’ Glory! It’s the 4th of July and we’re gonna act like it!

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,

Jawbreakers? Just Gobbler Sawtooth Oaks

This mature stand of “Gobbler” Saw-tooth Oaks has trees spaced 25 feet apart.

by John Howle

I recently saw a youngster at a county fair trying to eat a jawbreaker the size of a billiard ball. As the glistening, high-fructose corn syrup ran down his hand, I knew no matter how much he wanted to eat it, he just couldn’t cram it into his mouth. Wild turkeys sometimes face a similar dilemma when trying to eat the larger acorns produced from sawtooth oaks.

The answer for many wildlife managers has been the "Gobbler" Sawtooth Oak. "The ‘Gobbler’ sawtooth oak was released for commercial production in 1986 by the Quicksand, Kentucky, Plant Materials Center after having been evaluated for almost 20 years for its acorn production and growth habit," said John Vandevender, manager of the Appalachian Plant Materials Center in West Virginia which was formerly located in Kentucky. "The sawtooth oak is native to Eastern Asia but was introduced into the Eastern U.S. around 1920. The ‘Gobbler’ variety was released as an improved source of food for wildlife during the fall and winter, and it was selected through roughly 20 years of observation because it was consistently observed to be best with regard to smaller size and higher yields of acorns, early acorn production, and resistance to disease and insects."

A close-up of “Gobbler” saw-tooth acorns.

The Gobbler Variety

Even though the selling point on the "Gobbler" variety has been the production of smaller acorns for wild turkeys, other wildlife benefit from the tree.

"The ‘Gobbler’ variety produces acorns that are five-eighths to three-quarters of an inch in length by one-half to five-eighths of an inch in width as compared with other strains of sawtooth that are up to one and one-fourth inches in length," Vandevender said. "The acorns are eaten by squirrels, deer, grouse and bobwhite quail."

Another consideration when deciding on the variety of sawtooth is the number of acorns produced.

"A pound of ‘Gobbler’ acorns contains about 150 nuts, whereas other larger strains produce only 40 to 80 acorns to the pound," Vandevender explained. "The nuts mature in late August in the South."

Quick Returns

"Gobbler" Sawtooth Oak trees give an added bonus by producing acorns earlier in their maturity than trees like the sawtooth’s relative, the white oak, which takes about 20 to 25 years to begin acorn production.

"The ‘Gobbler’ sawtooth can grow to a height of 70 feet and, on well-maintained, good sites, acorn production begins when the trees are from five to eight years old," Vande-vender said.

A dibble shovel is handy for planting multiple seedlings. Push the dibble shovel into the ground, push forward, drop in the seedling and pack the dirt around the seedling.

The fertile bottomland soil in Quicksand gave positive results with the "Gobbler" sawtooth trees.

"Typically, 15-year-old trees reach a height of 50 to 60 feet and produce an average of 125 pounds of acorns per tree" he said.


For maximum acorn production, Vandevender offered the following suggestions when planting the "Gobbler" Sawtooth Oaks:

"Seedling trees should be planted 20 to 25 feet apart on sites where they can get good sunlight. Plant one to two-year-old seedlings in early spring. To prepare a site for planting, scalp the vegetation from an area at least three feet in diameter. Then, dig a hole just deep enough to allow placing the seedling at the same depth it had been in the nursery bed. In the bottom of the hole, spread a handful of 10-10-10 or equivalent analysis fertilizer and cover with two to three inches of soil.

When placing the seedling in the hole, make sure fertilizer does not touch the roots. Place the seedling in the prepared planting hole, refill with soil and pack lightly to minimize air pockets, and water immediately.

Tree tube protects the young seedling until it grows out the top of the tree tube.

To conserve moisture and reduce weeds, mulch around the seedling with wood chips, sawdust, pine needles, layered newspaper or straw. Watering and mulching at planting are essential for good seedling survival. Keep the site clear of competing vegetation for about two years until the plant becomes well-established."

Even in the South, if there’s an especially hard freeze in the blooming stage, acorn production will be scarce. The question of will it survive and produce acorns depends greatly on your area. Before ordering and planting seedlings, talk with your extension agent to see if "Gobbler" will not only survive but thrive and be healthy acorn producers.

"Gobbler" Sawtooth Oaks need sunlight 75 percent of the day. This means for optimum acorn yields, the seedlings should be planted in open fields or clear, open areas in the forest. Areas where pine trees have been clearcut-harvested work well if there is fertile, well-drained soil and pH levels are within ideal range or close enough to be adjusted with applications of lime.

If you plant the seedlings in open fields, space them in rows 25 feet apart in rows 25 feet wide. This allows a tractor and mower to easily be driven between rows to keep competing vegetation under control. This also makes spraying herbicides easier and keeps travel corridors for wildlife open.

The thin bark of sawtooth oaks can’t tolerate prescribed burning. Control the competing vegetation through mowing or the use of herbicides. For each 100 acres of land, one grove with 10 to 25 trees is recommended.

Protect those seedlings

Make sure the terminal or top bud is facing up in the tree tube.

"Gobbler" seedlings need to be protected until they mature. Deer will browse on the succulent young leaves and stems as the tree grows. Beavers love to chew the bark around young trees. When beavers chew all the way around a sawtooth, this results in the sure death of the tree. This is known as girdling the tree.

It’s a wise investment to use a tree shelter or tree tube around each seedling. This tube simply slides down over the seedling and is anchored with a wooden stake or rebar steel driven into the ground. Be sure the terminal or top bud of the seedling is pointing straight up inside the tube to ensure top growth. These tree shelters help growth during the early stages because they speed photosynthesis by trapping moisture. This raises the temperature and humidity inside the tube much like a greenhouse which speeds growth.

Once the seedling has outgrown the tree shelter, the young tree is still vulnerable to beaver damage. Four-inch drain tubing can be cut vertically and slid around the tree trunk to discourage chewing beavers. Inspect the young trees often during the early stages of growth.

Where to Get "Gobblers"

Your local forestry agent, wildlife biologist or Extension agent can also lead you to local suppliers of the tree. "Gobbler" Sawtooth Oak seedlings are also available through the National Wild Turkey Federation’s Project HELP (Habitat Enhancement Land Program). Call 1-800-THE-NWTF. You can also order "Gobbler" Sawtooth Oak seedlings from Edward Fort Nurseries in Hartsville, SC. Call 1-866-295-TREE or visit them online at With a quick production of acorns that easily fit in a gobbler’s mouth, you’ll be more pleased than a child with a jawbreaker.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.

Madison County Co-op Lends A Hand to Farm Safety Day

Madison County Co-op took part in the Progressive Agriculture Safety Day at the Winfred Thomas Agricultural Research Station in Hazel Green where over 90 11 and 12-year-olds learned important safety lessons while enjoying a variety of activities.

by Grace Smith

Quality Co-op stores are always looking for opportunities to get involved in their communities and few of them could find a more important cause than farm safety. So this May, Madison County Co-op took on the challenge of feeding over 90 at the Progressive Agriculture Safety Day at the Winfred Thomas Agricultural Research Station in Hazel Green.

Madison County Co-op Manager Keith Griffin was up for the challenge and noted the importance of children learning about agriculture and safety.

New Perennial Now Available from BioLogic®

by Austin Delano

There is nothing like seeing a group of whitetail or mule deer grazing in a well-manicured clover or alfalfa field. The satisfaction of watching the herd fill their bellies with some of the most nutritious groceries you can grow is worth all the work you put in. The neon-green glow coming off of a well-fertilized perennial plot in the evenings is as bright as the sun making it grow. We at BioLogic® set out over a year ago to provide food plotters with a new perennial blend, one with the ability to attract deer from miles around as well as provide the ultimate in nutrition throughout the entire year. Enter Perfect Plot.

BioLogic’s new Perfect Plot planted in the fall is very productive with its blend of New Zealand clovers, alfalfa and chicory.

Making up the bulk of the blend are New Zealand clovers, alfalfa and chicory which are, without a doubt, the three most attractive and nutritious perennials available for growing bigger, healthier deer.

Seven different varieties of clover were chosen for their unique ability to provide high-palatability and digestible protein with maximum leaf growth.

The variety of alfalfa used in Perfect Plot is very high in forage yield and has proven to have excellent winter-survival and persistence for individuals who are planting it in the Northern climates as well as superior disease-resistance, diseases which are known to plague those who have tried to establish alfalfa in the Southeast.

Rounding out the perennials in this blend is chicory. The variety of chicory used in this blend is highly-nutritious and incredibly drought-resistant. I had a test plot with this variety that came back strong in the fall after one of the driest and hottest summers on record.

Perfect Plot wouldn’t be perfect without having the ability to not only come back year after year, but also have some highly-attractive annuals for early and late season draw. Austrian Winter Peas are included in the blend for this very reason. Few plants have the early-season draw that winter peas do. Known to many as an "ice cream" plant, winter peas are great for pulling in those deer for early bow season.

To complete this exciting new planting is a couple varieties of field proven New Zealand brassicas. These were included in the blend to give your plot the late season appeal when the really cold weather sets in and the snow begins to fall.

Preparing a field for Perfect Plot should be like any other for our small seed blends. Start by cultivating the ground either by discing, tilling or plowing. Next your seedbed should be firmed up by culti-packing or with multiple passes of a smooth drag. Finally, broadcast seed and cultipack again or lightly drag. Broadcasting Perfect Plot onto a well-prepared seed bed just prior to a rain should also bring an excellent stand.

Fertilizer recommendations for this blend would be 400 lbs per acre of BioLogic® premium pH fertilizer or 300 lbs per acre of 13-13-13. Fertilizer would be most beneficial incorporated into soil before the first cultipacking, but can be applied anytime.

Perfect Plot should provide years of high-quality food for the herd with a little care and maintenance. The clovers, alfalfa and chicory in this blend were chosen for their track record of being very hardy varieties with great longevity. Mowing is a great way to control weeds and also thicken the plot by cutting off seedheads and encouraging growth. I would suggest mowing around six-eight inches tall, or about 1/3 of the plot’s height. Perfect Plot will respond well to mowing during the cooler part of the growing season; when the weather turns hot and dry it would benefit the plot to not mow and let the plants produce seedheads. With normal rainfall you can expect to mow your plot at least three times through the spring and summer.

Herbicides are also sometimes needed to keep unwanted grasses from taking over. A grass selective herbicide like Select, Poast or any generic brands using clethodim or sethoxydim as the only chemical is very effective at controlling grasses in legumes. When grasses are young and growing rapidly, spray at a rate of eight oz. per acre with a quart per acre of added crop oil. If grasses are left to mature and make seedheads, herbicide application will not be very effective. In this case, the plot should be mowed first to encourage new growth from the grasses and then sprayed. Herbicides will work best when the plants are in a non-stressed state, spraying can be a waste of time during hot weather and drought.

For those who are planting in the Northern Zone, Perfect Plot will do best planted in the early spring/summer. Frost seeding in the late winter/early spring should also produce a great stand. Fall plantings of Perfect Plot in the Northern Zone would not be recommended since the perennials would not have adequate root systems established to survive the harsh winter.

Food plotters in the Transitional Zone should do best with either spring or early fall plantings. Plots planted in the fall should be in at least 45 days prior to a frost. Frost seeding should also work well in this region.

Southern Zones should only be planted in the fall. Spring plantings of perennials in the South rarely do well because of a lack of root development before hot and dry weather arrive.

Austin Delano is a Territory Manager with BioLogic®.

Peanut People

Pike Co. Couple’s Gardening Habit in Full Bloom

Barbara and Dwight Ward of the Josie/Enon community in Pike County have transformed a blight area into a garden wonderland. He is a teacher and former coach at Pike Liberal Arts School in Troy and she is in private business.

by Jaine Treadwell

Dwight and Barbara Ward have an incurable disease. It’s called gardening.

They contracted it about 10 years ago and it’s getting worse. During the winter months, the disease seems to be under control, but, with the first hint of spring, each has a full-blown case again.

Barbara said the gardening disease can be traced to South Florida.

"We were both born in the rural Pike County area, but moved with our families to South Florida at an early age," she said. "We didn’t meet until I was in college and Dwight was teaching school."

Love bloomed and Dwight and Barbara married and began to raise a family.

Hydrangeas in an array of colors take front and center in the Wards’ gardens.

When he’s not gardening, Dwight Ward is inside his ‘man cave’ building the birdhouses enhancing the garden areas. He also offers them for sale at area arts and crafts shows.

The central seating area of the gardens with “flooring” designed by Dwight Ward, who is also a rather accomplished carpenter. He built swings for the sitting areas of the gardens.

When their sons, Brad and Scott, became school age, the couple decided to get back to their Pike County roots.

"We wanted to raise our sons in a small town setting, so we moved to Troy," Barbara said. "We lived a couple of blocks from Troy State University and enjoyed living there, but Dwight wanted to move to the country and talked about it a lot. We both like the outdoors so moving to the country was always in the back of our minds."

Jeffery Knotts visited the Wards’ gardens and took time to smell the “roses.”

The Wards were continually on the lookout for a place in the country. Ten years ago, they found just the place in Josie, a little northeast of Troy and still in Pike County.

The country acreage included a year-old house, a barn hidden in the thicket, 26 junk cars and three "surplus" school buses.

"We could see the potential," Barbara said, with a smile. "It was a beautiful wooded area. You can’t live in South Florida and not enjoy the outdoors and flowers. There was plenty of space for flower gardens — if and when the area was cleared.

"Dwight loves working with wood and the barn would make a good workshop — if and when it was cleaned out and fixed up."

Sara Bowden was amazed at the Harmony hydrangea that is the size and weight of a football.

The clearing and cleaning took a year. But the couple realized working outdoors was a quick cure for cabin fever, but it was also addictive.

"The more we worked outdoors, the more we enjoyed it," Barbara said. "We first fixed up the barn and it became Dwight’s ‘man cave.’ He was building birdhouses out of scrap lumber, tin and anything else he could find and hammer together that might be inviting to birds."

To make woodcrafting somewhat profitable, Dwight Ward knew he would have to do some dumpster diving of sorts for his materials. So, he began to scrounge around looking for houses and small barns in a state of ruin.

Katie Knotts’ favorite flowers were the many-colored impatients bordering the garden areas.

"I would offer to tear them down for the wood," he said. "Often, there would be an old chimney stack and the owner would say to take that, too, if I wanted it."

Dwight’s unique birdhouses soon became popular with area arts and crafts enthusiasts. People would bring him any piece of wood and say, "See what you can do with this." Dwight always could find something to "do" with the wood.

But the old bricks from the chimneystacks were beginning to stack up. So he looked for an aesthetic way to use them.

"Dwight had cleared the area under the pines near the barn, so we started planting flowers," Barbara said. "He used the old bricks for borders and for paths through the flower garden. We wanted to have a sitting area near the middle of the garden area. We bought Adirondack chairs and Dwight built swings and bricks were used for ‘flooring.’ The more we did, the more we wanted to do."

And, the more they did, the more they learned about plants and what makes them grow best.

Barbara chose plants she likes most and that are most "at home" in the shade of pine trees or on the fringes where the sun comes to play once a day.

"Hydrangeas are some of my favorite flowers," she said. "We have several different colors and the colors enhance each other. I’ve always heard the soil determines the color of hydrangeas, but I’ve got about six or seven colors all in the same area. I just say they are a gift from God."

Lace cap hydrangeas come in pinks, blues and whites.

Hostas are relatively new to the Wards’ gardens, but are more reason to “oooh” and “aaaah.”

The Wards’ gardens are a place of beauty with day lilies, Knockout roses, spider lilies, zinnias, four o’clocks, impatients and ferns in an array of color beneath the towering pines. This year, the couple has added hostas to their gardens. They come in all sizes and bring added vibrancy to the garden.

"We enjoy sitting out in the gardens in the late afternoons and having friends and neighbors stop by and join us here," Barbara said. "We welcome visitors and seldom does a friend or visitor leave without a cutting of something."

Barbara said others often share cuttings with her.

"I enjoy having them come back and seeing what a wonderful addition their cutting has made to the garden," she said. "No matter who’s doing the giving or the receiving, you never say ‘thank you’ when receiving a plant. If you do, you won’t have any luck growing the plant."

A view from the “new” garden.

The Wards don’t depend on luck for their garden to grow.

They do a lot of reading and research on the best growing methods but Barbara said, if she has a secret to a beautiful garden, it’s Epsom Salts.

"I put a small handful of Epsom Salts around the base of my plants and then water them good and, I’ve had good results with it," she said.

The Wards have had good results with almost everything they’ve planted and perhaps that’s because they have planned well.

The garden is a work in progress. Just this spring, Dwight came home late one afternoon with the idea of a resting place between the barn and the house. Barbara agreed that one would be nice. And, now it is. A nice resting place with an arbor, an array of summer flowers and several birdhouses built by the man in the barn.

"Dwight has this restless energy," Barbara said. "He’s not happy unless he has a project going. And, I guess some of it had rubbed off on me. I’m just proud gardening is something we enjoy together.

"Gardening is therapy for us and it’s something we can share with others. Gardening is an incurable disease and, once you get it, you don’t want to cure it, you want to pass it on to those you love because it brings such pleasure and joy to your life and to the lives of others."

Jaine Treadwell is a freelance writer from Brundidge.

Polled Hereford Producers Find Their Sweet Home in Alabama

Polly Pope might have thought her husband Bill was crazy when he spent $400 for their first Polled Hereford cow, but now they can’t imagine living any differently than they have on their “paradise” in Grand Bay.

by Grace Smith

Nestled among the live oaks of South Alabama, Mr. and Mrs. W. I. Pope have settled a charming farm not only for themselves, but also for their beloved Polled Hereford Cattle.

W. I. "Bill" Pope was born in Cleveland, MS, and spent most of his life in the Washington County town of Arcola where he attended Arcola High School. But in 1953, when Pope was just a teenager, his family moved from the Mississippi Delta to Sweet Home Alabama — a phrase Pope finds quite suitable.

"The Delta is a great place in the summer, but in the winter it’s the deadest place in the world — there isn’t a leaf on a tree unless you see one around a sandy creek bottom," he said. "But we moved to Mobile in January and the satsumas were on the trees…I thought I’d moved to one of the prettiest places in the world and I still feel that way. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else."

Pope graduated from Theodore High School in 1954 and was working at a nearby grocery store; a job he thought he might enjoy. But he learned quickly he wouldn’t be content in the confines of four walls.

"I was working at a grocery store and a survey crew would park in our parking lot to fill the ice kegs," he said. "I knew a couple of the boys on the survey crew and I didn’t like the inside as much as I thought I would, so I had a chance to get on with survey crew and I worked there for six months."

Bill Pope has been doing business with Agri-AFC almost exclusively since the 60s and, with the expert help of Agri-AFC employee Kelvin Stokes (pictured on right), he won’t need to shop anywhere else, anytime soon.

After six months, Pope was assigned to work in a soils lab where he tested soils and then went on to test concrete and asphalt, too. He did that from 1956 until he went into business for himself in 1967. Pope Engineering and Testing Labs went on to grow from one single employee to as many as 30.

When Pope first went to work for the survey crew he was living in town. He was anxious to get back to the country, but he wouldn’t return without one lovely souvenir — his wife Polly.

"We met at church and she was a junior at Murphy High School. That was during the little time I lived in town. I went up there and got a wife and came back to Theodore," he laughed.

Polly said she was just a teenager when they married, but looking back it was the right decision.

"I graduated one week from Murphy and the next week we got married. We’ve been married 51 years, so it must have been the right thing to do," she recalled.

Pope and his bride went on to settle in Grand Bay. About the time Bill and Polly married, Bill found another love, but not necessarily one that would rival Polly’s affection.

While Pope was working in the soil testing business, he was inspecting some ranch property where Polled Hereford Cattle were raised. As he was talking to the foreman about how much he’d like to buy a registered Polled Hereford cow, he noted he wouldn’t be able to since he didn’t have enough money. But the foreman said the owner of the cattle would let him pay that cow off in time.

Bill Pope scratches one of his bulls as it grazes in the pasture. Pope says his cattle have become like members of the family over the years.

So Bill told him, "I’ll tell you what I’ll do, I’ll pay for half of it and I’ll use my next two Army Reserve checks to pay her off."

And that’s how he got his first Polled Hereford cow and Bill joked, he’s "been broke since the day he bought her." She was bred when he purchased her and from that one cow, just like his one-man business began, his herd grew to about 70 head of Polled Hereford Cattle.

Polly laughed when she recalled Bill’s decision to buy that first cow.

"The first time he bought one he paid $400 for her, and I thought, ‘I have married a crazy man,’" she said. "I was supportive later on, but at the very beginning I thought he was crazy."

Bill replied she never told him that though.

"At the beginning she trusted me on just about everything," he said. "Now she questions me on everything—she’s learned over the years."

The Popes kept calves off that first cow and, over the years, he purchased a few more cattle. But now he doesn’t buy cows anymore, instead he enjoys improving the quality of his herd by purchasing quality bulls.

Bill Pope observes his cattle. He takes great interest in improving his herd and acknowledged, while working with them can be tough work, for him it’s therapeutic.

During the mid-60s, Bill also became involved with the Beef Cattle Improvement Association (BCIA) and he experienced great success with the organization which also helped to improve the performance of his herd.

"The part of just trying to improve them just a little bit each year is a motivational factor," Bill said. "And I also enjoy seeing improvements in pastures. It’s just hard to imagine not getting up every day and working with them [the cows]. I don’t change very often; when I start something I like to stick with it.

"Working with cattle can be frustrating at times, but it’s very therapeutic, because you’re watching them from the time they’re born to seeing them into maturity. They kind of become like members of the family, especially the bulls and our really good cows."

Bill found a perfect match in Polly because after she got over the initial anxiety of purchasing that first cow, she’s grown to love their lifestyle.

"We made an agreement when we first married that we’d never live in a subdivision," she said. "We wanted a different kind of life, a different kind of environment and a different quality of life.

"Most of our friends when they come out here, they think this is a paradise. It’s a wonderful thing to wake up in the morning, look out and see those cows. We’re just really lucky to be living here."

Bill laughingly commented, "She can’t think of living anywhere else except when the bulls get out."

But Polly is Bill’s right hand man, well…lady, and she’s been a big help to him over the years. "I have really loved it. In fact, when I look back now I couldn’t imagine living any other way than what we’re living," she said.

A successful herd of cattle can only thrive if they are provided with properly maintained pastures, and Kelvin Stokes and the friendly folks at Agri-AFC’s Grand Bay store are always glad to help in that endeavor.

Bill has done business with them almost exclusively since the 60s buying his fertilizer, herbicides and seed at the store.

In his free time, he and Polly enjoy traveling out West and Polly noted, for their 50th wedding anniversary, they celebrated by taking a four-day wagon train to celebrate, a trip they both enjoyed.

"It was great," she said. "Now, Bud’s a Holiday Inn man, but he liked it too."

The couple is also active in their church and Bill even played softball up until three years ago.

"In high school, when I was writing my agriculture thesis over at Mississippi, I was going to have Black Angus cows and I was going to be a professional baseball player. Neither one of those worked out," he laughed.

But I guess church softball and his beautiful Polled Herefords have been a pretty good trade off.

Grace Smith is an associate editor for AFC Cooperative Farming News.

Southern Translation

SENTENCE USAGE: "I’ze in Anglish class jest chewing the fat with ole Clyde when the teacher snuck up and blind-sided me with a textbook!"

What is one doing when "chewing the fat"?

The phrase means to talk together in a friendly, leisurely way, at length without exchanging too much information.

Its origin is debatable but probably showed up at or around the American Civil War (War of Northern Aggression).

Perhaps it’s a derivative of "Chewin’ the Rag" - In the late 1800s, soldiers would chew a piece of cloth ("the rag") when they ran out of tobacco. Naturally, they’d be complaining about the absence of tobacco at the same time or "ragging."

Elizabethan lore has it that farmers kept a haunch of smoked pork hanging by their kitchen hearths. On rainy or snowy winter days when no fieldwork could be done, the family and visitors would sit around the hearth talking and slice off slivers of pork to "chew the fat."

In the far North, it is suggested that the term has to do with the preparation of caribou hide. Native women used to chew the scraped and smoked hides to increase the flexibility of the garments made from the hides. Since it would take hours to soften an entire hide, this became a social pastime involving several women in their "spare" moments.

Another poke at an explanation would be from the Eskimos and
their habit of chewing whale blubber.

Another guess is that this expression was originally a nautical one: Sailors working their jaws on the tough salt pork or beef rationed out when supplies ran low constantly grumbled about their poor fare while literally "chewing the fat."

Study Provides Beef Profit Insight

by Dr. Don Ball

One of the speakers at the December, 2009 Alabama Forage Conference was Dr. Gerald Evers, a researcher with Texas A & M University. He reported on a grazing study he did in which he compared what he referred to as "high input," "medium input" and "low input" beef cow/calf production systems. While this work was done on soil similar to that in the Black Belt in West Central Alabama, it has relevance to high, medium and low-input production elsewhere.

The high-input system was Dallisgrass fertilized with 50 pounds of nitrogen and 60 pounds of phosphorus in April, with an additional 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre applied about June 1 and also about August 1. Herbicide was applied in April for broadleaf weed control. The stocking rate in the high-input system was one cow-calf pair/acre.

The medium-input pasture system was also Dallisgrass, but inoculated ‘Louisiana S-1’ white clover was planted into the grass. In this treatment, the only fertilizer applied was 60 pounds of phosphorus per acre in the autumn, and the pasture was mowed one time in summer for weed control. The stocking rate was one cow-calf pair/1.5 acres. Poloxalene blocks were made available to the cattle to prevent bloat for six weeks in spring when white clover-growth was flush.

The no-input pasture system was undisturbed grassland typical of that soil and climate. Pastures consisted of both native and naturalized species including Dallisgrass, common Bermudagrass and smutgrass, as well as several broadleaf and shrub plants. No fertilizer or weed control practices were used in this system. The stocking rate was one cow-calf pair/2.9 acres.

The high-input system pastures consisted almost entirely of grass. There were a few cool-season weeds in late-winter/early-spring, but summer weeds were controlled by the herbicide application. In the medium-input system, white clover was the most available forage in spring, but the clover faded away in June due to heat and dry weather. In the low-input system weeds increased during the calendar year and amounted to over half of the available forage during late-summer and early-autumn.

The medium-input system provided grazing 35 days earlier than the high and low-input systems. While the length of the grazing season was the same for the latter two systems, the stocking rate was nearly three times higher for the high-input system than the low-input system. This was due to stimulation of forage growth by application of fertilizer and control of weeds in the high-input system.

Interestingly, in the case of the cows, gain/cow, gain/acre and average-daily-gain were better for the medium-input system than for either the high or low-input system (Table 1, below left). For calves, the gain/calf was also higher in the medium-input system than the other systems and average-daily-gain was better than the high-input system but not the no-input system. Gain/acre for calves was better for both the high and medium-input systems than for the low-input system.

Cost/pound of calf-gain were calculated by multiplying pasture cost/acre by acres/cow-calf pair (Table 2, below). The cost/pound of calf-gain was lowest for the medium-input system due to the longer grazing season and the fact the clover provided higher nutritive value. Also, pasture expenses were lower than the high-input system and calf-gain was highest. The cost/pound of calf-gain was lower for the no-input system than for the high-input system.

This grazing trial is yet another (among many) revealing the economic value of using forage legumes in pasture systems. The fact legumes can lower nitrogen fertilizer costs, extend the grazing season and increase animal performance by providing pasture forage having a higher nutritive value should not be ignored.

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

The Co-op Pantry

"When people asked what I did for a living, I’d tell them I was a slave," quipped Alice Glaze of Decatur about her life as a stay-at-home mom.

She’s known among her family and friends for being a good cook, but her sense-of-humor should also have a reputation all its own.

"I was the rear-end of the family," Alice said about being the last of eight children, "so when my last brother left home for the service, I helped Daddy pick cotton and tend the garden just like I’d helped Mama with the cooking and cleaning."

Originally from Limestone County, Alice moved to Decatur in 1950 where she and her husband AJ bought five acres to build a home.

"And as our family grew, we built a larger house," she said. Alice still lives in that larger home they built for their growing family.

Alice and her husband bought some additional farming acreage in the country where her husband ran a small herd of cattle.

"It was fairly expensive — just for something to do, but AJ liked going out there every evening when he left work, and we all enjoyed going out there during calving season," said Alice.

AJ passed in 1990, but Alice stays on the go quite a bit with church and volunteer work, and enjoys the monthly meetings or trips with other seniors at Parkview Baptist Church.

Alice said since she lives alone – which she said is fine with her because she doesn’t have to tell anybody when she’ll be back – she doesn’t cook as much as she used to.

"There’s always somebody saying ‘let’s go eat,’ so I just go eat," she said.

A mother of three adult children, Alice still enjoys having them all home for special occasions, although her family now helps her with the cooking for such gatherings.

"For Thanksgiving and Christmas, I still cook the meat and the dressing, but they bring everything else. And I still make banana pudding for family meals, although I don’t think a one of my grandchildren will eat meringue. They say it’s calf slobber and they don’t want it on their plates," she joked.

Alice is part of a family with a proud military tradition, both her husband and her brother served in World War II, and her husband went back to serve in Korea as well. Likewise, two of her grandsons are Marines, with one of them having returned from Iraq as his brother prepares for deployment to Afghanistan.

"I’ve just always been grateful none of them were gone at the same time," said Alice.

Alice’s recipes she shares this month include some of her favorites and her original recipe for Blueberry Salad. But Alice admitted she hardly follows any recipe to the letter.

"Whenever someone would ask my husband for one of my recipes, he’d tell them they didn’t want it," she recalled with a chuckle. "I just add a dash of this or that as I go."

Kellie Henderson is a freelance writer from Troy.

2 cups pretzels, finely crushed
¾ cup butter or margarine, melted
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
1 (8 oz) lite whipped topping
1 large (6 oz) sugar-free strawberry gelatin
2 cups water
2 (10 oz) packages frozen unsweetened strawberries, slightly thawed

For the crust, stir together pretzels and butter. Press into the bottom of a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Bake at 400o for 8 minutes. Cool thoroughly.
Blend together cream cheese and whipped topping and mix well. Spread the mixture evenly over pretzel crust and let chill at least 1 hour in refrigerator.
For the top layer, dissolve gelatin in water inside a small saucepan over medium heat. While stirring, bring mixture to a gentle boil. Remove from heat and stir in strawberries. Refrigerate until mixture is slightly set. Pour over the first 2 layers and chill overnight.

1 stick butter or margarine
1½ cups pretzels, crushed
2 (6 oz) packages grape gelatin
2 cups boiling water
1 (21 oz) can blueberry pie filling
1 medium can crushed pineapple
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
1 pint sour cream
½ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pecans, chopped (optional)

Mix butter or margarine with pretzels. Press into the bottom of an 8 by 12-inch dish. Bake at 400ofor 8 minutes; cool.
Combine the gelatin with boiling water, stirring to dissolve. Cool, then fold in pie filling and pineapple. Refrigerate until lightly jelled.
Thoroughly mix cream cheese, sour cream, sugar and vanilla. Spread over pretzel crust, then top with fruit mixture. Sprinkle on pecans and keep refrigerated.

6 slices bread, cut into small pieces
1 pound sausage, cooked and drained
2 cups cheese, grated
6 eggs
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste

Place bread in the bottom of a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Spoon sausage over bread and sprinkle on cheese. Beat eggs with milk, salt and pepper. Pour over cheese layer and cover. Refrigerate casserole overnight. Bake uncovered at 350o for 35 to 45 minutes.

1 (20 oz) can pineapple chunks
1 (8 oz) can crushed pineapple
1 egg
1/3 cup sugar or 4 serving-size packets Sweet & Low
3 Tablespoons flour
1 ¼ cups cheddar cheese, shredded
½ sleeve buttery round crackers, crushed
½ cup butter or margarine

Drain pineapple, reserving juice; set aside. Combine egg, sugar and flour. Beat until foamy. Add pineapple juice, stirring until smooth. Cook in a saucepan over low heat until thickened, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in cheese and pineapple. Pour into a greased 2 quart casserole dish and top with crushed crackers, then dot with margarine. Bake at 350o for 20 minutes. Cool and serve.


3 cups cooked squash
2 Tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
2 cups cornbread crumbs
3 eggs, lightly beaten
Bread or cracker crumbs for coating

Drain cooked squash and mash. Add butter, cornbread crumbs and eggs. Stir well and shape into croquettes or balls and roll each one in bread or cracker crumbs. Drop into hot oil and fry until browned. Drain on paper towels.

4 cups water
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup quick-cooking grits
2 cups cheese, shredded
½ cup butter or margarine
½ cup milk
2 eggs, beaten

Bring water and salt to a boil; stir in grits. Cook according to package instructions. Remove from heat and stir in butter and cheese until melted. Stir in milk. Spoon a small amount of hot grits into eggs, stirring well. Stir egg mixture back into remaining grits. Pour grits into a lightly greased 2½ quarts casserole dish. Bake at 350o for 40 minutes or until set. Yields 6 to 8 servings.

2 packages refrigerated crescent rolls
2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, softened
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
1 envelope ranch dressing mix
½ cup each cauliflower, broccoli, carrots and tomatoes, small chopped
2 cups cheese, shredded

Unroll crescent dough and press into the bottom of a 12 by 17-inch baking pan. Bake at 300o for 8 to 10 minutes; cool.
Mix together cream cheese, mayonnaise, sour cream and dressing mix. Spread over cooled rolls and top with vegetables. Sprinkle on cheese and cut into squares for serving.


1 whole chicken, boiled and deboned
1 can English peas, drained
½ cup onion, finely chopped
2 cans cream of chicken soup
4 eggs, boiled and chopped
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
½ can Niblet corn; drained
½ cup sour cream
1 sleeve crackers, crushed

Pull chicken into small pieces. Put in a large bowl and combine all ingredients except cheese and crackers. Mix well. Put into large casserole dish and sprinkle cheese over mixture. Cover with cracker crumbs and bake 45 minutes at 325o or until crackers are lightly browned.

1 can pink salmon
1 egg, beaten
2 Tablespoons meal
2 Tablespoons flour

Mix all ingredients well and shape into balls. Deep fry until brown. Drain on paper towels.

1 pound candied fruit-cake fruit
½ cup plain flour
Pinch of salt
1 (3 oz) can coconut
2 cups pecans, chopped
1 can sweetened condensed milk

Toss fruit into flour. Mix in all other ingredients and drop by teaspoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 275o for 25 to 30 minutes. Makes 75

The FFA Sentinel

by Philip Paramore

In the December 1934 issue of the Alabama Future Farmer magazine, the following about the 1934 National FFA Convention was reported.

"Some Highlights on the Seventh National Convention of F.F.A., October 20-26, 1934

"Nearly 4,000 students of vocational agriculture were registered at the American Royal Grounds and the Hotel Baltimore, headquarters. Forty-seven states and the Territory of Hawaii were represented. The attendance was the largest on record.

"The Board of Trustees was in session on October 19, 20, 21 and 22. The National Advisory Council and the State Advisers met on October 21.

"The official State F.F.A. band this year, consisting of 72 pieces, came from Utah. The boys made a wonderful showing. Their concert at the Public Speaking Contest and leading the arena parade were excellent, as were all other appearances. The band was in charge by L.R. Humphreys, State Supervisor, and was directed by Mr. N.W. Christensen. The members were recruited from 27 different centers in the state; every boy was a bona fide F.F.A. member having at least two years of vocational agriculture to his credit. There were soloists, duets, trios, quartettes, sextets and a glee club included in this band.

"There were 87 official delegates present. This was a record.

"Officers elected for 1934-35 were President – Andrew Sundstrom, Beresford, South Dakota; Vice President – L. Arrington, Twin Falls, Idaho; Vice President – C.A. Duplantis, Houma, Louisiana; Vice President – John Reisz, Owensboro, Kentucky; Vice President – George Meyers, Greencastle, Pennsylvania; and Secretary – ‘Jack’ Waller, Plant City, Florida.

"About 1,800 vocational agricultural students, most of whom were F.F.A. members, attended the buffet supper on October 23 – a record.

"About 2,500 participated in the parade, in the arena at the American Royal Grounds, following the buffet supper – also a record.

"There were 665 in attendance at the big banquet on the evening of October 24. The Midway Chapter of the Idaho Association furnished the potatoes and the Washington Association of F.F.A. furnished apples which were much appreciated by all present. Thanks are due these two associations and congratulations on their spirit.

"Results of the Chapter Contest as follows: First – Toyack Chapter, Roosevelt, Utah; Second – Sweet Springs Chapter, Sweet Springs, Missouri; Third – Waterville Chapter, Waterville, New York; Fourth – Calico Rock Chapter, Calico Rock, Arkansas. Runners up: N.A. Region — Presque Isle, Maine and Gouverneur, New York; Southern — Gold Sand, North Carolina and Ramer, Alabama; N. Central — Marshall, Missouri and Ottawa, Kansas; and Western — Boise, Idaho, and Chehalis, Washington.

"The Best Association Award went to the Hawaii Association of F.F.A. Honorable mention went to Louisiana, Montana, Arkansas, Tennessee, California, Ohio, Georgia, New Jersey and Virginia.

"By unanimous action the prize vocational agriculture lamb (under 90#) at the American Royal, produced by Harry Crandall, Jr., of Cass City, Michigan, was purchased for $19.34, dressed by Wilson and Company, and sent to President Roosevelt with the compliments of the F.F.A. Organization.

"It was decided all American Farmers, past, present and future, should receive certificates from the national organization.

"The F.F.A. will have representatives present this year at the National Grange and National Farm Bureau meetings

"The new blue corduroy jacket and swagger cap presented at the convention was adopted as official — military cap optional. The contract was awarded to the Universal Uniform Company of Van Wert, Ohio.

"All state reports, if given in the future at the national convention, are to be confined strictly to three minutes and will deal with the most outstanding events only.

"No action was taken on a national publication until the organization sees its way clear to handling the proposition efficiently and putting out a first class publication.

"It was the consensus of opinion of the delegates that the three-year period of active membership should be interpreted to mean three years after either leaving school or graduating from high school.

"The same delegate expense plan was endorsed for paying delegates’ way to the 1935 National Convention as was used for the 1934 Convention.

"The delegates were in favor of continuing the handbook proposal of last year and putting out an F.F.A. Recreational and Social Hand Book in addition to the Manual.

"The contract for felt goods went to The Staunton Novelty Company of Staunton, Virginia.

"The delegates voted unanimously to have the complete emblem (with the eagle at the top) used in all instances as the official emblem of the organization. It was the sense of the meeting that this in no way detracted from the degree key of the American Farmer since it was the key that distinguished the individual as an American Farmer rather than the Eagle surmounting the cross section of an ear of corn.

"The jewelry contact was renewed with the L.G. Balfour Company. Prices to be adjusted. For the past year the national organization has been ‘absorbing the shock’ due to increased cost of gold in order to hold prices at the same level.

"Permission was given the St. Louis Button Company to continue to manufacture metal markers but it was suggested the colors be made more resistant to the weather.

"It was decided the 1935 Convention should be three days in length but consideration should be given to setting the convention on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday instead of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

"An exhibition contest (Extemporaneous Public Speaking) will be staged at the 1935 Convention. It will not affect the present public speaking contest in any way; however, the national dues for 1934-35 remain at ten cents per year, but for 1935-36 the national dues will be 15 cents per member per year.

"The State Association Award, Chapter Contest, Star Farmer Award and Public Speaking Contest will all be continued in 1934-35.

"The national radio program will be continued on a basis similar to the past year.

"It was the opinion of both delegates and advisers that an organization for F.F.A. Alumni, where needed, should be encouraged, but on a chapter and state-wide basis only. It was the general feeling we should keep both member and public attention centered on the work of the present F.F.A. organization.

"No changes were made to the constitution, but several suggestions concerning the emblem and degree insignia were made. All suggestions were turned over to the Board of Trustees for study and recommendations at the next National Convention.

"Sixteen items were set up in the national program of work for 1934-35 and the complete program was sent out as F.F.A. Service Letter No. 79, under date November 6, 1934.

"The annual report form for the year ending June 30, 1934, will be very similar to that of last year with new national program of work items included.

"In the proceedings of the Seventh National Convention there will be a new division entitled, Joint Activities with the Ninth Annual Congress of Vocational Agriculture Students included in this publication.

"The public speaking contest rules will be liberalized, under the heading of eligibility, making it possible for departments having two-year vocational courses to get boys into the State Public Speaking Contest. Age limit is set at twenty-one years, and contestant must be enrolled in or have taken all the vocational agriculture offered in the school.

"The American Farmer Score Card is to be re-evaluated, giving more weight to investments in farming and to specify savings to be earned by the candidate.

"The 1935 Chapter Contest Rules will be about the same as last year, but programs of work (entries) will probably be called for by February 1."

Also in this issue, an Alabama FFA member received his American Farmer Degree.

"Edd Christian of Fernbank, Alabama—Eighteen years of age, he has had three years of vocational agriculture, receiving his State Farmer degree, in July, 1933 and graduating May, 1934. At the time of making application, Edd’s record shows he owned 1 dairy cow, 1 heifer, 1 bull, and a partnership interest in 4 mules, 3 cows, 1 heifer, 1 bull, 1 bred sow, 1 shoat, and a flock of White Leghorn chickens. He holds a 1/3 partnership interest in 154 acres of land used for crops and pasture. A 3 year supervised farming program in connection with his vocational agriculture course yielded him a labor income of about $220. His investment in farming is over $2,000. Edd plans to enter Mississippi State College for a course in Agricultural Education and Business, carrying on his farming work while in school. He has made many worthwhile improvements in the home farm in addition to his project work, including new farm buildings, light plant in home, soil improvement, and landscaping. His record shows evidence of farming ability and cooperation. His leadership ability is evidenced by his active participation in F.F.A., school, and church affairs. His scholarship record shows him to rank second in a class of 15 students."

In the February 1945 issue of the Alabama Future Farmer magazine, the following appeared about Edd Christian.

"We have just received notice that Capt. Edd B. Christian was killed in France on January 5 [1945]. Capt. Christian was an active member of the Millport Chapter during the time he was in high school. He was secretary of the State FFA Association for the year 1933-34. Following his graduation from Mississippi State in 1938 he served as teacher of vocational agriculture at Liberty in Pickens County for three and one-half years. He entered the Army in the spring of 1942."

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

Thinking of Canning? Best to Plan Ahead

by Angela Treadaway

Growing and preserving your own food lets you enjoy delicious, in-season fruits and vegetables throughout the year. For many of us, who may not have our very own home garden, there is still a way we can capture the great quality and flavor of fresh fruits and vegetables and indulge in all year. Fruit and vegetable growers offer a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables; notably squash, okra, greens and, of course, those sweet watermelons during the summer months at local farmers’ markets and roadside stands. If you are thinking about canning as a way to preserve food this summer, there are a couple of things you should have in place before getting started.

Recipes: All home-canned foods should be prepared using research-tested recipes. Research is done continually to provide the latest, most up-to-date recommendations. Many new guidelines have been released over the last couple of years, so make sure your recipes have the latest information to keep your family safe. Your county Extension office will be able to provide you with this information.

Here is a great recipe from the Home Food Preservation Book you can try:

Corn Relish
Makes about 9 pints.
16 to 20 ears of corn, medium-size
5 cups of white vinegar
2 ½ cups sweet red peppers, diced
2 ½ tablespoons pickling salt
2 ½ cups green bell peppers, diced
2 ½ teaspoons celery seed
2 ½ cups celery, chopped
2 ½ tablespoons dry mustard
1 ¼ cups onion, chopped
1 ¼ teaspoons turmeric
1 ¾ cups sugar

Remove husks, wash and remove silks from corn.

Hot Pack: Place corn in a large pot of boiling water and boil 5 minutes. Then, dip the ears in cold water and cut kernels from cob. Prepare enough to make 10 cups of kernels. Combine red and green peppers, celery, onion, sugar, vinegar, salt and celery seed in a large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Dip out ½ cup of the simmered mixture and add mustard and turmeric. Mix well. Then, return this mixture to the pot. Add corn. Simmer another 5 minutes. If desired, thicken mixture with flour paste (1/4 cup flour blended in ¼ cup water) and stir frequently. Fill hot jars with relish, leaving a ½-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims and adjust the lids. Process in a boiling water-bath canner. Half-pints or pints, 15 minutes

Note: You can use six 10-ounce packages of frozen corn in place of fresh corn.

Equipment: Review the equipment needed for canning and make sure they are ready in advance. A water-bath canner is needed for processing fruits and a large pressure-canner is essential for vegetables, meats, fish and other low acid foods. You should also have a sharp knife, jars, measuring cups, new lids, funnel, sugar, salt, rings and a jar lifter. Check your jars for chipping, check gaskets for damage and then call your county Extension office to request a day to have your canner lid tested. While there, pick up a Home Food Preservation order request form. This book is the only reference and recipe book of its kind published in Alabama. Home Food Preservation includes information on canning, freezing, drying, jams, jellies, pickles, relishes and other combination foods, and is based on the most recent USDA guidelines.

Canning Process: The canning process should begin as each fruit or vegetable is being harvested. For a nicer product, try to use fruit or vegetables without any sign of insect damage, bruising or wilting. The first step will be to sterilize your jars. As you prepare your recipe, get your canner on the stove. Next, fill your jars according to the directions and then seal. After removing them from the canner, put them onto a dry, clean cloth where they can sit for the next 24 hours. The following morning, you should check to make sure you have a good seal. If you do, put them up to enjoy this winter.

Storage: You want to make sure you have a good storage area; after-all, you’ve put in a lot of work. Most canned food items are good for up to a year. For a complete list, you can download the Extension publication "Better Safe than Sorry - Food Storage Chart," or request one from your county office. There are many other publications available for home food preservers at their website: You may also visit the University of Georgia’s website for more information at:

Finally, we have completed the rewarding job of canning our fresh fruits and vegetables. There is nothing left to do now, but sit back and enjoy!

For more questions on food preservation, please contact Angela Treadaway at (205) 410-3696 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">

Thompson Middle School’s Sixth Grade Science Club Members Now Certified as Jr. Master Gardeners

Thompson Middle Schools Sixth Grade Science Club had to complete 12 group activities to be certified by JMG. One of these is referred to as uncovering the soil.

by Luci Davis

Thompson Middle Schools Sixth Grade Science Club in Alabaster has participated in the Junior Master Gardener (JMG) program this past year. The club meets after school and has about 12 participants. The club has worked through the level 2 JMG curriculum, Operation W.A.T.E.R. and have become certified JMG.

For the young people to become JMG certified in the level 2 curriculum they must complete 12 group activities and the individual activities located within each chapter of the curriculum. Community service of service learning is also a major component of JMG and becoming JMG certified. The young people at Thompson Middle School chose to build and maintain the garden located at the school to be their service learning project.

Sixth grade teachers at Thompson Middle School, Mrs. Kerley and Mrs. Longshore, have also integrated the JMG into their Earth Science curriculum during the school day. While working through the Level 2 curriculum, the young people have studied soils and water conservation. Completing activities like the reverse erosion activity and uncovering the soil are a few of the activities the young people participated in to lead them to their certification.

The Sixth Grade Science Club science project was based upon the activities involved with them becoming JMG certified.

Thompson Middle Schools Sixth Grade Science Club studied reverse erosion as part of their certification for JMG.

"The kids have enjoyed working through the curriculum and it has reinforced the information they have learned in the classroom," Mrs. Kerley said,

She also stated how helpful the JMG program is when creating plans for the clubs activities and her in-classroom lesson plans.

Mrs. Kerley and Mrs. Longshore started the after school science club for the first time this year. They had several obstacles to overcome. They were concerned students would not have transportation to stay afterschool. The participating students were very excited about the club. Mrs. Kerley mentioned there are not many after-school activities for middle school age children. They hope to continue the program again next year.

Luci Davis is the State Junior Master Gardener Coordinator. For more information on the program, phone (334) 703-7509.

Tractor Enthusiasts Gather in Elmore for 9th Annual Antique Tractor Show and Pull

Tim and Davy Lynn get ready for the Elmore Antique Tractor Pull. Father and son enjoy competing in tractor pulls together.

by Jade Currid

On the bright, fine morning of Saturday, May 15, 2010, swift movement and the cadence of breathing and footfall broke the hazy stillness of County Rd. 23 in Elmore.

No, a herd of cattle or horses was not passing through. Instead, runners entered in the Antique Tractor 5K trotted down the road.

At 8:30 a.m., sun poured down on the runners’ backs as they competed against themselves and their personal bests, engaged in friendly competition with their buddies, and vied for the ornate plates with a tractor painted on them given as awards and supported by the community of Elmore.

The 5K race kicked off the ninth annual Antique Tractor Show and Pull hosted by the Elmore Volunteer Fire Department. The fundraiser provides necessities for the community’s firefighters.

"It was great to see people who might not otherwise be interested in coming out to the event participate in our Antique Tractor Show and Pull with a run," Art Faulkner, a board member of the Elmore Volunteer Fire Department, said.

Chris Puckett and Jeff Moody were top ten finishers in the 5K race. The running buddies enjoy entering in road races all over.

A group of runners from Montgomery show the plates painted with a tractor design they won as awards in the Elmore Antique Tractor 5K. (From left) Jade Currid, Barbara Moore Wharton, Nancy Beale, Ron Macksoud and Stephanie Dozier.

Faulkner said the runners deserved a tremendous amount of credit for supporting the community.

"I should’ve been running with y’all instead of driving on a cart," Faulkner told the crowd of runners.

Chris Puckett of Millbrook and Jeff Moody of Deatsville, running buddies who travel all over to compete in road races, finished the 5K neck and neck. Both runners finished in the top ten and earned one of the prized plates.

Tractor enthusiasts mingle around a display. Hundreds of new and antique tractors attracted thousands of local and out of state visitors.

Barbara Moore Wharton visits the petting zoo at the Elmore Antique Tractor Show after running in the 5K.

Bill Grimes shows a Waterloo Boy antique tractor engine he restored. Antique tractor engine displays were a popular attraction at the Elmore Antique Tractor Show.

Gerald Stamps shows his display of antique tractor engines at the Elmore Antique Tractor Show.

Moody praised the community involvement.

"It was really cool to see how tight the volunteers who put on the race are," Moody said. "It was a cool race, and cool to see what a small town is about. The best part of the race was Lou Siever’s homemade banana nut bread. I encourage everyone to come out and try her bread next year."

A tractor enthusiast admires an antique engine at the show.

Other attractions at the fire department’s largest fundraiser of the year included an antique tractor display, a tractor pull, a petting zoo with a variety of farm animals, a children’s pedal tractor race, a children’s train being pulled by a small tractor and a barbeque cook-off.

Local and out-of-state tractor enthusiasts appreciated hundreds of new as well as historical tractors on display.

The family-friendly event also featured a variety of farm machinery, an antique car show and an antique truck show hosted by the Deep South Chapter of the American Truck Historical Society.

Local vendors also supported the event. The fire department did not charge a fee for admission, but accepted donations of any amount from visitors as they entered the show grounds. Thousands of visitors and their families attended the event.

A restored Camaro on display shines in all of its glory. An antique car show was another feature of the event.

Dee’s Bird Farm brought animals for the petting zoo.

Richard Welch of Dee’s Bird Farm saw a chance to offer education and variety with the petting zoo.

"The tractor pull means a lot to Elmore," Welch said. "We came in with something a little different for people to see. People don’t know what’s out there. We want to let people know agriculture still exists in the world."

Bill Grimes of Orrville provided a glimpse of the passion and commitment involved in the restoration of antique tractor engines with his display and knowledge.

Grimes explained the mechanics of a Novo three-horsepower upright model originally mounted to a three piston orchard sprayer. He said the engine could be filled with regular gasoline and its speed could be adjusted.

Grimes said his dad had inspired him to begin restoring antique tractor engines.

"I started out with antique cars, trucks and tractors," Grimes said. "To me, motors are more exciting. Plus, they’re easier to move."

Gerald Stamps of Clanton said restoring tractors was a hobby his father and he had shared. They had traveled to many tractor shows together.

"We went everywhere," Stamps said.

A couple of the engines he displayed had once belonged to his father, and restoring antique tractor engines was a way for him to preserve his father’s memory.

Stamps displayed several different models of washing machine engines. His oldest engine on display was a 1919 model.

The event’s second annual barbeque cook-off showcased the talents of those most skilled with a smoker and generated a mouth-watering enthusiasm among the crowd. The cook-off contestants competed in chicken, Boston butt, beef brisket and spare ribs categories.

The contest provided a special category for dessert.

Paul Norton and his team from Wetumpka competed in every category.

"This is our second year to compete," Norton said. "We’re out here to have fun, and help out the fire department. We enjoy the camaraderie of the other competitors as well."

The much-anticipated tractor pull began in the afternoon.

Tim Lynn of Wetumpka and his son Davy welcomed the competition.

"The winning part is nice, but accomplishing something with my son fills me with gratitude," Lynn said.

The statewide antique tractor club and the Southern Antique Iron Association sponsored the Elmore Antique Tractor Show and Pull.

Jade Currid is an intern with Cooperative Farming News.

Tween Chicken Farmer Rules the Roost

Cappie Gibson, 11, and Pandora, her favorite chicken, an Ameraucana.

Chicken Mini-Farm is Perfect for Veterinarian in Training

by Susie Sims

Eleven-year-old Cappie Gibson has found her domain and it’s in her backyard chicken coop.

Close to two years ago, Cappie’s mom, Tanya, decided she wanted some chickens to go with the other critters they had on their mini-farm near Butler. What started as a simple project has blossomed into a collection of more than a dozen different breeds of chickens.

"Mom said she wanted chickens, and so we got them," said Cappie, who tends to the chickens several times a day.

Tanya said the whole family helps to feed and water them, but Cappie sees to them, making sure everything is alright.

As she explained some of the daily chores involved with the chickens, Cappie picked up her favorite — an Ameraucana named Pandora. She walked around with the hen in her arms much like you would a puppy.

The Gibson family currently has close to 15 different breeds of chickens. Some of those breeds include Buff Orpington, Barred Rock, Silver Laced, Turken, Polish, D’Uccles, Serama, Cochin and Australorp.

Brother Chandler Gibson, 10, also likes to help out with the chickens.

Cappie is responsible for picking which breeds the family raises. She researches the breeds in catalogs and on the internet.

Cappie’s dad, J.D., has just constructed a new coop for a new breed of birds the family hopes to get in a few weeks.

"We are trying to get some Marans," said Tanya. "But we can’t find anyone willing to sell us the bitties. We hope to get some eggs and hatch them ourselves."

The Marans breed is known for laying deep chocolate-colored eggs. The breed originated in France and is still quite rare in the U.S., although its popularity is on the rise. Marans eggs were reportedly a favorite delicacy of the character James Bond.

Cappie sells her eggs at her grandparents’ store in Butler — Gibson Tire and Battery Service.

Some of the daily chores Cappie and her brother, Chandler, attend to include feeding and watering the birds and collecting the eggs. They usually get about 20 eggs from their flock of close to 80 birds.

Cappie shows off one of the eggs laid by her hen

Not everything around the Gibson house revolves around chickens. Cappie, who will be a seventh-grader at Patrician Academy, also has goats, bunnies, cats, dogs and a quail. She also likes gymnastics.

Chandler, who will be a fourth-grader, likes to ride his dirt bike.

Hilton for Chickens

While they may be just chickens, it’s nothing but the best for them at the Gibson’s.

Tanya saw the simple coop at her brother’s house and asked her husband to build one. She assumed he would build a similar structure. Instead she got chicken "hotels."

Cappie and Choctaw Co-op Manager Ronnie Gibson inspect a coop built by Cappie’s father, J.D.

"I asked J.D. to build me a chicken coop and this is what I got," said Tanya. "You don’t ask J.D. to do something unless you want it done right."

While the coops may be elaborate, they have served their purpose well. The family said they have only had one incident where a predator got into the coops. Since then they have buried the fencing underground to prevent critters from digging into the coops.

Vet in Training

Cappie wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up. She has even had a little hands-on training recently.

One of the chickens had a growth of some sort on its leg that wouldn’t go away. Cappie wrapped the chicken in a towel and laid it in her lap. She then performed surgery on the chicken and removed the growth. The chicken recovered fully.

Tanya said Cappie notices right away if something isn’t right with the chickens. She attributes that to her spending so much time with them.

Co-op Meets Their Needs

The Gibsons rely on their local Co-op store in Butler for their chicken supplies. They feed their birds Game Booster and Laying Mash. Of course, the young ones are fed Starter feed.

Nothing but the good life for chickens on the Gibson farm near Butler. Shown in front of the chicken coop are mom Tanya, Chandler, Choctaw Co-op Manager Ronnie Gibson and Cappie.

Ronnie Gibson, who is not related to the Gibson family, is the manager of the Choctaw Farmers Co-op in Butler. He said the Gibsons are good customers and he enjoys providing for the needs of their operation.

Persons in the Butler area who are in need of farm or garden supplies may visit Ronnie at the Co-op store in town or call (205) 459-2588.

Contact Information

Persons interested in contacting the Gibson family about their chicken operation may follow them on their blog at or by sending an e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">

Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.

USDA’s Rural Summit Townhall Meetings Promote Dialogue on Ag Revitalization Proposals

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan listen to summary reports from breakout discussion sessions at the National Summit of Rural America. Six sessions covered topics ranging from expanding opportunity for rural business and farm competitiveness and productivity to forest restoration, rural recreation and private land conservation.

Agriculture Secretary Sees Unlimited Potential

by Jim Erickson

Anyone who thinks rural America and agriculture are on an irreversible, downward spiral might want to talk with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

No, the former Iowa governor doesn’t espouse Pollyanna remedies. Nor does he think a turn-around will be quick and easy. But after spending a year visiting rural areas throughout the nation and talking with people about their concerns and ideas for rebuilding their economy, Vilsack is convinced there is "unlimited potential" for American agriculture and rural communities "if we do it right."

Gathering ideas on what to do and how to do it were key goals of the series of town hall-style meetings Vilsack, other cabinet members and USDA officials attended, as well as the National Summit of Rural America held in early June in Hillsboro, MO. That wind-up conference drew some 400 agricultural and community leaders, producers and other rural residents.

Aneesh Chopra (center), chief technology officer and assistant to the President, was the center of attention at an informal question-answer session during the lunch hour at the National Summit of Rural America. At far right is Glenn English, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, who chaired a breakout discussion session on rural infrastructure.

According to Vilsack, the framework for revitalizing the rural economy includes a number of components, including:

• Building better markets for farm products, both at home and overseas. Among specific actions to achieve this goal are reaching more trade agreements with other nations, making sure existing trade rules are enforced and taking a new approach to biotechnology to emphasize what it can accomplish in a world whose growing population will require more food. Programs like the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative also can lead to a better understanding and appreciation of where food comes from and boost local demand and job growth.

• Promoting renewable fuels, whose production and distribution will boost investment in rural areas, create jobs and decrease dependence on foreign oil.

• Creating green jobs through natural resource restoration and conservation, and expanded recreation opportunities.

• Developing a 21st century infrastructure to increase broadband access, improve rural health care and educational opportunities, and provide a quality of life attracting those seeking a good place to raise a family.

Reviewing the wrap-up conference and earlier months spent visiting rural areas, Vilsack pointed to other major objectives, like:

• Educating the rest of the nation about the importance of rural America. "Our nation has an economic advantage due to the productivity of its agriculture industry," he noted. For example, industry figures show one U.S. farmer today feeds 155 people, a number more than double that of 40 years ago. Not only does agricultural production and processing create jobs, sales of U.S. farm products abroad stimulate even more employment and this year will yield an estimated agricultural trade surplus of $28 billion, he added.

• Creating greater awareness of the challenges rural families face. The decrease in farm numbers and lack of other economic development have led to higher unemployment, population declines, less representation and lower per capita income when compared with urban areas, Vilsack pointed out. In addition, rural America has a larger percentage of residents more than 65 years of age and a much smaller percentage of those with college degrees. Dealing with such issues calls for more than simply "a hang-on approach," he stated.

Summing up major themes identified during the meeting process, Vilsack said there’s a growing consensus that rural communities and businesses need to work collaboratively, rather than on an individual basis.

USDA also can and should respond positively to calls that it be a strong advocate for agriculture, Vilsack added. But, he reminded, "Agriculture needs to be a stronger advocate as well" and those in the industry should work together to speak with a single voice.

According to Vilsack, other actions on USDA’s "to-do" list include more effective programs to help younger persons get into farming, improving risk management tools and broadening them to cover more crops, and improving communications with other federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency.

Vilsack acknowledged that while the 2008 Farm Bill greatly expanded funding for conservation programs, USDA manpower in conservation-related jobs is down. The result has been problems and delays in implementing conservation programs. On a related issue, he underscored the role of the Forest Service, especially in water quality and conservation – issues of growing importance as demands on water supplies increase.

At the Ag Summit, the USDA secretary announced some initial efforts the government is making "to turn the corner" in stimulating rural development. One was a new agreement between the federal Small Business Administration (SBA) and USDA designed to improve opportunities for small businesses to start and grow, improve coordination in the development and delivery of assistance programs, and boost the number of small business loans guaranteed by USDA and SBA. Vilsack said the move will create a more cooperative approach needed between the two government agencies to ensure loans, loan guarantees and technical assistance get to those who need it.

Another step Vilsack announced included a program making $45.1 million in loans and technical assistance grants available during the current fiscal year to rural start-up businesses. Funding comes from a rural development and assistance program authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill. Applying for the government help likely will be a challenge because, according to a news release issued at the Summit, the application deadline is July 16. Also, as of the time the Summit was held, information on how to apply had not yet appeared in the Federal Register, the government publication used to publicize federal regulatory proposals, and rules and details about various programs.

In addition, Vilsack said $6.7 million from USDA’s Intermediary Relending Program and its Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program will go to 14 rural utilities and local development groups in 10 states to assist job growth projects. Another $22.5 from USDA’s Value-Added Producer Grant program will go to recipients in 45 states. Grants ranged in size from a few thousand dollars to $300,000.

According to a recent USDA news release, the Alabama Association of Cooperatives has received a $400,000 grant "to enhance the coordination of outreach, technical assistance and education efforts to reach socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers."


As the top official of the federal agency sponsoring the recent National Summit of Rural America, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack was a key figure at that meeting and at other rural town hall-style meetings held during earlier months. In fact, from before activities began in the morning until after they ended late in the afternoon, Vilsack was at the Summit site – the field house at Jefferson College, a community college in Hillsboro, MO, south of St. Louis.

But Vilsack was by no means alone in the spotlight. Serving as members of a discussion panel at the rural summit were Aneesh Chopra, chief technology officer and assistant to President Obama; Steve Flick, board chairman of Show Me Energy Cooperative, a cellulosic biomass operation owned by 600 farmers; Darrin Ihnen, a South Dakota farmer and president of the National Corn Growers Association; John Redding, a Georgia producer and immediate past-president of the National Association of Conservation Districts; and James Young, who last year became the first African-American mayor of the rural town of Philadelphia, MS.

More than a dozen other USDA officials, including Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, also were on hand, most of them making notes summarizing comments, views and questions from summit attendees during afternoon breakout sessions

Among comments made, either as personal views or as responses to specific questions, were these:

There’s no question rural schools need to be better able to attract great teachers. But rural schools do have an advantage many urban schools often are looking for and need – more parental involvement. When it comes to rural infrastructure, rural schools have the same needs as agriculture. Roger Sampson, president, Education Commission of the States, Denver, CO.

USDA needs to build more flexibility into rules and regulations it writes to implement various programs – flexibility based on different situations prevailing in different areas and based on the fact local people know and understand those situations better. Secretary Vilsack, in response to an attendee’s comment about the interpretation of legislation by regulation writers and the resulting impact on agriculture.

There needs to be a more level playing field when it comes to smaller farmers having access to markets in areas dominated by large operations. (Also) more and more rural communities are facing water quality problems due to over-application of manure from large livestock production facilities. From a producer-attendee.

A different focus is needed on the immigration issue. If immigrant labor isn’t available, the result will be higher food prices and/or more imports of food products. Let’s put immigration reform in those terms and maybe we can get a reasonable approach to resolving the issue. Secretary Vilsack, in response to a question about the availability of farm labor.

Working Cows Dairy is Alabama’s First Certified Organic Dairy

A native of Holland, Rinske de Jong and her family have lived in the United States for 25 years, 19 of which have been spent on their current farm near Slocomb.

by Kellie Henderson

Residents of South Alabama have a long-held pride in their reputation for early and prolific produce like Slocomb tomatoes or the fresh peas and strawberries coming from their area. But just outside of Wicksburg stands Working Cows Dairy, the first certified organic dairy in Alabama, and a business bringing its own farm-fresh pride to icy glasses across the state.

Rinske and Jan de Jong, originally from Holland, have lived in the United States for 25 years now, and Rinske said she and her husband never imagined they’d settle in Alabama. The couple had talked about maybe moving to Texas, but a European friend of theirs returned from a trip to the U.S. talking about the southeastern part of the country.

"We were renting a farm in Florida near Marianna, and it wasn’t going to be available any longer," she explained.

So the de Jong family began their search for a new location, and they had to move quickly.

"We only had about 30 days to relocate our dairy cattle. Really, this was the only property for sale at the time that was the size we needed," Rinske said.

Most of the cows at Working Cows Dairy in Geneva County are Holsteins, producing Alabama’s Organic Milk.

As a group of cows leaves the barn to graze for the day, their pedometers begin the task of counting and recording their steps as part of the monitoring and heat detection process used by the de Jong family at Working Cows Dairy.

So for the past 19 years, Rinske, Jan and their sons Jonny, Mendy and Ike have been living and working in Geneva County.

"The only family we have here are our boys, and they all work here on the dairy and are welders, too," she said, adding she is pleased to have raised her boys on the farm.

"I grew up in the city, but Jan had always been around dairy cattle, and we knew we wanted to have a dairy of our own," Rinske explained.

Rinske and her son, Mendy, discuss the day’s chores in front of the farm display of Alabama’s Organic Milk. Gallons of milk are sold here on the honor system.

While times have grown increasingly difficult for dairy farmers, Jan and Rinske saw the promise of organic milk as a way to ensure they could keep their dairy afloat in the future.

"It has been a long and difficult transition, but we think our cows are happier, and it feels good to produce milk that meets a growing demand," she said.

Currently under contract to Horizon Organics, Working Cows Dairy has nearly 500 dairy cows grazing organic pasture for their primary food source.

"Right now they’re eating sorghum, sudangrass and some turnips," Rinske explained, all of which were planted from organic seed.

"We have about 400 acres in grazing and another 400 acres in crop production to grow organic silage which we feed them with their minerals to make sure they have a good diet," she said.

The de Jongs began the transition to an organic operation four years ago and were certified by California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) in 2009.

"According to the standards for certification, the fields had to remain free of non-organics for three years to ensure there were no residuals in the soil," she said.

And today, Working Cows Dairy milks twice a day producing organic milk that is low-temp pasteurized and bottled on their farm. The milk – which is not homogenized so the cream rises to the top - is available on their farm in an honor-system cooler, but the de Jongs are making every effort to expand their customer-base by selling at various farmers markets, farm stands and health food stores.

The de Jongs have their own refrigerated truck in which they transport much of the low-temp pasteurized, cream-rising, organic milk bottled on their farm.

"We want to expand to other farm stands where people are selling their own products and would like to offer organic milk. We hope it will expand their current market and ours," Rinske added.

While many people might think organic means old-fashioned, Working Cows Dairy’s day-to-day operations utilize some impressive technology. Each cow has a pedometer around one foot to help gather information about that animal every day. When the cows enter the milking barn, an antenna gathers information from the pedometers on each cow’s movement over the past 24 hours, and each cow’s individual milk production is examined.

"The pedometers let us know how many steps a cow has taken in the last 24 hours, broken down into four-hour increments. Based on her movements, we can monitor her heat cycles and detect a possible injury or even get an idea that a particular cow maybe isn’t feeling well. Monitors also signal us as to the salt level of each particular cow’s milk, which may indicate possible infection. The equipment also records how much milk each cow produces, and it generates a daily report of any cows whose milk production dropped 20 percent or more from the previous day’s milking," she detailed.

In addition to the careful attention paid to their cows, the de Jongs also have to maintain very detailed records of other farm activities to keep their organic certification.

"Our feed and fertilizer bills and other receipts all have to reflect that we are working according to plans and regulations," she said.

Rinske also added their local Co-op store has been an important part of their operation for years.

"We’ve done business with Hartford Farmers Co-op long before we made the move to becoming an organic operation," Rinske said, adding their farm continues to rely on the Co-op.

And Working Cows Dairy isn’t resting on their laurels now they’ve become the state’s first certified organic dairy.

"Our equipment can pasteurize and bottle more milk as demand increases and, sometime in the future, we’d like to explore fresh cheeses and yogurt, and maybe organic beef," Rinske said.

For more information on Alabama’s Organic Milk, visit their website:

Kellie Henderson is a freelance writer from Troy.

After three years of transition, the grazing pastures at Working Cows Dairy are now certified organic. The cows are grazed in rotation to maximize the available forage.

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