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July 2018

4-H Extension Corner: Hitting the Bull’s-eye

Eva Stuckey nocks her arrow before taking her stance. Students are taught to aim and keep their eyes on the target. 
by Carolyn Drinkard

Sarah Butterworth is the 4-H Foundation Regional Extension Agent in Mobile County. Three years ago, Butterworth was searching for something to engage more students. She decided to try an archery program. The sport required very little equipment, and no child had to be an expert to participate. It seemed a perfect fit for this urban area. Archery would also teach life skills, build confidence and help to create lasting friendships – goals 4-H embraces.

Butterworth found so much interest in the sport that she started a club, which met at the county office. The members came from all over Mobile County and included public and private school students, as well as home-schoolers. So many came that Butterworth had to open a second club so archers could have enough shooting time. Volunteers also stepped forward and trained to become leaders.

In fall 2017, a home-schooling cooperative started its own club. They, too, had so much interest they had to form two groups.

In just three years, four archery clubs were active.

From the beginning, Butterworth realized that most students did not have archery equipment. She and Agent Assistant Denise Anderson applied for a grant from the Friends of the National Rifle Association. They also used 4-H funds and a $5 member donation for arrows and other supplies that might be needed.
Sarah Butterworth, left, helps Eva set up for her turn. Eva has cerebral palsy and uses her canes during shoots. 
"Archery is like a dance," Butterworth said. "We have to learn the fundamentals first such as how to hold the bow and how to look at the targets. In our clubs, we keep it light and fun. We learn, but we enjoy ourselves."

The Straight Arrow Club continues to expand. More adults have trained as leaders, and enthusiasm is high. Even though the teams are not yet interested in going to the state level, they do like regional shoots, involving friendly competitions with clubs from Baldwin County.

One of the original members of the club was Jeremy Orso, a fourth-grader at McDavid-Jones Elementary School.

When Jeremy’s mother brought him to class, his sister Eva Stuckey came along, too. Stuckey has cerebral palsy and uses her canes, but she would sit in the stands, encouraging the team and cheering them on. For two years, she watched the other archers. In Fall 2017, however, she made an important decision: She wanted to join in and learn to shoot.

"When she told me that she wanted to try, we were excited," Butterworth explained. "We weren’t sure how we could make it work, but we found a way!"

For archery, either Butterworth or Anderson walks Stuckey to the shooting line. She sits in a chair at her station until it’s her time to shoot. When she rises, she balances on the arm of one of the sponsors. Then she nocks her arrow and shoots from a 10-meter distance. Other club members retrieve her arrows.
Jeremy Orso, Eva’s brother, retrieves her arrows and helps her set up to shoot. Other club members also retrieve her arrows and help in other ways.

"She has natural talent," Butterworth said. "She likes it, and she’s good at shooting. We all get so excited when she shoots."

Stuckey is quick to praise her teammates, especially Orso.

"My brother has his own bow, and he’s really good," she proudly said. "He helps me with the ordinary stuff. He carries things for me, because it’s hard with my canes."

Orso is just as proud of Stuckey.

"She’s a good shot. She doesn’t like the 3-D shots like I do, but she can hit the bull’s-eye as often as I can," he smiled.

"Nothing stops Eva," Anderson added. "She’s a great shot, and all the other kids encourage her so much."

Stuckey’s courage has changed many attitudes. Even when her arrows missed the target, she kept on trying … looking at the target and never giving up.

Her teammates have been quick to accept her as a valued team member. They feel inspired by her.

A simple desire to engage more 4-H students turned into something greater than Sarah Butterworth could have ever imagined. Yes, her students learned archery skills. However when the Straight Arrow Club launched their arrows of acceptance, compassion and kindness, they really hit the bull’s-eye!

Carolyn Drinkard is a freelance writer from Thomasville. She can be reached at

A Helping Hoof

MANE rider Huck giggles as his volunteers help urge his trusty steed Channing Tatum into a trot. 

Montgomery Area Nontraditional Equestrians use horses to make lives better.

by Jackie Nix and Susie Wilson

From the vantage point of a quiet "pasture-esque" two-lane road on the outskirts of Pike Road in Montgomery County, there lies what appears to be an unassuming horse farm. But, once you pass the outer gates and make the slow drive back to the main office and stables, you find a state-of-the-art, equine-assisted therapeutic riding facility. This magical place is the Montgomery Area Nontraditional Equestrians, or MANE for short, where horses change lives.

MANE is a nonprofit organization formed in 1994 that provides safe and effective therapeutic-horseback-riding experiences for the Montgomery tri-county-area children and adults who have emotional, physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities. MANE’s equine-assisted activities provide the opportunities to improve motor function, flexibility, balance and core strength.

Cognitive skills such as verbalization, following directions, sequencing and judgment are also enhanced through riding. Riders’ confidence, self-esteem and independence naturally improve as well. And, on top of all these benefits, the certified instructors and volunteers make sure each rider has FUN.
MANE rider Savannah confidently steers Spirit around during a lesson. 
MANE lies on a 44-acre site and includes a modest, but well-designed, 15-stall barn and office building, with a comfortable waiting/viewing room overlooking a covered riding ring. The riding facilities include a 3-acre, advanced-sensory-integration trail, two covered and two outdoor riding rings, and mounting blocks to accommodate riders requiring a lift.

In addition to its therapeutic riding services, MANE offers youth riding lessons through local schools and summer camps that give kids, who wouldn’t normally have the chance, the opportunity to interact with horses, learn new skills and gain understanding about special needs.

While there are fees involved with all of the services provided by MANE, no rider is ever turned down due to financial difficulties. There are scholarships available for riders to defer some or all of the costs.

As you can probably imagine, MANE has many horses to feed and care for, a facility to maintain and life-changing lessons to teach. Even with fees and scholarship grants, MANE must look to the community for support. MANE relies on volunteers and donors to be able to provide its unique (in the area) and extremely beneficial services to so many.
Fun is infectious at MANE for students and volunteers. 
Would you like to be a part of the magic? MANE needs volunteers for the fall session. It’s not necessary to have prior experience with horses, but that certainly helps! The only requirement is that you not be afraid of them. MANE volunteers are trained on-site and perform tasks such as leading horses during lessons, walking beside students during lessons, grooming and caring for the horses, helping with fundraisers or helping with a host of behind-the-scenes administrative tasks. MANE is always looking for dedicated and dependable volunteers who can devote any amount of time, from an hour a week to several hours a day.

If you live in the Montgomery tri-county area and have time and talents to donate, please consider becoming a MANE volunteer. Visit to learn more about MANE and to download the necessary volunteer forms. Training and orientation for new volunteers are conducted once a month. Contact them at 334-213-0909 or to obtain more information.

If you don’t live in the Montgomery area or your schedule doesn’t allow time to volunteer, you can still help this very worthy organization through donations directly through via credit or debit card.

Also, if you are a horse owner and have equine equipment to donate (hoof picks, brushes, halters, leads, children’s riding boots, etc.), contact MANE at 334-213-0909 or to find out how you can help.

Jackie Nix is a freelance writer from Prattville and Susie Wilson is one of MANE’s directors.

Ag Insight

by Jim Erickson

E-connectivity Grant Received by Alabama Co-op

The Tombigbee Electric Cooperative has received a $2.9 million grant to bring e-connectivity to rural Marion County.

The cooperative will use a U.S. Department of Agriculture Community Connect Grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network in the community of Brilliant and in surrounding areas of Marion County. The project will connect nearly 500 households, as well as businesses and essential community services, to high-speed broadband.

In addition, the co-op will establish a community center within the service area where residents can access the internet free of charge.

USDA’s Community Connect Grant program provides grants to bring high-speed e-connectivity to rural communities where there is not yet a business case for private providers to deliver service.

In 1938, former President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke of rural electrification as being a necessity of life, not a luxury. Broadband-internet access today is in the same category, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue noted.

Imports’ Share of U.S. Food Use Increasing

Imports’ share of the U.S. food and beverage dollar has almost doubled over the last two decades, due in part to growing demand by U.S. consumers for year-round fresh produce options and increasing global trade in food and beverages.

In 2016, the most recent year for which the data are available, 87.3 percent of food and beverage purchases by U.S. consumers, including both grocery-store and eating-out purchases, were from domestic production.

Imported food and beverages such as produce from Chile or wines from France accounted for the remaining 12.7 percent. In 1993, imports were 6.9 percent.

In addition, imported inputs are used in U.S. food and beverage production, and their share of the U.S. food and beverage dollar has risen as well. Imported inputs used by U.S. food companies and restaurants include both food inputs such as avocadoes from Mexico and cranberries from Canada and nonfood inputs such as natural gas and foreign-made restaurant equipment.

In 2016, imported inputs used in domestically produced food and beverages accounted for 4.7 percent of the U.S. food and beverage dollar, up from 3.7 percent in 1993.

United States Issues First-Ever WTO Counter Notification Against India

The United States has submitted a counter notification to the World Trade Organization Committee on Agriculture on India’s market price support for wheat and rice. It is the first-ever COA notification by the United States under the WTO Agreement on Agriculture regarding another country’s measures.

Based on U.S. calculations, it appears India has substantially under-reported its market price support for wheat and rice. When calculated according to the WTO Agreement on Agriculture methodology, India’s support has far exceeded its allowable levels of trade-distorting domestic support.

Blueberry Use on the Rise

Per capita U.S. fresh blueberry use has increased to record-breaking levels each year since 2006, reaching 1.79 pounds in 2017.

Rising U.S. demand over the last two decades has been supported by increased availability from domestic production and imports. Imports, however, have risen more rapidly than domestic production, climbing to a record 328.3 million pounds in 2016 – exceeding domestic production for the first time over the period 1980-2017.

Imports’ share of domestic use rose from about 25 percent in the 1980s to over 50 percent in recent years.

Over half the total import volume comes from Chile; other key suppliers include Canada, Mexico, Peru and Argentina.

Being sourced mainly from the Southern Hemisphere, a majority of the imports occur during the offseason for domestic production. The U.S. production season begins in April and runs through the summer into early fall.

Roundtable Held on Food Waste

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue recently hosted a food-waste roundtable with congressional representatives, food industry leaders and nonprofit groups to raise awareness of the issue while discussing solutions with leaders throughout the entire food-supply chain.
The roundtable was the first of what likely will be many USDA public events on food waste.

While food loss and waste eats up nearly 40 percent of the food supply in the United States, millions of Americans also need access to safe, wholesome, affordable foods, USDA officials said.

Consumers are responsible for most of the food loss and waste, accounting for almost 90 billion pounds annually, or 20 percent of the U.S. food supply. The retail sector is responsible for about 10 percent, totaling 43 billion pounds.

USDA wants to address the problem by working with farmers, industry and consumers to raise food loss and waste awareness, and share best practices.

Conservation Spending Focuses on Working Land Programs

From 2012 to 2017, combined funding for working land programs accounted for over 50 percent of spending in USDA’s conservation efforts.

USDA agricultural conservation programs provide technical and financial assistance to farmers who adopt and maintain practices conserving resources or enhancing environmental quality.

Although USDA implements over a dozen individual conservation programs, nearly all assistance is channeled through six: the Conservation Reserve Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Conservation Stewardship Program, Conservation Technical Assistance, Agricultural Conservation Easement Program and the Resource Conservation Partnership Program.

EQIP, CSP and CTA are often referred to as "working land programs" because they focus primarily on supporting conservation on land in agricultural production (crops or grazing).

Begun under the 2002 Farm Act, this emphasis reflects a long-term trend increasing annual spending in working land programs. The 2014 Farm Act continued to focus on working land conservation.

In 2017 dollars (to adjust for inflation), this spending increased from roughly $1 billion under the 1996 Farm Act to over $3 billion under the 2014 Act.

Project Aims at Boosting Sweet Potato Market

USDA has announced funding to support 11 projects in six states to develop solutions to challenges affecting the specialty crop industries crossing state boundaries. The awards are managed through the Specialty Crop Multi-State Program administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service.

Among the projects is one in which the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture will partner with the U.S. Sweet Potato Council Inc., collaborating with sweet potato commissions and councils in Alabama, California, Louisiana, Mississippi and North Carolina on a project to increase the market for sweet potatoes. The program received $250,000.

Farm Numbers, Output Offer Contrasts

Small family farms – those with less than $350,000 in annual gross cash farm income – account for about 90 percent of U.S. farms, half all farmland and a quarter of the value of production.

In 2016, 99 percent of U.S. farms were family farms, where the principal operator and his or her relatives owned the majority of the business.

By comparison, large-scale family farms – those with $1 million or more in GCFI – made up only 3 percent of U.S. farms and 18 percent of farmland, but contributed 45 percent of production.
Nonfamily farms such as partnerships of unrelated partners and corporations accounted for just 1 percent of U.S. farms and 10 percent of production.

The 19 percent of nonfamily farms with GCFI of $1 million or more accounted for 88 percent of all nonfamily farms’ production.

Blueberry Time is Here

by Angela Treadaway

Blueberries are plentiful this year and a very good source of those great anti-oxidants. Why not pick some to use in recipes and also to freeze for later use?

Blueberries are probably the easiest fruit to prepare and serve. There’s no peeling, pitting, coring or cutting. Just rinse, eat and enjoy!

Blueberries are not as perishable as most other berries. For optimal storage, berries should be refrigerated, but not washed until needed. Once chilled, they will maintain their quality 10-14 days. Remember, both frozen and fresh berries should be rinsed and drained just before serving.


  • July is National Blueberry Month in the United States, but it is August in Canada.
  • Blueberry muffins are the most popular muffin in the United States.
  • A single bush can produce as many as 6,000 blueberries a year.
  • Only three fruits are native to North America: blueberries, cranberries and concord grapes.
Source: U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council


Some fruits should be picked or bought when they are at the ideal stage for eating because they do not continue to ripen after picking. These include apples, cherries, grapefruit, grapes, oranges, pineapple, blueberries, strawberries, tangerines and watermelon.

Other fruits continue to ripen after they are picked: apricots, bananas, cantaloupe, kiwi, nectarines, peaches, pears, plantains and plums. Tomatoes also continue to ripen after picking.

To speed the ripening of fruits such as peaches, pears and plums, put them in a ripening bowl or in a loosely closed brown paper bag at room temperature. Plastic bags don’t work for ripening.


Yield: 12 muffins
  • 1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
  • 1¾ cups plus 1 Tablespoon flour, divided
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup sour cream*
  • 1/3 cup milk
Heat oven to 400°. Grease 12 2½-inch muffins cups or line muffin tins with foil liners.

In a bowl, toss blueberries with 1 tablespoon of flour to keep them from coming to the top.

In a second bowl, combine remaining flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.

In a third bowl, beat egg, sour cream and milk. Stir into flour mixture until just combined – batter will be lumpy. Stir in blueberries, until evenly distributed.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake about 20 minutes, until golden.

* Because sour cream is the only fat in this recipe, regular sour cream will provide more richness than light sour cream.
Baking Tip: For best results, dust washed, unthawed blueberries lightly with flour before stirring into batters.


Yield: 12-16 servings
  • 1 package butter-flavored cake mix 3 eggs
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cups blueberries
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
Heat oven to 325°. Lightly grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan.

In a bowl, combine cake mix, cream cheese, oil and eggs. Beat until smooth. Gently fold in berries.

Spoon into prepared pan. Bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.


You can freeze blueberries for long-term storage. Some people prefer to freeze berries without washing to avoid moisture breaking down their cell walls. Wash the frozen berries before using. Other people prefer to wash the berries before freezing them so they are ready to use when taken out of the freezer. Be sure to dry them thoroughly between towels before freezing.

It is ideal to freeze berries on a tray before packing into bags or boxes. This allows you to easily remove the amount you want at one time. Frozen blueberries can be used later to make jams, syrup or in baking. Most of the berries will probably be used to top off cereal or sprinkled in pancakes or muffins.


Yield: 10 half-pint (8-ounce) jars
  • Hot water, for canning jars preparation
  • 6-2/3 cups slightly crushed blueberries
  • 1-2/3 cups water or unsweetened fruit juice
  • 5 Tablespoons lemon juice, bottled
  • 6 Tablespoons Ball Low or No-Sugar Pectin
  • ½ teaspoon butter (not margarine), optional – to reduce foaming
  • 1-2½ cups sugar, your choice of sweetness
  • Water, for water bath canner
Prepare canning jars by filling them with hot water. This will prevent them from breaking when hot jam is poured into them.

In a large saucepan, combine blueberries and water or fruit juice and lemon juice. Before heating and with a whisk, gradually stir in pectin. Over high heat, bring mixture to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, stirring constantly. Add sugar. Return to a full rolling boil. Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly and adding butter (if used). Remove from heat and skim off foam.

Pour water out of jars and fill with jam. Wipe rims. Place lid and screw band on. Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.

Remove and place on towel away from drafts to allow to cool and seal overnight.

Note: This is a tried and true recipe using the converting chart. It is good for other berries and fruit, too.


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

Corn Time


Diagnostic Laboratory Director Retires

Dr. David Pugh leaves far-reaching positives in his wake.

by Dr. Tony Frazier

Sometimes, I think trying to summarize or describe what a person has meant to me is diminished by my inadequate attempt to express my feelings. Nevertheless, I am going to give it a try. I have had the privilege to work with many people over the past few years who I can say I have been honored to be associated with. That is the case with Dr. David Pugh, retiring Director of the Alabama Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory System. About the time this article hits your mailbox, Pugh will be officially retired. He has only been with our lab for a little over four years, but his leadership was critical to our lab system’s not only surviving but reaching some impressive milestones. I believe someday that, after I have retired and look back at my career as State Veterinarian, having been able to hire Pugh as director of the laboratory system will have been one of the accomplishments I will be most proud of.

In early 2012, Dr. Fred Hoerr retired after 31 years as Director of the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory System. I learned a lot from Hoerr and pretty much never lost sleep over lab issues.

Along about the time he retired, we were dealing with serious budget cuts causing us to work with a greatly reduced staff at the lab. It was like we were having to walk to school … 5 miles uphill both there and back … in the snow every day … barefooted. Sometimes just getting the work out was a challenge as many of the lab personnel were wearing multiple hats. One of those was Dr. Sara Rowe. She was not only head of the serology and microbiology labs but was also holding the position of interim lab director.

It is significant to note that we were dealing with budget cuts. I interviewed several potential lab directors, but, uniformly, they were scared away by having to deal with budget cuts and reduced staff. That is not a great hand to be dealt, so not many people are going to walk into a situation with a handful of negatives to deal with right off the bat. And it was certainly unreasonable to ask Rowe to fix things that had occurred due to budget cuts, while still performing her regular assigned duties.

And all of this was going on at a time when the threats of bovine spongiform encephalopathy and avian influenza were knocking at our door.

Then one day, it was kind of like a "Saul on the Road to Damascus" experience. I realized I didn’t have to hire someone with a laboratory background. I needed someone who had the ability to lead us through the wilderness and at the same time prepare us to go through the second round of accreditation. Accreditation requires showing the reviewers that your lab has achieved a difficult-to-maintain level of excellence.
No wonder I was having a difficult time selling the position to potential candidates.

When I realized I didn’t have to have a "lab person" in the position of director, there was only one person I considered. I had known Pugh since he came to the Auburn College of Veterinary Medicine in 1990. I knew that, as a veterinarian in private practice, a professor, a technical service veterinarian for Fort Dodge and Pfizer, and the Project Veterinarian and Director of Operations for the Auburn Equine Plasma Project, he had not only succeeded but excelled. As I looked into his resume, I realized he had whatever the "it" factor is that one needs to be successful, passionate and demand perfection. I figured he had been in the arena enough and had probably dealt with enough adversity that he could deal with our issues, even if it did require pulling an occasional rabbit out of his hat.

I suppose Pugh may look at me as a bit of a snake oil salesman, but it was certainly a good day when he agreed to take the position as lab director.

One of the key issues we had to deal with was to improve turnaround time for reporting results to the veterinarians and producers who were submitting samples or carcasses to us. When you must cut key staff members, something is bound to suffer. I am happy that quality never suffered. However, being able to get the tests completed and getting reports out in a timely manner is critical to a successful lab.
Pugh took over and began focusing on improving getting the reports out quickly and filling the critical staff positions the budget cuts had taken away.

As time went on, he was able to not only "put out fires" but also build and move in a positive direction.

With Pugh’s leadership, the Auburn lab passed the reaccreditation process and the Boaz lab received full accreditation. Also, the Hanceville lab will be going through that process, soon followed by the Elba lab.

Accreditation in and of itself is a tedious process and requires a tremendous amount of attention and focus, while still performing the everyday duties of the labs. Accreditation is a big deal. If you bring up the subject with Pugh, he downplays his role in the whole thing. He is quick to give credit to those who were the boots on the ground, the workers in the labs.

One other thing I want to mention about Pugh before we close this chapter and move on: He cared about the workers under his supervision. He always wanted the best for them. He encouraged those who could qualify for a promotion or better position to apply for it. Then he would call me weekly to see what we could do to accommodate those promotions. The lab personnel were like family to him. We could talk about the shortcomings of the lab, but you had sure better not say anything negative about the workers to the outside world. He vigorously stood up for his workers. He didn’t refer to them as subordinates. He truly felt like the person emptying the garbage cans was as important to the success of the lab as his Ph.D. pathologists.

Pugh did right by me. I wish I had more superlatives in my bag of words to do him right. He came at a difficult time and dealt with difficult circumstances. We still aren’t rolling in money but there is some improvement.

As the very capable Dr. Heather Walz takes the baton from Pugh and assumes the position of director, the hill is not as steep to climb as it was for her predecessor.

Dr. David Pugh, thanks for literally putting your blood, sweat and tears into the Alabama Veterinary Lab System. We are all better because of it.
Godspeed in retirement, my friend.

Dr. Tony Frazier is the State Veterinarian for Alabama. You can contact him at 334-240-7253


FFA Sentinel: When It’s Time to Retire My Blue Jacket

Tallassee FFA members in Indianapolis at the 90th National FFA Convention. 

Reflections of Two Senior FFA Officers

by Andy Chamness & Dr. Daniel Free

Picture in your mind that iconic Western scene of the cowboy riding off into the sunset. It seems like the end, but Roy, Gene, Marshall Dillon or the Duke always came back for another adventure.

As FFA members prepare to retire their FFA jackets and look out to the far horizon, some will be breaking new ground, some will be moving full steam ahead and others may still be searching. Whatever the case, they were a part of something much bigger than themselves.

FFA is an organization that changes lives; it truly builds on those components of premier leadership, personal growth and career success. If you think about that teacher who made the most difference in your life, it may very well have been an agriscience educator – maybe not. The message is the same: "You can do anything you set your mind to do." Secretly, the teacher is thinking, "I am going to push you to do it and see how you respond."
Tallassee FFA Chapter Officer Team. 
FFA is not just about agriculture, although it is our premise. It is about student development. No, it is about people development, relationship development, skill development … and so much more.

I hope you enjoy the contributions from two retiring chapter officers of the Tallassee FFA Chapter. I would especially like to thank these members and their advisor, Dr. Daniel Free, for sharing these reflections with me. Occasionally, you read something and it makes you proud. This is one of those times. It is a testament to an organization and a teacher’s positive effect on students. Enjoy!
Some of the Tallassee FFA members during their FFA Farm Day. 
Four years ago, I was a 14-year-old who would become physically sick and leave a room in tears when a teacher had me get up in front of a small crowd of peers. However, today I can stand and speak with confidence to a large crowd, teach those around me and serve in ways I would have not thought possible. I give FFA, along with my advisor, the credit for conquering that fear.

Among the numerous skills I have obtained in my FFA career, I have gained strong soft skills such as public speaking, leadership and how to work as an effective team member. All in all, I have become a better, stronger version of myself.

Furthermore, FFA has provided me with the opportunity to find my passion in greenhouse management.

Despite the rapidly approaching FFA banquet, at which I will officially retire my blue corduroy jacket and pass my duties on to the next secretary, I will forever have the memories and the family I have made over the past four years.

Emily Stillwell, retiring Tallassee FFA Chapter Secretary
One of the memories made by FFA members Haydin Mann, Emily Stillwell and Gage Simmons is placing fourth in the Central District Floriculture CDE. 
FFA is an organization that has enabled me to grow into the young man I am today. Over the years, it has been a constant source of encouragement and has pushed me in every way to prepare myself for the next stage of life.

My FFA advisor and fellow officers are far more than a group of people with common interests; we are a team and we are friends … but, most important, we are a close family.

It is through FFA that I have gained the mindset to prevail, refusing to give up or give in. My advisor has pushed me through obstacles I previously thought were impossible to overcome.

FFA is not just an organization, it is an extended family with innumerable possibilities for each and every person.

As I retire my blue corduroy jacket, I am fully aware that I am forever in the FFA family.

Gage Simmons, retiring Tallassee FFA Chapter Vice President

As retiring officers graduate and move to the next phase of their life, I hope they place the words of these two FFA members in their hearts, continue to support FFA and share the positive message with all they meet.

Andy Chamness is the executive secretary for the Alabama FFA Association and Dr. Daniel Free is the FFA advisor at Tallassee High School.

Foraging … For More Than Just a Meal

by Herb T. Farmer

Take a walk on the wild side sometime and see what kind of food is available in the world for free.

Why, I know a fellow who travels the country by thumb and foot, works odd jobs along the way and rarely pays for a meal. He’s all muscle and brains, and only feeds his temple (body) the healthiest fruits and vegetables. He passes through my neck of the woods every year or two and I always have a job for him.

He’s in his 30s now and in the best health of his life, he says. He just passed through recently on his way to Iowa to visit family and friends. He said he’s ready to eat some corn and drink some beer.

He forages along the way, eating whatever is in season in his geographical location.

Spending most of his winters in Mexico, Southern California or South Texas, he has seen all of North America except the Arctic region and Greenland. He said he nearly froze to death one summer in northern Alberta. I asked him once if he owned a winter coat. He said he buys coats as he needs them and gives them to homeless folks he meets along the way, but always keeps a lightweight jacket in his bedroll.

You have to understand that his overhead is minimal, and his home is bigger than anything you could imagine!
Azalea leaf galls, or Exobasidium fungus, occurs when springtime is damp and cool. It doesn’t harm the plant and dries up and falls off after a few days of warming weather. But, while they’re there on the plants and are fresh and plump as this one, eat them! They taste like green apples. 
Talking about my traveling buddy really gets me going, but this column is about something I learned from him. Well, I already knew some of it, but he helped me fine-tune it … foraging for food and other stuff.

According to The Free Dictionary by Farlex ( "Forage 1. To wander in search of food or provisions. 2. To search for a particular food or foods, often in the wild …."

With the spring being so cool and damp this year, there was an abundance of azalea leaf galls – Exobasidium fungus, actually. I didn’t realize until recently they are, in fact, edible. They taste a little like a green apple.
Smilax tips have the taste and texture of tender asparagus when you sauté or stir-fry them. 
Another overlooked delicacy in the woods or gardens is Smilax vine tips. I recently harvested some from my stock plants (Ha ha. Nemesis and nuisance; hopefully, glyphosate and I will be able to eradicate them this summer!) and added them to my stir-fry. The tips, when prepared in butter and olive oil, taste much like asparagus.

Fiddlehead ferns are equally tasty. Again, stir-fry or sauté in butter and olive oil. Do not eat raw fiddleheads.

Poke sallet (Phytolacca americana) is out of season, but is a staple in my house when it’s in season. Sure, it takes a little time to prepare, but a single 1-cup serving has 35 grams of protein and 3 grams of carbs!

Now, I’ve got that song stuck in my head … "Poke Salad Annie …."

Mulberries, wild blueberries and wild blackberries are all over the land. You just have to find them and remember each season.

Wild plum trees grow along Red Mountain and other ranges north. When I run across a tree, while hiking in the woods during their season, I always fill my pockets – even if they’re green.

Native persimmons are popular in the South. Unfortunately, by the time the fruit gets ripe, it falls to the ground. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with picking them up and eating the good side. Waste not, want not. If you happen to get one that isn’t quite ripe, I guarantee you it’ll flip your lips back!

Pawpaw trees (Asimina triloba) aren’t as common as they were when I was a kid growing up, but, if you find one, the fruit is tasty and loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants.

Crabapple trees grow naturally in most parts of the United States. When ripe, there’s nothing tastier.

The crabapple is another fruit packed with vitamins C and A, calcium, iron, protein and plenty of carbs!

If you are foraging in gated communities, beware the homeowners and the poisons used on their lawns. Those can leach into the ground and get taken up by the plants producing the fruits. Never eat a pansy plucked from a plant-poisoned yard!

Elaeagnus berries, quince, dandelion, thistle hearts and sunflowers are out there for the taking. However, you should always ask the property owner before foraging.

Last, on foraging, you’re not limited to food. Dumpster diving is a type of foraging, too. I have found some pretty cool stuff in dumpsters and on the side of the road with the discards from homeowners. I bought my first vacuum cleaner over 40 years ago and used it until it died, about three years. I haven’t had to buy another one yet! I just keep finding discarded ones that simply need a tuneup and some love.

Same goes with lawn mowers. Most push mowers are made to last about three to seven years with the average owner. I find them, fix them and use them until I find a better one, then pass the old one along to someone else.

Keep an eye out for free stuff and free food! If it saves you a dollar a week, then that’s over half a hundred in a year’s time.

Let’s eat! Here’s a simple recipe I call, "Uh-oh! There’s an eggplant."

Sometimes food gets lost, misplaced or forgotten in the refrigerators. I keep them full and always try to make sure the stock is rotated. But sometimes … there becomes an elusive veggie. When I discover it, I use it right away!

"Uh-oh! There’s an eggplant."

Right, from top down, the reason I soak eggplants in salt water is to take away the bitterness some of them have. While the eggplant is soaking in salt water, thinly slice an onion and slice a bell pepper or two and some mushrooms. You will use them and a small can of tomato sauce in the casserole. Uh-oh! There’s an eggplant in the fridge. I hope it’s still good. 
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 eggplant, sliced and soaked in salt water 15 minutes
  • ½ onion, sliced thin
  • 1 medium-size tomato, sliced
  • 1-2 bell peppers, sliced
  • Mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 small can tomato sauce, divided
  • 2/3 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
  • Pepper and salt, to taste
In the bottom of a 9x13 glass baking dish, drizzle the olive oil. Drain eggplant. (Rinse if you want to decrease the amount of salt.) Layer half the eggplant, onion, tomato, bell pepper and mushroom slices. Drizzle with half the tomato sauce. Sprinkle with half the parmesan. Lightly season with the pepper and salt. Repeat layers. You can add some curls from the cheese on top for garnish if desired.
Cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until tender.

Oh, yum! It’s good!

Until next time, remember to watch your salt and sugar, drink plenty of pure water and breathe in and out!

Thanks for reading!

For more information, email me at I’ll answer your questions and I enjoy the emails!

Be sure to find me on Facebook at Herb Farmer-The Herb Farm.

As always, check with an expert, like your doctor, before using any herbal remedy.

From Blues to Barbecues

by John Howle

“They put me on television. And the whole thing broke loose.
It was wild, I tell ya for sure.” ~ Elvis Presley
A large photo hangs inside the recording studio of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley at the piano. 
When I was a teenager, I quite often spent the night with my grandparents. On one particular night, my grandfather and I were watching a documentary on the life of Elvis Presley from his birth, in 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi, to his death, in 1977 at Graceland in Memphis. The documentary covered Presley’s humble beginnings, his skyrocketing fame and his untimely death at the age of 42.

During the last part of the documentary, it was obvious Presley was overwhelmed with his life of fame and completely worn-out. As he was quoted, "There are too many people who depend on me. I’m too obligated. I’m in too far to get out."

After the documentary, my grandfather said, "That ole boy would have been better off if he hadn’t left that farm in Mississippi."

He then got up and went to bed.

When he was younger, Presley said, "Whatever I will become will be what God has chosen for me."

It was evident God had provided Presley with a huge opportunity, but it came at a cost.

My family and I recently visited Memphis. If you like Elvis Presley, barbecue and blues, Memphis is definitely the place to visit. Three must-see spots are Sun Studios, Graceland and Beale Street.

Sun Studios

In 1950, Sam Phillips, a DJ from Florence, opened the Memphis Recording Service, later the Sun Records label. The top musicians who got their start there were names such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, and blues legends such as Ike Turner and B.B. King.

When the 1951 hit "Rocket 88" was performed by Turner’s band, another first took place. Turner’s guitar amplifier got knocked over during the ride to Memphis and the speaker cone broke; they couldn’t afford to buy a new amplifier. Phillips asked them to record with the broken speaker that Turner had packed newspaper around that gave the guitar a scratchy-growling sound. On that day, the sound of guitar distortion was born.

Sun Studios is located on Union Avenue and is open for touring seven days a week, 10 a.m.-6:15 p.m. Adult tickets are $14 and children 5-11 can visit for free. For more information, visit
Left to right, Sun Studios is a complete museum of early rock, blues and country.The self-guided tour of Graceland gives a glimpse into the private life of Elvis, from his pool room to the Jungle Room. 
In the auto museum, you can find many of the vehicles driven by Elvis on and off the big screen, including his iconic pink Cadillac. 


A tour of Graceland covers a look at Presley’s mansion as well as the cars he drove and the costumes he wore onstage. In 1957 at age 22, he bought the house and a little over 13 acres for just over $100,000. Needless to say, it’s worth quite a bit more today.

Presley moved his parents, Vernon and Gladys, into Graceland with him. His dad had his own office in the back where he handled business, bookkeeping and answered fan mail.

Growing up extremely poor, Vernon worked those early years with his brother farming, raising cotton, corn and a few hogs. When he moved into Graceland, he turned one of the brick outbuildings into a smokehouse. The hooks for hanging meat are still in the ceiling.

For more information about booking a trip to Graceland, visit

Beale Street and the Blues

Beale Street began roaring in the 1920s with nightclubs, jazz and blues, and people in suits mingling with those wearing overalls. Bordered by the Mississippi River, the areas in and around Beale Street are lined with neon lights advertising jazz and blues singers and signs boasting the best barbecue in the South.

During the Jazz Age, musicians such as B.B. King, Louis Armstrong, Memphis Minnie and Muddy Waters helped create the style referred to as the "Memphis Blues." Even Presley, the white boy from Mississippi, credited the influence of this early blues music on his musical style.

There are plenty of places on Beale Street to enjoy music inside the clubs, on the streets or in the open alleys. Some of the club names reflect the musical influence such as The Tin Roof, Jerry Lee Lewis’ Honky Tonk Café and B.B. King’s Blues Club. For more information about Beale Street and the blues, visit

While you are near Beale Street, check out the National Civil Rights Museum and visit the Loraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. This is a moving experience because even the coffee cups and cigarettes are left where they were at the time of the shooting April 4, 1968. The original style of the motel is also as it was that day.


Finally, some of the best barbecue can be had at Central Barbeque. Plenty of slow-smoked pork with slaw on top in a thick sandwich with home fries is a great way to end a long day of Memphis Music. Central Barbeque has been ranked the No. 1 barbecue in Memphis since 2005. They have been on shows such as "Pitmasters" and in publications such as USA Today and Southern Living.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.

Growing Chains of Kindness

Doris Kelley’s hands are constantly in service to others, bringing love and happiness.

by Carolyn Drinkard
Doris Kelley holds a 15-inch Raggedy Ann doll she made, along with the 36-inch doll she put together from the supplies given to her by the family of Wilda Knight. 
Raggedy Ann and Andy have delighted children since the early 1900s. With their never-ending smiles, red yarn hair, black button eyes and big valentine hearts, the adorable dolls speak the universal language of love and kindness.

Doris Kelley has been making these lovable rag dolls for over 40 years, but she came upon the endearing twosome quite by accident. Her friend, Wilda Knight, had made the dolls for years and asked Kelley to help make their clothes. Kelley agreed and fell in love with the delightful dolls.

According to Kelley, her first attempts at making her own dolls were pretty disheartening.
"My first one was terrible," she laughed. "I didn’t know what I was doing. The doll’s hair was so awful that I had to cut it."

She kept trying, however, and soon, she had developed her own signature style. She now makes both Raggedy Ann and Andy in 15-, 26- and 36-inch sizes. Recently, she added a 20-inch doll that has become very popular. The 15-inch doll is her favorite because it is the ideal size for babies.

Doll making has proved to be a most rewarding hobby.

"It is just something you can sit down and do, and it’s so much fun," she added. "I really like to dress them and fix their hair."

Kelley has never sold any of her dolls, and she has no idea how many she has made. "I love giving them away," she explained. "I have lived long enough to give them to multiple generations. That’s very satisfying."

Kelley’s dolls have journeyed all over the United States and into many foreign countries. One of her dolls found a home in Beijing, China, when her granddaughter, Brooke Dosier, moved there to teach. Brooke’s roommate, from South Africa, fell in love with the doll, so Kelley sent her one. The doll now lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. Kelley also sent some dolls with her church’s missionary team when they traveled to Belize.

Doll making is just one of Kelley’s many talents. She is also an avid quilter. For years, she has worked with several other women in a special quilting room, provided by her church, Springfield Methodist Protestant Church. The ladies have made all kinds of quilts, including one "honor quilt" that was later given to the church’s oldest veteran.
Doris, left, visits with Tracey Sims, who served as a missionary to Belize for four years. Doris has sent some of her dolls with mission teams to Belize. 
Kelley is known throughout this area as an accomplished seamstress. For years, she made costumes for drama productions at Thomasville High School. She once made 75 satin, patriotic costumes for Thomasville’s Bicentennial. She could not recall how many other outfits she may have made through the years.

"Lots!" she laughed.

Years before cheerleaders ordered their uniforms, Kelley sewed the outfits for the cheer groups in Thomasville. She also made many of the matching suits each girl took to camp.

Kelley may best be known as "Thomasville’s favorite lunch lady," a title bestowed on her by students at Thomasville High School. For 28 years, Kelley served as manager of the THS cafeteria. She always believed her job was a ministry, because she knew the children she fed needed much more than food. If Kelley knew about it, no child was ever hungry. Her co-workers related many stories of Kelley using her own money to feed children who were unable to pay. Whenever Kelley found a greater need, she would petition her church for additional help.

Kelley has always had a big smile and a warm heart for all children, but those with disabilities touched her in a special way. For these children, she made sure that coming to "Mrs. Kelley’s lunchroom" was a joyous occasion. It was no secret that she remembered their birthdays with homemade treats such as her incredible caramel cakes and pumpkin rolls.
Doris and Sandra Kelley are both members of the Circle of Friends, a group of community women who offer support and encouragement to others. At one meeting, members donned their finest bonnets for a Spring Tea Party. 
For years, Kelley prepared pregame meals for the Thomasville Athletic Club. The coaches preferred hearty, home-cooked spreads for their players, and the boys loved Kelley’s cooking. She was even known to repair and wash uniforms for players.

Another interesting story showed the depths of Kelley’s heart. After one Tiger player was injured and transported to the hospital, the medical staff had to cut off his jersey to treat him. The player recovered; however, he was devastated to have lost the jersey he had worn for four years. Kelley stepped in to help. She recovered the pieces and recreated the jersey.

"It was unrecognizable when I started," she stated, "but I kept working until I got it back together. From the stands, you couldn’t tell his jersey had been pieced together."

The youngster was overjoyed that he once again had his special jersey.

Even after retiring in 2006, Kelley still volunteered in the sewing and foods classes at THS. She spent many hours helping students make their outfits for a fashion show or whip up a tasty dish for the annual parents’ banquets. For Kelley, this was time very well spent.
Left to right, Doris, Voncille Newsome and Helen Drinkard were one team who helped to clean up their community. The group picked up trash on the roadsides of London Road. 
Kelley’s hands are constantly in service to others. She has worked on the Thomasville Salvation Army Board for years. Around Christmas, she can often be seen in front of local stores, ringing bells for the Red Kettle Campaign. At her church, Kelley serves as the community coordinator, treasurer of the Women’s Missionary Society, Sunday school teacher and Junior Missionary Society helper. For many years, she prepared Wednesday night meals at her church. Now, she is a member of one of four food teams who supply meals once a month for the Feed My Sheep ministry. Each Wednesday morning, she joins volunteers from five other churches to minister to residents at Thomasville Healthcare and Rehab. She also presents devotionals regularly to seniors at the Thomasville Nutrition Center.

Just like her Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, Doris Kelley speaks the universal language of love and kindness. With her never-ending smile and big valentine heart, Kelley never stops giving to others.

Raggedy Ann probably summed up Kelley’s life best:

"When we give to another, we never know,

How long the chain of kindness will grow."

Carolyn Drinkard is a freelance writer from Thomasville. She can be reached at

Help for Certified Organic Producers

Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries is accepting applications for USDA organic cost-share reimbursement program.

Press Release from the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries

Alabama growers and handlers of organic agricultural products can recover part of the cost associated with their U.S. Department of Agriculture certification. The reimbursement covers 75 percent of certification costs, up to a maximum of $750.

The cost-share program makes it easier for certified organic businesses throughout the supply chain by recouping the costs associated with USDA organic certification.

The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries will administer this noncompetitive grant program by processing applications for cost-share funds and issuing reimbursements to eligible applicants.

"We encourage organic producers to participate in this program and hope it will recoup some of the expenses associated with becoming a USDA certified organic operation," said Commissioner John McMillan.

ADAI distributes funds on a first-come, first-served basis until funds are exhausted. The rebates are available to cover certification expenses paid from Oct. 1, 2016, to Sept. 30, 2017, or for the period of Oct. 1, 2017, to Sept. 30, 2018.

Application forms and additional details can be obtained by calling Johnny Blackmon, with ADAI, at 334-240-7257 or by email at Applicants may also apply at local USDA Farm Service Agency offices. To locate the office nearest you, search

All applications must be submitted by Sept. 30, 2018.

Home Cooking

by Nadine Johnson

I’m cooking again. After my husband’s death, I more or less gave up the art. And there is art in cooking. During these years, I have eaten, of course, and tried to eat proper, healthy food. I didn’t ever really feel satisfied after a meal. I often kept nibbling. Recently, I had a strong urge to cook and dedicated Saturday as the day for this project.

The first Saturday, I cooked roast beef, butter beans, carrot salad and Mexican cornbread (without hot peppers). I shared it with a neighbor friend, and I ate the same foods for several days. Some went into the freezer for another day.

The next Saturday, my menu was chicken potpie, oriental salad and Mexican cornbread.

Again, I shared it with my neighbor and followed the same process of freezing for a later date.

Next Saturday, the menu will be ham, field peas (pinkeye purple hulls), corn on the cob, okra and tomatoes plus fresh tomatoes, cucumber slices and green onions; plus the usual Mexican cornbread, of course.

I was just thinking about the plants that go into the preparation of these meals (the animals providing my meats were fed plant diets). Do these plants belong in the "herb" category? Why not? I’ve decided to consider them herbs.

You’ll wonder why Mexican cornbread instead of corn pone. It’s because whatever "they" have done to today’s corn, it does not provide decent cornmeal for corn pone. It does make wonderful Mexican cornbread, though, and it is so easy to put in the freezer to be heated when desired.

"Mother, make us some of that cornbread like you used to make," my children ask.

"It’s impossible with today’s cornmeal," I answer.

They remember the days of their youth. Often their friends dropped by at suppertime, knowing full well a corn pone would be on our table, and they would be offered a piece.

Yesterday, I purchased some cornmeal. A young man happened to be working on the "baking goods" racks. He and I spoke.

"I’m looking for plain meal."

"It’s all plain meal."

"No. Some of it is self-rising. Plain meal has no baking powder, soda, salt and definitely no sugar."

He looked confused.

"I don’t understand," he remarked.

"You’re just too young to know."

We laughed.

If it were possible, I would go to the corn crib, pick out desired corn ears, shuck them and shell a bushel. Then I would take it to Linton’s Mill to be water ground into meal. I would have the pleasure of talking with Mr. Buster while he performed the chore. Then I would bring my meal home, measure the desired amount, sift it, add salt (no sugar – never any sugar in my cornbread), then add water and stir until it was the proper consistency. Next, I would put the mass into an oiled iron skillet, cover it with a light film of oil and place it into the hot oven of a wood stove until browned. Man, would this be good eating!

Those days are over, but home-cooked food is still the best. I’m glad I am once again practicing the art.

Nadine Johnson can be reached at PO Box 7425, Spanish Fort, AL 36577, by calling 251-644-5473, or by email at

Hope in the Summer of Discontent

by Baxter Black, DVM

In this summer of discontent, we still have reasons to be thankful to be an American. This Fourth of July, we as a people will fill our city parks and backyards, watch the fireworks, grill our burgers and fly flags on our front porches. Once again displaying our loyalty to a concept … a constitution … a country, representing something bigger than us as individuals.

We can look with pride and compassion on the thousands of military and civilians who have and continue to fight the war on terror. The Mideast fighting wore us out, but our armies stood strong and stayed together. They represent us as a people with fair but ferocious dignity in the face of back-shooting fanatics hiding behind their women’s burqas.

We as citizens can also take some comfort in the generosity of our neighbors from coast to coast. There is hardly a person who is not within two degrees of separation from a friend or family member who has suffered from the economy – a lost job, a late payment, a repossessed house or car, etc. The outpouring of help, in time, trade or money by individuals, companies and taxpayer-supported programs, has kept the vast majority of those affected off the streets and from going hungry.

We have watched our dysfunctional Congress and White House dither and pose, pontificate and piddle, Tweedledee and Tweedledum … all thunder and no rain. Yet most of us still get up and go to work intent on doing our job. We are the teeming masses who keep the wheel turning, the lights on and gas in the car … just trying to do the right thing.

We somehow manage to stay positive. I believe this comes from a deeply ingrained sense of belonging, of being an American. We are rock-solid in the knowledge that our country was founded on faith in God and the principles of freedom. That we as individuals can make a difference and as a family, united, we are a formidable force.

During Fourth of July week, flags will still be flying in our front yards, grills still on the deck, burnt sparklers stickin’ out of the trash can and lawn chairs in disarray – all remnants of our 242nd birthday celebration. We march back to work with a renewed sense of what we each are part of … our country, the United States. We are secure in the knowledge that, regardless of the challenges from home and abroad, when the chips are down we will stand together because … we belong to one another.

I pledge allegiance to my neighbors, my family, my community and to the flag of our country, the United States of America.

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,

How's Your Garden?

by Lois Trigg Chaplin

Squash in a Cage?

My mother-in-law had an unconventional way of raising squash – in a tomato cage. She did this so plants would survive summer thunderstorms. The central stem of the plant is gently tied to a stake while the cage helped keep the big leaves from twisting too much and being broken by the wind and rain.

This made the squash easier to spot and pick, too!

Of course, this technique is for bush-types, not vining ones.
If you look closely, you can see the small tomato cage surrounding this squash. 
You can still start a crop of zinnias now. 

Sow Seed for Late Blossoms

There is still time to sow a crop of annual flowers this summer. Some of the ones that bloom quickly from seed include marigolds, zinnia, cleome, cosmos and branching sunflowers.

They all come up well in the heat, provided you keep them watered.

The reward is a fabulous fall crop of flowers in late summer and early fall when the weather starts cooling down, and it’s fun to be in the garden again.
A rainwater collection system is a smart addition to a garden. 

Catch Rainwater

Save on your water bill by capturing rainwater from the rooftop of the house or other structures. Most gardeners start with 50-gallon barrels, but it doesn’t take long to fill one with rain from the house gutter system.

A gardening friend in Atlanta made a relay of barrels so that six collected 300 gallons. They were double-stacked on a rack for an easy gravity feed to the garden.

Also popular for water storage are square, 250-gallon food-safe plastic containers.

The ultimate is a tank like this one. Most will hold 500-3,000 gallons. Tanks are generally made of polyethylene, fiberglass, metal or even concrete.

There are many online sources for ideas and guidelines on how to create your own system. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System maintains several helpful webpages on this topic. Type "ACES rainwater collection" in your browser search bar to find one.

Stump Becomes Wire Sculpture

What remained of this old tree that had to be cut down was just enough to create the base for a whimsical, wire garden sculpture. Wire curlicues were simply poked into holes drilled in the wood. The curlicues were made from heavy-gauge wire shaped by winding around various-sized sticks or pipes. Of course, it’s up to the artist to fashion whatever shapes you choose! I saw it at the Tennessee Extension Service open house in Jackson several years ago
This old tree has artful new branches made of wire. 
This year, the fun day at the West Tennessee Research & Education Center is Thursday, June 12. There are always impressive display gardens, speakers every hour, food and garden vendors, and a big plant sale by area Master Gardeners.

It is only a two-hour drive from the tri-cities area and a good day trip for folks in Northwest Alabama.


The bright fiery-red blooms of crocosmia match the summer heat. This summer treat is in bloom right now. Keep your eye out for it in case someone in your circle of friends has a planting needing to be divided this fall – the ideal time to dig and divide.

However, if someone gave you a division now, it would probably survive. Give it full sun and well-drained soil.

Crocosmia makes a long-lasting cut flower, too – another reason to have a patch.
Red is the most popular color, but yellow and orange selections are nice, too.

Extra Potassium for Tomatoes

Tomato plants require extra potassium when they are fruiting; often they need more than their roots can take up from the soil. To help keep plants healthy and productive as long as possible, spray the foliage weekly with a soluble kelp powder high in potassium.

It will help the leaves stay healthy and help resist serious diseases during the time when there is so much disease pressure.

Lois Trigg Chaplin is author of “The Southern Gardener’s Book of Lists” and former garden editor of Southern Living Magazine.

July Lawn and Garden Checklist


  • Grass is often hard to establish under trees due to shade and roots; plant a ground cover instead. Ground covers with a similar texture to grass, but in the lily family, are monkey grass (Liriope muscari) and mondo or dwarf mondo (Opiopogon japonicus ‘nana’). Other ground covers to consider are ajuga, pachysandra, hosta, ferns and Lenten roses (Helleborus orientalis). Avoid aggressive plants such as Liriope spicata and vines such as periwinkle (Vinca minor) and English ivy.
  • Bearded iris can be divided and replanted when they have finished blooming. Discard all shriveled and diseased parts.
  • No later than July 20, to allow time to mature before frost, plant: tomatoes, peppers, okra, corn, cucumbers, squash, snap beans, pole beans and lima beans.
  • Plant a cover crop in bare spots in the vegetable garden. Summer cover crops suggested for Alabama are cowpeas, velvet beans, soybeans and sunflower.


  • Time to put down the second and last fertilizer application on centipede. Fertilize zoysia lawns now with a 26-4-12 or 16-4-8 lawn fertilizer.
  • Do not fertilize cool-season grasses until September.
  • Container-grown plants can’t forage for food and moisture like their garden-grown colleagues. Feed often.
  • Check azaleas and camellias for iron chlorosis (pale green leaves, darker green veins). If necessary, use iron chelate to correct iron deficiency.
  • Chrysanthemums should be lightly fertilized every two weeks.
  • Feed summer vegetable plantings monthly.


  • Deadhead faded perennials or bulbs unless they have showy seed heads or you want to collect seed later (nonhybrids only). Deadheading redirects energy towards healthy roots.
  • Do a final pinching by mid-July of fall-blooming flowers such as mums and asters. Then discontinue pinching so they will be able to develop flower buds for the fall. To promote trophy-size flowers, allow only one or two main shoots to develop. Remove all side buds as they begin to develop.
  • Shear back spent annuals by a third.
  • Prune summer-flowering shrubs as soon as the blossoms fade.
  • Do not prune azaleas and rhododendrons after the second week of July because they will soon begin setting their buds for next year’s blooms.
  • Through month’s end, softwood cuttings of buddleia, weigela, rose of Sharon and roses, among other shrubs, can be taken to propagate more plants inexpensively.
  • Always be on the lookout for dead, damaged and diseased wood in trees and shrubs; prune as discovered. Ditto with suckers and water sprouts.


  • Irrigation is your single, biggest garden responsibility this month. During long, dry periods, soak the garden thoroughly once a week; don’t just sprinkle daily. Light, frequent irrigation helps only during the period of seed germination.
  • Consider drip irrigation and/or soaker hoses as efficient watering alternatives.
  • To keep hanging baskets looking attractive, soak the baskets in a tub of water every few days in addition to the regular daily watering.
  • Trees are especially vulnerable to drought, particularly the oldest and the youngest (those planted in the last few years). Water deeply!
  • Be sure to make arrangements for neighbors to harvest and water your garden while you are on vacation.


  • Use all chemicals according to directions on the label. The warnings and precautions are for your protection.
  • Store pesticides in a safe place in their original containers, away from children and pets.
  • Clean harvested garden rows immediately to prevent insect and disease buildup.
  • In Japanese beetle territory, handpick (as with other obvious pests such as tomato hornworms) in early morning and drown in a can of water mixed with a little dish washing liquid to reduce infestation.
  • Insecticidal soaps will help control aphids and other soft-bodied insects early on. Malathion is a good all-around insecticide for aphids and red spider mites, and gives some worm control. Carbaryl (Garden Tech Sevin 5% Dust) is also effective, especially for bean beetles, tomato and corn earworms, cucumber beetles and pickleworms. Bacillus thuringiensis, or, Bt, (Dipel, Thuricide) is an excellent biological control for cabbage worm or cabbage looper.
  • Check junipers and marigolds for red spider mites. Brown, discolored foliage may be due to mite damage. Hold a sheet of white paper below a branch and tap the branch sharply. If the dirt specks start to move, it’s almost certainly spider mites.
  • Control mosquitoes by eliminating all sources of stagnant water.
  • To control weeds, use mulch. Deep cultivation after plants are older will do more damage than good.
  • Make a pass through each bed weekly because weeds are not just unsightly but steal moisture, nutrients and light from desired plants. Top up mulch in all garden beds if washed or worn away to help in the plight.
  • Till and mulch soil to conserve moisture for germination of fall crops and to help reduce the nematode population in the soil.
  • Prevent rose diseases with a fungicide spray program.
  • Do not allow children or pets to play on lawns freshly applied with weed controls. It is best to wait one week.
  • The best practices in disease control are rotation, clean seed, resistant varieties (when available), early planting, plowing under old crop debris, mulching and seed treatment. Chemical fungicides may be used to control some common leaf diseases of tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and cantaloupes.


  • July can be the most tedious month for gardeners. The days are long and hot, and many garden chores are not as enjoyable as planting and harvesting. Chin up, it is also no time to mope … too much to do!
  • If you have a pre-existing condition that may cause a heat-related illness, you need to wear a med alert bracelet or necklace.
  • Know your limitations with gardening activities. Most heat-related incidents happen while someone is doing an activity. If you feel weak, stop, get to a shaded area and get hydrated.
  • Drink lots and lots of water. Hydration is key in preventing a heat-related illness. An 8-ounce bottle of water an hour when outside will be effective.
  • Wear SPF 50 sunscreen when expecting to be outside for long periods of time. Sunburn is a stressful, and it can cause enough pain to keep you inside for a very long time.
  • Houseplants, including amaryllis, can spend the summer outdoors, in a sheltered location with filtered bright light (not direct sun). Feed regularly.
  • Check garden centers for markdowns on remaining plants.
  • Divide spring and early summer perennials including irises and spider lilies, and replant the best clumps. Discard diseased or damaged material, and share any surplus with friends.
  • At this time of year, you might find a beautiful flower in your garden and just want to save the seed. Tie a piece of string around the stem so you can identify it later. Very carefully remove the other flowers from the plant as they fade. When the seed is ready, cut the stem bearing the seed. After leaving it in a warm, dry place for a few days, carefully separate the seeds and put them away for another day. They should be kept perfectly dry. This is one technique for creating your own special garden.
  • Be on the lookout for suckers coming from the roses. Where roses grow on their own roots, maybe reared from cuttings, there should be no suckers at all. But many have been grafted to a stronger root stock and, sometimes, this root stock will send out suckers. Any suckers from the roots or stem below the graft should be carefully removed as far below the surface of the soil as possible.
  • Cutting flowers is best done with sharp shears or a knife to help avoid injury to the growing plant. A slanting cut will expose a larger absorbing surface to water and prevent the base of the stem from resting on the bottom of the vase. It is best to carry a bucket of water rather than a cutting basket to the garden for collecting flowers.
  • Edge beds to make a clean line to define them, and keep edges clean with regular fine-tuning with grass shears. A clean edge makes a big difference.
  • Low areas in the lawn may be gradually filled with shallow applications of good top soil where needed. Avoid the temptation to apply a layer of sandy loam over the entire lawn area just because your neighbor does.
  • Keep fescue lawns at about 3 inches to protect from summer heat.
  • Don’t bag or rake clippings; let them lie on the lawn to return nitrogen to the soil.
  • Maintain a 3- to 4-inch mulch layer around trees and shrubs to protect them from mower and weed whacker damage. Don’t place the mulch too close to the trunk.
  • Clean up fallen fruits under trees.
  • Don’t let the compost heap dry out completely, or it will not cook. Turning it to aerate will also hasten decomposition, but things will rot eventually, even if not turned.
  • Harvest often to get vegetables at the proper stage of maturity. If left to mature fully, the plant will stop producing. Early morning harvest, before vegetables absorb heat from the sun, is best for most vegetables.
  • Start planning the fall garden.
  • Prepare new beds for fall planting by smothering grass or weeds with layers of recycled corrugated cardboard or thick layers of newspaper, then put mulch on top. Bats help control mosquitoes; attract these friendly mammals with bat houses.
  • Continue attracting insect-eating birds to the garden area by providing them with a fresh water source. Keep feeders and baths clean.

July Patriotism

by Tony Glover

In July, we usually are thinking about hamburgers, hot dogs, apple pie and all things American as we celebrate our nation’s Independence Day. I am thankful for the sacrifices made by our forebearers and for their examples of personal independence. One aspect of that independence was the ability to produce food from the land. I recently read "Founding Gardeners" by Andrea Wulf that told the history of our Founding Fathers’ great love of gardening. I highly recommend you read it as well.

In that book, the history of many of our nation’s founders and their connection to the land are well documented, and you cannot help but understand how the love of agriculture and the land directed many of their decisions.

In a letter from Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, Jefferson wrote, "Agriculture … is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals and happiness."

One of the founders I most admire is John Adams, who said, "As much as I converse with Sages and Heroes, they have very little of my love and admiration. I should prefer the delights of a garden to the dominion of a world."

Jefferson in his later years said, "Though I am an old man, I am but a young gardener."
For me, the author, gardening is a neverending learning experience where I often get a glimpse of how little I know about God’s handiwork. Photo by Daniel White 
As I creep ever closer to the end of a long professional career in horticulture, I can relate to that sentiment in my own life and only add that gardening is a never-ending learning experience where I often get a glimpse of how little I know about God’s handiwork. If you are a gardener, you can relate to the same joys and frustrations of not only our founders but also all gardeners throughout time since the Garden of Eden.

What was true for our remotest ancestors and our Founding Fathers is true to this day for us and our fellow residents of the state. In commemoration of our state’s bicentennial, the Alabama Farm-City 2018 theme this year is "200 Years of Alabama Agriculture."

In those early days, farming was the way of life for the majority of Alabamians, but the interdependence between urban and rural communities was already evident. Cities sprang up along major waterways that farmers relied on to ship goods from landlocked areas to worldwide markets via the Port of Mobile. This is still the case, although cities soon sprouted up along railroads and eventually highways.

Alabama’s bicentennial is a time for all Alabamians to celebrate the rich history and traditions that make us happy to call this state "home." The Alabama Farm- City Committee is proud to join in the commemoration as we celebrate the contributions of our state’s farmers over the past 200 years.

I am a resident of Cullman County and have recently purchased some property that belonged to one of the original German settlers to the area. I am restoring an old home, partially built from rocks dug from the soil before the first crops were planted. It reminds me thatthose of us living today who call this land "home" are reaping the benefits of those who settled and worked this land by the sweat of their brow, as Scripture teaches us in Genesis. However, I am also reminded, along with sweat, there is joy to be found in tilling and caring for creation.

As we celebrate both our country’s independence and the bicentennial of the birth of our state, I hope you will reflect on the blessings we have inherited from those who worked the land before us.

Along with our nation’s birthday celebrations, July is also prime time and nearing the peak of harvest season for many spring-planted vegetables. However, it’s also a good time to start planting a second crop of produce such as squash and tomatoes or even your first planting of winter squash and pumpkins.

When my kids were young and all lived at home, they did not look forward to the Fourth of July as much as their friends did. They knew Dad would most likely have them out in the hot sun planting our pumpkin crop rather than out on the lake. They probably did not see the patriotic nature of what they were doing. I cannot think of anything more patriotic or representative of independence than tilling the soil or planting a crop. Maybe one day they will make that connection and pass it along to their children.

Why not do something patriotic this Fourth of July and teach a child or grandchild the dignity and joy of gardening?

Tony A. Glover is a County Extension Coordinator in Cullman County.

Old-school Angling

Sometimes it’s best to leave the high tech tackle at home and try some traditional tried-and-true methods.

by Christy Kirk

Whether you go to the Gulf Coast, a local lake or a nearby river, you’ll find people fishing with a variety of equipment and methods for catching the most fish. Some tackle is pretty inexpensive, but trying to keep up with new innovations can be hard if you are on a budget. There will always be improvements to rods, reels and baits, but taking the time to try some home-styled fishing gear can also lead to success. Cane poles, seines, poke sacks and even drinking straws can be used with excellent results.
Everyone has their cane poles and is getting ready to fish. 
For several months, my son Cason had been pushing his dad Jason for a bamboo harvest to make cane poles, but Jason told him the shoots had to be just right or they wouldn’t be functional for very long. If they are too young and green, they may not be able to handle the weight of a fish and bend until they break. Bamboo that is too brown is likely to crack and break under pressure. Finally, in April, Jason and Cason decided they were just perfect for making into fishing poles.

Jason used a machete to take down 25 bamboo poles, about 12 feet long. He tied fishing line to the end of each and then added pieces of pool noodles. The noodles keep the pole afloat and also keep it from blending into the landscape so well you can’t spot it.

After Jason finished rigging the bamboo poles, he loaded them into the back of his truck.

My mom and dad happened to come for a visit and my dad noticed the load of cane poles in the truck. He said he hadn’t seen anyone use homemade bamboo rods in a long time. He used them often when he lived in Woodland and went fishing with his dad, brothers, uncle and cousins in the river. Their poles were much shorter. At about 4 feet in length, the shorter poles were better for sticking into the banks.
Jason Kirk used a machete to cut down 25 bamboo poles, each about 12 feet long, and removed the leaves. 
Besides using cane poles, Dad would also fish with a seine. One or two people from the fishing group would go to the bank and stir up the fish, and the others would stay downriver to hold the seine and collect the fish as they swam away from the commotion.

After the catch, fish were put in a burlap bag and carried cross body. The fish bag could get heavy, meaning whoever toted the fish would need to be extra careful not to get weighed down if in the water.

Dad said that carrying the bag literally got his father Rolley in deep trouble back in the 1950s.
One day, Rolley was carrying the sack for the younger guys as he talked them through the process of seine fishing. His fish bag was slung over his shoulder, and he had a garden hoe to help him navigate the river.

The burlap bag of fish weighed him down tremendously. Even though he was being careful, he still stepped into a very deep hole.

Rolley had been in the U.S. Navy for over 20 years, but, ironically, he couldn’t swim. However, he knew how to hold his breath and to not panic as he sank below the surface. Each time he went down, he pushed the end of the hoe against the river bottom. Eventually he got enough leverage to push himself out of the hole and toward the bank.

Although Dad treasures his memories of fishing in Woodland with his family, he now prefers to catch fish from the safety of the shore or pier.

When fishing in the Gulf, he uses a bubble rig as a lure. Bubble rigs can be bought in some stores, but you can also make one yourself.

Dad uses a McDonald’s straw about 3-3.5 inches long on the line just above the hook. The straw gives the lure a wiggle simulating a small fish swimming along.
These photos show how my dad incorporates a straw into a bubble rig. First cut a straw to about 3-3.5 inches long. Thread the line of an assembled hook through the straw, allowing the straw to rest on the hook. Attach the line that is through the straw to the terminal end of the bubble rig, leaving enough space to allow the straw to move. Cut off the excess tag line. 
He has tried other straws, but the red-and-yellow-striped ones work the best for him. These lures work well for Spanish mackerel.

Getting new fishing gear is great, but it can also get expensive. Old-time fishing methods and making your own tackle may take a little more time and effort, but not only can it be rewarding and fun, but it can also be incredibly productive. Children and grandchildren will love helping you craft the tools that will bring home your next meal.


  • 2 pounds catfish fillets
  • Orange sauce
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 Tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
In a bowl, combine all sauce ingredients. Brush catfish fillets with mixture. Place fish on a lightly oiled grill about 4 inches above the coals. Grill for 5 minutes and brush frequently with orange sauce. Turn and grill for 5 minutes longer, or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Delicious over rice or as a soft taco.


  • ¼ cup + 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup + 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 cups finely chopped yellow onion
  • 1 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
  • ½ cup finely chopped celery
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 (16-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon browning and seasoning sauce (such as Kitchen Bouquet)
  • ¼-½ teaspoon hot sauce
  • 2 pounds catfish fillets, cut into 1-inch pieces OR 1-2 pounds firm white fish (such as halibut or flounder), cut into large chunks
  • 1 cup finely chopped green onions
  • ½ cup minced parsley
  • Cooked rice
In a large Dutch oven, combine flour and vegetable oil. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until roux is caramel-colored, about 15 minutes.
Add yellow onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic. Cook over medium heat until the vegetables are tender. Stir in chicken broth. Stir in next 10 ingredients. Simmer uncovered for 1 hour.

Add catfish, green onions and parsley. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Remove bay leaf. Serve over rice.

Note: Étouffée is traditionally made with shrimp or crawfish, but fish can also be used. This recipe can be made with catfish or white fish.


Tartar sauce and ketchup are great on fish sandwiches, but these sauces can give your fried fish some extra zest.


  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 2 Tablespoons finely chopped capers
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
In a sealable container, whisk all ingredients together. Re­frigerate until ready to use.


  • 1 Tablespoon hot sauce
  • 16 ounces ranch salad dressing
  • 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
In a sealable container, whisk all ingredients together. Re­frigerate until ready to use.


  • 1 lime, juice and zest, to taste, if available
  • 1/3 cup thick Greek-style yogurt
  • ½ bunch cilantro, leaves chopped
In a bowl, mix all ingredients together. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Christy Kirk is a freelance writer who lives in Little Texas.

PALS: Environmental Day at Macon East Academy

by Jamie Mitchell

Every spring, Macon East Academy hosts its annual Environmental Day. During this special event, students rotate through various classrooms to learn more about environmental- and science-related topics.

This year, I had the opportunity to present the anti-litter message to the kindergarten, first- and second-grade students.

Each grade had an opportunity to hear about how they could do their part to keep their campus and community litter-free. We talked about litter, landfills and special art projects. The art projects would help them turn their "trash into treasures." The students even got to make special bracelets in their school colors, reminding them to keep their school, community and state free from litter.

As members of the Clean Campus Program, the students of Macon East are already working extra hard to not only keep their campus clean but also to learn new ways they can "go green." I suggested that by them pledging to pick up just one piece of litter per day, they would remove hundreds of pieces of litter each month. Small changes can make a big difference!

The students of Macon East Academy are ready to make a big impact in Montgomery County!

One of the most wonderful things about the Clean Campus Program is that it is FREE to all Alabama public and private schools thanks to ALFA and Alabama Farmers Cooperative.

If a school near you would like to participate in our anti-litter movement, please have them contact me at or 334-224-7594.

Jamie Mitchell is the PALS State Clean Campus Coordinator.

Protecting Our Pollinators

Auburn bee researcher Geoffrey Williams receives a grant to assist Alabama farmers.

by Rebecca Oliver
Geoffrey Williams instructs a student on pollinator health. 
Auburn University researcher Geoffrey Williams is one of 16 university and government scientists in the United States awarded $7 million in funding from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research’s Pollinator Health Fund, a nonprofit established in the 2014 Farm Bill.

According to Williams, researchers receiving Pollinator Health funding strive to solve social and economic problems of beekeepers, farmers and homeowners.

Williams’ project focuses on two major threats to honey bee health: pesticides and parasitic Varroa destructor mites.

He is investigating if beekeepers can use honey bees’ multiple-partner mating behavior to increase diversity within a colony and increase resistance to pesticides.

He was able to match funds for the grant from the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology at Auburn, the Swiss National Science Foundation, the California State Beekeepers Association and University of Georgia researchers.

Williams’ previous findings as a senior research associate at Switzerland’s University of Bern suggested two widely used pesticides act as unintended contraceptives in male honey bees. The research Williams and an international team of scientists published in "Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences" sought to explain the causes of disappearance of honey bee colonies.

Williams and an international team of apiarists have focused their research efforts on a single class of nicotinelike insecticides known as neonicotinoids to determine what effects field-realistic exposure to the pesticides have on male honey bees, known as drones.

"Environmental stressors such as parasites and poor nutrition can affect honey bee health," Williams said. "However, it’s possible agricultural chemicals also impact bee health."

During his research project, Williams and his team found the presence of neonicotinoids shortened drones’ life span and killed male bees’ sperm. Specifically, the research found drone sperm counts declined 39 percent.

A native of Canada, Williams said his passion for bee research has developed throughout the course of his career.

"As an undergraduate in animal biology at the University of Alberta, I was drawn to the areas of entomology and ecological parasitology," Williams said.

During his Ph.D. studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, he studied an exotic parasite affecting Canadian honey bees, investigated pesticide risks to honey bees and monitored honey bee diseases in his country as well as in Minnesota and Arizona. These experiences allowed him to move to Switzerland as a postdoctoral research fellow. This is where he became a senior research associate.

He chose Auburn because the job was a perfect fit for his interests.

Williams is currently the only full-time faculty member focused exclusively on honey bees and pollinator health in Alabama.

Auburn faculty has been involved in bee work in the past; however, Williams is the first researcher solely assigned to honey bee research.

He has found himself in a unique position for an early career scientific researcher. He hasn’t had the advantage of walking into an established honey bee research and academic program. He’s had to build the program himself from the ground up.

For him, the task has been exciting as it is laying the foundation for the future of a respected apiculture program at Auburn and in Alabama.

"My goal is to make a lasting impression on students about the major importance of pollinator health and honey bee populations," Williams said.

According to Williams, his priority is addressing the needs of Alabama honey bee producers, farmers and homeowners.

Williams has gained support from Alabama beekeepers, Auburn University and Bee Campus USA in his research programs, particularly for projects focused on the colony-loss problem and on increasing honey production to protect bees.

Bee Campus USA announced in early 2018 that Auburn was the first university in Alabama to be certified as an affiliate of the Bee Campus USA program, a program designed to measure the strengths of educational campuses for the benefit of pollinators.

Auburn received the honor for advocating seven commitments focused on protecting pollinators and their habitats as well as promoting awareness of the roles the pollinators play and how the students can join efforts to support them.

The university is one of only 39 campuses nationwide selected for a program seeking to raise awareness of pollinators, food production, native plant species and integrated pest management; to stimulate the nation’s economy through species protection; and the services those efforts support.

The student organization Auburn for Bees is also making efforts to address on-campus awareness of bee health. The club members educate other students on the importance of bees to the campus and work directly with the Auburn University Laboratory of Insect Pollination and Apiculture, also known as Williams’ "Auburn Bee Lab."

To learn more about the development of Auburn’s honey bee and pollination program, follow the Auburn University Insect Pollination and Apiculture Laboratory on Facebook, or contact Williams at or 334-844-5068.

Rebecca Oliver is a freelance writer from Auburn.

Risk in Agriculture: Friend or Foe?

by Brittney Goodrich

One of my favorite sayings of my grandparents (who are corn and soybean farmers in Iowa) is, "We don’t need to go to the casino for fun, we’re farmers."

Agriculture is an inherently risky business to be in, making it both challenging and exciting.

I spent most of April traveling across the United States to conferences held by economists and Extension professionals discussing risk management issues in agriculture. In this article, I’ll share with you some of the thoughts and concepts I found interesting.

First, it is important to highlight the difference between risk and uncertainty. (Yes, there is a difference and I often ignore it, too.)

Risks in agriculture deal with unknown events in which there is some knowledge of the probability of outcomes. For example, there is a 60 percent chance the September 2018 corn will be $4 per bushel and a 40 percent chance it will be $3.50 per bushel. (This is an example and not my prediction!)

An uncertainty in agriculture is an unknown event in which there is no knowledge of the probability of outcomes. Can one calculate the probability of outcomes if a new disease affecting broilers is discovered in Alabama? Probably not.

By gathering information, one can make educated guesses about possible risks and manage them, but uncertainties are uncontrollable and really cannot be planned for.

USDA defines five risks in agriculture: production (i.e., weather, diseases, pests), market (i.e., fertilizer and crop prices), financial (i.e., interest rates, credit availability, debt and equity ratios), legal or institutional (i.e., chemical regulations, tax laws, land rental agreements) and human or personal (i.e., health, injury liability, divorce).

Typically, farmers concentrate on production and market risks. What will the price of cotton be at harvest? Will there be a drought this year? These are the kinds of questions most likely to keep you awake at night. Oftentimes price and production risks are what government-subsidized insurance products focus on.

Farm operations often neglect thinking about and planning for financial, legal and personal risks. If the primary farm operator ends up in the hospital for an extended period of time, will the farm still be operational?

Asking questions like these in advance can make or break a farm operation during tough times.

So, what can farm operations do about risk? As with almost everything, the first step is acknowledgement. Identifying potential risks enables farmers to determine their risk management strategies. The United States Department of Agriculture has a Risk Management Checklist on their website, https://www.rma. pdf, that farm owners and managers can access to help identify risks in their operations.

Once risks are identified, farm operations can determine the best way to manage them. The following are five general strategies for risk management: accept, avoid, transfer, mitigate and exploit.

Accepting is the knowledge that the risk is there, but allowing it to happen. This is ideal for small risks that won’t cost your operation too much money by ignoring them.

Avoiding means changing plans to steer clear of a risk altogether. For example, if you are planning to get into the agritourism business and are concerned about lawsuits caused by injury to visitors on your farm, you can decide not to hold farm tours or to not allow visitors near machinery or risky animals.

Transferring usually involves paying someone else to take on the risk, in other words, insurance. In the agritourism example, you could decide to pay for liability insurance to protect yourself against lawsuits from injury on a farm tour. Also, many farmers transfer price and production risk through the purchase of crop insurance.

Mitigation refers to limiting the impact of the risk. Diversification is one way for farm operations to mitigate risk for a given crop enterprise. Not putting all of your eggs in one basket limits the impact of a disease, pest, market or weather event that would affect a specific crop. An example of risk mitigation is holding safety trainings for employees to decrease the likelihood of one of them being seriously injured.

The previous four risk management strategies referred to managing risks with negative consequences. However, we often forget that risks can create opportunities, as well.

Exploiting involves trying to increase the impact of or likelihood the risk happens. Risk exploitation likely requires some strategic planning to set your farm operation up to take advantage of the risk. For example, if it is likely a nearby city is going to expand in population, many nearby farm operations may view this as a risk of development encroaching on farmland. Instead, could you view this risk positively and take advantage of demand from new consumers by offering or expanding fresh fruit or vegetable production?

A publication by USDA that I believe helps, particularly with this risk management strategy, is the SWOT Analysis; you can find information at SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It helps businesses identify existing or potential problems or opportunities. SWOT analyses are helpful for identifying ways your operation can strategically plan to take advantage of favorable circumstances.

Which risk management strategy you choose will depend on your level of tolerance to risk and the amount of risk. Risk and returns are usually positively related. In other words, if you want high expected returns, you will likely have to take on a relatively high level of risk.

In the real world, farmers must compromise between risks and returns. When making these compromises, it’s important to remember, sometimes, a little risk can be a good thing.

Brittney Goodrich is an assistant professor and Extension specialist at Auburn University.

Southern Translation

SENTENCE USAGE: "Melinda’s momma told her to break a leg before she went onstage at her senior play. Some of the other performers thought that was pretty mean!"

Why would someone wish such a thing on somebody?

It’s a phrase said to actors for good luck before they go onstage, especially on an opening night.

Theatrical types are well-known for their belief in superstitions, or at least for their willingness to make a show of pretending to believe in them. The term "break a leg" appears to come from the belief that one ought not to utter the words "good luck" to an actor. By wishing someone bad luck, it is supposed that the opposite will occur. Other superstitions are that it is bad luck to whistle in a theater, to say the final line of a play during dress rehearsal or to say the name of "the Scottish Play" in a theater’s green room.

Breaking a leg doesn’t seem to have much to do with good luck.

The word "break" has many meanings – the Oxford English Dictionary lists 57 distinct uses of it as a verb alone. That gives considerable scope for speculation over what is meant by this phrase. The most common interpretation in this context is "to deviate from a straight line; to unstraighten the leg by bending at the knee, by bowing or curtsying."

Break a leg also means "make a strenuous effort." There are many references to the phrase used that way and predating the earliest theatrical good luck charm meaning. For example, from The Hammond Times, Indiana, 1942:

"Whatever the army or navy want, the Continental Roll [and Steel Foundry] will turn out ... Or break a leg trying."

Also, from the Evening State Journal, Nebraska, 1937:

"With all the break-a-leg dancing, there are many who still warm to graceful soft shoe stepping."

So, it is possible that when an actor is told to "break a leg," he or she may just be being exhorted to put on an energetic, exciting performance.

There are many other possible derivations in circulation, mostly referring to the good luck message. In diminishing order of plausibility, these are:

  1. Put on a performance good enough that you will have to bend your knee in a bow or curtsy to acknowledge the applause.
  2. Impress the audience so much that you will need to bend down to pick up the coins they throw onto the stage.
  3. Pass out onto the stage to receive a curtain call (the side curtains on a stage are known as legs).
  4. Go onstage and have your "big break."
  5. Evoke the powers of the celebrated actress Sarah Bernhardt, who had one leg.
  6. A reference to John Wilkes Booth, who broke his leg when jumping onstage, attempting to flee after shooting President Lincoln.
It is tempting to believe the phrase to be ancient and to imagine it whispered to Tudor minstrels as they went onstage at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. The current meaning is nothing as old. The term originates in the American theater in the 20th century and all the earliest references to its use are from U.S. sources. The earliest citation found in print is in an edition of the U.S. newspaper The Charleston Gazette in May 1948.

That pretty much rules out the Sarah Bernhardt and John Wilkes Booth interpretations that, as well as being rather fanciful, date from too far before any printed version.

There is a German saying, "Hals und Beinbruch," meaning "break your neck and leg" that dates back to at least World War II as Luftwaffe slang, and is, therefore, earlier than any known English version. It may be this is a corruption of the Hebrew blessing "hatzlakha u-brakha," meaning "success and blessing."

German and Yiddish were commonly used languages of the large Jewish contingent of the U.S. theater world. We can’t be certain of the origin of the phrase, but it’s highly likely to have migrated to English from the earlier German and Hebrew versions.

STIMU-LYX Stress Relief

by John Sims

Cattle experience many stressful periods each year, whether from breeding, calving, weaning, preconditioning or showing. You need a product to help your animals handle stress. That product is STIMU-LYX Stress Relief.

STIMU-LYX is the only line of cooked molasses tubs specifically formulated to work with Alabama forage types to get maximum performance from your livestock.
Stress Relief is fortified with natural protein, energy, vitamins, minerals and electrolytes. Its benefits include:

  • High vitamin levels – B vitamins to encourage consumption, and elevated vitamin E to help fight stress.
  • Chelated trace minerals – Improves absorption and aids in immunity, reproduction and hoof health.
  • Electrolytes – Restores fluids, corrects pH and electrolyte levels in the blood, and helps prevent dehydration.
  • Extreme palatability – Encourages consumption of the product and stimulates rumen function increasing dry matter intake.
  • Feed efficiency – pH is controlled in the rumen to improve fiber digestion and increase feed efficiency.
STIMU-LYX Stress Relief is the proven product to improve the performance and immunity of your cattle. It comes in a 200-pound tub and one tub will supplement up to 25 head of cattle. For breeding, weaning, preconditioning or showing, Stress Relief gets results. Pick some up at your local Quality Co-op.

Visit to find a location near you.

John Sims is a products specialist for AFC’s Feed, Farm & Home department. He can be contacted at 256-260-3433 or

The Co-op Pantry

by Gay White and Jena Klein

As I was growing up, we lived in a double shotgun house with a very narrow kitchen. There was hardly room for two people, so usually we kids did not try to help cook.

My grandfather made breakfast every morning – these wonderful "cat-head" biscuits. When I was in high school, he taught me how to make them. When my husband Rick and I married, the only thing I could make was these biscuits!

I could read, however, and proceeded to learn to cook using the "Pillsbury Family Cookbook" my aunt had given me for a wedding present. I discovered I really liked preparing meals that tasted good.

I began to experiment and expand my skills.

When our children came along, I cooked at least breakfast and dinner (or supper, as we called it) every day. The meals, especially supper, were always prepared around the meat as the main item.

In 2005, Rick and I began reading, talking and praying about eliminating meat from our diet. Soon after we began our research, he was diagnosed with acid reflux and given a prescription for Nexium. We decided to try to relieve the acid reflux by changing our diets. He took only one Nexium pill. He discovered, by eliminating meat, he did not need the medication.

Later that year, he was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Praying in earnest and well into the research about food and its effects on the body, we progressed from a vegetarian diet to a vegan one, including many raw foods and juices, and eliminating all meat products from our diets. (This was hard!)

He still had chemo and other treatments, but he came through the process very well, and at the end was declared cancer-free.

We still do not usually eat meat products but cheat now and then. (I miss the cheese!)

Every Sunday, our family comes to lunch! It’s been a fun challenge to cook for everyone.

I do actually still cook meat, because the rest of my family does not care to "go vegan"!

My son-in-law even has a bumper sticker saying, "Eat Beef! The West was not won on salad!"

I’ve also included favorite recipes from some of my family and friends.


Servings: 4-6
  • Water
  • 1 pound dried spaghetti (or angel hair, etc.)
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, washed
  • 8 ounces sliced mushrooms
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • ¼-½ cup olive oil, more if pasta is sticky
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 lemons, zest and juice
  • About ½ pound fresh baby spinach, washed and roughly chopped
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Parmesan cheese, grated, for topping, optional
Heat oven to 400°. In a large pot over high, boil water. Prepare pasta according to the package directions.

On a baking sheet, roast tomatoes for 10-15 minutes, or until they begin to burst.

In skillet, sauté mushrooms and onions in olive oil. Add garlic.
When pasta has finished cooking (do not overcook), remove from heat. Drain, reserving some of the liquid and place it back into pot. Add olive oil mixture, lemon zest and juice, tomatoes and spinach. Toss together. (Spinach will wilt in the hot pasta.) Add more olive oil if the pasta sticks together. Add some reserved pasta water to loosen the mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Top with cheese.

Note: You may substitute kale and/or artichokes for the spinach and mushrooms.


  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup lime juice
  • 1/3 cup chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 pounds chicken
  • Red, green, gold and/or orange bell peppers
  • Onion
  • Oil or butter
  • Chili powder and cumin, to taste
In a large, flat container, mix all marinade ingredients.

Cut chicken into strips. Add to marinade. Let sit in refrigerator for at least one hour.

Slice bell peppers and onion.

In a skillet, cook chicken in oil or butter.

In another skillet, cook peppers and onions. Add chili powder and cumin.

Serve chicken, peppers and onions with all the things you like with fajitas: flour tortillas, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, etc.

Note: I make this vegetarian by sautéing peppers and onions, squash, broccoli and other vegetables. I add reserved marinade to the mixture. I always serve with black beans, guacamole, etc.


Serves 6
  • 2 teaspoons oil
  • 1 (12-14-ounce) package firm tofu
  • ¼ teaspoon chili powder, or more to taste
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 3 green onions, sliced
  • 2 ears fresh corn, kernels cut off cobs, or use frozen whole kernel corn
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 6 large inner leaves romaine lettuce, from a romaine heart
  • 2 avocados, sliced
In a nonstick skillet over medium-high, heat oil. Add tofu and break into very small pieces. Cook to remove much of liquid and tofu starts to turn golden, for several minutes.

Add chili powder, salt and pepper. Stir. Mix in onions and corn. Cook for a few minutes. (The corn can remain crunchy.)

Add soy sauce. Cook until most of liquid has been absorbed. Turn off heat. Stir in balsamic vinegar.

On plates with individual romaine lettuce leaves, pile mixture. Add avocado slices.

Ree Drummond


  • 1 (3-4 pound) boneless beef roast, your choice of cut
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1 package au jus gravy mix
  • 1 package dry ranch dressing mix
  • Pepperoncini peppers, number to your liking, and juice
  • Salt and pepper, to taste, optional
In a slow cooker, place roast. Add butter, au jus gravy mix, ranch dressing mix and pepperoncini peppers with juice. Add salt and pepper, if desired. Cook on low, until tender, about 6-8 hours.

Robin Chapman


  • 1 pound baby spinach, or other greens
  • 1 package strawberries, sliced or quartered, or other fruit, such as pears
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • ½ cup nuts or seeds
  • 1-2 avocados, chopped
  • ½ cup oil
  • ½ cup sugar, or 1/3 cup honey or agave
  • ¼ cup raspberry or red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon poppy seeds
  • 2 Tablespoons sesame seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
In a large bowl, mix all salad ingredients, except avocados.

In a medium bowl, mix dressing ingredients. Just before serving, add avocados and dressing.


  • 3 bananas plus any other fruits you like
  • 3 pitted dates
  • ½ pounds baby spinach or other greens
  • 1 cup pineapple juice, water or other juice
  • ½ lemon, juice
In a blender, blend until smooth.

Note: Good for lunch!


  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2½ pounds (about 7 cups) butternut squash, cubed
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 apple, peeled and grated or finely chopped
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ cup cooked spaghetti squash, optional
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup soy milk
In a small bowl, soften the onion in olive oil.

In large saucepan, combine butternut squash and other ingredients, except spaghetti squash, salt, pepper and soy milk. Add softened onions. Cook until squash and apple are soft. Remove from heat. Remove bay leaf. Add spaghetti squash, if using. Into immersion or regular blender, pour soup. Blend. (If using a regular blender, blend in small batches.) Add salt and pepper, if desired. Stir in soy milk. Serve hot.


  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • Worcestershire sauce, to taste
  • Garlic, salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1-2 (46-ounce) cans tomato juice
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 vegetable broth cubes
  • 3 (14½-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 (16-ounce) package frozen black-eyed peas
  • 1 (16-ounce) package frozen butterbeans
  • 1 (16-ounce) package frozen green beans
  • 1 (16-ounce) package frozen corn
  • 1 (16-ounce) package frozen carrots
  • 3 potatoes, cut into cubes
  • 1 (16-ounce) package frozen okra
In a large pot over high heat, mix onions, bell pepper, celery, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, salt, pepper, tomato juice, vegetable broth, vegetable broth cubes and tomatoes. Heat to boil for a few minutes. Add remaining ingredients. Reduce heat to medium, cook until vegetables are tender. Add extra liquid as needed.

Note: You could definitely use garden vegetables for this soup! Every Saturday for years, my mom would cook vegetable soup made from vegetables she had shelled, cut off cobs, snapped, peeled and chopped! She would serve it with fried pork chops. It’s a favorite memory of mine.


  • ½ cup slivered or sliced almonds
  • ½ cup sesame seeds
  • 2 packages ramen noodles, any flavor
  • 1 head cabbage, chopped, or two bags angel hair cabbage
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • ½ cup sugar, or 1/3 cup honey or agave
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup salad oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 6 Tablespoons rice vinegar
Heat oven to 250°. On baking sheet, place almonds and sesame seeds. Brown for 15-20 minutes.

Crush noodles in package. Open package and discard flavor packet. Set aside crushed noodles.

In a large bowl, mix cabbage and green onions.

In medium bowl, combine dressing ingredients.

Just before serving, add almonds, sesame seeds, uncooked noodles and dressing to the cabbage and onion mixture. Toss lightly.
Lisa Nesbitt
Gay White is freelance writer from Cullman. Jena Klein is AFC’s Wellness Program Coordinator. You may email her at

The Root of All Things Feed, Part 1: Protein

by Jimmy Parker

We have covered a great deal of things from feed tags and heat stress to haymaking decisions and why they matter. But, really, we have not talked about the root of all things feed-related – the actual nutrients themselves. There are six major categories of nutrients: water, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals. I think a good explanation of what they all do and why each one is important in its own way will help you make better feed-buying decisions and, hopefully, put more dollars on your bottom line.

While I could skim over the very basics of each nutrient in one article, I feel that dedicating one article to each one will be better and actually give you enough information to be useful. With that said, the most-often talked about nutrient is protein. More feed is sold based on protein content than any other thing, and we might as well start with it.

Proteins are the main components of our organs and the soft structures of the body. They form the muscles, the tissue around those muscles and everything holding it all in place, including skin and hair or wool (if you’re a sheep). They are the primary constituents in fingernails, hooves and horns.

They also play a major role in our metabolism. They are key components in enzymes that make digestion work. They are vital to hormone production and actions, and immune responses when we are sick.

I could go on and on, but I think it’s already clear that proteins are an important part of any animal’s diet.

Proteins can be deficient in a diet, but they are not normally so deficient that we see catastrophic things such as anemia and death. However, small deficiencies are noticeable. With small deficiencies, you will see a slower growth rate, lower milk production and less efficiency on many fronts from digestion to fertility.

When we talk about proteins in feed, or at least on the feed tag, we are talking about crude protein. While that is an important number, it only tells a small part of the whole story. Crude protein can be divided into two parts: true protein and other nitrogen containing products called nonprotein nitrogen that cattle, sheep and goats can generally convert to true protein. Swine, equines and poultry normally can’t use the NPN. While it is not helpful, it generally isn’t harmful in low levels.

True protein is the main focus and what the animal digests. True protein is composed of a mixture of 22 amino acids. Without diving too deeply into chemistry, amino acids are different configurations of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen with nitrogen and an occasional piece of sulfur thrown in for good measure. If you think about amino acids like Lego blocks, they are one or two or 10 blue blocks (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen) together and one red block (nitrogen) stuck on the end. To oversimplify, the main difference is how many blue blocks there are for each red one and how each is shaped.

The main thing you need to know about amino acids is that there are differences and each animal needs a different mixture to grow and perform at its best.

Ruminants can take a poor mixture and let the microbes in their rumen work their magic and produce the correct mixture. Swine and poultry cannot, and it is essential the correct mixture is provided. Any good swine or poultry feed will have that worked out before you buy it, but that is one reason why you won’t get maximum growth by feeding swine feed to a chicken or chicken feed to a pig. Horses also need the right mix, but, with their digestive tract, they are more forgiving than the pig or chicken.

At any rate, if an animal is deficient in any one of the amino acids, the others won’t work properly and their performance will slow down to the level allowed by the deficient amino acid.

What is the takeaway and how does that help you buy feed?

Keep some things in mind while you are looking at feeding options.

First, balance is important. Too much protein can be as bad as not enough. Most likely, because protein is one of the more expensive nutrients, we won’t often overfeed it.

Second, the percentage listed on the bag is important, but not nearly as important as you would think. All animals have a protein requirement, and it is usually expressed in pounds or grams per day. For instance, if a cow needs a pound of protein (I use a pound just because the math is easier) and you feed a 10-percent protein feed, the cow will need 10 pounds of feed. If you feed a 20 percent protein, that same cow would only need 5 pounds.

Both will work and the only relevance the percent protein has is in determining how much you need to feed. Generally, the higher the protein percentage, the less you have to feed.

Third, keep in mind that younger and smaller animals tend to eat less and will require a higher percentage to meet their needs with the amount they can eat in a day.

Protein is important and often misunderstood. As we continue down this path in the coming months, I hope it will all tie in and make more sense; which, in turn, will allow each of you to make good decisions regarding feed needs.

If you have any questions about what your animal will need, feel free to call or send me an email.

Jimmy Parker is AFC’s animal nutritionist.

The Sister and the Mother I Can’t Know

Sandra McCray’s bulging scrapbook 
by Suzy McCray

It’s a big cardboard-type scrapbook covered in red paper with gold trim tied with a neat gold cord.

There are photos of movie stars from the early 1960s and a complete layout of stars from TV’s "Bachelor Father" as well as a young David Jansen – before his TV fame as The Fugitive – when he starred in "Richard Diamond, Private Detective."

There’s math, English, science and other school papers – all with 100 or grades of A’s.
Then there are a couple of lists of her best friends at the old two-room Hood School in the heart of Murphree’s Valley in rural Blount County, listing Wanda Dianne Stafford, Sandra Marie Nugent, Willadean Hathcock, Roger Dale Butts, Daniel Claude Hays and Jimmy Studdard as her dearest friends.

A list of almost the exact same names is included when pug-nosed Sandra McCray started seventh grade at Susan Moore High School the next fall.

In her neat schoolgirl cursive, she garnered yet another 100 on a paper where she told of the animals on her family’s farm on what is now Blount County 42, but was more commonly called Lebanon Church Road.

She noted about the animals, "I feed the chickens grains of corn and sometimes they eat the leftovers from supper. There are two big fat, white chickens. They are pullets. They are not very old.

"I have a jet-black cow. Her name is Daisy. I named her Daisy because she likes to eat the daisies in the pasture. She likes to stand in the shade and eat the green grass. She also likes to eat hay. Daisy gives me milk, butter and cheese. I like cows because they are gentle.

"I like to raise baby chicks in the spring. I like them because they are so tiny and cute. Chicks like to eat bugs, grass and corn meal. I like baby chicks very much."

There’s another paper (with yet another grade of 100) where she details how she stayed with relatives while school was out for two weeks for "cotton picking." Schools in the Deep South regularly let out in the fall so students could help their families pick the cotton. She detailed how she stayed with part of her family who tended the toddlers so the mamas could "get a lot of work done" during the school recess.

Then there is nothing but empty gray pages after the start to high school in fall 1962.
Left to right, Sandra McCray’s last school picture and a painting of Evelyn McCray, who was also killed in the same wreck as Sandra. 
Sandra, 13, and her beautiful mother Evelyn Thrasher McCray, 47, were killed instantly in a wreck Oct. 7, 1962, on Baker Curve along Alabama 75 about 6 miles north of Oneonta, when a drunken driver crashed into the family’s sedan.

Her 10-year-old brother Mack was carefully laid beside Sandra and their mother, and covered with whatever passersby could find, leaving his small form laying there for dead, as well.

Sandra’s father Lewis was severely injured (he stayed in a Birmingham hospital for close to two weeks and completely recuperated at home in bed for well over a month).

Mack’s twin sister Diane received several injuries, but the most severe appeared to be cuts on her face because she had just begun drinking a big orange drink from a local country store where the family had stopped after visiting their Thrasher grandparents in the Susan Moore community.

There were no paramedics back then. No emergency medical help. As passersby and then the ambulance team arrived, somebody happened to notice a slight movement from under Mack’s covering ... he’d taken a breath! So he was transported to a Birmingham hospital as well. He didn’t come to for over two days, was hospitalized for about a week and then recuperated at home for a time, eventually regaining his balance and overcoming physical obstacles.
Jerry McCray was killed in 1960 when HE was hit by a drunken driver. 
Diane and Mack were the youngest of the family’s nine children; their older sisters, Katie Sue, Betty, Libby and Polly, pitched in to tend to their dad and the youngsters.

Ironically, older brother Billy Ray had been killed in a similar wreck on Alabama 79 coming from Tarrant July 1960 when he was exactly 17.5 years old. A drunken driver crashed into HIS vehicle.

(Another brother, Dearl Gray McCray, passed away of natural causes when he was 5, having been sick since birth.)

I grew up "in the next valley" from the McCrays.

There’s a Vacation Bible School workbook in Sandra’s scrapbook where she attended at Union Hill Baptist, where I (this writer) attended, beginning June 6, 1962, and I remember that Mack and Diane were there, too.

Sandra wrote about how she loved 2 Timothy 2:15, "Study to show thyself approved unto God ...."
How that day it was her favorite verse.

"I like it because it is so true."

There’s a large painting of Evelyn now hanging in our home. In that picture, she has the same twinkle in her eye and the same look my Mack has – like he’s about to get into something!
Her family talked about how she loved her children and was shocked to discover she was expecting TWINS when she already had SEVEN children, but how she jumped cheerfully into those duties without missing a beat – like she did everything else in her life. Even having those chubby twins at home – not in a local hospital!

She loved to sing around the house, going with her family to church and making their house a HOME because of her love. She was a true Proverbs 31 woman, whether it was wringing the neck of a chicken and frying it up for Sunday dinner or just continuing with her daily housecleaning, churning butter or making cheese (there were few shortcuts on rural farms in the 50s and 60s when your husband worked as a painter and builder while raising cotton, corn, pigs and cows).

What I know of Sandra I’ve found in her scrapbook and from the little I remember from those early days, especially how her friends mourned her loss.

The main thing I know about Lewis is how he never-ever blamed God for the trials and losses his family faced on this Earth.

And even though he couldn’t go back to work like he had before the wreck, he reinvented himself as a master antique restorer with folks coming from all-around for his almost-magic touch on their family heirlooms.

Lewis eventually married again, and Mack and Diane enrolled in Oneonta schools in the sixth grade with me.

Mack was my eighth-grade sweetheart. We were friends throughout high school and then kept in touch only as former classmates after graduation.

That changed a little more than a year ago. Most of you know we were married in early May.
But there will always be a big hole in the McCray family. Mack, Diane, Libby and Polly are now the only remaining siblings.

There were three precious McCrays lost because two different folks decided they were going to drink and drive.

According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, 10,497 people were killed in drunken driving wrecks in 2016.

The good thing is that drunken driving accidents have gone down about a third in the past three decades because of tougher drunken driving laws and more public awareness. But that still means over 10,000 families every year have holes in their lives – such as the McCrays – that can never be filled.

We don’t drink.

But if you do, please stop and think before you get behind the wheel of any vehicle.

Please think of these empty scrapbook pages I’m holding in my lap ... and the emptiness in the lives of those left behind ... it’s that simple.

Suzy McCray is a freelance writer living on a small homestead in Blount County. She can be reached at or on her Facebook page.

Trail Camera Tips

Keeping an “Eye” on Things

by Todd Amenrud

Antlers have grown enough now (July) so we can distinguish individual bucks. That means it’s time to get those trail cameras working for you. If you’re looking for a close encounter with a mature buck or are interested in managing your property for a healthy balance, trail cameras may be the most valuable tools we have. Information is the most important part of making sound management decisions or creating an ambush for a mature buck. Trail cameras are the most effective means we have of collecting the information.
Here are 14 tips to help you get the most from your trail cameras:

1) Mind the sun! Place the camera south of your target. At times, you may also get away with facing the cameras to the south; it will depend upon the time of the year. It’s really sunrise and sunset you should try to avoid. By facing the camera in a northerly direction, daytime photos should have the best lighting.

2) Remove all obstructions.
Cut branches, weeds and twigs out of the way. If a large, sun-saturated branch is passing in front of the camera’s sensors, you’ll have an SD card full of animalless images.

3) Angle the camera to the trail. Trigger speeds have come a long way in recent years, but, if covering a trail or a passage where the animals will pass by relatively quickly, it’s best to angle the camera about 45 degrees to the trail rather than placing it perpendicular to the trail. If the camera is placed at a right-angle to the trail and the animal passes through the sensor area traveling fast, you may only have an image of a hind end or no animal at all.

4) Choose the right camera. Today, the worst cameras are better than the first flash cameras on the market. The two most important features are an infrared flash and a quiet shutter. No animal likes to have a whopping, white explosion go off in their face when it’s pitch black. Flash cameras spook wildlife, period. You must also have a quiet shutter. If you get photos of the animal looking at your camera, it could be hearing your shutter.

You may also want certain other features such as better resolution, time-lapse, burst mode, video, password protection or built-in viewer. It all depends upon your personal needs, but, like most things, you get what you pay for.

5) Camera thieves suck! Deter camera crooks by concealing the camera, securing it to a tree with a cable and lock, hanging it in hard-to-reach spots or placing it in a locked steel box.
To begin, you must use some common sense – don’t hang the camera in an obvious location if you expect human traffic passing by. A camera hanging on a trail, next to a feeder or at a gate opening may be a bit too tempting. Find a less obvious spot and camouflage the camera into the surroundings.

You can use natural foliage to help conceal the camera, but make sure you have a clear path to the target area. Otherwise, the LEDs will light up the brush in front of the camera leaving the target underexposed. It can also cause false triggering.

One of the best ways to discourage theft is to hang the camera high in the tree. Bring a climbing stick section, a couple tree steps or a small ladder and hang the camera out of reach of the average person.Remember, if you hang it high, you’ll need to place a branch or wedge behind the camera to angle it downward.

Security chains and cables work well to deter most, but, sometimes, if a "camera-pinching jerk" can’t take the camera, they’ll destroy it. If a resolute crook wants the camera, they seem to find a way – unfortunately a pair of bolt cutters fits in a backpack.

Last, some cameras have security boxes that can be fastened to a tree and then the camera locked into the box.

6) Take advantage of the time-lapse feature. This means the camera is triggered at predetermined time intervals rather than movement through the sensor area. Time-lapse is a great feature for covering food plots, agricultural fields or any large open area. If you can’t figure out which trails deer are most often using to access a food source, time-lapse can help you.

7) Use scent for a stopper. This is a great time to use up any scent left over from last season. Create a signpost in a spot where there is obvious animal traffic.

It doesn’t need to be a whitetail scent; fox and coon urines are two of my favorites. Just like a dog that pees on a fire hydrant, most animals want to claim their territory and will often stop to urinate over the last animals’ deposits. They’re just letting the others know, "I live here, too."
A signpost is a great stopper so you can get a shot, or so they can pose for a photo. In this case, you would pour the scent on the ground in a likely spot.

You may also use a traditional wick setup. Place the scent on a Key-Wick and put it on a branch or twig about 4 feet off the ground. This can get them to pose for the photo and attract them to the spot from a distance. A small amount of scent can draw in and stop a buck in the perfect position to pose for his portrait.

A little Trail’s End #307 or Golden Buck will work during early season or after the rut, and Special Golden Estrus is perfect during late October through November.

Mock scrapes work amazingly well to take an inventory of the bucks in the area. You may not get many photos of does, but bucks are instinctually drawn to the scrape from early October into December. You can doctor a buck’s existing scrape or make your own mock scrape. A Magnum Scrape Dripper with some Active Scrape or Golden Scrape will work best for this tactic.

The best part of this tactic is it usually gets numerous photos of the buck from several angles.

8) Develop a system for filing the photos. To effectively manage a property, you must keep good records.

Trail camera photos are one of the primary ways to learn what’s happening on your property. They help gather information on mature bucks and document trends over the years. There is no better way to determine density, buck-to-doe ratio or age structure of the herd.

Nowadays, one property manager on a 500-acre parcel can go through 200,000 images or more in one season. Whether categorizing files by date, place where the camera was located or the specific buck you’re after or some other system, it’s important to find a way to organize the images so you can find them when you need to recap.
When positioning the camera, it’s best to take a test picture to make sure everything is framed properly. You want to see the whole deer, not just the legs or half a set of antlers. 
9) Shoot a test photo or video to know it’s framed properly. If the camera has a built-in viewer, this will be easy.

If you don’t want to capture just legs or half a set of antlers, consider using a digital picture viewer to check the photos in the field. Small digital cameras may also work for reading your SD cards.

10) Find the sweet spot. Most cameras will claim they are good to a certain range. In reality, they stink at the maximum touted limit. Set them close enough to the target to get good nighttime illumination from the infrared flash.

11) What are some camera manufacturers thinking with their mounting systems? The strap some of them give to fasten a small camera to a tree could double for a seatbelt in a car and it requires two people to use it.

A simple small rubber cord (bungee cord) with hooks at each end works perfectly … if you’re not worried about theft. Otherwise, with mounting systems such as the Stake Out or Stic-n-Pic, you don’t need a tree at all.

Some trail cams will work with a regular camera tripod. There are numerous other mounting options, but it’s nice to have something simple and fast.

12) How and when should you check the cameras? Some say to wait a certain time span and check them at a specific time of day, but every situation is different.

In some instances, you may need to check them every day or every other day. Under other scenarios, you may want to wait a week to 10 days or more before checking them.

Variables would be: the time of year, location of the camera(s), what you’re trying to do with your camera, how you’re checking the cameras, weather conditions and more. The idea is to check or move the cameras when you will least disturb the area.

Because an ATV or farm vehicle is less intrusive than a person on foot, some choose to mount the cameras so they can drive right next to the camera to switch out SD cards.

This is less of a disturbance than walking because whitetails will often stay bedded and tolerate the vehicle passing, but a person on foot could bump them to the next property.

If you’re able to drive to the camera, you also leave much less human scent in the area.
Technology continues to advance with new features and even wireless cameras now available. 
13) Use cameras to backtrack a specific buck. If he is showing up at a food plot or feeding station after dark and you don’t have snow to backtrack him to his bedding area, let the trail camera do the work. The closer you get to his core area, the better the chances for a legal shot.
The key is to keep the cameras moving. A buck may simply walk 5 feet out of the camera’s sensor area, so keep repositioning it.

14) Hang ‘em high! That is, IF you’re getting photos of deer looking at the camera, they’re either seeing the infrared flash or hearing the shutter trigger.

Previously, it was suggested to hang the camera high to deter thieves; in this case, you’re hanging it higher to keep it above the whitetail’s normal line of sight.

About as high as you can comfortably reach (about 7-8 feet) usually works, and, again, remember to place a small branch behind the camera to angle it down to the focal point where the subjects will be.

If you’re still getting whitetails looking at the camera, you probably need to spend a little more on a better camera with a quieter shutter.

Todd Amenrud is the director of Public Relations for Mossy Oak BioLogic, Editor-in-chief of Gamekeepers, Farming for Wildlife magazine and a habitat consultant.

We just don’t dream big enough!

by Glenn Crumpler

When we first started the Cattle for Christ cattle herd in Alabama about 11 years ago, the ministry was already 6 years old and had never owned or intended to own a live cow. When I prayed for God to take the love of cattle away from me and I sold my One Way Angus herd in 1997 to go into ministry, I figured I would never be in the cattle business again. In fact, because God had answered my prayers and replaced my passion for cattle with a love and passion for the lost and hurting people around the world, I really had no lasting desire to be in the cattle business again.

However, I do have to admit a good-looking heifer would often catch my eye. If I looked too long, I would find myself dreaming about which bull I might breed her to, to make her daughter just a little better than she was!

The vision God gave me when we started the ministry of Cattle for Christ in June 2001 was to provide a ministry approach and strategy to create a vision and ignite a passion within the agricultural community, uniting them to be involved as an industry to take the Gospel message and the love of Jesus Christ to all of the world. Cattle for Christ would provide effective, efficient, strategic, accountable and sustainable ministries for cattlemen, ranchers and farmers to work together as one body to accomplish this mission, and producers could give financially to make the work possible. Livestock producers could donate the proceeds from one or more animals each year, row crop farmers could donate the proceeds from one or more acres per year, etc.

This would fund our work, both at home and around the world, take the guesswork out of mission donations for the producers and allow all of us as an industry to be involved in something much greater than ourselves or could accomplish as individuals.

This is still our goal and our primary approach, but God still had something bigger in mind.

In 2007, I felt the Lord was leading me to start a Cattle for Christ herd. We had no land (except my 6 acres of unfenced Bahia), no laborers, no equipment, no money – we did not even have a water hose to water the cows. Within 36 hours of sharing my vision to start a CFC herd during a private phone conversation with my board chairman in Kentucky, we had three heifers donated and nowhere to put them.

The idea was that cattlemen, farmers, ranchers, veterinarians and other ag-related industries could have greater opportunities to be involved in our ministry. When they could not give cash, they could still be an integral part by contributing what they did have: cattle, corn, cottonseed, equipment, supplies, vehicles, hay, feed, seed, fertilizer, pharmaceuticals, ear tags, minerals, labor, expertise, etc. The herd was not intended to replace cash given by producers but to provide more options while also promoting the industry we all love.

By 2011, we realized we really had not been dreaming big enough. We had approximately 300 head of mostly registered Angus cattle donated by producers around the country or raised from the donated cattle. With the help of many neighbors and our corporate sponsors, we were artificially inseminating cattle, doing embryo recovery and transfer, and producing some of the best genetics in the breed.

The problem was, because we had not been dreaming big enough, we had built fencing with only 10-foot wide gates, small catch pens and small grazing paddocks. We never dreamed the Lord would bless us the way He has. We never dreamed we would have a 130-horsepower tractor with dual wheels, a 17-foot disk, a 15-foot bushhog, a 16-foot grain drill or 40- foot trailers. We never dreamed we would need 200- 250 acres of grazing or have 300 head of cattle when we had our Moving ‘Em Out for Missions Dispersal Sale in September 2011.

We surely never dreamed we would be back up to over 250 head of both commercial and registered cattle today! We also never dreamed the Lord would use Cattle for Christ and all of our ministry partners to have some kind of eternal impact in over 57 countries in just 17 years.

Every time Jack and I have to modify a gate; change or add to a catch pen; look for new pastures to be donated or rented; solicit hay, feed and equipment; gather volunteer help to work the cattle; or solicit the needed funding, we are reminded we never dreamed big enough.

When I am traveling and coordinating new work in the Middle East, Africa, India and other regions around the world, I am reminded I never dreamed big enough.

Then, I think about eternity. I think about the true meanings of redemption, the resurrection of Jesus and their eternal impact on all people and all of creation (good or bad), and again – more than ever before – I realize none of us are really dreaming big enough!

Revelations 21-22 has become one of my favorite passages in Scripture because it shows more than just a glimpse of what God has prepared for His people in eternity: a new heaven, a new earth and even a new body for His people to dwell with Him and with one another forever and forever.

Everything there will be good, and no evil will enter in or impact His people or creation ever again. We will be with God, and He will wipe away every tear from our eyes – never again to experience pain, sorrow, sin, sickness or death. To be with the One who created all the universe and all that exists, who had a plan for our lives and created us in our mother’s womb, who died for our sins to give us life and who is the very definition of love is enough to be ecstatic about and make us long to be there with Him.

But then, if we really look at what He tells us about the place He has prepared for us, we really realize we have not been dreaming big enough.
We often think about Heaven or eternity as being an out-of-body experience or floating on the clouds or, at best, some kind of paradise we can visualize. We think we have only one life to live and, if we want to enjoy life and see the world, we better do it now because our time comes to an end. In reality, we will be able to see and do immeasurably more in the new heaven and new earth than we could ever do in this life because everything we see here has been affected by the sin curse. When we get to heaven, all effects and evidence of sin will have been removed.

There will be a new heaven and new earth, and they will be for us to explore and to enjoy.

I do not have space in this article to do this justice, so you will have to read it for yourself. Just think about the city of New Jerusalem where God, Jesus and His people will dwell and where all believers will come and go.

The Biblical description and beauty is surely beyond our comprehension, but try to imagine this. The size of just this city is stated in human terms, meaning we can believe them to be literal, as "12,000 furlongs. Its length, breadth and height are equal." That is 1,500 miles long, 1,500 miles wide and 1,500 miles high!

To make it more comprehendible, that is 2,250,000 square miles just on the ground floor. For example, if each floor were a generous 12 feet in height, that would be 600,000 floors, each 2,250,000 square miles in size.

If you were one mile away, you still could not see the top of the city. If you were 10 miles away, you might see the top. At 5,000 miles away, the city would still appear 130 times larger than our view of the moon! The International Space Station orbits at 240 miles above Earth’s surface, yet this city would extend to over twice that height! The ground floor of the city alone would cover a land mass extending from the Appalachian Mountains to the California border and from Canada to Mexico!

If you look at the Bible, I believe there will be animals there. Why not?

There will be activity (12 gates for people to come and go, the kings of the earth will bring their glory and honor into it). There will be transportation of some sort because there are streets of pure gold. There will food to eat, activities and mansions He has prepared for each of us individually. Heaven is not likely to have a lot of identical residences. God loves diversity. He tailor makes His children and His provisions for them. When we see the places He’s prepared for us – not just for mankind in general but for us in particular – we’ll rejoice to see our ideal homes. There will be everything for everybody. And that is just inside the city – not to mention the rest of the new heaven and new earth!

"What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him." (I Corinthians 2:9, English Standard Version). Nope! If we are followers of Christ (and only if we are followers of Christ), we have not been dreaming big enough!

Glenn Crumpler is is president of Cattle for Christ International, Inc. He can be contacted at 334-393-4700 (home), 333-4400 (mobile) or

We’re not just the hook-and-bullet crowd.

WFF biologists manage a variety of wildlife, both game and nongame alike.

Marianne Hudson, a conservation outreach specialist, and Carrie Threadgill, a nongame biologist, helped with the release of the eagle 
by Chuck Sykes

Many animals you see and hear while sitting in your deer stand or waiting on that gobbler are in the category of nongame wildlife. In fact, 95 percent of Alabama’s native species cannot be legally hunted. The Wildlife & Freshwater Fisheries Division’s Nongame Wildlife Program is tasked with managing, protecting and enhancing the populations of those animals.

I will highlight two species to illustrate the wide variety of nongame animals in our state: the bald eagle and the eastern indigo snake. Outwardly, they’re quite different: One rules Alabama’s skies and the other slithers through its sandy soils. However, both have benefited from the efforts of the Nongame Wildlife Program.

At a division-sponsored educational event in June, WFF staff asked a group of schoolchildren if they had ever seen a wild eagle. All the children raised their hands to indicate yes. Decades ago, the responses were much different.

In 1984, the Nongame Wildlife Program began a bald eagle reintroduction program and released 91 birds over an eight-year period. This initiative is one of the greatest accomplishments of the program, as you are now likely to see bald eagles anywhere in Alabama.
Chuck Sykes releases the rehabilitated eagle in the Pine Barren Creek Special Opportunity Area. 
No longer on the endangered species list, bald eagles are thriving. We have recorded over 200 nesting pairs, and they are potentially nesting in every county. The increased number of eagles means landowners are more likely to encounter them on their property.

Occasionally, a debilitated eagle is found and taken to a state- and federal-permitted wildlife rehabilitator for temporary care.

One such eagle was taken to Auburn University’s Southeastern Raptor Center last fall after being found grounded with a broken wing and close to starvation. The eagle recovered. On May 2, I released that eagle back into the wild at our Pine Barren Creek Special Opportunity Area in Dallas County.

My hands were hopefully the last to ever touch that bird, and I expect it to hunt the area for another 30 years.

On May 4, another nongame success story passed through my hands. We released 20 eastern indigo snakes in the Conecuh National Forest.

Topping out at over 8 feet long, these nonvenomous snakes are a top predator in Alabama’s longleaf pine ecosystem. Indigos eat a variety of prey, including rattlesnakes and copperheads.

This species is now considered threatened. Habitat loss, collection for the pet trade and the now-illegal practice of gassing gopher tortoise burrows led to its decline.

Before reintroduction efforts began in 2010, they had not been seen in Alabama since the 1950s.

Indigos are bred and raised in captivity for the purpose of release to re-establish a breeding population in their historic range. Over 170 have been released through these efforts.
Joey Dobbs, chairman of the Conservation Advisory Board, helped with the release of the eastern indigo snakes. 
This year, the release was followed by the Indigo Snake & Wildlife Festival that was open to the public. Hundreds of visitors, including the aforementioned schoolchildren, visited Conecuh National Forest to learn about snakes, tortoises, red-cockaded woodpeckers and other aspects of local habitat.

Our biologists worked with a number of federal, state and private conservation organizations to make the Indigo Snake & Wildlife Festival a success.

Partners are very important to all efforts involving the indigo snake and many were also involved in the eagle reintroduction. One of the most essential partners in these nongame success stories is reading this article right now: the Alabama hunter. The Nongame Wildlife Program is funded via hunting license revenue along with federal matching funds provided from an excise tax on the sale of guns and ammunition. In addition, many Alabama residents choose to offer support via the Nongame Fund tax checkoff located on state income tax forms or by purchasing an Alabama Wildlife Heritage License. Many nonhunters also choose to back the conservation of nongame species by purchasing an Alabama hunting license.

If you enjoy birdwatching, know that conservation efforts and habitat support for those species are both funded by license sales. If you see an eagle, thank a hunter.

Nongame biologists conduct hundreds of surveys annually to gather data on wildlife populations and monitor species of concern. Some biologists are flying above in planes counting eagles, while others have their boots on the ground as they peer into gopher tortoise burrows to search for indigos.

In addition to birds and reptiles, the Nongame Wildlife Program focuses its initiatives on other animals as well. Biologists are inspecting bat species across Alabama for deadly white-nose syndrome and studying the prevalence of the spotted skunk. They are searching for amphibians such as the eastern hellbender salamander and examining their habitats.

The program helps administer a variety of projects involving federal- and state-listed species of concern and Scientific Collecting Permits for numerous projects. Such initiatives provide data allowing us to better manage our myriad nongame wildlife for the sustainable benefit of the people of Alabama.

Most of you reading this article probably never knew that we manage species other than the ones we hunt. Even though deer and turkey are the primary species we talk about, WFF biologists manage a host of game and nongame wildlife.

Why should we as hunters care about nongame species such as the indigo snake, the gopher tortoise or the red-cockaded woodpecker?

Because improper management of endangered, threatened or species of concern such as these could have a negative impact on how we manage the game species in our state. That’s why we work closely with our federal and state partners to practice sound wildlife and timber management.

Most hunters understand the use of prescribed fire in a thinned stand of longleaf pine timber to produce quality food and cover for deer, turkey and quail. But those same hunters may not understand the practices of thinning and periodic fire also produce quality habitat for many other species. In other words, proper management benefits all species whether we hunt them or not.

My recent experiences with two nongame success stories were literally hands-on, but, anytime you’re outdoors, look skyward or downward to see species that are mindfully managed by Alabama’s Nongame Wildlife Program.

Chuck Sykes is director of the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

When Diamonds Aren't Forever

A father-daughter jewelry business in Selma sees changing times.

by Alvin Benn
Roger Butler and his daughter Doris stand beneath a sign that’s a tribute to the family’s jewelry history in Selma. 
Doris Butler grew up in the jewelry business. It gave her a direction in life, one that helped her overcome professional and personal challenges through the years.

She didn’t do it alone because her dad Roger Butler was by her side most of the way as a mentor, an adviser and, at times, offering a shoulder for her to cry on.

The Butler family operated one of the largest jewelry businesses in Alabama’s Black Belt region, and Doris became the boss after her father stepped down.

It didn’t take her long to see that she was apparently at the helm of a sinking financial ship.
As majority stockholder, she exercised her authority by personally taking control of the operation and ordering a complete inventory, selling what could be sold.

It also led to a divorce. Doris changed her surname, returning to her maiden name. It was a dramatic decision, one that preceded a final store closure in 2017.

At one time, Butler was a name that meant fine jewelry for prospective brides, but those days are now gone.

Doris moved from a large store in downtown Selma to a second-floor office at a local bank where she personally takes orders from customers.

The Butler jewelry business once had 27 employees on the payroll and was one of the largest of its kind in the region.
A young Roger Butler assists a couple seeking a ring. 
"For Sale" and "For Rent" signs cover part of the front windows of what once was a popular, profitable five-and-dime-type department store.

It all came to a sad ending in February 2017, but Doris was determined to at least keep her family’s name alive in any way she could.

When asked for reasons as to what happened, Doris, 54, is quick to point to similar problems leading to big and small jewelry stores’ closures in past years.

She said her company’s downfall followed inventories that exceeded sales, leaving leftovers to gather dust on shelves where they once had attracted customers.

It was a tough situation for her to face because she literally grew up in the store located halfway between Selma City Hall and the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge.

"I don’t feel like a failure," Doris said during a recent interview. "What we experienced was a ‘perfect storm’ of events that led to closures of jewelry stores across the country."

By that time, there wasn’t much she could do but try to hold on and hope for the best – something that wasn’t going to happen.

"It was like a slow death to watch," she said. "The economy was down all over America in 2008 and high overheads made it even worse. No matter what we tried, nothing seemed to work."

Loyal customers weren’t blaming her and, instead, offered support, but the kind they needed never materialized. The national trend of internet competition and other factors posed too big of a challenge to head off what was going to happen.

The company’s initial sale offer of $349,000 soon dropped to $295,000 and the building might eventually begin looking like so many other Selma businesses with smashed windows and no customers.

Roger didn’t know he’d be engraving names and initials on silver plates or his name would be on the big sign outside his jewelry business.

But that’s just what happened and, now, at the age of 80, he can look back on a successful career – far removed from his "boring" stint at a Selma radio station years ago.

His family’s jewelry business dates back to the 1830s, not long after Selma was created. He never tires of talking about the good old days and reminiscing with friends about the vagaries of earning a living.

"My family was involved in other businesses through the years, but my goal was always to become involved in the entertainment industry," he said. "It didn’t work out, but it wasn’t for lack of effort."

His father ran the popular Wilby Theater not far from where his jewelry store would, one day, be located. He never worked at the theater because of nepotism prohibitions.

One of the benefits that came his way was being able to see lots of free movies as he grew up. He saw so many, in fact, he had visions of working at one of the major studios in California.

He decided on a college education. It wasn’t long before he was on his way to Tuscaloosa where he obtained a degree in radio and TV arts at the University of Alabama.

After that, he served a hitch in the Army as an officer in the Signal Corps where he helped to prepare training films. That would be his closest venture to Tinseltown or combat.

He didn’t let it get him down and just moved in a different direction. As it turned out, he made the right decision at the time.

Once again, it didn’t turn out as he had hoped. He spent his days at a desk pushing and sharpening pencils.

"I was supposed to be the program director, but instead I wound up typing daily radio logs," he said. "I eventually got into sales and even became an on-air announcer for a while."

His persistence finally paid off – thanks to Julius Talton, a brilliant businessman who bought the radio station where Roger had worked.

Talton told him it was always better to be the boss and let him know he had what it took to succeed.

As a result, it led to a small piece of a partnership with Talton and three other Selma businessmen, but it didn’t involve the entertainment industry as he had hoped.
Roger and Doris Butler have memories of better days of their old jewelry store in downtown Selma. 
What did happen enabled Roger the chance to enter the high-finance world of diamonds, watches and table settings.

"I didn’t know a thing about jewelry, but I was sent to New York to learn the ropes," he recalled. "It was only a two-week course at first, but I kept at it and began to get the hang of jewelry management."

One of the first things he did was buy an engraving machine. He made mistakes at first but discarded his initial efforts and, before too long, everything seemed to come together.

"I finally found something I could do and enjoy," he said with a laugh. "I wanted to be a scientist, but I guess being a businessman was just too much in my blood."

His grandfather had been involved in a general store, and it wasn’t long before it left no doubt he was in the right business.

Along the way, he became a gemologist – as did Doris, who would later become president of the family jewelry business.

She is always quick to give her dad all the credit when it comes to the business world and its many nuances. His interest in technology would eventually merge with the family’s background, forming a business combination leading to quick success.

It usually takes more than that to succeed, but Roger’s outgoing personality soon won over potential customers. Doris had the same success, thanks to her dad’s winning ways in business management.

"In Walmart, he’d disappear," she remembered, "and we’d find him in conversations with customers. It was like trying to catch a moving train. He was always on the go … even as he aged."

When Roger finally slowed down and Doris took over management of the store, he continued to greet people as he walked up and down Selma’s downtown streets.

The Butler family business suffered its biggest blow in 1977 when Craig Air Force Base closed. As a result, many businesses throughout Selma had a hard time recovering.

Losing Craig meant the loss of a $5 million annual payroll – money that could buy a lot of diamond rings and place settings for customers.

Roger kept his family’s business open as long as he could, but belt-tightening procedures only worked so far. It got to the point where he and Doris were the only employees left.

Selma’s current condition downtown doesn’t do much to entice new business development, but Doris and her dad are hopeful things will, one day, be a lot better.

In the meantime, Roger is still basking in the glow of having recently received the Lifetime Membership Award from the Alabama Jewelers Association.

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.

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