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March 2010

Alabama 4-H Teaches Generosity

Caring for animals is a great learning service, fun for the kids, kittens and puppies.

By Chuck Hill and Amy Payne Burgess

How do people learn to be generous? University research indicates babies are naturally wired to be concerned for other people, but the research also shows the love and attention children receive help them develop empathy and the ability to understand the feelings of others. That empathy is beneficial, not just to society, but it also helps kids grow into adults who are better able to cope with life’s challenges and opportunities.

The research also shows the dark side of that coin. Children who are exposed to violence, disengaged parents, abuse and bullying develop social, mental and physical problems. At its most extreme, the inability to put themselves in "the shoes of others" leads to drug abuse, violence and emotional illness. And we all know a coworker, a fellow choir member or one of our children’s teachers who always seems angry or negative. Not to treat it lightly, but chances are someone wasn’t very nice to them as they were growing up, and they may be more deserving of our sympathy than our anger.

Camden 4-H Club members used their artistic skill to create Christmas cards for residents of a nursing home. You can tell they enjoyed the task.

In 4-H, we try to help young people build on their natural goodwill. In fact, "Generosity" is one of our key values, and it is associated with teamwork and good communications. In Alabama 4-H, we have a strong tradition of building generosity in growing kids. In fact, the late Millard Fuller often cited 4-H as one of the key factors in giving him the commitment and the skills needed to build the team which established Habitat for Humanity.

4-H is strongly committed to the idea of "Service Learning." Service Learning is a "hands-on, minds-on" way to combine meaningful community service with instruction and thoughtful reflection. Service enriches knowledge, teaches civic responsibility and strengthens communities.

4-H is proud to support Alabama’s 4-H military families.

There are hundreds of stories to tell, since every 4-H Club in every Alabama community engages in some form of Service Learning. For example, a 4-H group in Camden collected canned food items to distribute to needy families in Wilcox County. The Regional Youth Council in Macon and Montgomery Counties packed and wrapped boxes for deployed soldiers and VA hospital patients. The 4-H Regional Council of Clay, Randolph and Talladega Counties put in a full day of "Puppy Love" at the Randolph County Animal Shelter. The Poarch Creek Indians 4-H Club participated in the Great American Bake Sale to raise money so low-income children could have nutritious meals.

On one December day, 4-H kids in Choctaw County collected toys for needy tots and went to the Willow Trace Nursing Center to sing Christmas carols to the residents. They passed out bows to the residents to decorate their Christmas trees. Making a rich, full day of service, they returned to the Extension office where they wrote Christmas cards to "a recovering American soldier" at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. This is the same county where the "4-H Hero Helpers Club" sold paintings to purchase toiletries and personal supplies for the more than 400 soldiers in Afghanistan the club has adopted this year.

Cullman County 4-H groups have a great tradition of Generosity. Among the many service projects they engaged in was their volunteer work with the Cullman County Day of Champions, an event much like Special Olympics. They helped serve lunch to the contestants and assisted wherever they were needed.

"It was great to be able to help out," said R.J. Martin of the Cullman County 4-H Community Club.

Walker County’s 4-H 4 U Club "pledges my hands to larger service." Volunteer leaders Vickie Posey, Tina Klein and Linda Hester motivated their CloverBuds, and junior and senior 4-Hers to decorate holiday cards for military personnel, honor Walker County’s oldest veteran and join a community salute to veterans. They organized a coat and blanket drive, provided food for an adopted family, served holiday meals at an area food center, delivered cakes to residents of Elderly Village and even marched in the Jasper Christmas parade.

In October, the Shelby County Horse Club sponsored their third Saddle Up For St. Jude’s. One hundred participants raised $5,000! Riders got to ride on the great trails on the Sullivan Farm in Thorsby, won great prizes provided by local businesses and were entertained by the Shelby 4-H drill team and musician Ken Byford.

Thanks to the support of our friends at Bonnie Plants, 4-H’s Junior Master Gardener program makes Alabama communities more attractive – and even feeds hungry people. For example, after two teachers launched a JMG program at Montgomery’s Taylor Road Academy, the group of young gardeners immediately began transforming an "eye sore" beside the gym into an attractive outdoor learning center.

The group’s five classes and 64 members have built lifetime skills on things like planting vegetables, herbs and butterfly-attracting plants, and regular watering and maintenance. They even established a composting area and expanded recycling efforts across the campus. The school now recycles everything from paper to food scraps. In January, the students began giving back by donating produce to a nearby assisted living facility. Collards, head lettuce, cabbage and broccoli were the first of many harvests to be delivered to the center.

As an institution, 4-H is deeply committed to generosity. Perhaps no group in America needs our special love and attention as much as Alabama’s military kids and military families. "Doing the right thing" is part of the reasoning behind our "Camp We Can" for military youth with special needs. Because of your support, we were able to let these kids do things they have never done before: go horseback riding and tubing, play Putt Putt, swim, go fishing, and even ride on the zip line!

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

Angell Captures First Buck

Jonathan Angell shot his first buck on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2010, at 6:45 a.m. on a field planted with AFC’s Plot Seed Blend purchased from Central Alabama Farmers Co-op in Demopolis.

Buy Fresh, Buy Local Campaign May Be Vanishing From Alabama Roadways

By Don Wambles

We all are experiencing the most troublesome economic times of our lives. Everyone in all walks of life is forced to tighten budgets and reduce spending. It is reasonable to expect budgets for state government agencies providing services to be experiencing the same.

The 2010 budget for the State of Alabama Farmers Market Authority (FMA) was so drastically cut that programs like the extremely popular and successful statewide public awareness campaign, Buy Fresh, Buy Local, will be eliminated.

In addition, due to 2010 federal budget cuts, the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program (WFMNP) was reduced by approximately 75 percent. This means 20,000 fewer women and children will receive assistance this year versus 2009. For the farming community, it equates to a reduction of $400,000 in small farmers’ sales.

In the Governor’s 2011 proposed budget, all but a handful of state agencies have been cut yet again, some more than others, with FMA being one of the largest in percentage reductions. Unfortunately, that means that again there will not be any funds available for the Buy Fresh, Buy Local campaign.

The Buy Fresh, Buy Local campaign was designed to increase consumption of fresh, locally-produced food and to support Alabama farmers. The campaign has become an extremely valuable marketing tool for Alabama farmers and the nostalgic appearance of the campaign’s logo is easily recognizable and popular with consumers. Since the inception of the campaign in 2004, it has had an extremely favorable impact on local farmers markets, u-pick operations and roadside stands in Alabama.

History shows us that during the Great Depression the companies who continued to advertise their products, despite the decline in the economy, made huge strides in sales and customer loyalty. Because so many companies had to cut spending during that era, advertising budgets were largely eliminated. As a result, those companies dropped out of public sight because of short-sighted decisions made about spending money to keep a high profile. The 2011 proposed budget cuts FMA is facing are once again going to have a huge negative impact on Alabama farmers as well as the consumers who prefer to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from these local farmers.

The demand for Buy Fresh, Buy Local is right now at an all-time high. If history repeats itself, chances are the demand for locally-grown produce will fade without a strong advertising campaign. These types of programs are essential to the existence of our local farming community.

WE NEED YOUR HELP! FMA pledges to do everything possible to ensure programs like Buy Fresh, Buy Localcontinue. If this campaign has had a favorable impact on your local business, farming operation or shopping habits for healthy fruits and vegetables for your family’s meals, we ask you to contact your local State Representative and Senator. Please ask these key people to restore FMA’s funding to the ‘2009’ appropriation level. Without YOUR help, the strides that have been made with the Buy Fresh, Buy Local campaign may be lost. Please help us to ensure this does not happen to your local community.

Don Wambles is the director for the State of Alabama Farmers Market Authority.

Cedar Ridge Stables Changes Focus

Jimmy and Tammy Doughty, rely on Lance Ezell, manager at Fayette Cooperative, for their animal needs and to get answers to any questions they may have.

Racking Horse Business Now Counting on Sheep

By Don Linker

Cedar Ridge Stables is as the name implies - primarily a horse facility near Reform. The owners, Jimmy and Tammy Doughty, used to be deep into the Racking Horse business with champions in their barn. However circumstances changed the way Racking Horses were shown and the Doughty’s interest in showing decreased. They still have their horses and board a few for customers, but their focus has changed to sheep which went from being pets to a business for them. Tammy is retired from the United States Postal Service, while Jimmy is employed by Peco Poultry, delivering feed to poultry growers in the area. They love animals and wanted to utilize their farm in a way both enjoyable and profitable.

Tammy, how did you become involved with sheep?

The sheep are called to the barn with a cow bell.

"Well, I acquired three Suffolk ewes from a friend about six years ago. The ewes had been club lambs, shown by 4-H or FFA members, and they were pregnant. We already had goats, but sheep were new to us. I began to read, ask questions and attend seminars to learn all I could about these cute creatures.

"Attending field days and meeting sheep producers, I learned a lot about the wooly animals. After the ewes had lambed and the lambs became old enough to be sold, the customers who bought our young goats began to buy the sheep and wanted more. We decided to buy some more ewes and a ram to see if we could make them a viable enterprise.

Dinner time for baby lambs at Cedar Ridge.

"With wool sheep, you have to shear them and our first shearing was truly an unforgettable experience. The wool has a lot of dirt in it because of the lanolin in the wool, so the clipper blades became dull really quickly and we weren’t using the correct blades anyway. Since the wool was dirty, we decided to wash the sheep to make the shearing easier, which it did, but it takes a long time for a wet sheep to dry. The shearing is now done by Charlie Meeks of Lauderdale County who shears sheep for a lot of sheep producers in North Alabama.

"We appreciate being able to call Mr. Meeks and have him take care of the wool removal."

Tammy heard about hair sheep while attending seminars and was interested in them because they do not have wool to shear. They also have higher resistance to disease and parasites than the wool breeds. They now have two breeds of hair sheep on the farm, Dorper and Katahdin ewes with Dorper rams, and have phased out the goat production on the farm.

Jimmy, what are your plans for the future of Cedar Ridge Stables as far as animal production?

"We hope to eventually increase to 150 Katahdin ewes with Dorper rams to breed back on them to produce lambs that grow well and reach the optimum sell-weight of 80-100 pounds in a shorter period of time. We are also going to incorporate beef cattle production into the farm program to be somewhat diversified in what we raise. Angus and Bramvieh heifers have already been purchased and they will be the foundation of our cowherd."

Tammy, how do you market your lambs and will that change as you grow?

"We have never taken lambs to a sale barn, word-of-mouth and creative advertising have worked well for us so far. Selling our lambs on the farm has really been easy, we have repeat customers and they tell their friends. Our customer base consists of ethnic groups including Hispanic, Muslim and North African. We have flyers and business cards printed in Spanish which we post and pass out in towns and cities in our area, and this has helped us immensely.

"Lamb sales are heaviest from just before Thanksgiving until the first of the year, but some lambs are sold all year for special occasions like Easter, birthdays and social parties. We are also members of the A+ Cooperative of which I am the secretary of the southwest division. This organization promotes the growth of sheep, goat and rabbit production by education and development of markets for each species. We may have to change marketing strategies as we grow, but we will determine that as we grow."

The Doughtys rely on the staff at Fayette Farmers Co-op for all their needs and, if the Co-op doesn’t have it, they will gladly order it for them. Manager Lance Ezell and his staff are always helpful and ready to help their customers attain their production goals.

Your local Quality Co-op is always willing to help and we appreciate your business.

If you would like more information about Cedar Ridge Stables or you want to talk about sheep, you can reach Tammy or Jimmy at (205) 270-6633 or (205) 270-6696.

Don Linker is an outside salesman for AFC.

Chandler’s Mill Brought Back To Life by Cherokee Co. Couple

The 45-foot mill wheel and mill house, both built entirely by Jerry Dempsey and his wife, Peggy.

By Suzy Lowry Geno

During the Blizzard of 1993, Jerry Don Dempsey and his wife Peggy never lost power, although the majority of their neighbors were without electricity for more than a week.

Jerry had just brought online a 16-foot water wheel and that wheel generated enough power during the massive snowstorm to keep the Dempsey family home comfortable and well lit.

The 16-foot wheel replaced an eight-foot wheel Jerry built to "learn just how they worked."

Jerry counts both those wheels as "learning experiences," but there just wasn’t enough water at that spot near his Cherokee County home to keep the wheel running as much as he wanted.

When Jerry and Peggy learned the old Chandler’s Mill site just off Cherokee County Hwy 45 was available, they jumped at the chance to buy a piece of history. So in 2004, they bought 26 acres including the old mill site and the land surrounding what was a mile-long water raceway from Spring Creek to the mill from Austin Ashley, a descendant of the Chandler family.

"You’d never have known a mill was here," Jerry said of the overgrown area. "But I remember my dad coming here and buying a saw mill when I was just a boy. A few old timers can remember coming here for picnics and church outings way before then."

Clockwise from above, Jerry Don Dempsey and the corn sheller, original to the 1860s mill and now powered by the new water wheel; Jerry prepares to grind corn in the 1860 Munson Bros grinder original to Chandler’s Mill; Jerry and son Joel grind cornmeal and grits at the electric mill; cornmeal pours from the grinder; and Jerry carefully rakes the corn onto the screen so it can be separated into meal, grits and other by-products (which is fed to the family chickens along with feed from the Cherokee Farmers Co-op).

The actual mill equipment area was covered with mud and overgrown with weeds and the old mill house had long ago collapsed. No one has been able to tell the Dempseys when the mill last ran.

Peggy has been able to come up with some of the mill’s history through local research.

Water tumbles through the wheel.

William J. Chandler and his brother, Jimmy Chandler, moved to Cherokee County in 1860. They’d worked in a mill their father owned in Talladega.

Peggy’s research showed the spot they picked for their new homes and store in the Whorton Community was about a mile from Spring Creek.

"The mile didn’t stop the Chandler Brothers. With the help of neighbors and slaves, they not only erected a two-story building but also, with the help of the slaves, hand-dug the mile-long raceway from Spring Creek to the mill house.

"They had to build pond gates so water could run through the turbine at the mill cabin to grind corn meal, grits and flour.

"History showed they were pretty good businessmen at filling a need in the area because they had so much grain coming in to the mill it was necessary to grind at night by lantern light.

"With all those people coming to the mill and waiting, the smart brothers decided to open a country store to sell other goods to the community," Peggy explained.

Jerry began by clearing out the old raceway, this time using heavy equipment instead of slaves and neighbors equipped with shovels.

Peggy Dempsey, who helped sawmill the boards for the cabin and then helped build it, is shown with some of the jellies she sells there on weekends.

He then cleared the land around the actual mill site. As he began digging, he uncovered many treasures including the original turban, "buried under a ton of mud and sand," and bearing a bronze plate showing it was manufactured by Munson Bros in Utica, New York, with a patent date of 1860.

"I had the turbine sandblasted and found it was as good as new. I had to replace the grinding rocks inside with ones from Lookout Mountain. Who knows how much corn those older rocks had ground. They were completely worn out!" Jerry said.

In 2007, Jerry designed and started building the 45-foot water wheel to power the turbine and other equipment.

Jerry explained, "The whole family helped in welding and construction" including son Joel, grandsons Bo Dempsey and Joseph Smith, and Jerry’s nephew Layne Hudson.

At first, the wheel ran using wooden paddles, but, in 2009, a metal band and paddles replaced the wooden ones for additional durability.

Packaged cornmeal and grits, ground and sold at Chandler’s Mill.

Jerry and Peggy sawmilled all the huge pine boards for the mill house and Jerry built porches on three sides to house the mill equipment. Some of the massive boards in the walls are more than one-foot wide and approximately three to four inches in depth, with some up to 20 feet and more in length. Those massive pieces were milled from individual trees.

Cedar for some of the temporary hand rails around the porch was harvested from the mill site.

When the metal gate was opened to the wheel, it started turning by water power and moving a series of cables and connections which turn the turbine on the left side porch.

On the back porch is the original corn sheller Jerry also now has hooked up to "wheel power" utilizing a hydraulic pump.

The corn sheller, an ancient mill wheel made of poplar, and some other smaller equipment was obtained from a nearby store owner who rescued the equipment from the old building after it collapsed, thus keeping it all in excellent shape.

The Dempseys now grind corn to make corn meal and grits, and have them for sale in the little cabin on Saturdays and Sundays.

They hope to eventually be open more hours and have more items for sale, but they note the entire operation is a "work in progress, simply a labor of love."

And where did Jerry get all the know-how to do all this? While his "formal" education ended early, Jerry can contemplate and solve just about any problem involving heavy equipment, or anything else concerning the generation of electricity.

He worked at various times, for 12-year stints, for two companies in nearby Georgia which were subcontractors for Georgia Power. He’s also always run heavy equipment, like bulldozers, etc, "on the side," and has always operated a saw mill as well.

He has plans to begin generating some electricity with the new 45-foot wheel once he gets his plans completed.

The turbine is a 55 hp, while the water wheel is 35 hp.

"We’re fortunate to have a lot of waters and rivers in Alabama," Jerry remarked. "I don’t understand why more electricity can’t be generated like this. I’ve built so much of this from just nothing."

Jerry is not "in this for the money…it’s mainly just a retirement project. But we need to remember the history of this mill and so many more like it. We can learn a lot from this history. We might even solve some of our future problems if we’d just pay attention and think about what our ancestors accomplished using what they had on hand and the resources here."

Jerry can be contacted on his home phone at (256) 475-3511 or on his cell phone at (256) 557-3433.

Suzy Lowry Geno, a freelance writer from Blount County, can be reached through her website at

Corn Time

DeKalb’s Neely Earns Environmental Stewardship Award

Danny Murdock, manager of DeKalb Farmers Co-op in Rainsville, accepted the Environmental Stewardship Award for Ronny Neely, general manager of DeKalb Farmers Co-op, at the annual AFC meeting in Montgomery.

By Alvin Benn

Environmental awareness may be sweeping the country these days, but it isn’t something new for Ronny Neely and his efforts earned him a special award at the annual meeting of Alabama Farmers Cooperative.

Neely is the general manager of the DeKalb Farmers Co-op and, while he wasn’t able to attend the meeting due to illness, AFC President Tommy Paulk praised him and pointed to numerous environmental programs he has initiated from his Rainsville headquarters.

Paulk specifically mentioned a concrete pad Neely built for liquid nitrogen solution tanks two years ago.

"During the same period, he also laid gravel driveways and staging areas," Paulk said. "Last year, he also did what he could to minimize exposure and established a containment area for the area around the liquid nitrogen tank."

As Neely worked on those projects, he also built an additional containment facility in the warehouse where crop protection materials are stored, said Paulk.

"Presently, Ronny’s efforts are focused on construction of a covered loading area located at the bulk crop nutrient warehouse," said Paulk, who added, "His commitment to environmental stewardship continues to result in positive and effective benefits to his cooperative in DeKalb County."

Danny Murdock, manager of DeKalb Farmers Co-op in Rainsville, accepted the award for Neely, who was described by Paulk as "a man who has been ahead of the curve in environmental systems throughout his career."

The announcement of the Environmental Stewardship Award wasn’t the only time protection of the environment as it concerns agriculture was mentioned at the annual meeting at the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel and Spa.

Paulk pointed out that farmers around the county haven’t received the praise they deserve in protecting the environment.

"We woke up a few years ago in this company and realized all these folks running around the country and claiming to be environmentalists were really nothing compared to what farmers are," said Paulk.

He described farmers as "true environmentalists who love the land, earn their living from the land and would not dare mistreat the land."

"I don’t think we’ve gotten enough credit, so this award takes a little step in recognizing those engaged in agriculture who have done well in protecting the environment," said Paulk before announcing Neely as the 2009 winner.

The AFC President said, "American farmers should be lauded from coast to coast for their environmental efforts, especially when they are compared with those who tilled the soil many years ago. We’ve used less chemicals and fertilizer, and burned less of the fuel they tell us is bad, yet we produce 250 percent over what we did in 1948."

As a result of rapid and responsible agricultural programs aimed at protecting the environment, Paulk tipped his cap one last time before moving onto another issue at the annual meeting.

"Hug a tree if you want to, but we’ve been real environmentalists for years," he said, referring to farmers’ efforts to protect the land. "Take pride in it."

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.


Employees Acknowledged for Years of Service

At the AFC annual membership meeting in Montgomery last month, Alabama Farmers Cooperative and Bonnie Plants employees received recognition for their years of service to the company. AFC President Tommy Paulk presented the awards.

35 Years
Sharon Capps, Bonnie Plants

30 Years
John Holley, General Manage of Lawrence County Exchange

Reggie Shook, General Manager of Lauderdale County Co-op

Lamar Rotton, Bonnie Plants

25 Years
Jamie Denard, AFC Cooperative Accounting Services Supervisor

Tim Wood, General Manager of Central Alabama Farmers Co-op

20 Years
Tim Hazle, AFC Corporate Systems Manager

15 Years
Scott Hartley, General Manager of Taleecon Farmers Co-op

Jeff Houston, manager of Farmers Cooperative Market, Leroy

10 Years
Jon Courson, manager of Coffee County Farmers Co-op, Elba

Tommy Dailey, AFC Property Manager

Andrew Dempsey, manager of Calhoun Farmers Co-op, Piedmont

Danny Murdock, manager of Dekalb Farmers Co-op, Rainsville

David Tierce, manager of Dekalb Farmers Co-op, Crossville

Farmer to Consumer: A Positive, New Approach For Telling Ag’s Story

By Jim Erickson

The familiar quip about consumers not being interested in agriculture because they get all the food they need at the grocery store is as factual as it is humorous.

Research unfortunately shows most consumers are uninformed about agriculture and not all that interested in finding out about it. Farmers still enjoy a high level of trust, but consumers aren’t sure contemporary production matches their definition or image of farming.

So, does this state of affairs make any difference? If it does, what can be done about it?

The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) answers the first question with a resounding "yes." And it has developed a program that it believes addresses the second.

Charlie Arnot, CFI’s CEO, said farmers need the public’s trust if they are to be able to operate with minimal formalized restrictions from legislation, regulation or market requirements. Such a "social license" to operate comes only when there’s trust and confidence that what the industry is doing is consistent with society’s expectations and values. Considering that voices questioning current food system practices are increasing in number, volume and impact, achieving that trust and confidence clearly is a challenge.

Which is where CFI’s new Farmers Feed US program enters the picture. The program’s goal is to create a strong sense of affinity between U.S. consumers and the farmers who produce their food, using the power of shared values to build consumer trust and confidence in contemporary agriculture.

CFI is doing this with the proactive Farmers Feed US program that, according to Arnot, is designed to "communicate these shared values in a compelling and believable way."

Using the Internet, the approach is being made on an individual state basis because consumers can connect more readily with farmers in their own locale. Programs already are under way in Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Indiana and Iowa, with similar efforts now on the drawing board in California and Wisconsin.

Drawing consumers to the website and then to state-specific micro sites is a "Free Groceries for a Year" sweepstakes valued at $5,000. One winner is being selected for each participating state or market in the state.

Spreading the word about the sweepstakes are media messages, including TV and radio spots, social media like Facebook and Twitter, and point-of-sale partnerships with retailers and others in the food system.

Anyone going to the FarmersFeedUS website is asked to select a participating state, a step that brings up pictures of selected farmers in the state and a brief description of each producer’s farm and its location, along with links for learning more about each and for registering.

Going to an individual farmer’s page brings up a sweepstakes registration form and a brief video in which the farmer welcomes the visitor, encourages him/her to register and poses a trivia question about agriculture.

When the visitor completes and submits the sweepstakes registration, the farmer – via another video – answers the trivia question and issues an invitation to click on a "take a tour" link delivering a 60 to 90-second video about the farm operation and the family involved in it. On the same page with the video is more written information about the farm and its crop or livestock. After that video, or during subsequent visits, a visitor can increase chances of winning the free groceries by selecting another farmer and registering again.

The initial promotion period for each state is three months. CFI is developing additional programming that will keep the websites fresh and keep people coming back regularly. Among the possibilities are quarterly contests/trivia, posting of recipes tied into major holidays, offering a "From the Farm" recipe book, blogs and/or webcasts with producers or food industry leaders and "Ask a Farmer" question/suggestion submission tool.

Results from states where the program is operating or where the free groceries give-away has been completed are extremely positive, Arnot said. In Ohio, the contest attracted more than 207,000 registrations, with a total of more than 800,000 pages viewed on the website. Some 11,000 consumers asked to receive further information.

In Missouri, where the initial phase still was under way when this story was written in mid-February, consumers who volunteered to answer a survey after visiting the website overwhelmingly agreed with a statement that farmers on the site were "approachable, knowledgeable and the kind of people I want producing my food."

During the first month of their respective programs, Indiana had recorded almost 50,000 sweepstakes entries and Iowa had 46,000. Michigan counted more than 155,000 contest registrations during the first 76 days of the program there.

Sponsoring agribusiness firms and retailers in each state have collaborated in selecting a representative group of farmers to be featured on that state’s website. The number of farms has ranged from five to eight.

Elaborating on how the program was developed, Arnot said that while consumers’ perceptions of producer and food industry competence are important, providing scientific information and technical data simply is not enough. Surveys show the trust level of consumers is much more significant in shaping their views and shared values are four to five times more important in building trust than demonstrating skill and expertise.

"Maintaining public trust is not an issue of altruism, it’s a good business decision," he observed.

Similarly, "Attacking the attackers of agriculture and our food system does little good because it means you automatically are on the defensive," he added. "Farmers traditionally have had the high moral ground, and they can and should use that to their advantage with a proactive, positive approach."

CFI is a not-for-profit organization combining the membership of The Grow America Project and Best Food Nation, two national initiatives formed in 2006 to increase public understanding about the U.S. food system. CFI’s role is to bring members of the food system together to achieve a higher level of public trust and confidence. The organization does not lobby or advocate individual food companies or brands.

Most research indicates people in our nation have a high degree of comfort in the current food system, Arnot said. However, because issues of shared concern do exist, addressing them in a transparent manner is the best solution, he noted.

Feeding Facts

By Jimmy Hughes

While cases in some years are more prevalent than others, I expect an increase in milk fever (hypocalcaemia) cases in Alabama beef cattle this year. A conversation with a local veterinarian indicated he also expects increased cases this spring. While most producers focus their attention on grass tetney during the spring, we should not ignore milk fever as another nutritional disorder in beef cattle during this time of the year.

Some common questions about milk fever are: What is milk fever? What are its common signs? How do you treat it? Can you prevent the disorder?

Milk fever is a condition caused by low blood calcium and is characterized by general muscular weakness, circulatory collapse, terminal coma and death. The condition usually occurs in cows at calving or within three to four days post-calving in high-production cows. Cold, wet conditions elevate the incidence of milk fever. The frequency also increases as the cow gets older and is being fed heavy amounts of grain before calving. While milk fever is most common in dairy cattle, beef cattle can also be affected.

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

Treatment for this disorder must be prompt. Calcium injection, either slowly intravenously or subcutaneously, should correct the problem, but not the cause. Be aware rapid intravenous injection may lead to cardiac arrest, so a combination of intravenous and subcutaneous injections is useful. Cattle will respond rapidly and will get back on their feet rather quickly when treated in this manner. Realize that under-dosing is often the cause for a relapse.

The best way not to have a case of milk fever is to understand the causes and prevent the problem from occurring. As mentioned earlier, milk fever is caused by low blood calcium. Calcium-rich milk is needed for the development of bone in the young calf along with other functions like muscle contraction and transmission of nerve signals. When milk production increases, the cow’s calcium demand increases and her body must be prepared to supply the extra calcium. This calcium must come from her diet and from a process that pulls some of the calcium from her bones. Milk fever will develop from her inability to pull the calcium from her bones.

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

How do you correct this situation? You must first run nutrient analysis on your forage, feed ingredients and soils. Then adjust your mineral program based upon this information.

Pay very close attention to your forage and soil information if using chicken litter as fertilizer. Chicken litter has a high percentage of both calcium and phosphorous which could lead to an imbalance.

I realize a lot of producers utilized chicken litter as fertilizer this past year due to the high cost of commercial fertilizer. A large percentage of reported cases this spring will occur when cows are grazing in fields fertilized with litter or where they were consuming hay fertilized with litter.

A second cause is from either depressed or excess calcium levels in the diet. I do not believe you will have a problem with depressed calcium levels unless it’s from being tied up by phosphorous. Most commercial minerals will provide a high percentage of calcium in their product for cow utilization therefore making low calcium levels in their diet very rare.

Although it may sound contradictory, excess calcium in the diet can be a major problem and is usually the number one cause for milk fever in beef cattle. Excess calcium can cause the cow to use dietary calcium less efficiently; therefore, when the demand for calcium increases at calving, the cow’s body is not prepared to start the process of supplying the additional calcium from her body. This will lead to low blood calcium levels and milk fever.

The cause of excess calcium is usually found in a nutrition program utilizing several products high in calcium. The use of chicken litter as a fertilizer source seems to be the common thread in excess calcium levels being found in cattle. This along with a complete mineral over 16 percent calcium and or in combination with cattle being fed a product like soyhulls that is also high in calcium can lead to excess calcium. If you have cattle exposed to two of the three situations previously listed, you should be very aware of the possibility of milk fever occurring in cows as they prepare to calf.

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

Your local Quality Co-op can assist you in putting together a feed, mineral and fertilization program to help prevent nutritional disorders like milk fever. I can also be reached at (256) 947-7886 (cell) or at I will be glad to help you with any questions or provide additional information.

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

Flyin' High, Flat Rock Style…


By Joe Potter

It was Thursday in the early mornin’ time, well before the first rooster crowin’, when Slim rang me on my cellular phone. Beyond a good mornin’ howdy, he offered, "She should come in like a lamb and head out like a lion." He was a referencin’ the third 2010 month or the month of March and big plans for its fourth Saturday.

It was to be the accumulation of lots of Slim’s and The Flat Rock General Store regulars’ idears and plannin’ for the first ever "Flyin’ High, Flat Rock Style, Kite Fest." Moreover there could be one serious concern or dilemma, a lamb or lion day (wind/air levels) means some serious kite flyin’ or no kite flyin’.

Plans was for an all-day to-do (Kite Fest), startin’ with a youth division, teens, adults and seniors broken up with a noonday lunch eatin’ meal. Also, there would be musical presentations by Mr. Harley Hood and friends, and the Baptist ensemble. Slim carried hopes of proper advertisin’ a lurin’ folk from 10 or 20 states and maybe a foreign nation or two for participatin’. Maybe even a havin’ "a way out there" long distance flyin’ high "Kite Fest" winner in each division.

At this here point, my left side listenin’ ear was a turnin’ numb. I offered to Slim that we could finish our first ever "Flyin’ High, Flat Rock Style, Kite Fest" plans after some ear restin’ later in the evening down to The Store.

Followin’ this "Kite Fest" plannin’ and discussin’, I recollected some of my past growin’ up kitin’ experiences —- a roarin’ windy Sunday afternoon behind our house, my Zorro kite just a rollin’ totally unstablized in the heavy wind at about six-feet up. My Daddy "Pop" C.C. put a ten-foot tail on it allowin’ my kite to take on wind, fly high across Town Creek, up the hill, and out over Mr. Ervin and Ms. Doll Boatwright’s house.

Then there’s the time down at the beach when I had my Mighty Mouse kite a flyin’ high over the ocean, almost past eye seein’ and suddenly my string fell in the ocean. My Daddy "Pop" C.C. quickly offerin’ that Captain Jack the Pirate had cut my kite string and was a floatin’ out to sea with my Mighty Mouse kite a flyin’ high b’hind his pirate ship.

I suppose today my grandkids, Kamron, Kole, Ashlyn or Anna Kate, would just turn on the T.V., pick up a Whee stick and start a kitin’ right there in the house on their long screen T.V. Course that would be the safe way --- no trees, power lines, creeks, swirlin’ winds, tails needed or kite highjackins’ by Captain Jack the Pirate. Good Flyin’!!!


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

Giant Leafy Lessons:

Kayla Eady, who attends Speake Elementary in Danville, was the winner of the 2009 Bonnie Plants’ 3rd Grade Cabbage Program. Her cabbage weighed 16 pounds, measured a foot in diameter and the entire plant measured 30 inches. The class winner was selected based on the cabbage’s size and appearance. Kayla’s was a cabbage with no insect damage or brown leaves.

Colossal Cabbage Contest Reaps Huge Yields!

By Ellis Ingram

The national Bonnie Plants cabbage-growing program illustrates the best form of teaching…making learning fun and engaging. It provides third grade students enjoyable lessons on plants, patience and perseverance as they attempt to grow the biggest cabbage in their state.

Students across the country, participating in the Bonnie Plants Third Grade Cabbage Program, receive a free Bonnie O.S. Cross, an "oversized" cabbage plant, to cultivate, nurture and grow. The cabbages often grow bigger than a basketball and can weigh up to 50 pounds.

At the end of the season, teachers from each class select the student who has grown the best cabbage, based on size and appearance. A picture of the cabbage and the student entry is submitted to Bonnie Plants by mail or online. The student’s name is then included in a statewide drawing to receive a $1,000 scholarship towards education. The winner of each statewide drawing is chosen by the Commission of Agriculture, state to state, in a random drawing.

Last year, 1.5 million students participated in 45 states.

In 2009, Alabama had 725 schools participating in the program and 57 entries for the scholarship drawing.

Rave Reviews for cabbage program

It’s good for the students to get out there and grow their own plants. It helps them learn about nature, soil composition and the parts of plants, but it also shows them where things come from. So many young people take for granted the fact we can walk into the store and buy whatever we want. It’s a good history lesson for them to learn it wasn’t always like that, even in this country.

Melody Witt, Alto Elementary Principal, Texas

The Third Grade Cabbage Program provides valuable lessons to students about agriculture and the way it touches everyone’s life every day. I commend Bonnie Plants for this program.

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner, Richie Farmer

This program is a wonderful way to get kids interested in agriculture, and it teaches them not only the basics of biology, but the importance of our food and fiber systems as well. We’re grateful to the folks at Bonnie Plants for making this scholarship available to Tennessee students.

Tennessee Agriculture Commissioner, Ken Givens

This kind of activity is great because it teaches our students about the natural growth process. This year, we’re going to encourage even more teachers to participate.

Lenora Richardson, Science & Social Studies Supervisor, Cabell County Schools, WV

It’s really important our youth understand where our food comes from. I’m glad Bonnie Plants expanded its cabbage-growing program to include Kansas schools, so our students can learn about growing food while competing for scholarship money.

Kansas Secretary of Agriculture, Adrian Polansky

"The cabbage program is our way of sharing our love of gardening with children," said Dennis Thomas of Bonnie Plants. "Because we believe so deeply in the joy and peace gardening can bring to the soul, we want to afford the opportunity to children to experience this same joy and sense of accomplishment. We also want to do our part in supporting education."

Getting It Growing: Growing a colossal cabbage may seem like a giant undertaking for little kids, but it’s easier than you think.

All you need is:

*Sunshine: Cabbages need at least six hours of full sunlight per day, more if possible.

*Space: The Bonnie O.S. Cross cabbages need at least three feet on each side to spread out.

*Soil: Some compost should be worked into the soil, cabbages love nutrient-rich soil.

*Food: An all-purpose vegetable plant food will provide a good start for the cabbage. Then feed every 10 days to keep it growing strong and healthy.

*Water: Cabbage needs at least an inch of rainfall each week. No rain? A watering can or garden hose will give the plant the water it needs.

*TLC: Weeds must be kept out of the cabbage patch. They compete for food and water the cabbage needs to grow. Brown or white moths are also unwanted guests- they come from worms that love to munch on cabbage.

*Time: In 10-12 weeks, children should have a huge head of cabbage.

Green thumbs can pay off, providing participating children with pride, a humongous cabbage and, for the lucky state winner, the beginning of an educational fund for college. To see the 2009 winners and learn more about the 2010 contest, visit

Bonnie Plants with its national home office located in Union Springs is now in its 10th year of giving cabbage plants to students to compete for the scholarship. Bonnie will have given out over two million in scholarship funds over the years by the end of this year. Commissioner Ron Sparks of the Alabama Department of Agriculture participates in this program each year, traveling to the winner’s school to present the award to the student who has been selected as the State Winner.

Ellis Ingram of Union Springs is the National Director of the Bonnie Plants Third Grade Cabbage Program and he can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it."> or call (334) 738-0039.

Happy Hunting Ground

By Ralph Ricks

In my family, we are genetically hard-wired for two addictions, fishing and turkey hunting. This trait may be more dominant in some of us, but I think we all have the tendency. I myself am totally addicted to turkey hunting while my daughter can’t live without reeling in a fish every so often and during the winter regularly suffers from what I call "strike withdrawal." By that I mean, the suffering coming from not feeling the strike of a fish on a lure for a long time. My poor dad suffered from both.

Dad did all of his turkey hunting as a boy in the woods and swamps of Washington County, Fla., and talked lovingly of it the rest of his life. He held my brother and I in awe as he related stories of birds hunted and killed in those woods. He never failed to remind us they did not hunt those birds for beards or spurs; they hunted them because they were hungry. I would almost assume, during those days, hunting seasons were treated more like suggestions than absolute law.

Dad told us one about a cousin of his who happened to be out squirrel hunting one day and came upon a turkey roosted up in the nosebleed section of a longleaf pine. Now, never mind the fact that if this cousin was squirrel hunting and came upon a turkey, it was a very good chance both seasons did not coincide.

Back in those days, they took a wide variety of ammunition so they would be ready for any game animal they came across and this is where his cousin made a mistake. He was squirrel hunting with a shotgun and was using number six shot, which was their preferred size shot for squirrels. He failed to take a few shells of number fours just in case he ran across a turkey. We can only hope he thought about this as he gazed at the turkey way up in the pine tree.

After a few minutes of trying to decide whether or not he wanted to take this turkey home, he decided this was too good of gift to pass up. Apparently, they stared at each other long enough for the cousin to shoulder his shotgun and blaze away at the bird. Several shots later, the turkey finally tumbled out of the tree weighing considerably more than before the shooting started. Dad said he used most, if not all, of his number six shells to bring down the bird. I personally use number sixes to hunt turkeys because my gun patterns with them the best and I have killed turkeys at 42 steps. Back then, maybe shot shells were less powerful or that turkey was so high up in the tree they had lost most of their punch by the time the pellets hit him.

You will notice I have avoided commenting on the fact this turkey was shot on the roost. I will now address that by reminding you these were the days when folks were hungry in post depression pre-World War II Florida and an empty belly has no room for sportsmanship.

The turkey was now down and in the bag. I guess the cousin knew it was going to be a devil to clean and eat carrying the load of shot that had just been deposited in the carcass, so he went by "Aunt Minnie’s," my dad’s grandmother and made her a gift of a nice fat turkey. At first she was tickled to death….at first.

Dad said he would never forget her sitting in the kitchen with a kerosene lantern, a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers picking shot out of the breast of the turkey. The cousin had been well below the bird and firing up into the breast and pretty much made mincemeat of him. When she got done, he said, although they had a bowl full of lead shot, they ended up not being able to eat the meat and had to feed it to the dogs and they weren’t real happy either. She never took him up on an offer for free meat again.

The point to all of this is that the cousin was, I believe, genetically incapable of walking away from that turkey, he hadto shoot it. I wonder if there is a support group out there for those of us who just go bonkers at the sound of a gobbling turkey?

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

How's Your Garden?

By Lois Trigg Chaplin

Trilliums Galore

The trillium collection at Huntsville Botanical Garden is one of the largest in the country.

Trilliums on parade is the best way to describe the trillium collection at Huntsville Botanical Garden. Anyone who likes these pretty wildflowers and wants to see lots of different species should visit the nature trails and wildflower garden. The collection, which is partially maintained by the Huntsville Wildflower Society, is one of the largest in the country. Trillium is a genus of woodland wildflowers that like shade and rich woodland soil. They are known for a unique growth habit of three leaves in an umbrella-like pattern and delicate flowers in early to mid-spring. You may know it by the name of "wake robin."

Try Flowers Up Close

Windowboxes are just one way to enjoy your flowers from inside.

A charming way to dress up your house and enjoy flowers from both the outside and from your favorite easy chair indoors is to put them in key places. Hanging baskets on a porch, a large container on a deck and window boxes all should fit the bill. Good candidates for this include bright flowers and pretty foliage. Combine them with small ornamental grasses, ivy or other sturdy foliage for long-lasting pizzazz. Add some water-retaining polymer to window boxes so you don’t have to water as often. When possible, you can even set them up with a simple drip irrigation tube from a nearby spigot.

Huechera and Huecherella

The pretty foliage you’ve seen in the nursery in recent years is a product of some fancy breeding.

Huechera and huecherella are native wildflowers that have beautiful foliage.

Huecheras (coral bells) are native wildflowers. They have been hybridized with another wildflower, foamflower (Tiarella species). The results are hybrids with some beautiful foliage. However, it pays to test these new hybrids in your garden before buying too many because some perform better than others in our heat. For example, Quicksilver, which has a silvery-green leaf, has performed well at the University of Georgia trial gardens. In winter, the leaves turn red and hug the ground. Some of the fancy, colored varieties need ample moisture but excellent drainage through summer. The outer leaves tend to die back if stressed.

It’s Not Too Early to Get Your Drip

Now is a good time to beat the rush and think about how you are going to water your flowers and vegetables this summer. Put key beds on soaker hoses or drip irrigation to make watering easier. Sometimes pots can be set up with one, too. It takes a little planning and some work to set it up; but, once it’s done, you can cruise the rest of the season. Now is the time to buy these items while they are still plentiful. During the drought a couple of years ago, I could hardly find a soaker hose. They were back ordered. Check with your local Quality Co-op for drip tubing and soaker hoses.

Candytuft mixes well with spring bulbs. Buy it in early spring.

Candytuft Deserves More Attention

I don’t see as much candytuft as I used to, but it’s a great little perennial with white spring flowers that behaves itself, stays pretty and evergreen through the year even when not in bloom. The trick to candytuft is good drainage and a little trimming after it blooms to keep the plants full. Because it is a perennial, you can plant it and it will come back each year, if the location is sunny and well-drained. It mixes well with spring bulbs, too. I’ve seen it used as a blanket underneath daffodils. If you like candytuft, early spring is the time to buy it because it is hard to find other times of the year; everything sells better when it’s in bloom.

Season Starter™ Plant Protector creates a wall of water that shelters young plants from the cold.

Early Tomatoes

If you’re a gardener who likes to beat the weather and set out tomato plants early in hopes of having your first in May, I recommend Season StarterTM Plant Protector to protect plants from the cold. A wall of water that heats up during the day shelters each tomato; at night it protects the plant from cold. Last year, I set out plants in a raised bed the first week of March in these covers and dug them up about three weeks later just to see if they had sprouted any new roots; I was shocked to see they had. A raised bed warms up faster than the ground, so I think that might have been one reason. Anyway, for gardeners who like to push the limits, try these. Remember to plant the tomato deeply so it will sprout roots along the stem.

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

Jake Working Overtime

By Baxter Black, DVM

In an effort to make managing the 20 section ranch more efficient, the boss bought Jake a Ranger, a 4-wheel drive muscle car ATV. The cowboys on this West Texas ranch were equipped with cell phones, of course. What modern cowboy isn’t! They have replaced Copenhagen as the habit-forming addiction for the ‘orally dependent.’

Jake received a call. It was a neighbor telling him there was a calf out on the road to the highway, a mile from the west gate where Charles Goodnight lost a tooth chasing coyotes in the winter of ‘86…down by the Quanah Wash.

Jake sighed and reversed his direction. It was back three miles and over two. But, he thought, only a calf, maybe a week or two old. Probably got under the fence, Mama on the other side. Wouldn’t be too tough.

Fifteen minutes later he approached Quanah Wash to find a 300 pound beefy bull calf in the bar ditch!

King Richard III whined in his ear, "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!"

Making do with what he had, Jake tied the tail of his rope to the bumper on the Ranger and started after the calf. Down the bar ditch they flew! The bull was running along the fence line and Jake was maneuvering with one hand, trying to keep a wheel on the shoulder! Because he was going west on the wrong side of the road he was forced to rope left-handed. Not easy with a right-hand-twist rope!

After four throws and misses, the bull was wearing down and Jake caught him by the left front foot! Whilst moving into position he managed to tangle the rope in the Ranger’s front wheel which immediately jerked his slack and killed the engine!

Our cowboy stepped out bravely and started down the rope thinking he could do a Fred Whitfield Flank Job and save the day. The bull calf bawled and, thinking HE could do the Pamplona re-enactment, charged up the rope at Jake! Now Jake is a big guy, but 300 pounds of crossbred cowhide and cojones comin’ at you at the speed of beef made him pause and take notice! It was like standing in front of the firing squad and saying, "Okay! Take your best shot!"

The little bull flattened Jake, who managed to catch one hind leg on the way by. He held on through the brush and gravel till the bull reached the end of the rope!

It then became a wrestling match wherein points were exchanged for takedowns, reversals and riding time. Somehow, Jake found himself with a scissor-lock around the calf’s head, a hind foot up his shirtsleeve from the inside and both hands around the tail!

He weighted the odds, looked up at the darkening sky, slipped the loop off the foot and rolled over.

"A management decision," he later explained, "we were both working overtime."

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,

Limestone’s John Curtis Earns 2nd Manager of Year Award

John Curtis, far right, accepts a hug from his granddaughter, Anna Grace Graham, after being named 2009 Manager of the Year. Looking on are, from left: Eugenia Curtis (mother), Landon Curtis (son), Whitney Rolin (Landon’s girlfriend), Brett Graham (son-in-law), Lauren Graham (daughter), Landria Curtis (daughter), and Donna Jo Curtis (wife).

Credits Performance to Delegation and His Superior Staff

By Alvin Benn

John Curtis and leadership just seem to go together — from his days of calling the signals as a high school quarterback to acquiring business management skills that have made him one of the best within Alabama Farmers Cooperative.

That was obvious at AFC’s 73rd annual membership meeting last month when Curtis was named E.P. Garrett Manager of the Year for the second time in the decade.

Living with Risk

By Dr. Tony Frazier

Risk is the chance of something going wrong: the danger that injury, damage or loss will occur.

We all do it. We all live with a certain amount of risk. I wear a seat belt in an automobile and a crash helmet when I ride my motorcycle. I do not wear a crash helmet in my truck. It makes sense wearing a helmet in an automobile would reduce the risk of head injury in the event of a crash…but we don’t do it. That is because all of us have apparently decided not wearing a crash helmet in our cars and trucks is an acceptable risk. Acceptable levels of risk vary from person to person. One person accepts the risk of jumping out of an airplane with a parachute. Another person decides flying in an airplane is too much risk.

It costs money to accept too much risk or to reduce risk too much. Insurance companies have always made people pay for high-risk lifestyles like sky diving, bull riding and driving a sports car capable of going really fast. On the other hand, you could probably build a house that would stand up to a really strong tornado or hurricane…but it will cost you. I like a good salad bar as much as the next guy, but there is some level of risk involved in using the same serving utensils as everyone else who eats at the salad bar. However, I do not believe I could get a heaped up plate of food from the kitchen for $5.99.

Agriculture is no different than anything else. We decide how much risk we can live with and go with it. There is a formal exercise done to identify hazards, decide their level of risk, identify ways to reduce the risk and, based on factors like cost and practicality, decide how much risk is acceptable. That is a very basic definition of doing a risk assessment.

Here is an example. A cattle producer may identify blackleg as a hazard. He realizes the risk can be reduced down to near zero if he vaccinates. Utilizing his knowledge of the devastating results of a blackleg outbreak coupled with the reasonable cost of vaccinating his calves, the producer decides the level of risk he is willing to accept is near zero. He vaccinates his calves.

There is a farmer down the road who says, "We haven’t had a case of blackleg in 25 years, so we are not going to vaccinate." That is not a risk assessment. That is a gamble.

I once knew a cattle producer who lost ten 400-pound calves one summer to blackleg. His comment was that he used to vaccinate but it had been so long since he had had a case, he decided to quit vaccinating. Bad move.

A risk assessment is an educated decision that either reduces risk or accepts it based on facts history, cost, convenience and likely outcomes. It usually reduces risk. A gamble is based on betting you are going to beat the odds. And, if you gamble long enough, you will probably lose.

I would say most producers do not sit down and ask themselves whether to do a risk assessment or just go ahead and gamble. Many producers, who have never heard of a risk assessment, do one each time they make decisions affecting their operation. They weigh the cost of time, money and resources against the possible downside. Those producers likely vaccinate, purchase from reputable sources, semen test their bulls and quarantine new additions to their herds.

Even in regulatory veterinary medicine, risk management comes into play. There is a balance between reducing the risk of spreading disease or being able to trace exposed animals and adversely affecting the speed of commerce. The more severe and devastating a disease may be, the more cost and inconvenience we are willing to accept.

Then there are times when I suppose a decision is made to gamble. No matter which side of the fence you fall out on, we do not have an adequate animal identification system in place. So long as we continue to beat the odds with devastating diseases, the gamble works. If we ever lose the gamble, for instance by experiencing a foot and mouth disease outbreak, the outcome will not be good.

Occasionally, producers decide there are levels of risk they cannot live with. That is the case with trichamoniasis, a sexually transmitted disease in cattle. Producers in some states have supported regulations to reduce the occurrence of this disease that causes varying degrees of infertility. By requiring bulls to be tested negative for trichamoniasis before entering certain states, the risk of that disease increasing in those states is greatly reduced.

As I said in the beginning, we all decide what is an acceptable level of risk for us, although the government sometimes helps us make that decision through regulations and laws. There are a few risks that can be reduced to zero if we choose to do certain things. If we never leave the house, the risk of being injured in an automobile accident is near zero; but I suppose the mailman or woman could accidentally drive into your house.

My point is simply this: when making decisions affecting your operation, weigh the costs and benefits before you decide. It is not so much of a gamble if you have an ace or two up your sleeve.

Living with Risk

By Dr. Tony Frazier

Risk is the chance of something going wrong: the danger that injury, damage or loss will occur.

We all do it. We all live with a certain amount of risk. I wear a seat belt in an automobile and a crash helmet when I ride my motorcycle. I do not wear a crash helmet in my truck. It makes sense wearing a helmet in an automobile would reduce the risk of head injury in the event of a crash…but we don’t do it. That is because all of us have apparently decided not wearing a crash helmet in our cars and trucks is an acceptable risk. Acceptable levels of risk vary from person to person. One person accepts the risk of jumping out of an airplane with a parachute. Another person decides flying in an airplane is too much risk.

It costs money to accept too much risk or to reduce risk too much. Insurance companies have always made people pay for high-risk lifestyles like sky diving, bull riding and driving a sports car capable of going really fast. On the other hand, you could probably build a house that would stand up to a really strong tornado or hurricane…but it will cost you. I like a good salad bar as much as the next guy, but there is some level of risk involved in using the same serving utensils as everyone else who eats at the salad bar. However, I do not believe I could get a heaped up plate of food from the kitchen for $5.99.

Agriculture is no different than anything else. We decide how much risk we can live with and go with it. There is a formal exercise done to identify hazards, decide their level of risk, identify ways to reduce the risk and, based on factors like cost and practicality, decide how much risk is acceptable. That is a very basic definition of doing a risk assessment.

Here is an example. A cattle producer may identify blackleg as a hazard. He realizes the risk can be reduced down to near zero if he vaccinates. Utilizing his knowledge of the devastating results of a blackleg outbreak coupled with the reasonable cost of vaccinating his calves, the producer decides the level of risk he is willing to accept is near zero. He vaccinates his calves.

There is a farmer down the road who says, "We haven’t had a case of blackleg in 25 years, so we are not going to vaccinate." That is not a risk assessment. That is a gamble.

I once knew a cattle producer who lost ten 400-pound calves one summer to blackleg. His comment was that he used to vaccinate but it had been so long since he had had a case, he decided to quit vaccinating. Bad move.

A risk assessment is an educated decision that either reduces risk or accepts it based on facts history, cost, convenience and likely outcomes. It usually reduces risk. A gamble is based on betting you are going to beat the odds. And, if you gamble long enough, you will probably lose.

I would say most producers do not sit down and ask themselves whether to do a risk assessment or just go ahead and gamble. Many producers, who have never heard of a risk assessment, do one each time they make decisions affecting their operation. They weigh the cost of time, money and resources against the possible downside. Those producers likely vaccinate, purchase from reputable sources, semen test their bulls and quarantine new additions to their herds.

Even in regulatory veterinary medicine, risk management comes into play. There is a balance between reducing the risk of spreading disease or being able to trace exposed animals and adversely affecting the speed of commerce. The more severe and devastating a disease may be, the more cost and inconvenience we are willing to accept.

Then there are times when I suppose a decision is made to gamble. No matter which side of the fence you fall out on, we do not have an adequate animal identification system in place. So long as we continue to beat the odds with devastating diseases, the gamble works. If we ever lose the gamble, for instance by experiencing a foot and mouth disease outbreak, the outcome will not be good.

Occasionally, producers decide there are levels of risk they cannot live with. That is the case with trichamoniasis, a sexually transmitted disease in cattle. Producers in some states have supported regulations to reduce the occurrence of this disease that causes varying degrees of infertility. By requiring bulls to be tested negative for trichamoniasis before entering certain states, the risk of that disease increasing in those states is greatly reduced.

As I said in the beginning, we all decide what is an acceptable level of risk for us, although the government sometimes helps us make that decision through regulations and laws. There are a few risks that can be reduced to zero if we choose to do certain things. If we never leave the house, the risk of being injured in an automobile accident is near zero; but I suppose the mailman or woman could accidentally drive into your house.

My point is simply this: when making decisions affecting your operation, weigh the costs and benefits before you decide. It is not so much of a gamble if you have an ace or two up your sleeve.

March Brings First Sights and Smells of Spring

By John Howle

"Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions." — Oliver Wendell Holmes

I know warm weather is on the way even without glancing at the calendar. February was void of aroma and color, but March brings the first earthy smells and swatches of green. Dogwood trees in Alabama are trying on their new blooms for Easter, and crappie are ready to bite anything resembling food. Coyotes have found their mates, and the wild turkey gobblers are beginning to break out of their bachelor groups, sounding off occasional morning and evening gobbles to attract hens.

Game Plan for Gobblers

It’s hard to beat Mother Nature when it comes to sounding off locator calls for gobblers in the morning. Instead of blowing a crow call early in the morning after you’ve hopped out of the truck, let the live crows entice the tom to shock gobble while you drink a cup of coffee. This will give you time to plan a strategy and set up for the hunt.

The best place to set up for turkey hunting is on a higher elevation. Toms are much more likely to come uphill to calling instead of downhill. Sometimes, all it takes are a few soft yelps and purrs to get a gobbler to head your way. Call softly because you want the tom to come looking around for you. If you call loudly, he’ll be able to pinpoint your exact location and realize you are too big and ugly to be a hen. Once the gobbler is headed your way, stop calling and be in position for a quick shot.

Even though beard length is an indicator of a mature, male bird, it’s sometimes hard to tell a jake from a mature gobbler at a distance. Besides beard length, another method to distinguish between the birds is tail feathers. On a mature gobbler, the tail fan will be an even semicircle when strutting. The central tail feathers of the jake will be longer than the rest.

Plywood and three nails will hold a turkey fan in place while it dries.

Making a professional-looking turkey fan mount means getting the fan in position to dry quickly. A piece of plywood, just larger than the fan, and three nails are all that is needed to construct a drying frame. Drive three nails in a horizontal line approximately six inches apart at the base of the plywood. Lay the fan on the plywood with the bottom feathers below the two outside nails. The center nail rests below the center of the tail fan. This will hold the tail feathers in a perfect semi-circle while the mount dries.

Unpredictable Weather

Weather in March can be like an Angus bull in spring. One minute he’s your best friend and the next he’s running you out of the pasture. You can dry out from the rain, but, with up to 30 million volts, lightning from thunderstorms requires special precautions. I once saw the aftermath of a lightning bolt as it ran down a tree with barbed wire stapled to the tree. The lightning welded three strands of barbed wire together.

Check the long range forecast before heading out during March.

If you are caught out in the woods, crouch down as low as possible within a cluster of trees instead of a single tree. Support yourself with your feet, keeping them close together to minimize ground contact. If you fell asleep in a boat and awake to a raging thunderstorm, insulate yourself by crouching on a cooler lid and sitting on the overturned cooler if other insulating objects are not present. Finally, check the long-range forecast before heading out and plan accordingly.

During March, the weather can change quickly. If the smoke from your campfire or chimney hangs low in the air or rises a few feet and drifts horizontally, rain is likely. Smoke drifts low when low pressure exists in the atmosphere. The saying, "When smoke hangs low, watch for rain to blow," can help in planning your day afield.

The cold rains of March can turn dirt roads into a muddy mess. Even with four-wheel drive, a vehicle can lose traction and become stuck. If you are traveling through a muddy area and the vehicle begins to stand still while spinning, decrease the speed of the wheels spinning and turn the steering wheel slowly left and right. Often, this will allow the front wheels to gain more traction and pull the vehicle on through the mud.

Tiny Tape

Duct tape has been used for temporary fixes on everything from wrapping a leaking radiator hose, covering a hole in the tent or repairing a leaking canoe hull midway down the river. The tape can be a bulky thing to pack since the center core is so large. To remedy this, wrap long sections of duct tape around a pencil for your next emergency. The tape will unroll off the pencil easily, it packs small, and you have a pencil handy to jot notes or write a will if things get really bad.

Exclusion cages give an accurate account of forage eaten by wildlife.

Miniature Models

Before building a hunting cabin, barn or even a house, build a miniature model of the structure out of cardboard with one inch being equal to one foot of the actual building. This model allows the prospective builder to see relative sizes and dimensions of the structure. In addition, the model can be placed outdoors to determine what angle the sun will strike to get the most out of winter warming and summer cooling. Placing the model outdoors also gives a sense of how much natural lighting you can expect inside the completed structure.

Food Plots

Exclusion cages show you how much forage is being eaten from your food plots by wildlife. Exclusion cages made of rolled hog wire or field fence are the least expensive. Simply secure the cage with a couple of metal posts. The exclusion cage gives a truly accurate account of just how much forage is being used in a food plot.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.

March is Minty Green


By Kenn Alan

When I think of March, I think of Spring. When I think of spring, I think of St. Patrick’s Day. When I think of St. Patrick’s Day, I think of green. When I think of green, I think of "MINT!"

Mint is a class of herbaceous plants in the Lamiaceae Family. Most of them are grown as perennials here in Alabama. Mints are considered by some folks to be invasive, but I say, "Let ‘em grow!"

I can’t think of many sights as pretty as a garden bed full of beautiful green mint after coming out of such a cold, cold winter. When you walk through the mint beds, they smell so fresh and clean. I’ve been in Winter way too long!

Get out there and buy some mints for your gardens at your local Quality Co-op or your independent retail nursery! The first shipments of Bonnie Plants mints should be in stock by March 17, St. Patrick’s Day.

Oh! Before I go, let me say congratulations to my good friend Andy Burris of Andy’s Creekside Nursery and Andy’s Farm Market of Vestavia Hills. He has just opened his new location in Hoover on John Hawkins Parkway. Andy has supported our Alabama farmers and nurserymen for many years by buying locally-grown products to put in his stores for you. I just spoke with him and he said our Alabama strawberries are delicious and bedding plants from are due in soon. Stop by and say hello to our friends there.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and hold on for three more days until the Vernal Equinox! It’s gonna be a "GREEN Spring!"

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Munford Elementary Students are Eager Young Gardeners

Munford JMG Scientist discuss things they see on the nature trail.

By Luci Davis

Munford JMG Scientist has been a chartered 4-H club for three years and has participated in the Junior Master Gardener program from the beginning. The kids meet after school once a week and participate in gardening activities, and natural resource and environmental science activities. Munford Elementary is also home to four other JMG groups who work with the JMG Scientist on some of their activities.

Kim Murray, a fifth grade teacher at Munford Elementary, has been the leader all three years. She began with the fourth grade classes the first year of the program and each year has added a grade. She now has fourth, fifth and sixth grade classes participating. The kids each year are eager to continue in the club. The kids have also participated in 4-H summer camp for two years.

Munford JMG Scientist working in the outdoor classroom.

Munford Elementary School is located in Talladega County and has a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service. They have two sister schools, one is in New Mexico and one in Virginia. These schools have the same partnership with the U.S. Forest Service. The U. S. Forest Service provides funding for outdoor classrooms and displays within the school. They also assist Foresters to take the children out into the Talladega National Forest for hands-on learning.

The school also has corporate sponsors to help with funding and they are allowed to have their displays in the school. This environmental theme throughout the elementary school is now beginning to spread to the middle and high schools in Munford.

The JMG Scientist is responsible for the upkeep of the courtyards at the school. They also participate in cleaning up the nature trails where they are learning to identify the trees along the trail. The children each have a gardening spot using the square-foot gardening concept. The four other JMG groups participated in the Journey North Program with tulips. They plant the tulips in November and when the bulbs began to emerge, the kids track the tulips and measure their growth. They then post their measurements to the Journey North website where they can compare tulip growth to other climates.

Kim Good, Regional Extension Agent for 4-H youth and development in Talladega County, tells how the kids have taken ownership of the outdoor classroom. The kids are very interested in being sure the outdoor classroom looks good and is always maintained.

"One of the kid’s family is building a new home and the child is designing the landscape for the house. When they began building the house, the child told her parents she wanted to be involved in planting the plants and deciding which ones to use because she had learned to do this in her JMG Club," Good said.

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

New Happnins’ Down on the Farm!

The 1,000 gallon tank and water catchment system at the high-tunnel greenhouses.

Focusing on Harvest and Use of Rainfall

By Jerry A. Chenault

Those who pass down the country road Larry LouAllen lives on in Moulton are likely scratching their heads these days. "What is that thing?," they’re likely wondering. They may even be saying to other passengers something like, "What the heck is that thing by that barn over there?" Well, if you happen to travel down County Road 177 in Lawrence County and see a big black tank attached to the gutters on a barn, you’ll now know all about it...because I’m about to tell you!

The LouAllens are participating in a demonstration project with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). Specifically, they are working with the Urban Affairs and New Nontraditional Programs division of ACES, which is headquartered at Alabama A&M University. The project (drum-roll, please) is...a water catchment system. That’s right, a water catchment system.

Larry LouAllen addressing a group about the water catchment system on his farm in Moulton.

Larry and Bonita LouAllen are some hard-working folks! They produce cattle, peaches, watermelons and lots of other truck crops. Larry is the chairman of the local farmers’ market board, and he also works relentlessly with us on the "Learn & Serve" project involving the local Alternative High School. That partnership has led to the establishment of two high-tunnel greenhouses (hoop-houses) and the willingness to try more cutting-edge, research-based projects. The water catchment system certainly fits that bill.

Basically, the 3,000 gallon tank, attached to the side of Larry LouAllen’s barn and gutter system, is a water storage cistern which will be hooked into drip irrigation systems to water his vegetable crops. It has its own electric pump and can be filled to capacity by a one-inch rainfall event. It’s an emergency water system to help his crops survive when others may be perishing in a drought season.

Dr. Cathy Sabota explaining the water catchment system at the high-tunnel greenhouses.

Rhonda Britton of Alabama A&M University explaining the construction of the cistern.

The two high-tunnel greenhouses are also being equipped with gutters to capture rainwater into a 1,000 gallon tank for irrigating crops in the hoop-houses.

If you are currently imagining a huge network of gutters and pipes flowing around Larry’s barns and hoop-houses, just stop! It doesn’t work like that. A big barn can catch a LOT of water just from part of the roof area. Larry’s barn is currently utilizing only one gutter downspout off part of one side (of one of his barns)!

So, why would someone go to the trouble of installing a "cistern" like this? For one reason, it can save a high value crop! For another, it can save big bucks when compared to the price of using municipal water to irrigate (especially in areas where a sewage charge is added to water usage). Larry even plans to incorporate the system into an overhead irrigation system for emergency frost protection for his peach orchard.

We are looking at other avenues in the Alabama Cooperative Extension System for harvesting and using rainfall. These methods, even for homeowners, promise stream-erosion and pollution-preventing benefits galore, besides less use of municipally-treated water. Watch for many more educational projects like this in the days ahead. It’s a good thing.

Jerry A. Chenault is an Urban Regional Extension Agent with Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s New & Nontraditional Programs Division.

News from Your Local Co-op Affiliate:

Weber Farms Claims 1st Bale at Currie Gin

The first bale was brought in at Frank Currie Gin Company in McCullough on October 9, 2009, by Weber Farms. From left are Jason Weber, Owen Weber, Helen Weber, Jim Weber and Gin Manager Ron Bailey.

Nuggets of Forage Knowledge

By Dr. Don Ball

Anyone who gets into the business of forage/livestock production soon finds there is a lot to learn. In fact, there are countless bits and pieces of information that can be of benefit, with some (obviously) being a lot more complex and/or important than others. However, in many cases a concise statement may be quite useful. Here are a few examples:

* Soil pH is expressed on a logarithmic scale. Therefore, changes in soil pH numbers reported on a soil test reflect more of a difference than might otherwise seem to be the case. For example, a soil pH of 5.0 is ten times more acidic than a soil pH of 6.0.

* Due to more precise seed placement, the seeding rate used for a given forage crop can usually be about 20 percent lower when seed are drill-planted as compared to when broadcast planted.

* In most situations, the cost (on either a per-animal or per-acre basis) of feeding hay or other stored feed will be about three times higher than meeting animal nutritional needs with pasture forage.

* When planting mixtures of forage species, the seeding rate of each species can be reduced by one-half to two-thirds of the normal seeding rate.

* When the ground cover in a perennial grass pasture contains 30 percent or more clover, the economic feasibility of applying nitrogen fertilizer is questionable.

* Having a good stand of clover (30-50 percent of the ground cover) with tall fescue will typically increase the average daily gain of yearling beef cattle by around a half-pound per day. This is true regardless of the endophyte status of the fescue (toxic endophyte, endophyte-free or novel endophyte).

* The gains of yearling beef animals getting most of their nutrition from toxic endophyte ‘Kentucky 31’ tall fescue will likely be reduced by 0.1 pound per day for each 10 percent of endophyte infection. For example, if 50 percent of the plants are infected, gains will probably be about 0.5 pound per day less than if the grass was not infected.

* In a similar vein to the previous statement, if beef cows are getting most of their nutrition from ‘Kentucky 31’ tall fescue, for each 10 percent of infection the calving rate may be about 5 percent lower. Thus, if 50 percent of the plants are infected, calving rate may be something like 25 percent lower than it otherwise would be.

* In hay production, fixed costs (which are essentially the same regardless of other factors) generally account for 30-40 percent of the total cost of production. This fact makes a strong case for the desirability of striving for both good quality and high yields (in other words, if you’re going to produce hay, you need to be efficient).

* When putting up hay as small rectangular bales, safe hay moisture levels are considered to be 20 percent or less, while large round bales of hay should be no more than 16 percent moisture and perhaps even less (the larger the bale, the greater the need for drier hay).

Most of the concepts included in this article as well as many, many more are included in the book Southern Forages(4th Edition), which is available from the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI). Access the IPNI website at or call them at (770) 447-0335. The cost is $30 plus $4 shipping and handling.

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

Osha and Lovage Are Favorites in the Apiaceae family

Osha (Ligusticum porteri)

By H. T. Farmer

The Family Apiaceae includes many herbs useful in our daily lives. Though some of the herbs are quite poisonous, like hemlock, others are beautiful to look at. Queen Anne’s Lace, for example, lines the highways of the South with beautiful umbels of white flowers in the summertime and it has both medicinal and culinary value. (Saving that for another article.)

Two of my favorite herbs in the Apiaceae Family are Osha and Lovage.

Osha (Ligusticum porteri) is a medicinal herb that grows wild in the mountainous Western United States from Montana to Arizona and New Mexico. The plant itself looks much like a tall version of a bolting parsley plant. Osha grows in the higher elevations (4,000 ft.+) of the mountains in soil rich in organic matter. It also depends on mycorrhizal fungi for healthy root development. Osha cultivation has been mostly unsuccessful outside its naturalized surroundings.

Osha root is steeped in ethanol alcohol for months and then used as a liniment for bruises, muscle aches and pain due to broken bones or sprains. Small amounts of the root can be taken internally for relief of heartburn and stomach aches due to gas. (The root should be blanched or flash fried before consumption.)

Osha leaves are sometimes chewed. They have a licorice-like flavor; hence the name, Porter’s licorice-root. The juices from the leaves have stimulant properties and have been speculated to have anti-viral properties as well. The leaves are usually not swallowed.

Lovage (Levisticum officinale)

Lovage (Levisticum officinale) is a herb I grow in large plantings in various beds along with cilantro and parsley. I use all parts of the plants for various purposes. The main reason for growing so many Lovage plants is because it makes a great companion plant in that it attracts beneficial insects like predatory flies, ladybugs, parasitic wasps, etc.

Lovage leaves are a bitter green I eat on salads or finely chop along with the stalks to mix in potato salad dishes. The seeds are harvested and dried for use as a spice in dishes one would normally add celery powder or seed to. My best example of this is "deviled eggs."

Lovage tea is good for indigestion and heartburn. It is also used as an antiseptic, though I have never tried that because I have so many other herbs I use for that purpose.

Try the Lovage in your garden, but watch the Alabama sun and heat. It’s tough on those plants.

Try the Osha! You may be the person who advises me on how to grow it here.

Thanks for reading!

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

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

Paulk Optimistic and Cautious Over New Challenges

AFC President and CEO Tommy Paulk speaks at the organization’s 73rd annual membership meeting, held in February at Montgomery’s Renaissance Hotel.

AFC’s President/CEO Addresses Membership at Annual Meeting

By Alvin Benn

"Belt-tightening procedures helped Alabama Farmers Cooperative (AFC) turn a tough year into a positive one," AFC’s President Tommy Paulk said during the organization’s 73rd annual membership meeting in February at Montgomery’s Renaissance Hotel and Spa.

As a result of the frugal policies, Paulk told hundreds of farmers and Co-op managers, he and other AFC officials have good reason to welcome 2010 with "renewed optimism."

He also said his optimistic outlook is tinged somewhat with caution because of past issues that have been detrimental to farming.

"The challenges that lay ahead, both seen and unseen, are real and certain," he said during his Feb. 11 address.

Paulk cited past and present concerns involving federal rules and regulations, and said he and his staff will be watching closely as new agricultural developments occur.

"We know, just as we battled the last administration in Washington as they tried to gut our farm programs, we will have to battle the current administration as it tries to pile new regulations upon us," Paulk said.

In his previous keynote address at the same meetingone year ago, Paulk had noted the organization suddenly found itself in "uncharted waters." No one could have expected, however, what was about to happen as the year progressed, or regressed, economically.

The worst economic collapse since the Great Depression was slowly taking shape and farmers felt the brunt of it just as Wall Street investors did.

Paulk referred to "meltdown" several times during the two-day meeting and, whenever he did, he received understanding nods from those in the audience.

"The global scarcity of capital, brought on by the financial collapse of some of the world’s largest institutions and the near meltdown in our economy greatly complicated the financing of our company," said Paulk.

The worst financial crisis in the U.S. in 80 years occurred, he said, "Just as we began for the first time an effort to secure our borrowing through a loan syndication which was a new and completely different kind of partnershipwith our lenders."

Paulk said the poor fertilizer market "caused all of us down the length of our supply chain to sell product at little or negative margins all year long despite high prices to our farmers."

Paulk said AFC lost about $10 million in its fertilizer operations last year and, combined with what individual members lost, "it’s substantial."

"We can’t afford to wait on good fertilizer prices because so much of it comes from overseas, so we have to buy early to keep the pipeline full through the entire spring season regardless of the price," he stated.

The negative fertilizer trend eventually led to a situation in which "we were selling for less than what we paid for it."

"It cost our members a lot of money despite the fact our farmers are still paying a relatively high price for fertilizer," he added. "You’ve heard of win-win situations? Well, this was a lose-lose situation."

As if that wasn’t enough, Paulk said, "Low cattle prices and high feed prices created a double-whammy to our livestock-producer members and they continue to struggle to see positive cash flows from their farming operations."

He also noted that unusually wet soil conditions didn’t help matters, either, adding "some crops even today are still in the field."

Two of the biggest savings came in the form of a hiring freeze as well as attrition.

When someone left AFC, he or she wasn’t replaced. That put an added load on employees who took over those responsibilities, but Paulk beamed when he praised the "can-do" attitude of those who pitched in to help.

He said the largest source of savings in 2009 came from cutting back on capital expenditures.

"We have withheld doing some things we’d very much like to do like expanding our grain operations into some areas we are not currently serving with grain," he added. "But, we’re just going to wait on that until we see how this economy is going to turn out."

In the meantime, Paulk said there were positive, optimistic events taking place within AFC "and we managed to come out the other side with a company stronger than it was when the year began."

He said necessary administrative and budgetary changes were accompanied by a "sense of renewed optimism" and stressed the "future of our industry and the future of our Co-ops looks bright."

"And we did it while never compromising our values, values that make up the foundation of what our cooperative system stands for: values of honesty, efficiency, loyalty to one another and service to our customers," Paulk said.

On the flip side of the ledger, he added, is the fact certain events and issues will always create problems for the farming industry, including cooperatives.

"We know the weather will not always cooperate," he said. "We know prices for our products can be volatile. We don’t know what lies in store for us, but we know from bitter experience to be surprised only if there are no surprises."

What hasn’t been surprising in past years is the continued success story of Bonnie Plants which, according to Chief Financial Officer Dan Groscost "had a spectacular year with record sales of $207.9 million."

That total was more than $35 million better than 2008, Groscost said.

He stated Bonnie Plants continues to operate in all but one of the contiguous states with 70 growing stations from coast to coast.

"Bonnie came through pretty much as expected during the past year and it’s really blossomed in the last decade," he said.

Groscost said Bonnie does well during recessions like the lingering one in 2009 "because during those times, people tend to plant gardens."

Paulk’s belief in farming has never wavered and the most enjoyable part of his keynote speech was letting everyone know just how important agriculture is to the American people.

In 1930, he said, one farmer fed 10 people in the U.S. — today, one farmer feeds 155 people.

In 1930, he said agriculture employed 22 percent of the U.S. workforce — today it takes 2 percent.

"There has been a tremendous increase in productivity in our industry today," said Paulk.

AFC’s president said national leaders should be applauding America’s farmers, not finding ways to hinder them "with all these regulations."

"They need to be celebrating farmers in Washington, D.C., as a model for the rest of the country," he said.

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.

Peanut People

Ranch Rodeo Puts Real Cowboy Work on Display

Calf Branding is one of the events at the Ranch Rodeo and is done using powdered lime as a temporary brand.

Pike County Cattlemen’s Association Debuts New Type of Rodeo: March 26-27

By Kellie Henderson

City dwellers and those who call the countryside home have long enjoyed the sport of rodeo, where cowboys and cowgirls match skills in events like bull riding and barrel racing. Now a new type of rodeo has made its way out of Western ranch country and into Alabama arenas.

The Pike County Cattlemen’s Association is holding their first Ranch Rodeo at its Cattlemen’s Park March 26 and 27, and, with events like calf branding and wild cow milking, the Ranch Rodeo is an exciting display of the real work cowboys do.

The two-night event will feature teams of five competitors, with each team having at least one female participant, competing in five categories simulating the real work that might be done on a cattle ranch.

Wild Cow Milking is a crowd-pleaser at the Ranch Rodeo. It is not as easy as it sounds since these cows are not dairy cows but wild cows that have never been milked before and are not too keen on the idea.

"We are limiting the competition to 15 teams because the Ranch Rodeo takes too long to produce if entries are not limited," said Jack Davis, Chairman for the Pike County Cattlemen’s Ranch Rodeo.

"The spectators are going to make this event, so we want the two performances to be good, exciting, family fun – something people will be happy they brought the kids to see," Davis said.

And with cowhands and quick horses from at least three states competing for a total purse of more than $10,000 to be awarded at the end of Saturday’s performance, the Ranch Rodeo promises just the kind of exhilarating entertainment Davis has in mind.

"A lot of times when people win cash prizes at a rodeo, they don’t actually get the money until it arrives in the mail weeks later. We didn’t want that to be the case here. Our treasurer will be on hand Saturday night to write those big checks to the winners so they can go home with their prize money in their pockets," explained Davis.

Chase Chapman of Montgomery County, a veteran rodeo cowboy who also has competed in a few ranch rodeos, is looking forward to competing with his teammates at the Cattlemen’s Ranch Rodeo this month.

"I was actually on a team that won a Ranch Rodeo in West Alabama a few years ago, and it’s a lot of fun. Since this one is closer to home, there are naturally some bragging rights involved, but the real draw for most of the contestants will be the added money," Chapman said, referring to the generous payouts to be awarded in each event of the competition and to the over-all winning team.

One particular event at the rodeo will be new to Chapman, however.

"I’ve cut out cows to load on a trailer out in the pasture, but this will be the first time I’ve competed in a trailer loading event, so I’m looking forward to that," Chapman explained.

Chapman also added Ranch Rodeos offer added interest for spectators because the teams are often made up of real working farmers and ranchers that people in the stands will know personally.

"A lot of traditional sanctioned rodeos feature rodeo cowboys, people who practice for competition, but the Ranch Rodeo sort of levels the playing field, maybe even giving an advantage to the farm hands who don’t always have time to haul to a different big-name rodeo every weekend. The result is a competition that’s a real tribute to the Western heritage that has long been the foundation of the rodeos of today," Chapman said.

The five events featured at the competition will be Stray Gathering, Team Penning, Trailer Loading, Calf Branding and Wild Cow Milking.

Stray Gathering simulates the work required to catch a cow and restrain it as a cowhand would if the animal was sick or injured and needed care. Team Penning is an exciting event in which the cowboys must separate specific calves from the herd and drive them into a small pen. Trailer Loading, as the name states, calls for the participants to load a cow into a stock trailer.

"The Calf Branding will be done with a branding iron placed in powdered lime rather than a fire, and the brand will be applied to the calf’s flank to leave temporary proof the brand made contact. Time is up only when the brand is returned to the lime, just as it would have to be to heat up in a true fire-branding scenario," Davis described.

"All four of these events are based on actual cow-working procedures, but the Wild Cow Milking is more of a crowd-pleaser than anything," Davis added, although Chapman said he’d done his share of actually milking cows that weren’t too keen on the idea.

"Several years ago it seemed like we always had one cow or another that wouldn’t take to her calf or for some other reason the calf couldn’t nurse, so we had to get the milk for the calf’s sake. It’s a bigger challenge than most people realize when you’re not dealing with a dairy cow," Chapman stated.

All five events in the Ranch Rodeo are timed events, with the prize going to the team who can successfully complete the task in the least amount of time. But there are still rules dictating exactly how each event should be carried out, so Professional Cowboy Association Judge Roy Davis will be there for the event, as will professional auctioneer and PCA announcer T.J. Williams.

"Both of these men have worked the PCA finals rodeo before, so we’re pleased to have such experienced guys be a part of our event," Davis said.

The performances will start at 7:00 each night. Admission is $10 for adults and children 11 and under admitted free. Concessions will also be available during both performances.

"We want everyone to come out to a family-friendly event where they can see everyday cowboys and cowgirls do some exciting things and win some money for their efforts," Davis concluded.

Kellie Henderson is a freelance writer from Troy.

Renowned Soil Specialist Richard Guthrie Attempts Retirement Once Again

Dr. Richard Guthrie is retiring as dean of Auburn University’s College of Agriculture.

Two-Time AU Ag School Dean Always Eager to Help the
Ag Community and the School He Loves

By Alvin Benn

Growing up on a dairy farm in Bullock County kept Richard Guthrie busy during the early morning hours of each day, but he still found time for academics and athletics.

Lettering in four sports at Union Springs High School and finishing second in his class academically proved to be a winning combination with Guthrie parlaying them into a full-ride scholarship to Auburn University.

Richard Guthrie (second from left) accepts the 1996 Walter Gilbert Award during halftime festivities at an AU football game from William Muse, then president of the university. The award is given annually to an individual who was a student athlete at Auburn and who has distinguished himself or herself through career and life achievements post-graduation. Joining Guthrie on the field for the presentation were his wife, Kay (left), and daughters, (from left) Kathy and Lucy. The Guthries have a third daughter, Ann.

He also became a Fulbright Scholar and eventually earned a doctorate in soil science from an Ivy League school.

Confident in his athletic prowess in football, baseball, basketball and track, he knew he had what it took to do well in a variety of endeavors outside the family farm, but the last thing he expected was to become a world renowned soil specialist.

When he wasn’t making trips to China and other foreign countries, Guthrie split domestic duties between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Auburn University where, on two occasions, he has taken on the responsibility of guiding AU’s College of Agriculture.

All in all, it’s been an amazing life for a remarkable two-career man who has finally decided to bid farewell to his favorite university for good and enjoy his retirement years with his wife, children and grandchildren.

Richard Guthrie, a native of Union Springs, entered Alabama Polytechnic Institute in 1958 on a football scholarship. He played end for the Tigers from the ’58 through ’61 seasons. Guthrie received his bachelor’s degree in agronomy and soils in 1962.

As Guthrie waits for someone to succeed him at Auburn, honors continue to pour in from those aware of his many agricultural accomplishments. It’s an opportunity for him to smell the roses even though he’s never asked for or expected plaudits for a job well done.

"Richard is widely respected in the state as a very knowledgeable agriculturist," said W. Gaines Smith, director of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. "Co-workers across the nation respect his accomplishments in the U.S. and internationally."

Smith’s opinion is mirrored throughout Alabama by farming experts who have marveled at Guthrie’s ability to juggle scientific and administrative responsibilities — often at the same time.

"It’s wonderful to hear people say such nice things about what I’ve done through the years," Guthrie, 68, said during an interview with the Cooperative Farming News."Auburn has always meant so much to me and I’ve been happy to help in any way I could."

Last December at the annual meeting of the Alabama Farmers Federation (Alfa), the state’s largest farm organization, Guthrie was presented with the Service to Agriculture Award. It’s the most important honor bestowed by Alfa.

During the meeting, Federation President Jerry Newby called Guthrie "a true friend of the farmer" and cited Guthrie for his many accomplishments in providing assistance in the field of food production.

Vegetables can’t grow without the proper soil and that’s one of many things Guthrie focused on throughout his academic and administrative careers.

Born on May 29, 1941, in the Bruceville community of Bullock County, Guthrie proudly points out the month and day birth connection with two other well-known Americans, former President John F. Kennedy and comedy legend Bob Hope.

John Wesley Guthrie, Jr., was a dairy farmer who relied on assistance from his two sons, Richard and Larry, to help with the herd and do whatever else was needed.

Richard Guthrie found school a lot easier than some of the farm chores he was expected to handle, especially on freezing mornings when he had to tend to the milking machines. He skipped second grade and didn’t miss a beat when he caught up with the class ahead of him.

"Richard was very smart," said classmate Earl Hinson, who would become mayor of Union Springs many years later. "We’ve always been very proud of him for the way he has succeeded in so many things he’s done during his life. He’s always been very dedicated to whatever he’s undertaken."

Up long before the sun, the boys pitched in and helped keep the family operation afloat. Lettering in so many sports was more than enough to bring young Mr. Guthrie to the attention of Auburn football coach Ralph "Shug" Jordan and his assistants.

Enrolling at Auburn University (AU) in 1958 when it was still known as Alabama Polytechnic Institute, Guthrie was converted from a high school fullback to end and he played during the 1961 and 1962 seasons. Freshmen couldn’t play varsity football back then and he was red-shirted his sophomore year. But, he still saw plenty of action before a knee injury ended his college gridiron career.

Guthrie has lots of happy memories about his time with the Tigers, but one that stands out the most was the moment George Mira, Miami’s great quarterback and future pro star, rolled out deep in Hurricane territory and directed a pass to one of his top receivers.

"I was in position to intercept it, but I guess I was looking at the end zone and a touchdown, not the ball and it went right through my hands," said Guthrie, who chuckled over what could have been his biggest football moment.

Auburn won that game during another successful season and Guthrie was more than a bench-warming spectator. He also was on the Tiger track team, lettering in 1959 and enhancing his reputation as a stellar athlete as well as a scholar.

His athletic abilities and, after graduation, his accomplishments in the business world would lead to another of his many important awards. It happened in 1996 when he received the Walter Gilbert Award given to AU athletes who excel on and off the playing field after graduation. Guthrie followed Lloyd Nix, who quarterbacked Auburn to the Associated Press National Football championship in 1957 and preceded Jim Voss, who became one of America’s most experienced astronauts.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in agronomy and soil science in 1962 — the same year he and the former Kay Couvrette of Selma — were married, Guthrie began working with the Soil Conservation Service.

Three years later, he got his master’s degree at Auburn and then it was off to upstate New York where he got his Ph.D. at Cornell University in Ithaca. His dissertation involved land use studies in which he evaluated soil suitability for vegetable production.

His time at Cornell was busy on several fronts. In addition to working on his doctorate, he also made sure he didn’t shortchange Kay and their two children by not showing them enough attention. Money was tight and, as he recalls, "we ate a lot of bologna sandwiches."

"Our family would join friends on Friday nights at a Howard Johnson’s up there and took advantage of its ‘all-you-can-eat’ special," he said. "Believe me, we ate all we could."

Many Alabamians are familiar with Guthrie’s successes at Auburn’s College of Agriculture, but not everyone is aware, for 20 years, he was a federal employee with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and served in Alabama, Texas and Washington, D.C., before returning to his alma mater in 1983. That’s when he became a professor and also directed AU’s Department of Agronomy and Soils.

Two years after his return to Auburn, Guthrie became acting dean of the AU College of Agriculture for three years and then was named associate dean of the international agriculture program — a job he held until 2003 when he retired as a state employee for the first time.

He didn’t stay retired very long. Two years later, in 2005, he came out of the bullpen to become dean of the AU Department of Agriculture. It was another example of his eagerness to lend a helping hand at the school he loves.

Tim Wood, general manager of the Central Alabama Farmers Cooperative in Selma and a former Auburn University football player, said Guthrie’s decision to "unretire" for a spell didn’t surprise him a bit.

"His willingness to come back during a time when the College of Agriculture needed cohesion and come out of retirement is a testament to his devotion to the college," said Wood, who lauded Guthrie for having "brought back trust within the world of academia as well as the alumni who graduated from the College of Agriculture."

Five years later, however, Guthrie informed Auburn officials he would be moving into "permanent" retirement status very soon.

Wood said Guthrie will be "greatly missed" when he finally steps aside for good, "but I know his heart and continued support and presence will still remain. He is one who you can count on for as long as he is willing and able to serve."

Guthrie believes today’s agriculture students are as sharp, if not sharper, than their predecessors and points to test scores as a good barometer.

He has also seen a dramatic shift away from traditional farming as more and more students opt for majors enabling them to avoid a lot of the heavy, manual field work of the past — even with improved equipment.

"Many who enrolled with us are looking at futures as veterinarians or managing horse operations," he said. "There aren’t many left who want to plow the fields. And, they don’t usually come from poor families, either."

When Guthrie was a student at Auburn 50 years ago, he said tuition cost about $600 a year. Today, it’s more like $6,000 and that doesn’t even scratch the surface when living accommodations are factored in.

Guthrie and his two siblings, Larry and Jeanne, each earned doctorates which, needless to say, pleased their parents to no end. The family farm today no longer involves a dairy operation and much of it’s in pine trees.

Retirement for the former two-time dean of the AU Department of Agriculture and director of the Alabama Agriculture Experiment Station is just what the "doctor" ordered. He’s looking forward to "playing a little golf" and, of course, cheering the Tigers on to victory this coming football season.

He and Kay have three daughters, Ann, Kathy and Luci, a granddaughter, Anna Kathryn, and a grandson, William Richard.

"It’s taken awhile, but I’ve finally gotten a boy in the family," said Guthrie, whose big smile said it all.

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.

Sacred Harp Singing Finds a Way Back to the Mainstream

Each participant at a Sacred Harp singing has an opportunity to lead his or her favorite song. All singers are involved in “measuring” the music.

By Jaine Treadwell

Stanley Smith listened intently to the sounds meandering through the woodlands and across the meadows to the front porch steps of his home.

The singing was coming from the little country church down the road.

It was a familiar sound to young Stanley. He had heard it many times — the sound folks called Sacred Harp singing.

He sat on the steps listening to the sounds that were so unique and so captivating, even at age 12, he knew it was his music.

Smith’s grandfather liked Sacred Harp singing; however, he died when Stanley was only six years old. But Smith can trace his interest in Sacred Harp singing back to him.

The B.F White Sacred Harp songbook is a favorite among Southern shape note singers.

"The church was about a half-mile from where we lived and I told my daddy I wanted to go down there and see what Sacred Harp singing was all about," Smith said, laughing. "So, he took me. An announcement was made about a singing school that was going to be taught at the old Carroll Church in Ozark and I told my daddy, ‘I’m going.’"

The singing school was taught by Fred Botts of the Enon community in Pike County and Smith "swallowed everything hook, line and sinker."

"A lot of communities had Sacred Harp or shape note singings and I’d bum rides to every one that I could," Smith said. "When I got old enough to drive, I was the chauffeur."

Now, more than 35 years later, Smith’s fascination with Sacred Harp singing is just as intense as it was when he was a barefoot boy sitting on the steps and listening to the fasola coming from the little county church just down the road.

"I can’t explain my love of Sacred Harp singing and there’s no way under the sun I can describe it," he said. "Sacred Harp’s just a unique way of singing that is authentic and pure. It’s the kind of singing that came from the hearts of people who lived during hard times — really rough times.

"People who lived off the land and faced many hardships. There was so much feeling in Sacred Harp singing. There was a real connection between the singers and their dependence on God. It’s still that way.

"It’s real. It’s authentic and it’s pure. That’s the only way I know how to describe it."

Smith said the concept behind Sacred Harp singing is rather simple.

"Although shape note singing began in New England and filtered down to the South, its real strong hold was in the South," he explained. "In the early 1800s, if there were any pianos anywhere, there was no way to lug them around so people had to find a way to teach music — singing, to teach the tones. The easiest and best way was to use shapes for the notes on the scale, the tones, fa, sol, la and mi.

"The triangle was assigned to fa, the circle to sol, the square to la and the diamond to mi. The shapes are crutches to hone in on the tones. First, you sing the tones, then the messages from the words."

Smith said the Sacred Harp book by B.F. White published in 1844 became the most popular shape note songbook and was used by individual communities and at conventions.

"Sacred Harp singing is nondenominational," he said. "There are no religious ties to Sacred Harp singing. There are no political ties.

"When we all get together, it doesn’t matter where you come from, what your religious preference is or what your views on politics are. We just come together to sing. Nothing else matters."

Sacred Harp singing has, in the last decade, enjoyed a revival of sorts.

"In our area, the Wiregrass area, Sacred Harp singing has gotten new blood," Smith said. "Many families are coming back to it and there is new interest among others. For a long time, there was a stereotype associated with shape note singing. It was viewed as old and outdated and people stopped singing it, the chain was broken and it was lost in the shuffle of life."

But, in recent years, due, in part, to movies like "Cold Mountain," television "oldies" including "Little House on the Prairie," and its recognition as a legitimate American art form by colleges and universities, Sacred Harp singing has taken its rightful place in the music world.

"For a long while, Sacred Harp singing was a well-kept secret," Smith said. "Now, we’re not keeping that secret anymore. People are beginning to enjoy it again."

The unique sound of shape note singing is intriguing and its messages are ageless.

"Sacred Harp singing is energetic," Smith said. "You don’t have to have the prettiest voice in the world to take part in it. Each singer has an opportunity to lead his or her favorite song. We welcome listeners, but Sacred Harp singing is participatory. It’s not for entertainment."

Smith is a leader of a Sacred Harp singing group who sings somewhere in and around South Alabama almost every weekend. The group doesn’t have a name. There’s no need for a name. They’re just participating. Not entertaining.

Sometimes, people will come, as Smith did when he was 12 years old, "to see what Sacred Harp is all about." Some will be fascinated by what they hear and want to become a "participant." Others will merely find nostalgia in the art form but not be "taken" with it.

"Interest is growing in Sacred Harp singing but not as much here in the South as it is in other places," Smith said. "I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s because of the stereotype here in the South. I just don’t know.

"But, here in our area, we have been blessed. When we lose a few members of the group for whatever reason, we pick up a few more."

Singers in Smith’s Ozark-based group come from as far north as Montgomery and as far south as the Florida Panhandle.

"Whoever shows up is who sings," Smith said, laughing. "We have been blessed because we always have just how many we need. Like the widow woman in the Bible, who had just enough oil and meal to make one hoecake for her and her son. Through the grace of God, it was ‘enough’ to last them until the drought was over.

"God blesses us that way. We always have enough to sing the tones and the messages of Sacred Harp music."

Jaine Treadwell is a freelance writer from Brundidge.

Seize the Moment

By Robert Spencer

According to the latest (January 29, 2010) report by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Agricultural Statistics Board, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), sheep and goat inventories are down. "Total sheep and lamb inventories are down by two percent and total goat and kid inventories are down one percent."

This is consistent throughout the U.S. based on my interactions, that does not surprise me. The same agency estimated inventories were down in 2009. That also does not surprise me. I attribute these declines in inventories to several factors: (1) Three years of drought prior to 2009 which included increased feed prices, (2) the realization of an economic downturn in 2009 and (3) the realization by many famers that livestock production offers little or no profitability.

In the past three years, I have been contacted by many people who are exiting the goat business and very few are entering or expanding goat production; many of these have been older farmers.

However, there is a "bright side" in all this, according to 2009 and 2010 market reports from USDA Agricultural Marketing Services, overall prices paid at many sale barns continue to rise beyond expectations. During peak periods, a few of lasts year’s reports showed prices just short of $2 per pound for prime meat kids in the 50-70 pound range. Recently in Kentucky, during one sale, minimum prices for meat kids in the 50-70 pound range began at $2 per pound and premium prices were as high as $2.40 per pound.

As Max Runge, Extension Economist said, "At these prices goat and sheep production might become profitable."

I recently took a look at reports from the Columbia, Tenn., sale barn and noticed the following. According to the USDA/TDA Dept Ag Market News report issued on Monday, Jan. 25, 2010, the Tennessee Livestock Producers Graded Goat and Sheep Sale on Jan. 22 had the following prices paid: $1.92 per pound for Selection One kids, $187-$191 per hundred-weight for Selection Two kids (36-50 lbs) and even Selection Three kids (36-50 lbs) brought $170-$181 per hundred-weight.

According to a recent report I received regarding a recent sale at the Russellville Sale Barn, buyers from Ripley, Miss., were paying premium prices of close to $2 per pound for kids in the same previously mentioned weight range. A word of caution, "don’t load up four goats and expect to ‘make enough to put the kids through college.’"

Now granted, these are "snap shot pictures" and do not reflect year-round prices, but it is simple economics; when demand is constant, inventories are low, prices will rise. Also, they reflect a general rule small ruminant marketing experts have always emphasized, "Goat and sheep prices tend to begin rising in November and December and continue to increase until around the Christian Easter holiday."

Granted, gestation period for goats and lambs is five months, so increasing production is not an instant opportunity. Now is the time to develop a strategic plan for goat and sheep production to meet future demand. If trends continue, prices for next year should be as good or better.

Robert Spencer is a contributing writer from Florence.

Southern Translation

SENTENCE USAGE: "After wallowing in the cold mud all day trying to get Odell’s tractor out of the slough, it sure felt good to sit down to a piping-hot meal."

What does "piping" have to do with the temperature of anything?

The sense of piping relevant here is the one for making a musical sound, as by playing the pipes. The idea of a dish that’s piping hot is one so hot it makes a sizzling or hissing noise, perhaps not closely-similar to the sound of the pipes, but at least audible. It’s first recorded near the end of the 14th Century, in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In the Miller’s Tale it says (in modernized spelling): "Wafers piping hot out of the gleed," where a wafer is a kind of thin cake, baked between wafer-irons, and gleed is the hot coals of a fire.

(World Wide Words,

Teachers Can Apply Now for 2010 AITC Summer Institute

At the 2009 annual Alabama Ag in the Classroom (AITC) Summer Institute, teachers toured farms in Autauga and Elmore Counties. Autauga County Farmer, Andy Wendland (far right) examines corn with participating teachers.

Even the scorching heat didn’t cool the enthusiasm teachers had for learning about agriculture during the annual Alabama Ag in the Classroom (AITC) Summer Institute held last summer. More than 80 teachers and other educational professionals from around the state attended the institute held in Prattville. Much of the institute focuses on outdoor activities, including workshops that incorporate farming and nature into math, reading, history and science lessons teachers can use in their classrooms.

Teachers also toured several farms in Autauga and Elmore Counties where they talked with farmers and learned about the care farmers give to their crops and livestock.

Autauga Farming Co., owned in part by Autauga County farmer Andy Wendland, was among the stops on the farm tours. He said farmers should be willing to show the public what their jobs entail.

"There are so many groups out there who are supporting and promoting misconceptions about agriculture and livestock production. I think it’s important for us to share the real truth with the public, particularly teachers, about what we do," Wendland said. "It’s especially important for people to see the attention we give our crops and the animals we care for."

LaQuisia Williams of Redland Elementary School in Elmore County said she enjoyed the craft ideas she learned during the institute, but added the farm tours were her favorite.

"I had never seen a cotton plant before and it was very interesting," Williams said. "AITC is a great program, and I would definitely recommend it to teachers who want to learn new things for their classrooms."

This professional development institute includes instruction providing participants with innovative research materials and high yield teaching strategies to increase student knowledge of the nutritional and economic importance of the food and fiber systems in their daily lives. Activities and teaching material incorporate language arts, science, social studies and mathematics skills as well as those found in the Alabama courses of study and on the Stanford 9 Test. Agricultural literacy activities provide course-of-study content knowledge to be integrated into daily lesson plans. Educational traveling sessions correlating with hands-on activities provided are conducted during the conference.

The 2010 AITC Summer Institute will be held June 2-4 in Mobile. Teachers who participate in the workshop are provided with room accommodations at the Battle House Hotel, reimbursement for mileage, free materials for their classroom, a stipend and Continuing Education Units. Teachers must complete and submit an application to be accepted to attend the workshop. Applications are available at, select "Summer Workshops."

The Oklahoma Horse Trader

By Lisa Hamblen Hood

Not all country girls are cowgirls. My mother-in-law, Melba Jean, is a prime example. She grew up on a farm in rural Oklahoma. Maybe because of her lily-white skin or maybe because she wasn’t the outdoorsy type, she much preferred learning domestic skills to gathering eggs, milking or raising livestock. Most of her spare time was spent learning to cook, sew and can garden vegetables. She began perfecting her homemaking skills at the tender age of nine and went on to become the champion of her local 4-H club, winning an all-expense-paid trip to Chicago before she graduated high school.

But of all her favorite indoor activities, playing the piano topped the list. My mother-in-law’s family didn’t own a piano during the early 1950s. They were too busy trying to eke out a living raising cows and corn. When she was a young girl, my mother-in-law attended Tucker School, a three-room schoolhouse, right across the road from her home. In one of those rooms there was an old, upright piano.

Back in those days, before the atheists and politically-correct crowd strong-armed the schools into absolute secularism, each school day began with prayers, devotions and songs, many of them old-fashioned hymns, all sung a cappella. Melba loved singing and began picking out those melodies before or after school. She learned familiar tunes like "Dixieland," "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" and, of course, the title song from the musical "Oklahoma." First, she’d find the melody with her right hand and practice that, and then she would make chords with her left hand — all this before she had any formal musical training.

The more she played, the better she liked it and, before long, Melba started thinking of how she could buy a piano. At 13, she didn’t have any way to make money, so she decided to sell her only asset, her beautiful paint pony. She’d had him for three years and he was a sweet, gentle horse she’d ride the three miles to visit her married sister or some neighbors. Her father was quite the horse trader and, within a few days, he found someone willing to pay her $100 for it. That was a huge sum back in those days, considering $12-15 dollars would buy a week’s worth of groceries for a family.

Melba didn’t hesitate. Her dad made the deal, and she and her mother began scouring the newspapers looking for a piano. What they found would likely fetch a small fortune today — a beautiful old Haddorff upright with the original ebony and ivory keys and a full, resonant sound. She and her parents hauled the treasure home in the back of an old pickup truck. Before they could even get it unloaded, the little strawberry-blonde girl hopped up in the back of the truck and began to play. Her parents were amazed. They knew she’d been tinkering a little bit on the old piano at school, but had no idea their little girl was already on her way to becoming an accomplished musician.

She continued playing on that piano until she went away to college, where she minored in music and practiced the mandatory two hours every day in addition to her studies. She married her high school sweetheart and had her only child — a mischievous boy that later became my husband —- before she could finish her degree. She inspired three of her nephews to become interested in studying music. They learned to play and to improvise. Two of them became professional jazz musicians. Unfortunately, my husband didn’t inherit his mother’s musical gift and still can’t understand why anyone would get rid of a good riding horse for a piano.

And today, my dear mother-in-law continues to bless the lives of countless others with her God-given musical talent. She considers her ability a gift to be shared, which she does by playing for her Sunday school class every week as well as for the daily devotions in the retirement center where she lives. I asked her if she ever regretted trading her paint pony for a piano. "Never," she said with smile.

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

Twin Tractors Have Special Meaning for Cleburn Mays

Above, Marion County resident Cleburn Mays is the proud owner of twin 1941 John Deere Model B tractors. He and his twin brother, Leburn, were born in 1941. Below, this 1941 John Deere Model B took many hours of detail work by Mays.

One-Half of Duo Can’t Get Enough Green

By Susie Sims

People find inspiration for the things they do all around them. It might be a memory from childhood or a significant event in their lives. It might even be as basic as what makes you who you are.

Ask Marion County resident Cleburn Mays what the inspiration behind his love of old tractors is and he’s liable to say that it gives him something to do. For those on the outside looking in, Mays’ inspiration can be summed up in one word, "twin."

Mays has two 1941 John Deere Model B long hood tractors. Mays also has a twin brother, and yes, they were born in 1941. He has worked on more than a dozen tractors during his relatively short second career as a restorer, but he has a fondness for the "twins" as he calls them, that is plain to see.

Even though his twin brother, Leburn, doesn’t share his interest in tractors, Mays still likes the idea of the twin tractors. Being a twin is part of who he is.

He gets offers on his twin Model Bs quite often. He even considered an offer awhile back for one of them. He quickly began looking for an excuse not to sell it. Fortunately his wife of 50 years, Mary Ola, voiced her objection and Mays called the fellow back and told him he couldn’t sell it.

Cleburn Mays restored this John Deere pedal tractor for his grandchildren. Grandson Ryan enjoys a ride.

No Rush Jobs Here

Even though Mays truly enjoys working on his restorations, you won’t find him taking a rush job.

"You don’t ever know what you are going to get into when you tear them apart," Mays explained. "You start rushing stuff and then you’ll run into something that’s going to take you a long time to fix."

He prefers to take his time and do a good job on the restoration. Mays doesn’t see the point in not doing the job right. He is his own worst critic.

"I like to see how good I can make them look, to be honest with you," Mays said. "If I do something and it doesn’t turn out like I think it should, I’ll sand it down and do it again."

He currently has a 1948 International Cub laying in pieces in the corner of his shop. Mays is waiting for the weather to clear up so he can paint and put the tractor back together and finish the job.

Cleburn Mays helped a neighbor restore the 1938 John Deere Model L tractor in 2005 pictured here. Affectionately known as “Little John,” these photographs show the progression of the restoration.

"When I got this one, it was in great condition," Mays recalled about the Cub. "The previous owner had reworked the engine, started pulling the seals in the rear end, and they dropped it off the stand and it busted the transmission housing. So he just quit working on it."

Mays replaced the housing and it ran like a charm, so he continued on with the restoration.

Second Career

Tractor restorer Cleburn Mays is waiting for better weather so he can paint his latest project — a 1948 International Cub.

While he really enjoys working on his tractors, this is a relatively new hobby for him.

"I bought a 135 Massey Ferguson and it had concrete on it from front to back," Mays recalled. "I restored it. That was about 20 years ago."

He followed that job with a restoration for neighbor Howard Self.

"That was the only two I did until Jimmy Farris wanted me to help on his B Model," Mays said. "That’s one of the Bs I have now."

Mays bought the tractor from Farris’ wife, Colene, after Farris’ death a few years ago. He also helped Farris restore a 1938 John Deere Model L featured in this publication in February 2006.

Since then, Mays has worked on about a dozen tractors, primarily green ones.

"I’ve mostly worked on John Deere, a few Internationals and one Avery," Mays said. "I had no idea what color to paint it. The fellow got it ready for me to paint and brought it to me. I told him I still had no idea what color to paint it. He went to Mississippi and got me the paint. It was candy apple red. Boy that thing just sparkled when I got the paint on it."

Tractor restorer Cleburn Mays shows off his collection of tractor figurines his wife, Mary Ola, has assembled for him.

Condition Not Really A Factor

When asked if he prefers to acquire his tractors in running condition, Mays responded it "depends on what it is."

He admitted he likes to get one that will run, but he doesn’t mind having to rebuild the tractor completely.

"A lot of times you get a tractor from someone and they say they reworked it, but they didn’t. They just patched it," Mays said. "A lot of people don’t take them apart when they restore a tractor. You have to take them apart. You have to get all the old grease, mud and other stuff off of them."

Mays considers that doing the job right is a worthwhile effort.

"If you’re going to take it to a show and people see you haven’t done it right, I just don’t understand that," he said, shaking his head.

When asked about getting parts for some of his projects, Mays said parts are getting easier to come by aftermarket with the growing popularity of tractor restoration.

"A lot of the parts I can order from a catalog, some of them I can’t. Some I have to make," he replied.

Contact Information

Mays lives in the Whitehouse Community in Marion County. His phone number is (205) 465-9201. He and his wife, Mary Ola, have four grown children and nine grandchildren.

Mays is a deacon at the Whitehouse Church of Christ and he teaches the adult Bible Class on Sundays.

He retired from NTN-Bower in Hamilton in 2003 after nearly 30 years. He worked in the chuckers department setting up the machines to cut the roller bearings for various tractor and big truck companies.

Mays went to school at Buttahatchee and graduated from Hackleburg High School in 1960.

Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.

Youth Ranch Plans Spring Festival

Jeff Martin and Frieda Palmer, owners of the Reins of Life Youth Ranch hope their upcoming Spring Festival is successful. They plan on mentoring at-risk kids and teens at their ranch.

Event Designed to Save Horses, Youth

By Susie Sims

The Reins of Life Youth Ranch will host its first Spring Festival on Saturday, April 3. The ranch is located near Carbon Hill on Fish Hatchery Road (or County Road 63, as it is officially known).

Ranch owner Frieda Palmer said the days’ activities will include arts and crafts, a motorcycle show and ride, a car show, as well as music and food vendors.

Registration fees for the motorcycle or car shows are $25 per driver and $10 per extra rider. These fees include lunch and a t-shirt.

The purpose of the festival is to highlight the good work Palmer and Jeff Martin are doing and to raise funds for the work to continue.

Before (above) and after images of Chyenne, the first horse rescued by Jeff Martin and Frieda Palmer.

At first glance, you might think the focus of the ranch is the horses. And while they are important, the animals are not the only beneficiaries of the ranch.

Palmer’s real focus is at-risk children. She wants to create a haven for them so they can realize there are people who care about them.

"I want the kids to be able to say, ‘I may have been born into poverty, I may have been born into a drug situation, but I don’t have to live my life that way,’" Palmer said. "I don’t want them to settle for what life has dealt them. I want them to see what these horses have overcome and think they can do the same.

"I want them to be their own person and make their own choices. Even though they are born into that, with a little hope and someone to say ‘you can do this,’ they can overcome their situation."

Palmer uses rescued horses to get her point across to these children whom "society has left behind."

"We rescue horses. We take in unwanted horses," Palmer explained. "Folks who just can’t take care of their horses anymore call us."

Palmer and Martin use the horses as examples of what the children can overcome. Palmer takes pictures of each horse when it arrives at the ranch. After a few weeks of care, she takes more pictures.

She uses these photos as proof that, with the right kind of care, even an abused and neglected horse can recover and have a new purpose in life.

Before (above) and after images of Cisco, a horse recued by Jeff Martin and Frieda Palmer.

Build On Your Past

Palmer grew up with six siblings, five of whom were much older than her and her younger sister. Her father trained horses when she was a child. She uses her childhood as inspiration for the work she now does.

"My dad, he used to come home in raging fits and drunk and carrying on," Palmer recalled. "When he would do that, we’d just go out to the barn. That was our refuge. And so that’s kind of what we want this to be, a refuge."

She wants children who have "lost their way" to realize it is only temporary. Palmer wants the kids to see, with hard work and guidance, they can turn their lives around and be happy.

Many of the children Palmer hopes to help do not have parents who are involved in their lives. She hopes to change that fact.

"Sometimes parents need a little nudge in the right direction," Palmer said. "People are so busy with their own lives they ignore their children."

Reins of Life Youth Ranch hopes to get parents involved whenever possible. The process can be "healing" for parent and child.

For the children whose parents are not involved, the ranch hopes to provide a stable environment with caring volunteers who show children how to love and be loved.

Once the weather warms up and the ranch is in full swing again, Palmer hopes to offer the children a comforting place to come to.

"We’re going to have our doors open," said Palmer. "We’re going to have classes two or three times a week, but if the kids want to come every day after school, that’s fine. If they want to come on Saturday, that’s fine."

Other Activities

Besides the mentoring program for at-risk kids, Palmer and Martin hope to expand the activities the ranch has to offer the community.

"We’d love to have Cowboy Church here," Palmer said, "because a lot of people feel like they don’t fit in with some churches. And if you come in blue jeans, that’s fine. A suit and tie are not required."

Other planned events include a summer mentoring program.

Palmer explained many kids, pre-teens and young teenagers are too old for a babysitter, but too young to go without supervision.

"We would like to invite these kids out during the summer," Palmer said. "They can help with chores and learn about the horses while we supervise them."

Martin said most of the ranch’s program involves giving the kids somewhere to be with something to do.

In addition, the ranch hopes to offer the kids a chance to grow their own vegetables and learn about the work it takes to produce food. Palmer is currently looking for volunteers with gardening experience who are willing to donate their knowledge and time.

"We would like to have the kids grow a garden," Palmer explained. "They can learn when to plant, fertilize and harvest. How to weed and care for the plants."

Contact Information

Persons interested in contacting Palmer about her Reins of Life program or the Spring Festival may call her at (205) 495-0017. She may also be reached by calling (205) 522-3944 or (205) 468-0862.

The ranch is located at 15200 County Road 63 N, Carbon Hill, AL 35549.

Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.

“The Saddle Guy” Grew to Love a Craft He Once Despised

The Saddle Guy, Kevin Parrish, works on tooling a piece of leather for a custom-made saddle.

Kevin Parrish Specializes in Saddle Repair and Restoration

By Mary-Glenn Smith

When Kevin Parrish was 13 years old, his dad dragged him away from his Saturday morning cartoons on television and into the world of leather crafts and saddle work.

"It’s time to go to work," the dad told his young son as he put him to work cleaning a leather saddle in the family garage turned saddle shop.

Doing just as his dad had asked him, Kevin cleaned the saddle. He hated it. But the next day, at his father’s request, he was back to work in the saddle shop.

Kevin’s father, John, first got into leatherworking, which eventually led to saddle work, while he was stationed in Japan during the Korean War in the 1950s.

A custom-built saddle by Kevin Parrish. This style is known as the bucket saddle.

John worked three days on and three days off as a mess hall sergeant for the U.S. Army. In his spare time, he would roam the city sightseeing. Sight-seeing quickly grew old and John started looking for other ways to pass the time. He ended up in a craft shop on the post. In the craft shop, John learned simple leather work, like carving and stamping.

"Dad wasn’t much of a drinker or party guy, so he spent a lot of his time in the craft shop," Kevin said. "He made a couple of purses and little things like that."

John had pretty much put his leatherwork behind him when he returned home from war until he received a leather kit as a gift years later.

"For one of their anniversaries, Mom bought Dad a beginner’s leather craft kit from Tandy Leather Co; that was it," Kevin recalled. "The whole time I was growing up, he would be in there beating on a piece of leather, tooling something."

It wasn’t long before a neighbor brought a saddle over to the Parrish house and asked if John could try to repair a piece on it.

A leather Western saddle before (above) and after restoration.

John had never done any work on saddles before, but gave it try and the repair was a success. A week later someone else brought a saddle over and asked John to do some work on it and the saddle work business started from there.

"People were always coming over to get their saddles fixed by Dad," Kevin remembered.

John first turned the family living room into a saddle shop. Later he added on a garage and began doing his leather and saddle work in there. John kept his young son busy by making him work in the shop.

"All through middle school and high school I was working in the saddle shop," Kevin said. "I was doing mostly cleaning, oiling and other little things; I didn’t really enjoy it."

After graduating from high school, Kevin went to school at Auburn University.

"I was so happy because I didn’t have to work in the shop anymore," Kevin said.

After a little while at Auburn, things just weren’t "going right" for Kevin.

"I called Dad and asked him if I could come back and work in the shop for a quarter," Kevin said. "He said, ‘Yeah, come on.’"

Saddles line the walls of Kevin Parrish’s leather shop in Grady.

"I came home and worked in the shop for a week," Kevin explained. "After that, I decided that’s all I ever wanted to do — work on saddles."

Today, Kevin, who despised work in the saddle shop as a kid, has grown to love everything about it. The Grady leather craftsman and saddlemaker is widely known around the country as simply "The Saddle Guy."

In 1996, Kevin convinced his father to rent a store in town and make their leather-working and saddle shop more available to the public and bring in more business. The Parrishs’ store, J.P. Leather Works, was located in Montgomery Stockyards.

"We worked on fixing saddles, building saddles and selling used saddles," Kevin described JP Leather Works. "We had halters. It was just a little tack shop."

In 1999, John passed away and left Kevin to work alone in the saddle shop.

"Dad was in the shop the day before he died," Kevin reflected on his dad’s passion for saddle work.

Kevin kept J.P. Leather Works going for a while, but in 2002 decided to close the doors on the shop he and his father had started six years earlier.

"It just wasn’t the same," Kevin said. "I had gotten used to working across the table from Dad and had really gotten to know him. I just wasn’t happy there anymore."

Kevin took a job with Tucker Saddlery in Memphis, Tenn. He started out as a supply chain manager, then moved on to the warehouse manager position. He went to be cutting department manager, and continued on to the position of flat shop manager. Kevin was happy with the job he had found in Memphis.

In 2004, Tucker Saddlery bought Circle Y Saddlery in Yoakum, Texas. Kevin was asked to move to Texas and work in the shop there. He did, but soon found out Texas was not the place for him and his new wife, Angie.

The newlywed couple moved back to Alabama and Kevin started selling shingles to get back on his feet.

He wasn’t doing any saddle work, but still had all his father’s leather working tools along with the ones he had added throughout the years. The tools had been from Alabama to Tennessee to Texas and finally back to Alabama, but weren’t being used.

But it wasn’t long before leatherwork was calling Kevin back. He couldn’t stay away from the business that had been such a huge part of his life for so many years.

"I set up the tools in the garage and started taking in a little work here and there," Kevin said. "And around last year, I finally had two months worth of work in the shop."

Kevin quit his job as a shingle salesman and went back to leatherworking in the saddle shop full-time.

The majority of work Kevin does is saddle repair and restoration. He usually keeps about 25-35 saddles in the shop to work on at all times. People from all over the country send their saddles to be worked on by "The Saddle Guy." Today his shop is filled with saddles from Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Illinois and even as far away as Washington.

In addition to repair work, Kevin also makes handmade custom saddles built to the customer’s specifications. He even has his own line of saddles he builds on a regular basis, mostly trooper and trail riding saddles. He has also built several Western saddles.

A new trooper saddle built from the ground up by "The Saddle Guy" sells for $895. And a custom-made, Western saddle will go for about $1,100.

"There is a lot more tooling and work on a Western saddle," Kevin explained. "The most expensive saddle I have made sold for $2,200; it was really highly tooled.

"There are custom saddlemakers who are much more expensive than I am, but I am a young guy still trying to build a name and to really build a good quality product that people will have for 40 years.

"If somebody buys a saddle, you don’t want it to be something they keep two or three years and then decide they need a new one. You want them to be able to keep it forever and tell somebody, ‘Look I have had this saddle for 15 years and look how good it looks."

Kevin sells most of his saddles through custom orders by word-of-mouth or his website The Montgomery Serum Company also keeps a couple of his handmade saddles in stock.

"There’s not as many custom saddlemakers as there used to be," Kevin said. "There are guys around, but just not a whole lot of us.

"It’s kind of a dying art, so many companies that make saddles only want to make one type of saddle. What I do is whatever somebody brings me.

"Typically people want something special on their saddle. I have put a lot of initials in seats and special tooling of patterns, names, logos and things like that."

The craziest request Kevin had was from a customer who wanted him to put a Volkswagen horn on his saddle.

"He was tired of people getting in front of him while he was riding," Kevin explained. "He could just sit in his saddle and toot the horn."

"Dad always said anything worth doing is worth doing right," Kevin said. "And I really believe that. I just want to make sure I satisfy the customer who trusts me with their saddle, no matter what they want."

Though saddle work is his specialty, he also makes belts, bridles, chaps, chinks, breast straps, matching tack to go with the saddles, and even leather coasters and koozies for holding drinks.

"It’s always something different," Kevin described his life in the saddle shop. "This morning I am putting billets on an English saddle and this afternoon I am starting a new saddle.

"You know people always say ‘I love the smell of leather.’ Well, every morning I come in, take a deep breath, smell the leather and know it’s going to be a good day."

Mary-Glenn Smith is a freelance writer from Snead.

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