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My Garden – Alabama Snapshots

My backyard flower garden. SUBMITTED BY Dave Johannes, Montgomery.
My backyard flower garden. Submitted by Dave Johannes, Montgomery.
Ryan Storey volunteering at Chaney’s Chapel garden in Dutton. Submitted by Dale Crawford, Dutton.
Doris McInvale, 86 years old, still gardens and cuts her grass. Submitted by Lynn Nelson, Georgiana.
Dixon Massey picking peppers with his Paw-Paw Larry Dixon. SUBMITTED BY Shannon Dixon, Phenix City.
Dixon Massey picking peppers with his Paw-Paw Larry Dixon. Submitted by Shannon Dixon, Phenix City.
Erby Womack of Sylvania. SUBMITTED BY Trina Glassco, Sylvania.
Erby Womack of Sylvania. Submitted by Trina Glassco, Sylvania.

You CAN do it

RP_Relsih
Photo by Michael Cornelison

“Putting up” summer’s fresh fruits and veggies lets you savor the season longer.

In the South, the past is often present. We hold on tightly to traditions, stories, cherished heirlooms and family recipes, keeping them with us and handing them down. It’s no different with the bounty that the land gives us each summer. Most of us eat our fill of fresh produce when it’s at its peak, but those with foresight place a little bit to the side and “put it up” (by canning it) to enjoy long after green vines and tender leaves are withered and gone.

I have never been one of those people. Not because I don’t think it’s a good idea. It’s due to my phobia of food-borne illness, most specifically a slow and painful death brought on by botulism. I remember grocery shopping with my grandmother one day, and she grabbed a can of something but quickly put it right back on the shelf because it had a dent. “Never buy a dented can,” she told me. “It could have botulism.” “What’s that?” I asked. “It’s a poison that grows on food that gives you lock jaw and then you die,” she said, flatly. That was enough info for me, but she went on. “People who don’t know how to properly can at home can end having it in the jars with their preserves and pickles too.”

So, thanks to grandma, I have grown up fearing botulism like some folks are afraid of sharks or flying. I didn’t ever trust my abilities to “can properly” and so I’ve never even tried. I’ve made pickles and jams, but I always made the “refrigerator” versions, meaning I didn’t heat and seal the jars. I just placed them in the fridge and made sure to eat them (or dispose of them) within their “safe time zone,” usually a couple of weeks.

After doing the research for this article, I’ve learned that botulism is quite rare (whew!), can be treated and is only fatal in 5 to 10 percent of cases. I’ve also realized that canning is not that complicated. Following directions is key, and since I CAN read (and since my paranoia ensures I’ll execute every task to the letter), I’m looking forward to making some blackberry jam this year.

And so should you. Use one of the tasty reader-submitted recipes or that old family recipe from your favorite kitchen-savvy relative and hold on to summer’s deliciousness all year long.

-Jennifer Kornegay


Cook of the Month

RP_Sue Robbins

Sue Robbins, Coosa Valley EC

Sue Robbins and her husband developed their recipe for pear relish after enjoying a version made by some friends. “We’d let them pick pears from our trees, and they made a relish,” she says. “We liked it but came up with our own.” They use the abundance of fresh pears their two trees yield and also turn to their yard for other ingredients.  “We use peppers I grow in our garden,” Sue says. The Robbinses add the relish’s mix of sweet, tart and heat to amp up all kinds of things: vegetables like fresh field peas, meats like pork and turkey – Sue always puts some out at Thanksgiving – as well as salmon. But they like it best spooned atop a grilled hot dog.

Pear Relish

  • 1 peck pears (about 15 pounds)
  • 5 red sweet peppers
  • 5 green sweet peppers
  • 3 hot peppers
  • 5 large onions
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 5 cups vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon saltPeel and core pears, grind and drain off most of the juice. Prepare peppers and onions and grind (do not drain). Dissolve sugar and salt in vinegar and bring to a boil. Add other ingredients, boil for 20 minutes. Put in hot jars and seal.

RP_Salsa
Photo by Michael Cornelison

Texabama Salsa

  • 10 cups tomatoes, peeled and seeded
  • 3 cups onions, peeled and chopped
  • 1¼ cups of chili peppers, seeded and chopped (I use a mixture of jalapeno, Anaheim, Serrano and Habanero)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 6 cloves garlic

  • 1 tablespoon salt

Start by sterilizing the jars and canning lids and set them aside. Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and blend to desired texture. Place the blended ingredients in a 6-quart saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes until salsa is desired thickness. Pour salsa into jars and tighten lids. As the jars cool you can hear the jar lids pop.

Kirk Vantrease, Cullman EMC


Condensed Tomato Soup

  • 1 peck tomatoes
  • 6 onions
  • 3 bell peppers
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup butter or margarine
  • ½ cup sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the vegetables and cook until tender (approximately 20 minutes) and strain. Mix the flour, butter, sugar and salt and pepper with a small amount of the strained vegetables while hot. Whisk until well blended. Add to the rest of the vegetables and cook in a heavy pot until thick. Seal in water bath for 10 minutes.

Faye Rutherford, Joe Wheeler EMC


Peach Pickles

  • 3 pounds sugar
  • 1 quart vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons whole cloves
  • 10 pounds peach halves (or more, if you have enough liquid)

Bring to a boil the sugar, vinegar and cloves. Drop peach halves into boiling liquid and cook until tender. Pour into sterilized jars and seal.

Janice Hardy, Pea River EC


Canned Okra

  • 1 gallon okra
  • 1 gallon water
  • 8 tablespoons vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons salt

Stir well, boil 5 five minutes and put in jars and seal.

Edna Watts, Cullman EC


Sauerkraut

  • Cabbage
  • Distilled water
  • Canning salt
  • Quart canning jars
  • Canning rings and lids

Cut up as much cabbage as you desire with a kraut cutter. Stuff cabbage in a quart canning jar, tight. Put 1 teaspoon of salt on top of cabbage. Pour boiling water over salt until jar is full. Screw canning ring and lid on jars. Put jars in an out building or carport for 6 weeks. Jars will work over the rim. After 6 weeks, clean outside of jars, tighten rings and put jars in your cabinet.

Elaine Kitchens, Cullman EC

Everyone, not just hunters and anglers, can financially support conservation

Conecuh Shooting Range: Many Alabama Wildlife Heritage License holders are purchasing this license to use at the WMA shooting ranges or community archery parks, according to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Conecuh Shooting Range: Many Alabama Wildlife Heritage License holders are purchasing this license to use at the WMA shooting ranges or community archery parks, according to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

All Alabama fishing and hunting licenses expire on Aug. 31 each year, but where does all that money go?

In 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, known as the Pittman-Robertson Act. The act placed excise taxes on the sale of firearms, ammunition and other products used for hunting, with proceeds to be distributed to states for wildlife restoration.

A similar law, the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act of 1950, does the same thing for fishing products. And in 1984, Congress passed the Sport Fish Restoration & Boating Trust Fund to raise money for recreational boating.

“When Pittman-Robertson passed, legislators understood the importance of the hunting heritage and having wildlife in the country,” says Chuck Sykes, director of the Alabama Wildlife & Freshwater Fisheries Division. “Whenever anyone bought a gun or ammunition, the manufacturer paid a portion of that money into a trust fund administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to promote healthy wildlife populations.”

By the 1930s, decades of habitat destruction, land clearing and market hunting seriously depleted many wildlife populations. In 1900, fewer than 500,000 whitetail deer remained in the lower 48 states. Just 50 years ago, seeing a deer track in the woods almost made the news in many areas. Now, many states hold more than a million deer.

The federal government collects these excise taxes and returns money to each state, based upon its landmass and the total number of hunting and fishing licenses sold in that state. The more hunting and fishing licenses that a state sells, the more money comes back to the sportsmen of that state.

“It’s a three-to-one match,” Sykes says. “For every $1 we collect in license sales, Alabama receives $3 from the federal government.” States must spend money on an approved project, and the federal government reimburses the state 75 percent of that cost. “For instance, we if wanted to build a $1 million boat launching facility, Alabama must come up with the first $250,000.”

With this money, state conservation departments buy lands used for public hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, horseback riding, bicycling and other activities. States can also build boat launches, canoe and hiking trails and public shooting ranges as well as fund many other activities to promote outdoors recreation.

In Alabama, this money funds the Conservation Department, among other things. However, federal money cannot go to law enforcement. Therefore, the state must spend 66 percent of the money collected from license sales to fund conservation enforcement.

“The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, with the exception of the state parks, receives NO tax dollars,” Sykes says. “We survive off of hunting and fishing license sales and federal monies attached to them.”

Non-resident hunting and fishing license sales also figure into the equation. Alabama sells more than 30,000 annual non-resident fishing licenses and another 25,000 short-term “trip” licenses each year. Hunters from other states buy about 12,000 licenses per year. Non-resident license sales generate more money for conservation efforts because they cost more. In addition, visiting sportsmen pay for lodging, fuel, supplies, food and other expenses during their visit, contributing more to the state economy.

“Hunters and fishermen are bearing the burden for everyone, not just in Alabama, but all across the country,” Sykes says. “People who don’t hunt or fish, but enjoy hiking, bird watching, canoeing or otherwise enjoying public land are not contributing to the upkeep and maintenance of that property or future purchases of public land unless they buy a license.”

That’s where the Alabama Wildlife Heritage License comes in. This license was designed for people who don’t hunt or fish, but who do want to contribute to the system and continue enjoying recreation on public lands. It’s an easy, affordable way to help conserve Alabama’s natural resources for future generations.

The license is $10.85 annually, or $220.25 for a lifetime license.

In Alabama, outdoors enthusiasts can visit more than 1.3 million acres of wildlife management areas and other public lands with habitats ranging from tidal marshes to mountains. Wildlife heritage license sales also qualify for federal reimbursement, so one person’s contribution actually goes much farther for the state’s conservation efforts.

For more information on buying wildlife heritage licenses, call 888-848-6887, or see www.outdooralabama.com/sites/default/files/licenses/WHLBrochure.pdf.

Previous generations passed a magnificent wild legacy to us. Now, it’s our turn to ensure the next generation enjoys the same experiences. The 2016-17 licenses should go on sale in late August wherever people buy sporting equipment. People can also buy licenses online. See www.outdooralabama.com/alabama-license-information.


John N. Felsher is a freelance writer and photographer who writes from Semmes, Ala. Contact him through his website at www.JohnNFelsher.com.

Is your ductwork delivering?

CW_DUCT BLASTER

By Patrick Keegan and Amy Wheeless

Q: I recently moved from a home with wall-mounted heaters to one with central heat and air, and a duct system. How can I ensure my ducts are working efficiently?

A: Homes with central forced-air heating and cooling systems, like furnaces, central air conditioners and heat pumps, use air ducts to deliver the conditioned (heated or cooled) air through the home. Ducts are often concealed in walls or in areas of your home you don’t go to often, like a crawlspace, so many people do not immediately think of them as an area to save energy.

You may have received flyers in the mail with offers for air-duct cleaning and claims that doing so will improve the air quality and efficiency of your home. However, duct cleaning may not always be necessary for air quality, and there is no indication that just cleaning your air ducts will improve your system’s efficiency.

Duct cleaning may be necessary if:

  • There is visible mold in your duct system or there was a recent flood that caused mold or mildew in your home.
  • There is something in the ductwork impeding airflow, like debris or an infestation. Major renovations or new construction can put construction debris into the duct system, so post-construction is an ideal time to consider duct cleaning.
  • Your heating registers are releasing dust into the air.
  • Home residents have allergies or asthma problems that have not been alleviated by other changes.

While duct cleaning may not always be necessary, regularly changing your air filters can help your heating and cooling system work more efficiently. How often you change them depends on how much your system runs, whether you have pets and whether you periodically vacuum your air filters. For the average home, air filters should be changed four to six times a year.

Though duct cleaning may not do much for the efficiency of your systems, duct sealing is important for saving energy and lowering utility costs, particularly if your ducts are in unconditioned spaces, like a crawlspace or an uninsulated attic. In a typical home, 20 to 30 percent of heated or cooled air escapes through unsealed gaps and holes in the duct system, which can cost you money and make your home less comfortable. You wouldn’t put up a with a leaking water pipe, so why should you put up with a leaking air duct?

The best way to assess the condition of your home’s ductwork is to have it tested by a professional home energy auditor who can conduct a Duct Blaster test. If you can easily access your ducts, you might get by with a visual inspection, which will identify the larger holes and disconnections. Where ducts meet or where they connect to a heating register are common places to find leaks. A professional trained in ductwork can help you identify and fix the gaps and leaks you may not be able to see. Talk to your local electric co-op to find the right person for the job.

Once gaps and leaks have been identified, you can work to seal your ducts. Small duct leaks can be sealed with mastic, a type of caulk. Larger duct leaks and disconnections may require additional lengths of duct, mechanical fasteners or special heat-resistant tape. Do not use duct tape—ironically, it is not designed to adhere well to ducts.

If you have ducts in unconditioned areas, like an attic or crawlspace, your ducts could be wasting energy by heating or cooling the surrounding air, even if there are no leaks in the ductwork. Insulation around the ducts can help reduce this energy loss. Consider adding insulation to the unconditioned space, such as in the attic or basement, which can further increase the efficiency and comfort of your home.

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Amy Wheeless of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on how to test and seal your ductwork, please visit: www.collaborativeefficiency.com/energytips.


Patrick Keegan writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives. Write to energytips@collaborativeefficiency.com for more information.

Preserving summer flavors and a fading art

GN_Canning
Betty Hightower is an exceptional cook who not only makes fine jams and jellies, but she’s also helped preserve the art of home food preservation by sharing her recipe and techniques with others.

So many vegetables, so little time.

That’s the story this time of year when we have an abundance of delicious summer fruits and vegetables — often more than we can possibly eat or give away — but, like summer itself, know that time is running on out them. They’ll be gone in the blink of a firefly. Of course there is a way to save the flavors and nutrients of summer. Put some away for later. Even primitive humans preserved their food supplies (caching food in ice or soil, for example), and while we have made great strides in food preservation (Ball jars, pressure canners, etc.) there’s some concern that, thanks to our busy, processed-food, non-agrarian way of life, we’re losing those time-honored home food preservation skills and knowledge.

The good news is that home food preservation may be declining, but it’s not yet a lost art. In fact, there’s been a resurgence of interest in learning home preservation techniques among consumers who are increasingly interested in using locally grown, less processed foods.

I’ve done a bit of canning, freezing and jelly making myself through the years, but because I’ve usually been helped by practiced, patient mentors (most recently by jelly-maker extraordinaire Betty Hightower), I’m far from an expert on the subject. So I sought a little guidance on the art and science of home food preservation from another friend, Food Safety and Quality Regional Extension Agent Patti West.

Patti is one of several Alabama Cooperative Extension System agents who teach folks like me how to safely (emphasis on safely) put up tasty, nutritious food. She and her Extension cohorts are the modern face of one of Extension’s oldest public services — home canning demonstrations.

According to Patti, preserving food at home will not necessarily save money — it requires an investment in equipment, supplies and time — but it is an effective (and can be fun) way to preserve the bounty of summer, or any season’s harvest for that matter.

According to Patti, it should all start with quality product picked at its peak of ripeness and freshness. “As horticulturists will tell you, it is best to pick produce early in the morning,” she says. “That’s because as the day gets hotter, the produce loses moisture.”


Process produce soon after picking

Once it’s picked, though, times a-wastin’. “Produce doesn’t get any better after it’s picked. It’s at its peak then and you want to process it as soon as you can,” Patti says, and six to 12 hours after harvest is ideal. Wash the produce thoroughly, trim away any blemishes or damaged areas and avoid using fruits or vegetables that are diseased, badly bruised or moldy.

Patti also recommends having all equipment and supplies purchased and ready to use before starting. “You don’t want to have to stop in the middle and run to the store for something.” So what is the best food preservation method? Nutritionally, “fresh is best, frozen is second best and canned is third,” Patti says.

The other vitally important detail in food preservation is food safety, with botulism being the primary concern, though other contaminants such as e coli and Salmonella can pose threats. Safe food preservation techniques vary depending on the type of produce you’re preserving, but avoiding food poisoning is easy. “You just need to follow a tested recipe and process it for the required amount of time,” she says.

Obviously there’s much more to learn about food preservation than will fit in this column, but luckily there are easy ways to get that information. County Extension offices are a great place to start and personnel there can even help groups arrange a program led by Patti or one of her fellow experts. Another exceptional resource is the National Center for Home Food Preservation in Georgia (www.uga.edu/nchfp/), where you can find loads of information and the fabulous and free, step-by-step online food preservation guide, USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning.

Regardless of whether you dive headlong into canning and fermenting or simply freeze a few quarts of fruit or veggies, you can take pleasure in knowing you’re preserving the flavors of summer and an ancient art.


JACKSON, KATIE Gardening 2013

Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at katielamarjackson@gmail.com.

Collier’s on Main

WTD_COLLIERS INSIDE

|View video HERE|

Serving up contemporary cuisine in a classic setting

WTD_STEAK & FRIES

By Liz Vinson

At 118 N. Main St. in Brundidge sits a historic building that the community has known and loved since the mid 1900s. What was once a glove and shirt factory is now a hip and eclectic restaurant whose cozy and comfortable ambiance has people lining up to enjoy a meal amid an array of interesting décor.

From unique art that decorates the warehouse-style interior, to walls and tables made of refurbished wood, to antique, red metal doors dating back to 1966, Collier’s on Main stays true to its industrial origins.

Beyond that, the restaurant aims to please, serving the community a mix of contemporary cuisine combined with friendly and prompt customer service. Since opening in September of 2015, Collier’s on Main has seen great success, but manager Mo Caraway insists the popularity can be boiled down to one thing: the people of Brundidge.

“The customers are what make the restaurant special. We have people from all walks of life come in. Farmers, businessmen, and bankers can all gather here together as one. You can wear overalls or a three-piece suit, and it’s a good place to work due to the customers we serve,” Caraway says.

Collier’s on Main is more than just a restaurant. It features an outdoor patio where guests can dine by candlelight under the stars, and there is an extra space used to host large parties and events. Known as The Warehouse, the elegance of dripping chandeliers makes for an interesting juxtaposition to the exposed brick walls in a room that can seat 240 people. While guests come to Collier’s on Main for a multitude of reasons, Caraway’s agenda is to ensure the establishment serves one purpose.


Relax and unwind

“This is a spot to relax and unwind,” Caraway says. “It’s a relaxed place for people who want to enjoy good food and entertainment and be treated with respect. This is affordable dining where everyone is welcome, and we feel like it’s a place people like to be to enjoy themselves and have fun.”

To add to the restaurant’s appeal, Caraway brings in live music on Thursday and Friday nights. Guitar players of all ages travel in from as far away as Florida to play a diverse mix of music.

“The fact that we feature entertainment helps a lot, but it’s a place for people to gather socially,” Caraway says. “Everything in Brundidge is unique, and we think our restaurant fits in because we are unique. People enjoy the vibe of the restaurant because it’s in tune with its surroundings. This is a place where you can come sit in a laid-back atmosphere with no pressure to hurry, and it provides a lot of social enjoyment.”

The owners’ motivation for opening Collier’s on Main went beyond the idea to provide food and entertainment. The restaurant also serves as a way for Caraway and her team to honor the city and people of Brundidge who have been supportive to them throughout the years.

“We opened this for the residents of Brundidge to enjoy, and it’s something we wanted to do for the city. We wanted to give back to those who have given to us, and it was done as a project to work in that way,” Caraway says.  As for ensuring the people of Brundidge receive the respect they are due, Caraway is adamant that the customer service be excellent to make sure patrons feel at home.

“We try to treat people the way you want to be treated, and that’s what we get the servers and staff to do. Everyone works in the kitchen as a team to bring customers the best of the best,” Caraway says. For those who come to Collier’s on Main solely to dine, they are in for a real treat. The menu features Southern favorites like fried green tomatoes and green beans to ever-popular entrees that include mahi mahi and filet mignon.

“We use a lot of local produce, and we even have deep fried pork skins. Our salads have done really well, and we sell a lot of steaks. We try to run features every day at lunch and dinner, and the staff can always share menu ideas,” Caraway says.

At the end of the day, Caraway credits the restaurant’s growing reputation to the people of Brundidge, and she hopes that the establishment remains a place that people hold dear to their heart.  “If it weren’t for the local people, it would be very hard for us to survive. It’s important for everyone to feel welcome here, and we hope Collier’s on Main is a special place in this city that means so much to us,” Caraway says.


Can Alabama repeat & can Auburn rebound?

BAMA_Referee

By Brad Bradford

Last year may have been Nick Saban’s BEST coaching job at Alabama. After losing to Ole Miss at home on September 19, Bama’s obituary for the season was already in ink. Every game after that became an elimination game. There was no room for error.

The turnaround happened two weeks later when the Tide beat a favored Georgia team on the road 38-10 in a game that was not near as close as the final score. Ryan Kelly, Reggie Ragland, Derrick Henry and A’Shawn Robinson (all now in the NFL) kept the team focused on the task ahead. Saban constantly reminded fans of the “team chemistry” and how much he liked this team. Alabama’s depth played a huge role all the way to Arizona and the Crystal Ball against Clemson.

Last year may have been Gus Malzahn’s WORST coaching job at Auburn. The Tigers finished the regular season 6-6 and last in the SEC West. Auburn had two quality wins: the opener against Louisville and at Texas A&M. Beating Jacksonville State in overtime and the 3-point win at Kentucky made Auburn bowl eligible. There is some momentum going into 2016 after the win over Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl. Last year in Alabama Living, I wrote that the excitement centered around defensive coordinator Will Muschamp and quarterback Jeremy Johnson. Auburn’s defense finished 13th in the league (only ahead of South Carolina, who coincidentally now has Muschamp at the helm). Jeremy Johnson never materialized at quarterback and the offense finished 10th in the SEC.


IF I COULD MAKE ONE CHANGE ABOUT ALABAMA

Starting in 2008, Alabama’s opening Classic games read like a Who’s Who of college football: Clemson, Virginia Tech, Michigan, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Southern Cal. The next 2 years, 2017 and 2018, feature Florida State and Louisville. It is the weekend before the Auburn game that is laughable. Alabama has played Western Carolina three times, Chattanooga three times, Charleston Southern, Georgia State and future games with the Citadel and Mercer. There is nothing wrong with playing FCS (the old 1-AA) teams this warmup week. But why in the world do you skip over Samford, Alabama A&M, Alabama State and Jacksonville State? These are in-state schools that would gladly come to Bryant Denny for less money and keep the money in state. If looking for “easier” non-conference games, play South Alabama, UAB or Troy instead of Kent State and Florida Atlantic. It would help high school football in the state and would encourage season ticket holders, like myself, to attend and watch some of the locals compete. Auburn plays these schools already. It is time for Alabama to do the same.


IF I COULD MAKE ONE CHANGE AT AUBURN

Last fall was the debut of “college football’s largest video board” at a total cost of $14 million. It is truly state of the art. The problem is that is has become more of a distraction on Saturdays in Jordan Hare. The Atlanta Braves need a video board to entertain and keep the fans awake between pitches and between innings. Auburn does not. Last year at a crucial time against Ole Miss, my family witnessed fans busy watching some goofy guy with an ugly mustache stare into the camera and hold up one finger instead of making it impossible for the Rebels to hear the quarterback’s signals. The players feed off the energy of the crowd. It doesn’t help when the crowd is watching a “dance off” or cartoon cars racing on the video board.

Auburn has always been an intimidating place to play. The spirit and enthusiasm has always been second to none. Watching the replay of the previous play adds to the game day experience and is great for nosebleed seats. However, the Tigers must find out what happened to that spirit.


ALABAMA SCHEDULE

The Tide lost a number of great players from last year’s national championship team but continues to reload with more five-star recruits. The toughest three games this year are all on the road: Ole Miss, Tennessee, and LSU. These games, on paper, should be toss-ups. Bama has lost to Ole Miss the last two years. With all the off-field distractions for Ole Miss, this should end this year. Tennessee returns 18 starters and the top quarterback in the SEC in Josh Dobbs. The Vols’ three games leading into Alabama are going to be tough: Florida, at Georgia and at Texas A&M. Butch Jones is going to have a tough job keeping his team from looking forward. This cannot be overlooked: Tennessee has not beaten Alabama in nine straight contests. LSU has close to the same talent level that Bama does. The Bayou Tigers have the leading Heisman trophy candidate in Leonard Fournette but Les Miles’ biggest recruit was getting defensive coordinator Dave Aranda from Wisconsin. He inherits 10 starters. For LSU, much like Tennessee, this game has become a mind game. Saban has beaten Miles five times in a row, including the 2014 overtime game in Baton Rouge that should have been won by LSU if not for Miles’ bone-headed clock management. The Tide will end up 11-1 with a loss to either Tennessee or LSU.

AUBURN SCHEDULE

The 2016 team will be improved but may not have much of an improved record. It can be summed up: 5-3-4. There are five probable losses: Clemson, LSU, at Ole Miss, at Georgia and at Alabama. Three toss-ups will make or break the season: Texas A&M, at Mississippi State, and Arkansas. The other four are probable wins. If Auburn can steal one or two (Georgia and/or Ole Miss) from the first category and win two of the toss-ups, they could have a seven-win season. The first five games are at home but include Texas A&M and LSU. The opening road game in week six against Mississippi State will be crucial since the Bulldogs are open the week before. If the Tigers go into this game at 2-3, a 6-6 record and bowl eligibility becomes the goal. The Clemson game in Jordan Hare on Labor Day weekend could be a barn burner if Auburn can slow down Deshaun Watson. Traveling to Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama in three of the last five weeks is going to be difficult. Loyal Auburn fans and alumni expect and deserve better than a 6-10 SEC record in the last two years. The Tigers will end up 7-5 with an interim head coach for its bowl game.

SEC WEST PREDICTIONS

1. Alabama
2. LSU
3. Ole Miss
4. Texas A&M
5. Arkansas
6. Auburn
7. Mississippi State

The winner of the Bama at LSU game on Nov. 5 will represent the West in Atlanta. The loser will still be alive for the playoffs. If Ole Miss can beat Alabama for the third time in a row, their crossover game with Vandy will make the difference.

SEC EAST PREDICTIONS

1. Tennessee
2. Georgia
3. Florida
4. Vandy
5. Kentucky
6. South Carolina
7. Missouri

Tennessee plays Florida and Georgia back to back on the 4th and 5th weekend. Wins here wrap it up. Georgia gets the benefit of hosting Auburn in a crossover game while Florida has to play LSU. Tennessee plays Bama. These crossover games will decide the champion.


SEC CHAMPIONSHIP: Alabama over Tennessee 27-17.

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDERS: SEC: Alabama, Tennessee and LSU. ACC: Florida State and Clemson. Big 10: Michigan and Ohio State. Big 12: Oklahoma. PAC 12: Washington. Independent: Notre Dame.

FINAL FOUR: Alabama, Florida State, LSU and Michigan.

2016 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS: Alabama over LSU; 37-21.


Brad Bradford served on the coaching staffs at Alabama and the University of Louisville. He and his wife, Susan split time between their homes in Wetumpka and Destin, Florida. Brad can be reached at brad@coachbradfinancial.com.

Raising the Steaks

CW_Cows spread
Andy Tipton’s Wagyu of Alabama beef cattle graze in the fields in Sardis. Photo by Michael Cornelison

Several Alabama farmers are setting the bar high for beef raised in our state

No matter which area of Alabama you call home, there’s probably a cattle farmer nearby. According to the Alabama Cattleman’s Association, cattle are found in every county in the state. They might be part of a herd several hundred head strong. They might have only a handful of hooved companions whose main purpose is looking pretty in a small pasture and serving as its low-tech lawn mower.

From tiny farms to cattle raising on a grand scale, you’ll find it all in Alabama, and it brings a serious boost to our still agriculture-driven economy, with an annual economic impact of $2.5 billion. And the industry is on the upswing, according to Dr. Billy Powell, executive director of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association. “On January 1 of 2016, there were 1.25 million head of beef cattle and calves in the state,” he said. “That’s a 4 percent increase over 2015.”

Among that massive number is a select group of cattle, a special breed that’s gaining popularity. “It’s the best steak you’ll ever put in your mouth,” said Rob Whitesell of Whitesell Farms in Vinemont, Ala. He was bragging about the taste and tenderness of wagyu beef, the breed he’s raising on grass-covered hills in Cullman County. His is quite a boast, but it’s a claim that has sound science and the praise of legions of steak lovers around the globe behind it.


From Japan to Alabama

The wagyu cattle breed originated in Japan, and the cows were once used as working animals. Today, they are best known as the source of famed Kobe beef, a “brand” of beef that comes from wagyu cattle raised in the Kobe region of Japan using very specific techniques and standards. (Some Kobe ranchers are rumored to massage their cows.)

While only this beef can be called “Kobe,” all wagyu cattle share a genetic trait – a high concentration of unsaturated fat interspersed among its muscle tissue – that makes their meat stand out from other types of beef. “Wagyu’s calling card is the kind and amount of its marbling,” Whitesell says. “They have a very specific fat profile; it has a very low melting point.” This gives wagyu beef its deep, rich beef flavor that’s coupled with a soft, buttery texture. “It’s a real melt-in-your-mouth experience,” he says.

The tech industry brought Whitesell, a Florida native, to Huntsville in 1990 where he works for a software company. In 1998, he decided to move his family to the country, and ended up buying what is now Whitesell Farms. He started farming cattle – while still working in Huntsville – in 1999, but only got into raising wagyu six years ago, when he began breeding some wagyu bulls with his commercial heifers. His focus moved to raising full-blood wagyu (while still growing some of the cross breeds) in 2014. It started when he changed his business model to sell directly to consumers.

“One year, we started selling meat to some family and friends, and it worked so well, I decided that was how I wanted to run my business,” he says. Making that move meant he’d be in the “custom beef” market, and if you’re going to grow custom beef, why not go with the best? “That’s wagyu,” he says.

Several members of his herd are now registered with the American Wagyu Association, and most of Whitesell Farms’ wagyu beef is sold directly to customers, although he is experimenting with wholesale to markets. “Our primary market is our repeat clientele who buy a side of beef at a time,” he says. “We’re currently selling to an independent grocery in Huntsville, too, though, and we’ll see how that goes.”

Farther south, Andy Tipton has been raising his wagyu cattle on his farm, Wagyu of Alabama, in Sardis, near Selma, since 2009. He’s been around farming all his life, and earned a master’s degree in animal science with a concentration on cattle from Auburn University. After farming commercial cattle for more than a decade, he started researching ways to get more money out of each acre in less time. The answer was to produce a premium product, but Tipton had never even heard of wagyu before 2008.

Then his brother ate an amazing steak. “He is one of those people with very discriminating tastes, and he had a wagyu steak out in Colorado that he was raving about,” Tipton says.  His brother’s description sparked his interest, and the more he learned, the more he liked the idea of raising some. “I knew it would be a new thing here,” he says. “Everyone has heard of Angus beef; there are 30 million Angus cows in the United States.” There are only 7,000 full-blood wagyu. The price of buying a whole herd of full-blood wagyu was too high, so Tipton, like Whitesell, created his herd by “breeding up,” which takes some time. He now has 25 calves that will be harvested next year; his goal annual harvest is 50 cows.

While the basics of cattle farming remain the same across breeds, working with wagyu requires a little more time and technical skill, particularly the selection process for continuation of the herd. “We ultrasound our females to see the fat in their muscle so we can quality grade them and then decide which ones to breed,” he says.


Demand for custom beef is growing

He doesn’t use antibiotics or steroids on his wagyu. He also takes care to treat them right. “They have a nice disposition; they’re very docile,” he says, “so we are always very calm around them and careful not to stress them out. That can affect the meat.” Whitesell’s wagyu are also free of antibiotics, except in rare cases when they’re needed for medical treatment, and none of the animals he’s currently selling have been treated with antibiotics.

Like Whitesell, Tipton sells the majority of his wagyu beef direct, mostly working in quarters and halves, although he does sell ground beef and individual steaks at the EastChase Farmer’s Market on Saturdays in the summer and early fall in Montgomery.
He’s got a few Montgomery chefs chomping at the bit to serve his steaks, too. Look for Tipton’s wagyu on the menu at the Vintage Year. Finding folks to buy his beef is no issue; he currently can’t keep up with demand. When he is able to expand his production, he hopes to take website orders and ship his wagyu all over the country. “We’ve already done a bit of that,” he said. “We’ve sent our beef to Texas and Oregon.”


 You can find out more about Whitesell Farms at www.whitesellfarms.com

You can find out more about Wagyu of Alabama at wagyuofalabama.com

Non-profit helps streamline process from farm to table

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Will Dodd is the founder of Heirloom Harvest, a nonprofit group working to grow the Alabama food economy.

By Jennifer Kornegay

It’s coming full circle, but there are gaps in the farm to table process, gaps a new non-profit organization called Heirloom Harvest is hoping to bridge. Founded by Will Dodd in April 2016, Heirloom Harvest is creating a more streamlined process for getting locally grown products to consumers and chefs.

Dodd saw the need while working in Washington D.C. “I was working on the big farm bill in Congress and realized that the regulations and public policy of agriculture are not set up to benefit the medium and small farms. These guys are having a hard time getting their product to market and expanding their market. They don’t have the resources,” he says.

The farmers spend so much time farming that they don’t have the opportunity to “sell” themselves well. “We want to get the harvest from a farmer in Selma and take it beyond his immediate area; we want to get it into a restaurant in Birmingham,” Dodd says.

The organization is setting up a database of the state’s farmers to show who is growing what, how much and where. “Our mission is to grow our local food economy and make farming more profitable so more people consider going into farming,” Dodd says. “We’re losing a lot of farms here.”

To do this, Heirloom Harvest is gearing up to become a wholesale market for farmers’ foods. It will buy from farmers and assume the risk of then selling the products to restaurants. “This helps them solve issues like transportation,” Dodd says. “They don’t have the means to get their products across the state.” It also gives them a more consistent income.

And Heirloom Harvest will be providing other business services too, in addition to the overall promotion of the “eat local” concept. “We want to create a narrative that is tied to our state’s agricultural heritage and our food culture,” Dodd says. “We want to inspire people to get back to the tradition of eating this way and to also get interested in growing their own food.”

As Dodd pointed out, you don’t have to have a restaurant reservation to dive into the farm-to-table movement. You don’t need a lot of space or specialized equipment to have your own flourishing vegetable patch. But if you’re not into gardening, turn to the experts and shop at farmers markets. It’s easier than ever to find one near you. According to Don Wambles, director of the Alabama Farmers Market Authority, in 1999, there were approximately 17 farmers markets around the state; today there are 162.


From their field to your fork

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Sunrise at Spencer Farm, a family farm that produces vegetables, meat, eggs and honey that are free of synthetic chemicals.

Alabama’s farm-to-table movement and why it matters

By Jennifer Kornegay

If you’ve paid any attention to restaurant news in the last decade, you’ve no doubt heard the term “farm-to-table” describing a new hot spot or a shift in an established favorite’s menu. It’s been especially ubiquitous in our region, and the concept really gained traction and took off in the late 1990s in Alabama when folks were introduced to Birmingham’s Chef Chris Hastings and his fresh and local food philosophy.

Soon, the farm-to-table label was showing up everywhere and was the big restaurant biz buzzword for years, trickling down from upscale establishments to more casual eateries, with restaurants of all sizes emphasizing their sourcing of local ingredients (produce, meat, cheeses, eggs and more).

But as is often the case with anything “trendy,” farm-to-table has become a vague catch phrase that is sometimes mis- and over used. Still, the movement’s original intentions and authentic practitioners remain committed to the concept, listing its many benefits: It’s more sustainable, offers better tasting products and supports local economies.

It’s not a new idea in Alabama: Our grandparents and generations before them ate farm-to-table all the time. At least a portion of the food on their plates on an ordinary Tuesday night probably came from their garden or a nearby farm stand or market. They ate food when it was in season, not before or after. It probably would never have occurred to our great-grandparents to look for a fresh tomato in January. Winter was for enjoying the summer produce they’d preserved by canning.

“The farm-to-table movement is a new thing for us at this point in our lives, but if you go back just 40 or 50 years, before fast food, before mass production, that is what everyone did, how most people ate; it was very commonplace,” says Don Wambles, director of the Alabama Farmers Market Authority.

But as grocery stores began offering “ripe” produce all year long, trucking fruits and vegetables in from perpetually warm spots like southern Florida, the tradition of eating almost exclusively by the seasons began to change. Within a few decades, many Southerners got in the habit of buying produce from the same place they got the rest of their food. Trips to a farmer’s market became special occasions where getting a handful of juicy heirloom tomatoes was like striking gold, a rare treasure.

The tide has now turned. We care again about what we’re eating and where it came from. When you consider a local food system from a community perspective, that’s a good thing, as Chip Spencer, a farmer in Marion Junction, explains.

“When you buy from local farmers, you get food that is often cheaper than what you get in the grocery store, but beyond this aspect, when you know your farmer personally, you’re going to get a better product,” he says. He and most of his customers are on a first-name basis. “That means I want to give them the best food I can. I know the kids who’ll be eating it, and what I’m providing them matters a lot to me.”

But “eating local” also boosts the health of your community’s economy, a fact that Spencer sees as just as important, if not more so, than the other aspects. “When you think about the economic benefits, they can be huge,” he says.  Products sold in big box grocery stores travel an average of 1,500 miles, and the money spent on them leaves the community and goes 1,500 miles back. “Kids go off to college and don’t come back here because they see no economic opportunity, but we can change that starting with creating a strong local food system,” Spencer says. “It has the potential to have major impact on our local economy and help us fix some of the issues facing us.”


Some of the vegetables grown at Spencer Farm in Marion Junction.

Local demand boosts value of farm property 

When the demand for locally grown products goes up, so does the demand for farmland. Then, property values go up and property taxes tick up, a cycle that benefits far more than the farmers.

The key is education, and that’s where Alabama restaurants and chefs have been playing a crucial role. Johnny Fisher, owner of Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina on the Gulf coast, is passionate about promoting area farmers – as well as the bounty from Alabama’s Gulf waters – as is Fisher’s executive chef, Bill Briand. “The difference between good food and really exceptional food is usually the ingredients,” Fisher says. “It’s hard to beat a vine ripened tomato picked less than 24 hours before it’s eaten.”

But his devotion to local food producers and fishermen goes beyond the ability to ensure the dishes on Fisher’s menu taste great. “There are so many advantages to local food,” he said. “It is more nutritious. Because it was harvested just a day or two before it’s delivered, it has a much longer shelf life than non-local food. The money stays in our local economy. Spending our food dollars locally generates almost four times as much economic benefit for the surrounding area as spending elsewhere. And supporting younger farmers is crucial for the future of our local food economy. Who’s going to grow our food?”

Chef Randy Gresham of Montgomery’s A&P Social is equally dedicated to sourcing as much local food as he can. He likes to use the term “locally responsible” instead of farm to table. “It’s vital that we get folks thinking about food and their area farmers,” he says. “That’s why we work to showcase how great Alabama products are, and make sure folks know a little something about the farmer who grew them.”
Gresham lists the local sources for A&P’s foods on a blackboard hanging right by the bar in the restaurant. He also educates his staff so they can tell people about the farmers.

Despite the popularity of farm-to-table restaurants, it has sometimes been a struggle for chefs to get what they need locally. “It has to be sustainable, both for the restaurant, which has to turn a profit, and the farmer, who can’t grow a huge diversity if he doesn’t know that his products will get purchased,” Gresham says.

For years, only a handful of products were readily available locally, but that has changed. “We now see farmers willing to grow more different things, and that’s because consumers are willing to try different things now,” Gresham says. And that’s due in no small part to chefs pushing people to expand their palates. “When restaurants buy local, it gives the farmers more income and promotion, and it can increase demand from people who are buying their products at farmers markets.”