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New laws to help electric cooperatives offer broadband service

Representatives of the Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition, including AREA’s Sean Strickler, far left, joined Gov. Kay Ivey and legislators for bill signing. Photo by Danny Weston.

Alabama’s electric cooperatives are closer to being able to provide broadband access to their underserved members, following passage of two major pieces of legislation by the Legislature.  

HB400, now the Broadband Using Electric Easements Accessibility Act by Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Fairview, will allow cooperatives to use their existing easements and infrastructure to deploy fiber to homes and puts limitations on any class action lawsuits. 

SB90, the Broadband Accessibility Act by Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, clarifies previous legislation by increasing the minimum service threshold and amends the amount of grants for specific projects.

Currently more than 840,000 persons in Alabama, almost 20 percent of the state’s population, have either no access or limits to broadband internet. The Alabama Rural Electric Association, which represents the 22 rural electric cooperatives in our state, worked diligently with 24 other organizations as part of the Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition to assure passage of the bills. 

Not all Alabama cooperatives are planning to offer internet services at this time, but managers of at least two welcomed the legislation. “The great thing about the passage of HB400 and SB90 is that it gives us options,” says Tim Culpepper, CEO of Cullman Electric Cooperative, who says his cooperative is studying the economics of fiber deployment to see if it makes sense for its members.

“To fully take advantage of improvements in technology, we need to deploy fiber to our substations and to some of the breakers and switches on the system. This type of fiber-enabled new technology really helps with outage restoration and in efficiently operating the electrical system. Broadband may be a way to help finance the fiber deployment and at the same time provide high-speed internet services to our members.”

At Central Alabama Electric Cooperative, president and CEO Tom Stackhouse says the legislation provides “clarity and assurance” as the co-op moves forward to offer broadband services to its members, allowing it to “utilize facilities already in place and not be burdened with unknown cost.”

“CAEC has communication needs no different from the members we serve and only fiber can deliver the connectivity we need,” he adds. “As we deploy a fiber optic ring connecting all our own facilities, we will include the additional fiber that will eventually serve as the backbone to reach the entire area with fast broadband services.”

For now, two Alabama cooperatives, North Alabama EC and Tombigbee EC, offer broadband, but that number is expected to increase as more cooperatives get on board. 

“Most everyone agrees there is a need for fast, reliable service across the whole state and country, but not everyone is in a position to do what it takes to make it happen, especially in the rural areas,” says Stackhouse.  “As it must have been 80 years ago with electricity not being deployed into the same areas, the investment just doesn’t seem worth it. We beg to differ.

“The more we researched what it would take to deliver high quality, fast internet service into our rural areas, we realized, for the most part, it will not get done if CAEC is not very involved.  We also realized that in our case there is no one else able or interested in getting to all the residents and businesses in the 3,600 square miles we serve.”

This Month in Alabama History: July 4, 1861

The Dual Destiny Monument, in front of the Winston County Courthouse in Double Springs, commemorates the county’s divided loyalties during the Civil War.

Representatives of Winston County met at Looney’s Tavern and drafted a declaration demanding that the “Free State of Winston” be left out of the Civil War. Located in an area unsuitable to plantation agriculture, most of the county’s population supported the Union and desired to remain neutral. While the county never attempted secession, it served as a gathering point for Unionists avoiding the draft and Confederate deserters, and many of its residents joined the Union army. Today, a statue of a Civil War soldier, half Union and half Confederate, stands in front of the county courthouse in Double Springs.

Ed. note: In the June “This Month in Alabama History,”  it should have stated that Dr. Eugene Sledge began teaching at the University of Montevallo in 1962. Thanks to one of his students, Susanne H. Wright, UM class of ’67, for sending us this information: “Dr. Sledge was my biology professor in 1968. He was employed as an assistant professor in 1962 and attained full professorship in 1970 and held this position to retirement in 1990.”

THE Food Network

Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network builds a stronger farm and food system

ASAN members not only share seeds, plants and ideas with one another, they also cultivate sustaining and sustainable relationships. Photo courtesy of ASAN.

By Katie Jackson

For most folks, the term “food network” likely conjures up images of frenzied chefs, stylish culinary gurus or dive-loving tattooed foodies. Within the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network, however, “food network” represents the many diverse but dedicated souls who are working, literally and figuratively, from the ground up to create a robust and enduring farm and food system.

As ASAN’s executive director Alice Evans says, “We are a grassroots network of, we like to say, farmers (particularly small-scale, sustainably oriented farmers) and eaters and everybody in between.”

Seed swapping among ASAN members such as Sand Mountain Seed Bank co-founder Charlotte Hagood was just one of many activities offered during ASAN’s 2018 Food and Farm Forum.
Photo courtesy of ASAN.

As its name suggests, the concept of sustainability — the ability to meet today’s needs while maintaining resources that will meet the needs of future generations — is fundamental to ASAN, which was established in 2001. But its goal is not to maintain the status quo; it’s to build a resilient, regenerative farm and food system, which ASAN’s leaders and members do by focusing on their mission: “to deepen relationships between all the people of Alabama, the food we eat and the place we live.”

“Our organization includes a vast cross-section of people who are interested in food, as we all should be,” ASAN program assistant Mindy Santo says.

“That’s what makes ASAN unique,” Evans adds. “It’s not just an organization of solely farmers; it includes people in the many roles that make up the food system.”

Among those people are farmers, gardeners, homesteaders, chefs, bakers, brewers, scientists, environmentalists, conservationists, farmers market and food bank managers, community organizers and many others from all walks of life. The network also includes people who simply want to live each day more sustainably and others who want to tap into sustainable entrepreneurial opportunities.

The diversity of people involved in ASAN is rivaled only by the diversity of subjects that interest them — organic farming to hydroponics, growing herbs to growing hemp, blacksmithing to sheep shearing, protecting water quality to making policy and much more.

Creating connections

What connects this diverse array of people and subjects is an interest in creating and sustaining a healthy, vigorous, diverse and perpetual food system, and ASAN strives to do just that. Throughout the year, the organization sponsors peer-to-peer workshops and field days where ASAN members share knowledge and skills with one another. In addition, it maintains an online calendar of sustainability-focused events sponsored by other organizations around the state, region and country.

Once a year, ASAN also holds a two-day Food & Farm Forum, an event described as “part conference, part fair and part reunion” where participants learn about such topics as crop and livestock production, woodland management, solar energy, carpentry, fermentation and traditional foodways, to name a few.

ASAN is nurturing Alabama’s next generation of sustainability-minded farmers and foodies through its youth programs, including a Food and Farm Forum targeted specifically to young people.

According to Evans and Santo, the Forum, to be Dec. 6-7 in Fairhope, allows for a lot of “cross-pollinating” as participants share stories, ideas and wisdom. And it’s open to anyone — ASAN members and nonmembers alike — regardless of their levels of skill and experience.

Last year, ASAN added a new facet of sustainability to the Forum, one focused on making sure that, as the current generation of farmers ages out, there will be another generation to follow them.

“The agricultural system we’re building must be intergenerational,” Evans says. If it’s not, it won’t be sustainable, so ASAN established a concurrent Youth Food & Farm Forum for 14- to 21-year-olds in an effort to cultivate interest in agriculture and food systems, give young people a voice in ASAN and train future leaders for sustainable agriculture.

In addition to these programs, ASAN is connecting eaters to their food and farmers by way of Food Network-worthy collaborations. Five years ago, ASAN kicked off Graze-Birmingham, which is a farm-to-fork picnic of favorite local farmers, chefs and friends. It pairs local chefs with local farmers who create dishes of “food alchemy.” And the alchemy is spreading: the first annual Graze-Huntsville will be July 14. (See sidebar for more details.)

All these events help carry out ASAN’s mission and vision, but what really makes a difference to many ASAN members is the organization’s network of connections and support.

Seed savers

Lawrence Rives and Charlotte Hagood of Albertville, Ala., have been deeply involved with ASAN since its early days when the two Sand Mountain natives were living in Birmingham and just beginning to garden organically and live more sustainably.

ASAN proved to be a great resource for their gardening and lifestyle efforts, but also for another vital part of sustainability — seed saving, which Hagood became involved in when a neighbor from back home on Sand Mountain gave her a handful of heirloom flower seed to plant. She’s been “taking in stray seeds that were going extinct” ever since.

After the couple moved back to Albertville — carrying with them a refrigerator full of precious seeds — Hagood and another seed saver she met through ASAN, Dove Stackhouse, established the Sand Mountain Seed Bank, a priceless collection of genetics and heritage that now takes up three refrigerators “and we’re working on a fourth,” Hagood says.

“ASAN, and especially Alice Evans, continues to be a source of huge support and inspiration for the seed bank and for many, many other folks in Alabama who love the Earth and good food,” Rives adds.

Katie Willis, a baker, farmer, book exchange founder and activist, connected with ASAN after returning to Birmingham a few years ago from an on-the-road career in farming.

Small-group breakout sessions held during the annual Food and Farm Forum are among the many ways ASAN members work together to share sustainability-focused ideas and expertise. Photo courtesy of ASAN.

She first fell in love with farming at the age of 16 while working on Jones Valley Urban Farm in Birmingham, then pursued it as a career by working on farms in Minnesota and New York before returning home a few years ago to work on an Alabama farm. During that time, Willis encountered some issues that plague the farming profession, including discrimination especially against women and minorities.

She left farming to work at Birmingham Breadworks, where she is able to connect her interests in food, farming and community building while also exploring ways to address social injustice. ASAN has been a big help in all those areas.

“ASAN has been good for me professionally and personally,” Willis says. “I have been able to interact with other farmers, but also meet people who have had similar experiences to mine.”

For her, ASAN is an exceptional resource. “It’s great knowing I can text someone with a question and also knowing I have a community of people who understand,” she says.

These are just a few of the many stories ASAN members tell about the value of the organization’s services and its human network, which is such a big part of ASAN’s focus.

As Evans says, “It’s not just about the information that can be shared or the money that can be exchanged, it’s about the community that undergirds our own food system.”

In other words, it’s about creating the ultimate food network, one made up of people who want to ensure a supply of healthy, affordable food now and for future generations to come.

Learn more about ASAN at, where you can also find a list of ASAN events as well as sustainability-focused programs hosted by other organizations and sign up for ASAN’s e-newsletter.

Steps toward sustainability

On-farm events, such as this no-till presentation and farm tour held at Bois D’Arc Farm in Uniontown, offer peer-to-peer training and the opportunity to see sustainable agriculture in action.

What can you do to support sustainable agriculture?

“Connect with your local agricultural system and understand the farmers making a living in your own backyard,” says ASAN Executive Director Alice Evans.

More specifically:

  • Buy locally and buy sustainably.
  • Frequent local farmers markets and U-pick operations.
  • Ask farmers about the practices they use on their farms.
  • Start a garden! “Even if it’s just growing a tomato plant, there’s something about being connected to seasonality, weather patterns and the soil that helps bridge the divide between consumers, farmers and land stewardship, which most people in our climate-controlled world are separated from,” says Evans. “If you can get closer to the system that supplies your food, you are more fully part of the ecosystem.”
  • Join ASAN. Whether you’re a farmer, an eater or anything in between, you can find a network of help and community in the organization. “We are growing our base and we have a wide-ranging audience,” says Laura Nunez, ASAN’s administrative and program assistant in charge of membership. She added that various levels of membership are available, so no one is turned away because of financial constraints.

Graze on

ASAN’s Graze events, which serve as fundraisers and awareness raisers, offer people in urban communities a chance to connect with their farmers and their food. Here’s how they work.

A dozen or so farmer-chef pairs collaborate, each on a single dish and using ingredients grown by the farmers, that they serve in sample sizes to picnickers of all ages who can graze from booth to booth tasting the dishes while listening to music, sampling beverages and enjoying the company of others.

Among the farmer-chef creations are dishes appropriate for every culinary and dietary preference or restriction — vegans, vegetarians, meat lovers, gluten-free, low-carb and more. Everyone is welcome and the entry fee is based on a sliding scale so people from all economic backgrounds can attend.

  • Graze: Huntsville will be from 5-8 p.m. July 14 at The Green at Campus 805. The event is hosted by ASAN in partnership with Greene Street Market at Nativity and sponsored by Huntsville Hospital.
  • Graze: Birmingham will be from 5-8 p.m. Sept. 8 at Avondale Brewing Company. The event is hosted by ASAN and sponsored by EBSCO.

Tickets and details for each event are available at

Program to stock Florida bass benefits Alabama anglers

Rachel Denning Moore with a bass she caught on Lake Jordan near Slapout in May. Photo by Heath Moore

Decades ago, the Florida strain of largemouth bass gained a reputation for giving anglers better opportunities to catch monster bass. Since 1974, Alabama stocked more than 16 million Floridas in state waters, most about one to 1.5 inches long. Did the effort really produce larger bass?

“In the past 45 years, we’ve had mixed results from our Florida bass stockings, but we’ve learned a lot about how to manage largemouth bass,” says Nick Nichols, fisheries chief for the Alabama Division of Wildlife & Freshwater Fisheries. “Stockings vary by year. In recent years, we’ve stocked about 300,000 to 400,000 bass annually.”

Is a Florida bass a separate species or a subspecies of largemouth bass? Even biologists can’t agree. In fact, most people can’t tell the fish apart by looking at them. Biologists must analyze the genes to determine the difference.

Many lakes with large Florida bass populations do tend to consistently produce bigger bass, but not every lake. Although many people believe Florida bass grow larger, numerous anglers also believe that Floridas can become more challenging to catch. Escaping capture could allow bass to live longer and therefore grow bigger.

“Florida genetics do play a role in the large sizes of fish being caught in some reservoirs,” Nichols says. “Introduction of Florida bass genes into a system does have some influence, but it’s not the sole reason a trophy fishery becomes established. Adding Florida genes is just one piece in a much larger puzzle.”

Nature already contributed Florida genes to most state waters. Florida bass can’t tolerate cold water as well as northern largemouths. Naturally, Floridas or hybrids range as far north as the Piedmont region in Georgia and west through most of Alabama including the entire Mobile River basin. Where the strains naturally overlap, they frequently hybridize.

“Probably about 75 percent of the bass that existed in Alabama long before we stocked a single fish naturally had some Florida genes in them already,” Nichols advises. “Lake Eufaula naturally has Florida genes in about 50 percent of its bass.”

Biologists call a first-generation offspring between a Florida and a northern largemouth an “F1.” These crosses typically offer the best growth potential.

“In biology, there’s something called ‘hybrid vigor’ in which the first generation after an initial crossing tends to grow a little larger,” Nichols says. “When we hear major success stories of lakes producing bigger fish after people stocked Florida bass into them, that’s because of hybrid vigor from that first hybridization. Genetically, that only really happens once.”

In the early days, the state took a “shotgun approach” to stocking Floridas in as many systems as possible. That strategy worked better in some lakes than others. Back in the 1990s, state officials tried a new idea, a more focused approach. They tested this theory at Lake Guntersville.

“We started concentrating on stocking one or two reservoirs for two to four years in a row,” Nichols says. “We also concentrate on stocking bass into a particular part of a reservoir. We want to overwhelm the native fish with Florida bass in a localized area to increase our chances of establishing a larger Florida bass population spawning with native fish.”

Well known for producing giant bass, Lake Guntersville covers 69,100 acres in northeastern Alabama north of where Floridas and native bass naturally hybridize. The largest lake in Alabama runs about 75 miles along the Tennessee River.

“Guntersville is still the best place in Alabama to catch a big bass,” Nichols says. “The bigger bass coming out of Guntersville are probably not pure Floridas, but some intergrade of Florida and native genes. Probably 30 to 40 percent of the Guntersville bass have some Florida genes. However, if someone did a genetic analysis of big bass caught during tournaments at Lake Guntersville, we would probably see a much higher proportion of Florida genes because those anglers specifically target larger fish.”

More recently, state fisheries managers began working with Auburn University researchers to identify genetic markers tied to performance traits such as growth or longevity. In other words, rather than dump truckloads of fingerlings into a lake, researchers want to select and breed individual high-performance bass and release their offspring.

“In the future, we hope to start producing bass with higher proportions of specific performance markers and figure out the best way to stock those fish in our waters,” Nichols says.

John N. Felsher lives in Semmes, Ala. Contact him through Facebook.

Working for peanuts

Faith, optimism carry peanut farmers through hard times

Jonathan Sanders isn’t yet 30 years old but has a wealth of experience in farming. He and his father farm peanuts and other crops in south Alabama. Photo courtesy of Alabama Farmers Federation.

By Peggy Ussery Hatcher

Farmers are an optimistic bunch.

They have to be, because natural disasters, depressed peanut prices and the threat of trade wars are not for the faint of heart.

“Farmers, you know, we’re very optimistic and that’s what keeps us rolling,” said Joel Sirmon, who farms with his brother and nephew in Baldwin County near Mobile. “You put it in the good Lord’s hands and hope for the best. He humbles you sometimes.”

Alabama is one of the top peanut-producing states in the country with peanut farmers planting around 180,000 acres of peanuts each year, according to the Alabama Peanut Producers website. The popular legume is grown in 37 of the state’s 67 counties, mostly in the southern part of the state (though farmers in some northern counties are also growing peanuts).

In addition to peanuts, Sirmon grows cotton, corn and potatoes. Sirmon’s farm will have 1,400 acres planted for the 2019. He’s hopeful for a good harvest, but he was hopeful last year as well; at 62, Sirmon knows hope will only get you so far because some things are just beyond your control.

“Last year was the weather,” he says. “I had a good crop made but just couldn’t get it harvested. That was very frustrating to have something and you can’t reap the benefits of it.”

When Hurricane Michael came ashore in October last year, it tore through fields in southeast Alabama, northwest Florida and Georgia. The storm’s rain bands saturated fields. In the southeast Alabama counties in the storm’s path, direct agricultural losses were reported at $204 million, according to a damage assessment report from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Cotton losses were projected at nearly $108 million while peanut losses were projected at more than $11 million.

Above-average rainfall in the weeks and months after the hurricane hurt the 2018 peanut harvest even more throughout Alabama.

Carl Sanders farms peanuts and other crops in Coffee County with his son, Jonathan. Sanders says the 2018 peanut crop was shaping up to be a good one – until Hurricane Michael. Photo courtesy of Alabama Farmers Federation.

Rain is a tricky thing for farmers. Too little and crops dry up. Too much rain, or rain at the wrong times, can be just as damaging. Rain every five to seven days is good while peanuts are growing, but peanuts grow in the soil and have to be dug up. Once farmers finish digging, the peanuts have to dry for a few days before they can be picked. Digging and picking peanuts typically runs from September to November, and too much rain during that time can delay the harvest and ruin the peanuts.

Jonathan Sanders farms with his father, Carl Sanders, the president of the Alabama Peanut Producers Association. Altogether, they farm about 1,000 acres split between corn, cotton and peanuts. With their farm in the very northeastern corner of Coffee County, the Sanderses have fields in Coffee, Dale and Pike counties and are members of South Alabama Electric Cooperative.

“Even if you work diligently all year and make a good crop, you could potentially lose it all like we saw last year with the hurricane,” 27-year-old Jonathan Sanders says. “Many people had a lot of loss and that was just an uncontrollable loss for them.”

They were fortunate, he said, as their losses in 2018 were not as great as some of their fellow farmers farther south and into Georgia. Some of their fields had zero loss while others lost about 20 percent of the harvest. Some farmers lost 100 percent of their crops due to the weather.

“The only thing you can do is worry about the things you can control,” Jonathan Sanders says. “The rest you’ve got to leave up to God.”

Coping with down years

Farmers were already dealing with depressed peanut prices due to a supply surplus on the market that goes back to a bumper crop in 2017, Carl Sanders says. Talks of trade tariffs on foreign imports and the possibility of those countries retaliating with their own tariffs on U.S. products created more uneasiness. But, the 2018 peanut harvest promised to be great for Alabama farmers – until the weather turned against them.

Along with Hurricane Michael’s impact on southeastern counties, farmers faced excessive rains throughout the state.

“We made a good crop, a really good crop – everything looked really good,” Carl Sanders says. “When Hurricane Michael came through, it dumped all that rain on us and then it just continued to rain about every three, four, five days and we just had an awful harvest. If the soil is really saturated, it makes harvest really challenging. Instead of harvesting a bumper crop, we harvested just a sort of average crop or less.”

Across the state, some farmers saw losses of about 1,000 pounds of peanuts per acre, Carl Sanders says. Alabama’s average yield is 3,500 pounds per acre.

Joel Sirmon farms peanuts in Baldwin County, along with cotton, corn and potatoes. He’s hopeful for a good harvest this year but knows well that Mother Nature can make or break a crop. Photos by Colette Boehm.

In good years, it’s not just farmers who benefit. Farmers cope with the down years by operating more efficiently when it comes to labor and equipment. When times are good, farmers buy equipment and invest their money back into their operations and, in turn, their communities. Peanuts, according to the Alabama Peanut Producers Association website, contribute about $211 million to state’s economy.

“Some of these years with low prices, it’s just really hard to survive out here,” Jonathan Sanders says. “If you don’t have an established operation to fall back on you could lose it.”

Outside of prices and weather, peanut farmers also face shrinking acreage available for farming. Even in more rural areas, like where the Sanderses’ fields are located, large tracts of land with the terrain and the sandy soil peanuts love are being lost to development.

In Baldwin County, Sirmon is practically farming in the city, as much of his acreage is near where he lives in Daphne.

“That’s where we live and that’s where we’re going to try to make a living,” Sirmon says.

Farmers like Sirmon and Carl and Jonathan Sanders are optimistic that 2019 will be a good year. If it’s not, they’ll try again next year.

“It’s rewarding to be able to plant something and watch it grow, and we know if we do our part and the good Lord blesses it, then it will all be good,” Carl Sanders says. “You have to have a lot of faith.”

Sign up for Medicare and estimate Medicare costs

Affordable medical coverage is something everyone wants, especially as people age. Luckily, our nation has safeguards for workers as they get older. Millions of people rely on Medicare, and it can be part of your health insurance plan when you retire.

Medicare is available for people age 65 or older, as well as younger people who have received Social Security disability benefits for 24 months, and people with certain specific diseases. Two parts of Medicare are Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Part B (Medicare Insurance). You are eligible for premium-free Part A if you are age 65 or older and you or your spouse worked and paid Medicare taxes for at least 10 years.  Part B usually requires a monthly premium payment.

You can apply online for Medicare even if you are not ready to retire. Use our online application to sign up. It takes less than 10 minutes. In most cases, once your application is submitted electronically, you’re done. There are no forms to sign and usually no documentation is required. Social Security will process your application and contact you if we need more information. Otherwise, you’ll receive your Medicare card in the mail.

You can sign up for Medicare at

If you don’t sign up for Medicare during your initial enrollment window that begins three months before the birthday that you reach age 65 and ends three months after that birthday, you’ll face a 10 percent increase in your Part B premiums for every year-long period you’re eligible for coverage but don’t enroll. You may not have to pay the penalty if you qualify for a special enrollment period (SEP). If you are 65 or older and covered under a group health plan, either from your own or your spouse’s current employment, you may have a special enrollment period during which you can sign up for Medicare Part B. This means that you may delay enrolling in Part B without having to wait for a general enrollment period and without paying the lifetime penalty for late enrollment. Additional rules and limits apply, so if you think a special enrollment period may apply to you, read our Medicare publication at, and visit the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at for more information.

Health and drug costs not covered by Medicare can have a big impact on how much you spend each year. You can also estimate Medicare costs using an online tool at

Keeping your healthcare costs down allows you to use your retirement income on other things that you can enjoy. Social Security is here to help you plan a long and happy retirement at

Kylle’ McKinney, SSA Public Affairs Specialist, can be reached by email at

Bladder problems in cats common, but not well understood

In the May issue, we talked about bladder pain and blood in the urine for cats. In most cases, there is no infection and it’s called Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC), or Feline Sterile Idiopathic Cystitis. The triggering causes for idiopathic cystitis are not fully understood. “Idiopathic” is a catch all word, meaning … we do not know!

However, stress definitely seems to be the biggest trigger. Allergy is most probably another one. A word of caution here, FIC is not the only thing that happens to a cat’s bladder. There are other issues like crystal formations, blockage (mainly in male cats), and on rare occasions, urinary tract infections (UTI). Work closely with your vet if your cat is having problems.

Now back to my old cat Rabi! Once I learned the pattern for his bladder inflammation – every time I was ready to pack for a trip – I would start him on an anti-anxiety medication, and it worked! I also used one or two doses of anti-inflammatory pain medication.

These are my suggestions if your poor cat suffers from chronic FIC:

Water, water, and more water! If you are having problems switching to wet food, check out Dr. Lisa Pierson’s website, Goat milk is an excellent choice to encourage your cat to take in extra water and nutrients. Be attentive to their stool when adding new foods.

Recognize the patterns so that you can avoid the triggers. It could be seasonal, or it could be a specific stressor, like going on a holiday or company coming for a holiday!

Avoid urine acidifiers like methigel. A too low urine pH (acidic) may be irritating to an already unhappy bladder wall.

Do an online search for “multimodal environmental modification” for cats. The basic idea is to enrich the environment for indoor cats and reduce stress. Providing them with toys, a window perch, scratching posts, occasionally rotating through food to keep things interesting, engaging your cat in play, etc.

Talk to your vet about having a bit of anti-anxiety meds and pain meds handy at home.

Do not abruptly change cat litter and have enough in the house. The general rule is number of cats +1 litter boxes. Clean them every day. We enjoy clean toilets, don’t we?

In stubborn cases, a low-allergy diet, novel protein diet or elimination diet is worth a try, but not an easy task to undertake. Consult with your veterinarian.

For herbally inclined folks, this summer, save your organic yellow corn silks in the freezer. You can make tea with it for your kitty. Corn silk helps soothe the bladder wall.

The bottom line is to take heart – most of these cases respond well to medical treatments and additional environmental management.

Goutam Mukherjee (Dr. G), DVM, MS, PhD., has been a veterinarian for more than 30 years. He owns High Falls Holistic Veterinary Clinic in Crossville. Email questions of general interest to

Not my ‘ultimate southern food’

Illustration by Dennis Auth

A couple of years ago, during “March Madness” when folks into basketball were printing off the NCAA brackets to figure which teams were most likely to make it to the Final Four, some enterprising Southerners decided to bracket things that Southerners eat.  Then participants would vote and the winners would move on, round after round, until one became the “Ultimate Southern Food.”

Foods were to be selected based on a player’s own notion of  “Southerness,” rather than their particular sense of taste.

However, as with the NCAA, early pairings are important, and some of the matches I simply did not understand.

For example, having voters pick between pulled pork barbecue and fried catfish in the first round strikes me as sorta like pitting Auburn against Alabama at the outset. By the same token, matching fried chicken against deviled eggs early on is sorta like giving the bird a bye.

So fried catfish never made it to round two, while chicken pot pie nudged out country fried steak to move ahead.  A travesty, but what can I say.

On the other side, red beans and rice bested brunswick stew, which made me wonder if the folks who voted for pulled pork would be happy if their barbecue made the finals but there was no stew to go with it.

So the field narrowed and in Round Two there were some mild upsets. I was surprised that okra knocked off peach cobbler, but okra is grown about everywhere and eaten all sorts of ways, so I was comfortable with the voters’ choice.

(I once convinced my cousin Benny that he should name his second daughter “Okra.” Anticipating some opposition from his wife, he decided to tell her when she was worn out from childbirth and unable to resist. It would have worked if he had not added “Gumbo” as a middle name. That revived her. She promised to hurt him if he did – so he didn’t.)

By the third round, two sides seemed to emerge. On one were basic, heart-of-Dixie foods – barbecue, fried chicken and cornbread. On the other were coastal favorites, with a Carolina twist – roasted oysters, low country boil, and shrimp and grits.

Voters in the fourth round narrowed the field even more. Fried chicken, which I am convinced would have done better if paired against cornbread or okra, was beaten by barbecue, while roasted oysters were also sent packing.

That got us down to shrimp and grits versus low country boil on one side, and pulled pork barbecue versus cornbread on the other.

No contest.

Shrimp and grits and pulled pork barbecue were matched for the championship.

Now I don’t know about you, but it seemed to me that instead of being about the “Ultimate Southern Food,” this had become a vote on the “Ultimate South.”

Or, to make this personal, my South or theirs.

My South is the South of hickory smoke, work shirts, scuffed boots, light bread and sauce.

Shrimp and grits, despite its humble origins as “breakfast shrimp” that once sent Carolina fishermen down to the sea in ships, is today about a South that ain’t my South, about a South that is a land of cuisine rather than cooking. Although I like shrimp and grits – singularly or together – it remains for me the quintessential pre-game brunch buffet dish, easily ladled onto Chinet plates.

Pulled pork barbecue is sit down, elbows on the table, a roll of paper towels handy.

Many’s the time folks have asked me where they can get good barbecue.

No one has asked me where they could get shrimp and grits.

So that’s what was being decided.

And the winner was .  .  .  .  .   shrimp and grits.

I demand a recount.

Or more Alabama voters.

Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist for Alabama Living. He can be reached at

Apollo 11 50th anniversary

Where were you when man walked on the moon?

Alabamians who were alive on July 20, 1969 generally have no problem remembering where they were when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. Many of our readers, who are in their 60s, 70s or older today, responded to our call to share a memory of that proud moment, and we’ve printed a selection of them here. Some were involved in the Apollo mission itself; others were in the military serving on ships or the jungles of Vietnam. Younger readers were celebrating birthdays, getting married or were at summer camp or on vacation. Many of you were like me, a teenager watching the event on a grainy, black-and-white TV at home. After a few minutes, I had to walk outside to our front yard in suburban Birmingham and look up at the moon, marveling that a man from earth was really up there. It was a proud moment for our state, which played such an important role in the space race as the home of U.S. Space & Rocket Center, and for all Americans. Enjoy these memories of the Apollo 11 50th Anniversary. – Lenore Vickrey


Part of the mission

Mike McDonald, Orange Beach

I was in the U.S. Navy stationed aboard the USS Arlington AGMR-2 in the Tonkin Gulf. I had arrived aboard from Da Nang, Vietnam about 1 month earlier. We were the communications ship assigned to help recover the capsule of Apollo 11. We off-loaded boats on Johnson Island to make room for President Nixon who spent the night on our ship on the eve of the splashdown (lots of personal time with President Nixon that night). The next morning was AMAZING. We were the closest ship to the capsule. I still remember standing on the flight deck watching the capsule with the three parachutes descend.

Mike McDonald, Orange Beach


From 1960 to 1963 I was an electrical engineering co-op student from Auburn University working for NASA at Marshall Space Flight Center. I was able to participate in the development and construction of the Saturn V booster system that ultimately put astronauts on the moon. When the first moon landing did take place, I was an engineer for the Naval Electronic Systems Command in Charleston, SC and stayed up that night to see the landing videos. It was thrilling to know I had played a minor role in that success.

Carl Gagliano, P.E., Auburn


I was working for NASA as a propulsion engineer at the time and had been selected as a launch honoree for the Apollo 11 mission. My wife and I, and our two children at the time, went to Ocala, Fla., and were transported by bus with other launch honorees to the beach where we were able to watch the launch.

On the way back to Huntsville, we stopped at my parents’ home in Pine Apple, Ala., and watched the landing on television. This was the golden age of space exploration and I was very fortunate and proud to be a part of it.

Erskine G. Donald III, Camden

George E. Pollock, Arab


I was a 33-year-old engineer working for the Boeing Company in 1969 when the Apollo 11 mission took place. I was working on the S-1C test stand at the NASA test site in Mississippi. My job was to assist in the testing and verification of the big F-1 rocket engines on the S-1C booster that lifted the Saturn 5 off the Kennedy Space Center launch stand.

I retired in 1996 from the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command with 30 years of government service.

George E. Pollock, Arab


From a hotel room in St. Louis, my husband Dan and I watched in awe as Neil Armstrong took those first steps on the moon. Dan was on leave from basic training. I was working at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville in a summer program for college students which included educational seminars about space exploration and NASA. Our interest in the space program has been lifelong and passed on to our grandson, Samuel Albert. An aeronautical engineering graduate of Purdue, his dream is to be an astronaut and part of a mission to Mars.

Cathy Pallardy, Town Creek

Serving our country

Doug Sinquefield, Dothan

I was in the heart of the jungles of Vietnam. Not much communication from the outside world except mail, when we could receive it.

Memories there were not very pleasant, but the memories I made with so many of my comrades in the Army were great. We later did receive word from the states and the Stars and Stripes Magazine about the “moon landing.”

Doug Sinquefield, Dothan


I was a 23-year-old Airman First Class in the U.S. Air Force. I was stationed at Tan San Nhut Air Force Base in Saigon, Vietnam. I watched on a small black-and-white TV as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped on the surface of the moon.

Arthur F. Elliott Jr., Opelika


Fifty years ago, I was in the U.S. Navy stationed on Midway Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. There was no live telecast of the moon landing on Midway, so my fellow sailors and I could only hear Neil Armstrong’s famous words on the radio. We finally got to see a videotape of the landing that arrived from Hawaii several days later. It was still exciting.

Dave Johannes, Montgomery


I was at Lackland, AFB doing my basic training. On that night in particular, I was on guard duty and had to stay by the door to prevent intruders from doing, I was never sure what, if they managed to get past me.
There was a TV in the common room of our barracks, and we were allowed to stay up and watch the presentation, but still had to be ready for our morning exercises at 0600.

F.K. Wiseman, Hanceville


The picture of me was made June 9, 1969 in Newport, R.I., while serving in the U.S. Navy. Four of my buddies and I camped in the Catskill Mountains in New York the weekend of July 19 and 20, 1969 and we also got Monday (Moonday Holiday) off. We went into the local town to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon Sunday night. I guess you could call it a watch party since it was in a pub with a TV.

James (Jimmy) Walker, Jackson


Pride overseas

I was on a Swissair flight back to my home in the U.S. following a year studying at a university in Switzerland. The pilot announced that “the Americans have just successfully landed on the moon.” Everyone began to cheer and clap. Then they announced that everyone would get free champagne … more cheers. I was met at JFK Airport by my family and the girl who became my wife of 49 years and counting.

Jim DiSebastian, Gulf Shores


I was with a group of students observing the significant architectural styles in Rome. We were drawn to a gathering around the display window of a home furnishings store. The crowd was mesmerized by the television broadcasting of the space landing. A hush fell over the crowd as Neil Armstrong descended the ladder. The Romans erupted, chanting, “Earth has placed a man on the moon!” Their vicarious credit for this epic achievement was met by the American students chanting, “USA, USA USA!” I have a real treasure, the Rome newspaper of July 21, 1969. The front page has a huge picture of Armstrong’s descent from the lunar craft.

Stan Neuenschwander, Pike Road


Mom and Dad were yelling, “Hurry up it’s about to happen, you have to see this!” I ran as fast as I could into the living room, wondering what was coming from the blue-glowing light.

My dad was stationed in Landstuhl, Germany when I was 9. At that age, I vividly remember the blue-glowing light of the television illuminating the entire room. I stared wide-eyed as the first man walked on the moon!

Debbie Godwin, Evergreen


Weiland family

Special birthdays, anniversaries

I was celebrating my 16th birthday glued to the television marveling this achievement! No big party for me; I refused any distractions interrupting a single second of history in the making. I saw Sputnik; this was better! My hero father passed away on July 30, 1967, but Neil Armstrong became my new hero that day. I prayed for a safe mission and return and have been an avid follower of NASA.

Joyce Weiland, Decatur


July 20, 1969, was my 10th birthday. My brother and I usually fought over which TV channel to watch: ABC, NBC, or CBS. But on our birthdays, for a whole blessed day, the birthday child was honored with being in charge of that decision. Imagine my disappointment when I switched on our black-and-white model to find that all three channels were showing only moon coverage. No cartoons! No children’s shows! Just images of a funny-looking landing module, and a man in a stiff white suit planting a flag. Failing to grasp the significance of the occasion, I couldn’t believe my misfortune at wasting a whole birthday’s worth of TV privileges. In retrospect, it was special to share my birthday with our country’s historic landing on the moon that revolves around planet Earth.

Nanette Chadwick, Auburn


Kathy Buckner, Rainsville

Every year on my birthday, I think of this special time. 1969 had so many bad things to remember. The Vietnam War, racial unrest, Chappaquiddick and so on. It was my 18th birthday. I was like a kid wishing I could be there on Apollo 11. I was in Rainsville staying with my parents and baby while my husband was stationed overseas. After watching the news on this historic day for Alabama and the world, I had to go look at that big, beautiful moon. On that special day, as the Earth stood still and a man walked on the moon, I was part of it.

Kathy Buckner, Rainsville


It was the first anniversary of our marriage. We watched Neil Armstrong step onto the moon, but we did not watch that historical moment on the same TV or even in the same country. I was in Ohio. He was at Wheelus AB, Libya. However, since we were an American military family, I had a great deal of pride in our country and the astronauts. Outdoors, I gazed up at the moon knowing we were seeing the same one.

Connie Tanner, Wetumpka


Although I do remember when Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon, my fondest memory of July 20, 1969 was wedding my high school sweetheart, Sandra. I was on leave between Ft. Wolters, Texas and Ft. Rucker, Ala., while attending Army helicopter training. We said our vows at Myrtle Beach AFB, Myrtle Beach, S.C. We were headed to Atlanta for our honeymoon, but stopped in Columbia, S.C. It was here that we watched the famous “small step for man.” Sandra passed away on January 14, 2018 after 48 years of marriage. I miss her very much.

Dr. Larry W. Key, Fort Rucker


My future husband and I were having dinner at the Steak Barn in Huntsville, and while there he proposed marriage to me. We later returned to my brother’s home where I was visiting. My future husband and I wanted to watch Neil Armstrong take the first steps on the moon, so yes, definitely we wanted to have two memorable occasions start our new lives with. Later that year we were married in Missouri. We will also be celebrating a 50th anniversary in 2019.

Janice and Ken Smith, Houston, Ala.


Patricia R. Cobb, Woodville

At summer camp

Summertime at a Brownie camp, Aventura, in California. At the main lodge during dinner it was announced for everyone to get a jacket and a flashlight and go to the nurses’ station. When I arrived later, most of the girls were seated on the ground facing a television the maintenance man had set up outside during the day. It was a surprise to all. Even for such a young audience, everyone was enthralled by the fuzzy screen.

Patricia R. Cobb, Woodville


In 1969, I was a 12-year-old Boy Scout attending summer scout camp at Maubila in Jackson, Alabama. On the night of the moon landing, the troop leaders set up a few TVs in the dining hall (with rabbit ear antennas) so all the scouts could watch. We all cheered loudly when the lunar landing occurred. By the time Neil Armstrong exited the Lunar module, we were all fast asleep and had to be awaked by the leaders to watch the first step.

Neil Armstrong was an Eagle Scout, and I became one as well. (Eleven of the 12 astronauts to walk on the moon were Scouts.)

Joe Galloway, Mobile 


I was a camp counselor at a boy’s summer camp near Monterey, Tenn., 100 miles from Knoxville, a very remote location on the Cumberland Plateau. We knew the astronauts walking on the moon would be late at night so we had the campers bring their pillows and sleeping bags to the open air recreation hall.  We had a small black-and-white TV with rabbit ears picking up a not-very-good grainy picture. Nevertheless, those who could stay awake, and there were a number of boys who did not, were able to witness history in the making that night.

Kenneth Cushing, Arley


Sparking interest in space flight

We had taken our daughter Lisa to the Birmingham Zoo. About touchdown time, we had returned to the car for lunch and to listen to the event on the radio. Later that night we stayed up to watch Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon. It was memorable, even from a snowy, black and white, 19-inch TV.

While in college Lisa started working for the Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, and has remained there for 33 years.

Dwight, Claudia and Lisa Pelfrey, Moulton


Watched the launch

My parents and I traveled to the Cape to witness the once-in-forever event of Apollo 11’s launch.  We took the tours and rode right by the Saturn 5 on its pad. Along with thousands, we spent the night before the launch on a beach across from the site. We stood in awe as we watched, heard, and yes, felt the lift-off. When it was out of sight, we jumped in our car and headed home to Ider. Then we watched, on our old black and white, as the men we had seen leave earth, completed their mission.

Anita Day Robertson, Scottsboro


Gay Cotton, Orange Beach

‘Forced’ to watch

I will never forget July 20, 1969 because I was very angry! There I was, 14 years old, on summer vacation in Panama City Beach, and I was told to come inside and watch something on television. I was vacationing with my three teenage cousins on summer break. It was a beautiful day on a white sand beach with emerald colored water, when suddenly we were “forced” to come inside and watch something famous happen on television. That famous event was to watch the Apollo 11 mission send the modular Eagle to the moon’s surface and watch Neil Armstrong step onto the moon and say those famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Grudgingly, we went inside, but what a travesty it would have been to have missed watching it all firsthand on tv.

Gay Cotton, Orange Beach


On a motel TV

I was 15 years old on my way back to Troy after a vacation to Seattle, Wash., with my parents. We spent that night in a motel in Dumas, Texas, and I was exhausted. My mother excitedly reminded me history was being made as we all watched on that small TV that hung from the ceiling corner. My dad, now age 95, recalls it well too! One small step!

Susan Avirett Johnson and Wayne H. Avirett, Troy


David and Juli Spence

We were students at Auburn University and working at Bonanza Sirloin. On July 20 David brought his little black and white TV to work so we wouldn’t miss the unbelievable event about to occur. After all the customers had left that evening, those of us working gathered around the TV to see history being made. We were amazed that man was actually walking on the moon that we saw in the sky that night!

David and Juli Spence, Montgomery


I remember sitting in the living room of my parents’ house on Kent Street in Montgomery watching those ghostly images on the TV with my Daddy (Mama was a registered nurse and working at Baptist Hospital that night). I then looked out the window and up at the sky thinking that men were actually walking on the moon. Less than a month later, my parents stopped at Cape Kennedy on the way back from a trip to Miami and I was able to stand at the launch pad where Apollo 11 left for the Moon. I’m 61 years old now and those are memories I truly treasure.

Clay Redden, Prattville


Humor on the night shift

I was at the paper mill in Jackson Ala., on the night shift. A timekeeper brought a TV. Someone went for updates regularly. A guy asked me about “the one that got bit.” I knew someone was pulling my leg. “I don’t know,” I said. “Tell me.”

He said when the ship landed, “moon creatures” tied it down. One of the astronauts went down to undo the bindings, and one of the creatures bit his leg and he got back inside. They couldn’t blast off.  They had food and water for only a short time and would starve.

We had a good laugh.

John M. Alday, Leroy


My husband and I were newlyweds in 1969, having married in September the year before.  He was attending the University of Texas and we were living in university housing ($28/month rent) and I was working as an RN at Brackenridge Hospital, 3 to 11 pm. We had a small black-and-white TV sitting on a metal milk crate on which we watched the landing after my work shift. We were in awe. He passed away October 2018 after 51 years of marriage.

Nancy Whatley, Butler


Another small step

Anticipating the exciting moon walk, I had set up my camera in the middle of our living room floor to get a good picture of the first step on the moon. We had no air conditioning, so all our windows were raised. We were eating our supper. I was sitting on the floor and my wife was in a chair behind me. Just as Armstrong stepped down on the moon, wind through the open windows slammed the bedroom door shut right beside her. She dumped her plate, jumped over me and the camera and stepped right in the middle of my plate. We still laugh about it.

James and Polly Fuell, Grant


The week of July 20, 1969 was a memorable one for my family. I was pregnant with our first child and was due to deliver on July 25. My husband and I stayed up late the night of July 20 and watched Neil Armstrong make “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind!” It was an exciting time. Our son was born right on time five days later. I will never forget these memorable events.

Joyce Crook, Minter 

Huntsville, U.S. Space & Rocket Center Celebrate Apollo’s 50th Anniversary

A number of events are planned to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11.  For details, visit and


July 13, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Celebration Car Show

See the vehicles of the time owned by Redstone Arsenal/Marshall Space Flight Center rocket families. Limited to cars built from the end of World War II through the Moon missions, 1945-1975.  Includes the only functionally operational replica of the Lunar Roving Vehicle (Moon Buggy) provided by Polaris.  Also featured are two Kellers manufactured by the Huntsville based Keller Motors and the Chrysler Aerospace – Huntsville designed Dodge Daytona Charger #71.

July 16

Break a World Record!

The US Space & Rocket Center will attempt to break the world record by launching 5000 model rockets simultaneously at the exact time of the Apollo 11 launch on July 16, 1969.  In addition, model rockets will be launched around the world at 8:32 a.m. CST in each time zone during a 24-hour period.  You can join in the fun by launching your own rocket!  Sign up at

July 19, 6 to 10 p.m.

100 Northside Square

Dancing in the Streets

On July 19, 1969, Huntsvillians gathered downtown to celebrate the Apollo 11 moon landing.   Relive that glory day by joining space enthusiasts as they dance in the streets once again.  Musical performances themed to the last five decades will take place on each side of the Historic Downtown Square. A projection experience will end the evening and inspire the latest endeavor of space exploration.

Plant something, Alabama!

Gardening may not be for everyone, but plants sure are.

That’s the idea behind Plant Something Alabama, a new statewide educational and informational campaign designed to “inspire, educate and encourage” gardeners and nongardeners alike to get more plants in the ground — and in their lives.

Launched in April by the Alabama Nursery and Landscape Association (ALNLA), Plant Something Alabama is part of a national program ( created to raise awareness of the many contributions plants make to our lives — from improving environmental quality, enhancing property values and reducing energy costs to enriching our minds, bodies and souls. (See sidebar for more.)

“Commonly referred to as ‘plant blindness,’ society is slowly losing its fundamental understanding of the benefits plants provide,” said ALNLA Executive Director Russell Wood. “Through Plant Something Alabama, we hope to reverse that trend by connecting the public with their local green industry professionals to spread knowledge, enthusiasm and an appreciation of plants!”

Here in Alabama, plants help grow our economy. The wholesale and retail plant growers and sellers, landscape contractors and designers, scientists, irrigation installers and others who work in and around the horticultural industry help generate an estimated $2.9 billion and nearly 44,000 jobs for the state each year.

Through Plant Something Alabama, those industry members want to also cultivate a deeper appreciation for plants.

Take Mary Beth Shaddix, for example. She and her husband David grow everything from trees and shrubs to native and bog plants for the wholesale market at their Maple Valley Nursery in Sterrett, Ala. She’s been helping develop the Plant Something Alabama website, but as gardener and garden and food writer herself, Shaddix knows that different people have different interests in plants.

“Some may want to grow healthy produce, others may want to enhance their property’s value and still others may simply want to grow something beautiful,” she says. “Whether you’re interested in beauty or real estate values or that tasty tomato, Plant Something Alabama can help.”

How does it help? Through, an online goldmine of information suitable for gardeners and nongardeners alike. The site provides links to experts across the state and nation and to information on topics ranging from gardening basics to choosing landscape plants to planting for pollinators. It also has a “finder” button that connects visitors to an unparalleled source of information, Alabama’s locally owned garden centers and nurseries. Just type in your zipcode to find one close to you.

These small, often family-run businesses offer a wide array of high-quality, healthy plants that are well adapted to local growing conditions. They also offer the chance to reinvest our plant dollars in our own communities. And best of all, these businesses provide access to local wisdom.

“You can get one-to-one personal advice from people who know about local plants and growing conditions and are passionate about plants,” Shaddix says. “That’s who you want helping you!”

You can also help in return by using the free printable and shareable graphics, posters and other material available on the Plant Something Alabama website to start a plant conversation online or in your community. You can also become a Plant Something Alabama sponsor or help grow the website by emailing or calling 334-821-5148 with suggestions for future articles, content, links or businesses.

And, of course, the most important thing you can is this: Go plant something!

The power of planting

Planting one tree — or one shrub, herb, vegetable, vine or flower for that matter — can be a powerful personal act, so imagine the superpower we’d create if we all joined forces and planted together. Here’s just a sample of how powerful plants can be.

Strategically planting trees, shrubs and other plants around homes can reduce home energy consumption by 25 percent.

A well-planted yard can increase a home’s resale value by 15 percent.

A single mature tree can remove 40 pounds or more of carbon dioxide each year while also producing enough oxygen to supply up to four people each day.

There’s enough available land across the globe to plant 1.2 trillion trees, the act of which could significantly reduce the effects of climate change.

Many studies have shown that tending plants or simply being around them, whether outdoors or indoors, increases our health, happiness, concentration, memory, healing abilities and overall sense of well-being.

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