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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 socialsecurity.gov/benefits/medicare.

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 socialsecurity.gov/pubs/, and visit the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at Medicare.gov 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 medicare.gov/oopc/.

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 socialsecurity.gov.

Kylle’ McKinney, SSA Public Affairs Specialist, can be reached by email at kylle.mckinney@ssa.gov.

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 asanoline.org, 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 asanonline.org/graze/

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.

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 (plant-something.org) 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 www.plantsomethingalabama.com, 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 hello@plantsomethingalabama.com 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 katielamarjackson@gmail.com.

WTD: Bahama Bob’s

Word of mouth and positive reviews have kept customers coming back since 1999.

Story and photos by Emmett Burnett

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip, that started from this tropic port, aboard this tiny ship. No, not that tale and not that ship. This is the story of Bahama Bob’s Beach Side Cafe, the Gulf Shores restaurant, the man, and the ill-fated voyage that defined both.

“While on a treasure hunt off Rum Cay, Bahamas, a hurricane nearly sank Bob Murphy’s 45-foot sailboat,” or so says the story printed on menus. The chronicle continues, “To celebrate his near miss with death, Bob partied for three straight days! That’s right, three days!”

“The story is true,” claims Bahama Bob’s General Manager Tina Wesner with a big smile. “Some of it may be embellished a little, but it’s true.”

Kitchen manager Whit Spellman and General Manager Tina Wesner with some of Bahama Bob’s popular drinks.

After the storm, Bob left the Bahamas, setting sail for Key West, Florida. He ran across two old Gulf Shores friends, Frank Merrell and Steve Spellman. During their reunion the three devised a plan to “Return to the other side of paradise and build a little slice of island living right here (Gulf Shores).”

The end product was Bob’s namesake restaurant established 20 years ago this year, on the west side of Gulf Shores and sailing ever since.

Bahama Bob’s does not advertise, nor does it have to. The ocean eatery seats 100 patrons and does so often. This is a rare tourist-town diner favored equally by longtime residents and first-time visitors.

Bob, Frank, and Steve – all retirement age and beyond – no longer attend day to day operations, turning many responsibilities over to Tina and kitchen manager Whit Spellman. They and the crew are ever mindful of one: Bahama Bob’s business only slows down during off season. And two: There is no off season.

“I float everywhere – in and out of the kitchen door, anywhere there is a need, we both do,” says Whit about restaurant duties. “We are working managers.”

Tina oversees dining, the bar, front desk, cash register, and waits tables if needed. Bahama Bob’s staffers wear out shoes quickly.

“We opened Memorial Day Weekend, 1999,” recalls Tina. “It was a hit from day one.”

Customer demographics change with the month and so does crowd personality. “During winter, lunch hours are busier than evenings,” Whit says. “Spring break is just the opposite. People walk in from the beach (about 300 feet away) after a day in the sun and surf.”

Bahama Bob’s looks like a beach house because it used to be one.

Non-stop summer days

Which brings us to summer, an easy season to forecast busy times. The answer is all day and all evening. “From May to Labor Day we are nonstop from open to close,” says Tina. However, service is fast and friendly.

The beach lures you. The cuisine makes you stay. Coconut shrimp ensures you return. You are hooked, but hooked at a seafood house is a good place to be.

“Everything we serve is fresh,” Whit says. “Everything possible is prepared by hand. Our handcrafted Bahama Burger is patted Angus beef, never frozen.” The signature burger is also mammoth. A 10-ounce slab of burger is topped with grilled pineapple, bacon and double Swiss cheese.

As for seafood, Bahama Bob’s – like the Beatles – gets by with a little help from their friends, friends like Southern Living, which lauds its food as among the best of the South. Or friends like TripAdvisor, proclaiming Bob’s has the best bar on the beach. And friends like customers who deploy Bob’s secret weapon – word of mouth accolades.

“The fish is great here and so is the beach atmosphere,” says Michigan guest and return visitor Cheny McElroy. “Everything is good, every time I have been here.”

The formerly swimming-in-saltwater entrees she references includes whitefish – pan fried fillets in crusted pecans or char-grilled in house made seasonings. Gulf fresh triggerfish, flounder, and grouper are popular favorites with the locals. “Our blackened grouper is off the charts,” Tina explains about a personal favorite.

Shrimp, oysters, crabs are steamed, fried, grilled, blackened, or battered, in a crustacean sensation that knows no bounds. On a personal note, try the coconut shrimp. It just justified four years of journalism school.

Hannah Yeager serves up coconut shrimp, crab legs and gumbo.

Gumbo goes out about as fast as prepared. “We keep about 20 gallons on hand at all times,” Whit says. “It starts with a great roux and built from there.

“The key is adding great ingredients and stay with it.  Gumbo is not some toss it in the pot kind of thing. You must continuously tend and monitor it.”

Cocktail and tartar sauces, and dressings such as blue cheese with very thick crumbles are house-made and bottled.

The source of many dishes can be seen from your table. “It’s from way out there,” smiles Tina, pointing out the window at a cobalt-blue Gulf of Mexico.

Today’s tranquil waters were not always placid and Bob’s first hurricane was not his last. Hurricane Ivan (September 2004) clobbered it. “We found our walk-in freezer and cooler bobbing in a nearby lagoon,” Tina recalls, about the storm that closed the restaurant 8 months. But it came back.

Like every Gulf Shores eatery, the BP Oil Spill cost Bahama Bob’s at least 50 percent of its business. But it came back.

Bahama Bob’s is not easy to find.  It looks like a beach house because it used to be one. But it is worth the search.

The Gulf Shores restaurant confidently states on the menu, “The very best of everything you come to the beach for.”  You, too, will come back.


Bahama Bob’s Beach Side Cafe

601 West Beach Blvd.

Gulf Shores, AL 36542

251-948-2100

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Sunday

Bahamabobs.com

AL People: Frazine Taylor

Studying history and making it

Wetumpka native Frazine Taylor, librarian, archivist and longtime member of the Alabama Historical Association (AHA), became that organization’s first African-American president at its recent statewide meeting. The AHA is an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes exploration and study of all aspects of Alabama’s history, and sponsors the state’s historical marker program.

Taylor spent much of her career at the Alabama Department of Archives and History, where she helped professional historians as well as everyday people research their family histories. Today, she works part-time at Alabama State University, working to process and catalog collections related to the university’s history, including its part in the civil rights movement. We asked her to talk about her life’s work and about the role she’ll play in promoting Alabama’s history, and about the recent award she received from the AHA. – Allison Law

Talk about the work you did at the Archives.

When people came in to look for family information, (our staff’s) job was to make sure that they were able to look at census records, at county records, to know how to use the microfilm, and to create policies to make it easier for them to use the archives and records within the reference room. 

Along the way, I became sort of an expert in African-American genealogy. In (researching) other ethnic groups, the records for them are more straightforward. You can go to the census, you can go to their inventories, their land records. But when you get to African-American research, you have to search those records differently, using different strategies. 

Over my 20-something years, I created workshops to help African-Americans research their family history, just starting with the basics – starting with yourself and working backwards. A lot of African-Americans thought there was nothing in the records where they could find their ancestors. But they didn’t realize there were a whole lot of ancestors between 1865 and the present! Just creating strategies to help people locate the slaveholder, if they didn’t have the oral history that was passed down from generation to generation. There are two slave censuses, 1850 and 1860, that list the names of the slaveholders and the amount of slaves that they had, and also the population census. So it’s just a matter of researching your ancestors. I’ve gone all over the U.S. doing different workshops.

Have you been involved with the Alabama Historical Association for a long time?

Yes, I have. I can’t remember when I became a member, but I’ve always been a member. When I worked at the Archives, I used to go to the meetings and listen and enjoy every bit of it. I had no idea I would be given an award and be the president! I didn’t even think that far ahead. I just enjoyed going, and the camaraderie. And also the different research papers – that’s where I learned a lot about Alabama history, through the presentations that were given at these conferences.

And also the pilgrimage, being able to go out into a community and looking at the houses, and talking to the people who lived in the houses, or at the churches, the buildings, the places we visited, and just get the history of the community. 

By the way, this year, the pilgrimage will be in my hometown of Wetumpka (Oct. 11-12). We’ll be able to explore Wetumpka’s history. 

You also received the Hamilton Award from the AHA. Talk a little about that.

That was a surprise! It’s given “for significant contributions to Alabama history, which encourage joint endeavors and mutual understanding between non-professional and professional historians.” That’s basically what I was doing at the Archives. Professional people came in, writing books and doing dissertations, as well as the non-professionals who were doing family histories. My name is in a lot of those books, people giving recognition for helping them. 

Talk about what it means to be the first African-American president of the AHA. 

For one thing, it’s a great honor. I know that I won’t be the last. I hope I won’t be the last! Someone has to be the first! Also, people who didn’t know about this association, (hopefully) will now want to know more about it, and may want to join. So hopefully we will get some more membership. 

Is the AHA just for professional historians?

No, it’s open to everybody. It’s a learning opportunity, if you’re curious about Alabama history. Being a member, you get the Alabama Review, which is a scholarly publication, and it comes out four times a year. And you get a chance to meet wonderful people! It is a great networking opportunity. Plus, you cannot learn everything in a textbook. 

For more information on the AHA, visit alabamahistory.net 

Light It Up

It’s hot! And if you can’t take the heat, why not get out of the kitchen? Firing up your outdoor grill instead of your oven and stove will help you keep your cool this summer.

BY JENNIFER KORNEGAY

There are places in our country where people use the words “grilling” and “barbecuing” interchangeably, as if they were the same thing. In the South, we know better. Barbecue is a specific style of food cooked with a particular method; it’s predominantly meat smoked on low heat for a long time to yield a heavenly flavor and texture, and our region is renowned for its collective barbecue skills. 

A grill might be involved in barbecue, but the term “grilling” is much broader; it means the act of cooking anything at any temperature for any amount of time in or on any kind of grill — gas or charcoal, large or small. And in the South, we’re pretty good at this technique too. 

We even have a “grilling season.” We love to play with fire, and oddly enough, especially when the outside temps are rivaling those of our grill grates. Summer is definitely the time of year we head to our decks and patios to “grill out.” Perhaps it’s because while it may be toasty in the backyard, at least there’s fresh air (an actual breeze if we’re lucky), and that’s preferable to the swelter a hot oven or stovetop can cause in our kitchens. 

On a summer afternoon or evening, you can open plenty of Alabama grill lids and find the usual suspects like hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks and chicken breasts sizzling and searing to perfection. But the options for cooking over an open flame are limitless. If you can eat it, you can probably cook it on a grill. 

Gadgets like grill baskets and skewers mean you can confidently grill veggies, fish and shrimp. Some genius stuck an opened beer can in a whole chicken and stood it up, creating a wonderful way to roast a bird sans indoor oven. You can even grill up some dessert. How about some peaches, sliced in half, thrown interior-side down on a blazing hot grill to caramelize the natural sugars? Serve these warm, soft bites with a drizzle of honey and homemade vanilla ice cream, and you’ll definitely have requests for seconds. 

If your grilling menu is currently stuck in a burger rut, find inspiration in this issue’s reader-submitted grilling recipes. 


Cook of the Month

Kathy Stewart, Central Alabama EC

Kathy Stewart loves to cook, bake and grill and finds that central Alabama’s climate is perfectly suited to grilling almost all year long. “With our region having little to no really cold weather, we even grill in some of our winter months,” she said. And with so much grilling, she’s always looking for new things to put on the flame, so she modified a stuffed pork chop recipe she’d had for years to create her Prosciutto Stuffed Pork Chops. “I love stuffed pork chops, so I modified an old recipe and used prosciutto with garlic, rosemary and oregano, and, then grilled the chops instead of baking them.” She says the flavor is superb, but so is the aroma. “The smell of the prosciutto, garlic and rosemary is wonderful,” she says. “They are very easy to prepare and will definitely add variety to your grilling.”

 

Prosciutto Stuffed Pork Chops

4 boneless pork loin chops, 

1 and 1/4 -inch thick

4 ounces prosciutto, diced

1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed

3 teaspoons fresh rosemary, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ teaspoon dried oregano

¼ teaspoon black pepper

Extra virgin olive oil

Cook prosciutto in a medium skillet for 5 to 10 minutes. Once crispy, add in 2 teaspoons rosemary, oregano and garlic. Cook for an additional minute. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Set aside. Trim fat from pork chops and create a pocket by cutting the side of each chop. Spoon in prosciutto mixture and press down lightly on chops to secure filling. Brush chops with olive oil and season with pepper and remaining rosemary. Preheat grill. Place chops on a lightly-oiled grill grate and cook over indirect medium-high heat for 35-40 minutes. Turn chops once. Remove from grill and serve.


Grilled Vegetables

1/2 cup olive oil

5 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 and 1/2 teaspoons oregano

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 pound asparagus

1/2 pound carrots, chopped

1 large red bell pepper, chopped or sliced

1 large yellow bell pepper, chopped or sliced

2 medium squash

1 large red onion, cut into wedges

In a small bowl, whisk the first seven ingredients. Place 3 tablespoons of this marinade in a large zip lock bag. Add veggies; shake bag to coat. Marinate 2 hours at room temperature. Transfer veggies to a grilling grid; place grid on grill rack. Grill covered over medium heat 10-12 minutes or until crisp tender, turning occasionally. Place vegetables on a large serving plate and drizzle with remaining marinade.

Misty Allbright Roberson, Cullman EC


Barbecue Ribs

2 slabs of ribs

1 teaspoon mustard

½ cup steak sauce

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

¼ cup light brown sugar

Stir all ingredients together in a bowl until sugar is dissolved then spread all over ribs. Marinate in refrigerator overnight. Cook on a grill until golden brown.

Judith Lamar, Central Alabama EC


Glazed Salmon

2 salmon fillets

1 teaspoon agave syrup

1 teaspoon orange zest

1 teaspoon orange juice

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon minced garlic

½ teaspoon ground pepper

Combine all ingredients and pour over salmon. Let sit 15 minutes to 2 hours. Cook on cedar planks [available at many grocery stores] on grill for 15 minutes over medium heat.

Sue Robbins, Coosa Valley EC


Grilled Lemon Chicken

6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

2 teaspoons garlic salt

1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon peel

2 teaspoons thyme

In a small bowl, combine salt, lemon peel, thyme and a little pepper. Spray grill with cooking spray and heat coals. Sprinkle seasoning mixture over chicken breasts. Grill chicken for 20-25 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink and juices run clear. Turn once during cooking.

Heather Cline, Tallapoosa River EC


Send us your recipes for a chance to win!

Themes and Deadlines

Oct: Cast Iron Cooking | July 12

Nov: Apples | August 9

Dec: Nontraditional Holiday Food | Sept 13

3 ways to submit:
Online: alabamaliving.coop

Email: recipes@alabamaliving.coop

Mail:  Recipes, P.O. Box 244014 Montgomery, AL 36124

Please send us your original recipes (developed  or adapted by you or family members.) Cook of the Month winners will receive $50, and may win “Cook of the Month” only once per calendar year.

To be eligible, submissions must include a name, phone number, mailing address and co-op name. Alabama Living reserves the right to reprint recipes in our other publications.