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Healthy Living

Alabama county sets model for rural health collaboration


Having and keeping adequate health care locally available is a difficult challenge in many of Alabama’s rural areas. Local health care is more than just having practitioners to provide the major health care needs of local residents. Health care, especially a local hospital, is one of the larger employers in most rural areas, attracting other health-related services to the area. This can produce a large economic impact.  Not having adequate health care locally available puts an area at a disadvantage for attracting economic development.

Struggling with a chronic shortage of health care or experiencing a loss of local health care greatly impacts a rural area, including the futures of residents, their children and grandchildren. The residents of Flomaton in Escambia County were confronted with the loss of their hospital in 1993.  Such a great loss created uncertainty about the future of the area.

Faced with this threatening situation, several visionary leaders in Escambia County, a rural county with areas served by Southern Pine Electric Cooperative, decided to get active in improving local health care and its far-reaching impact. This effort led to the creation of the Coalition for a Healthier Escambia County in 1995. This coalition is as strong today as ever. Similar coalitions can and should be developed in all of Alabama’s rural counties.

Chad Hartley drives the Wheels of Wellness van in Escambia County. Photo by Leslie Jackson

Local health coalitions bring together members who work with different components of the county to study local health status, concerns, and needs as a group. Issues or concerns that need improvement are identified and the coalition goes to work seeking improvement. Most coalitions include representatives from hospitals, primary care clinics, specialty care clinics, dental clinics, nursing, mental health care, public health, drug abuse treatment, emergency medical services, dialysis services, local government, the clergy, education, law enforcement, nursing homes, the local Department of Human Resources, the local Children’s Policy Council, family resource centers, counseling services, and others. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians health center are also represented in the Coalition.  Representation may vary due to the uniqueness of each county.

The Coalition for a Healthier Escambia County meets monthly to hear presentations and share information on various health-related subjects, discuss health-related concerns and conduct business.  While considerable grant funding has been received and successes are numerous, one success involved providing leadership to secure funding for a new transport system for women and children (Wheels of Wellness) when funding forced Kid One Transport to cease serving the county.

Perhaps the single greatest success is that this coalition makes a loud statement that is heard within and outside of Escambia County that they love their home and want it to be a place where current and future residents can have a bright and healthy future.

For additional information on the Coalition for a Healthier Escambia County or assistance in establishing such a coalition, please contact the Alabama Rural Health Association at or (334) 546-3502.

Dale Quinney is executive director of the Alabama Rural Health Association, 1414 Elba Highway, Troy, 36081.

Social Security Benefits

When is a good time to start receiving Social Security benefits?


Enjoying a comfortable retirement is everyone’s dream. For over 80 years, Social Security has been helping people realize those dreams, assisting people through life’s journey with a variety of benefits. It’s up to you as to when you can start retirement benefits. You could start them a little earlier or wait until your “full retirement age.” There are benefits to either decision, pun intended.

Full retirement age refers to the age when a person can receive their Social Security benefits without any reduction, even if they are still working part or full time. In other words, you don’t actually need to stop working to get your full benefits.

For people who attain age 62 in 2017 (i.e., those born between January 2, 1955 and January 1, 1956), full retirement age is 66 and two months. Full retirement age was age 65 for many years. However, due to a law passed by Congress in 1983, it has been gradually increasing, beginning with people born in 1938 or later, until it reaches 67 for people born after 1959.

You can learn more about the full retirement age and find out how to look up your own at

You can start receiving Social Security benefits as early as age 62 or any time after that. The longer you wait, the higher your monthly benefit will be, although it stops increasing at age 70. Your monthly benefits will be reduced permanently if you start them any time before your full retirement age. For example, if you start receiving benefits in 2017 at age 62, your monthly benefit amount will be reduced permanently by about 26 percent.

On the other hand, if you wait to start receiving your benefits until after your full retirement age, then your monthly benefit will be higher. The amount of this increase is two-thirds of one percent for each month –– or eight percent for each year –– that you delay receiving them until you reach age 70. The choices you make may affect any benefit your spouse or children can receive on your record, too. If you receive benefits early, it may reduce their potential benefit, as well as yours.

You need to be as informed as possible when making any decision about receiving Social Security benefits. Read the publication When to Start Receiving Retirement Benefits at

If you decide to receive benefits before you reach full retirement age, you should also understand how continuing to work can affect your benefits. Social Security may withhold or reduce your benefits if your annual earnings exceed a certain amount. However, for every month benefits are withheld, it increases your future benefits. That’s because at your full retirement age Social Security will recalculate your benefit amount to give you credit for the months in which benefits were reduced or withheld due to your excess earnings. In effect, it’s as if you hadn’t filed for those months. You can learn more at

Social Security’s mission is to secure your today and tomorrow. Helping you make the right retirement decisions is vital. You can learn more by visiting our Retirement Planner at


Hardy Jackson’s Alabama

Illustration by Dennis Auth

In praise of church ladies


My mama was a “church lady.”

So was my Grandma Jessie, whose father came back from the Civil War, wounded, and became a Methodist minister. She lived across the street from the church and every time its doors opened, she was there.

Church ladies taught the children, organized the events, fed the bereaved families after funerals, and did the church doings that wouldn’t get done if it were left to the men.

Men may preach and pontificate, but the women did the heavy lifting.

But I don’t think I fully understood the influence that these ladies had until a member of our congregation passed away and left the church a pile of money, a lot of land, an impressive stock portfolio, and a house full of family antiques.

The dearly departed was one of the town eccentrics. Despite her affluence, she dressed like a bag lady, and where she lived seemed to be falling down around her. She was a spinster, and her family consisted of a handful of cousins whose efforts toward her improvement were pointedly rejected.

Her only known association with the church was regular attendance at the free Wednesday night supper.

The men of the church were overjoyed at the bequest and immediately formed a committee to inventory the estate. (Ever notice that when money is involved men become less willing to leave the ladies in charge?)  The committee (with its male majority) hired an appraiser to put a price on the house and its contents.

Church ladies were not happy.

“The place is full of family things,” they protested, “and they should stay in the family.”

“She wanted it all to go to the church and we should respect her wishes,” was the reply.

Church ladies were not happy.

Family members bought what they could afford.

Church ladies were still not happy.

Then it was discovered that packed up in a box, overlooked and uninventoried, was a complete set of antique Haviland china that had been in the family since forever.

And with the appraiser gone, it was up to the committee to price and sell it.

That was when the church ladies took their stand.

They trooped into the meeting, led by a blue-haired matron, a retired school teacher, whose prodigious memory and record of personal piety made her both feared and respected. They took seats on one side of the table. The men settled uneasily along the other.

“A cousin wants to buy the Haviland for her granddaughter,” their leader announced.

“And what is a fair price for these fine antiques?” asked the committee chairman, who didn’t know Haviland from Valvoline, but figured anything that old was worth a lot.

“One dollar.”

“One dollar for each piece?” the chairman asked, seeing where this was going and trying to at least soften the blow.

“One dollar,” came the reply, with it a look, mirrored on every female face at the table, which dared the men to oppose her.

And they didn’t.

The surrender was complete. The cousin paid the dollar. The china stayed in the family.

To no one’s surprise, the church ladies had their way.


Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at

Energy Efficient Trees

How landscaping can help you save energy.


Q: This year, I am planning to redesign my yard. Are there landscaping features I can incorporate that will help my home be more comfortable indoors?

Late winter and early spring are great times to think about changes you want to make to your home’s landscape. While the goal of most lawn and garden projects is to bring beauty to your outdoor space, a well-designed project can also improve your energy bill, increase the overall value of your home and provide additional benefits, such as reduced noise pollution, optimized water use and cleaner air around your home.

The two best strategies for improving the energy efficiency of your home with landscaping are to incorporate shading in the summer and wind blocking in the winter.

Deciduous trees on the south and west sides of your home can deflect hot summer sun.
Photo by Alan Davey

Summer shading

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, shading your home is the most cost-effective way to reduce heat gain from the sun and reduce your air conditioning costs in the summer. Having more plants and trees in your yard can reduce the air temperature by up to 6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Planting deciduous trees on the south, southwest and west sides of your home can cut heating during hot summer months, while allowing sunlight through during the fall and winter, when the trees have lost their leaves. When planting trees, consider the expected shape and height of the mature trees and where they will shade your home. A tree with a high mature height planted on the south side of a home, for example, will provide all-day roof shading in the summer, while a lower tree on the west side of your home can protect your home from the lower afternoon sun.

Plant trees an appropriate distance away from your home so they do not disrupt your foundation or your roof as they grow. While it will be five to 10 years before a newly planted tree will begin providing shade to your roof, it can start shading windows immediately. Incorporate other plants to provide near-term shade. Shrubs, bushes and vines can quickly shade windows and walls.

Also consider any paved areas around your home and how you can shade them during the summer. Think about walking across your driveway barefoot on a hot July afternoon—if your driveway or patio is unshaded, it is probably quite difficult. That absorbed heat is also reflecting onto your home, causing your air conditioner to work even harder. You can use trees, hedges and other landscaping structures such as arbors to shade these paved areas.

Wind-blocking techniques

If your home is in an open area without many structures around it, cold winter winds may be increasing your heating bills. A windbreak on your property can help deflect these winds over your home. The most common type of windbreak uses a combination of conifer (evergreen) trees and shrubs to block wind from the ground to the top of your home. For the best windbreak effect, plant these features on the north and northwest sides of your home at a distance of between two and five times the height of the mature trees. Incorporating a wall or fence can further assist with the wind break.

Another insulating technique is to plant shrubs and bushes closer to your home, but at least one foot away. The space between these plants and your home is “dead air space,” which helps insulate your home during winter and summer months.

The particular landscaping strategies you should focus on will depend on your climate zone. If you live in a hot, arid climate, you should focus on maximizing shading to your roof and windows for much of the year, while a home in a hot, humid climate will want to maximize summer shade.

Regardless of where you are located, if you live near powerlines, talk with your electric co-op about how far away newly planted trees should be from these lines before making any final design decisions to your yard.

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Amy Wheeless of Collaborative Efficiency.  For more ideas on energy efficient landscaping, please visit:

Worth the Drive: Kora’s Place


Serving soul food with compassion

As the sun is coming up over Kora’s Place, food is already being prepared.

To serve others takes a special heart. The young airman and the special education teacher no doubt saw that in each other. After two decades, multiple tours of duty, and four kids later, Cora and former Master Sgt. Lacornia Harris were ready for their second act. The plan? Come back to Lacornia’s hometown, Demopolis, set up a coffee shop and see how they could help make a difference there.

What they found for sale, though, was a full-size restaurant. They couldn’t have known then how perfect having all that extra space would be. Things were going to get crowded at their place as the local and national attention kept showing up.

They were included in the 2012 cookbook Alabama Food, Classic Dishes, Restaurants and Chefs, published by the Alabama Department of Tourism. Noted food expert Jon McClure selected Kora’s Place for his Alabama’s Best Restaurants cookbook. Quite an honor for Kora’s as McClure declared, “Those chosen represent the best at their specialty.” And a film crew for the Food Network Show “Roker on the Road,” which features NBC weatherman Al Roker, was lured in by Kora’s tasty fare.

Cora Harris, co-owner, with the other ladies of Kora’s – Serlena Craig, left, and Kaeena Keller, right. Harris shows how the Super Burger fills a whole plate.

The biggest challenge in the beginning, though, was just getting the sign up. The Harris kids wanted the place named for their mother. She was having none of it. Did not, would not have her name on that storefront. Compromise reached, it became “Kora’s Place” – with a “K” mind you, not her name.

The place is as unassuming as Miss Cora. They might have lived all over the U.S. and in Europe, but it was a firm decision that Kora’s would be nothing but downhome – nothing metro or Euro here. Its modest storefront reflects an attitude of come-as-you-are, come hungry and come pull up a chair with the rest of the folks in the community.

Everything’s big at Kora’s, starting with the size of the menu. Breakfast, lunch and dinner include all the standards, and even some old friends like a bologna sandwich or French toast.

Menu selection is just the beginning of the challenges faced here. Appetites easily go into overload just trying to maneuver down the move-over-Paula-Deen buffet – a true tribute to all the comfort foods Southerners do best. Insider tip: Do not pass up the cookbook-included peach cobbler or any of the real-pit smoked BBQ items.

Kora’s buffet is full of Southern comfort food.

The locals would say you’re not tasting some of Kora’s finest till you bite into one of their legendary burgers. A TripAdvisor reviewer praised them as “Mama made,” meaning fresh 100 percent ground beef, seasoned and made into patties right there. Lots of choices here too, but don’t miss the one you can hold over the fast foodies fanatics – The Big Daddy, a hefty blend of sausage and beef. But the biggest is the Super Burger, weighing in at 3 pounds. And that’s without the muffaletta bun.

“A lot of people buy them and take them home for the family. One will feed at least 5 or 6 people. If you’re really a meat lover, it will feed four,” says Cora.

It comes with a challenge: Put the combo down, fries and drink, too, and you get it free. Your picture joins the other 15 on the Wall of Fame, not to be confused with the very crowded Wall of Shame.

The family has taken on some challenges themselves. Kora’s Thanksgiving dinner has become a way the Harris family gives back. So the tables are set for all who want to come. Whether you have family or not, money or not, bring an appetite and have a seat.

Lacornia Harris, co-owner, greets customers.

For this event, Cora has her favorite assistant cooks, the three Harris girls. One daughter is now at the Redstone Arsenal, another a lawyer in Birmingham, and the youngest a local teacher. The fourth Harris, the son, is also in public service, stationed at the same air base his father once was. Serving others is obviously a lesson learned at home.

Since Kora’s start, the family has joined the volunteers of the Coming Together Organization to provide Christmas meals. What began for Cora and Lacornia as a contribution of 300 plates grew to 2,500 last year. Cora makes it clear the hungry don’t need a holiday at Kora’s.

“We’re always open to feed whoever needs it. We don’t turn anyone down. We take care of them.”

Outside of Kora’s, the Harris family has found other ways to feed those in need. Lacornia and other ministers in the local Ministerial Alliance have put together special worship services open to parishioners of all the local churches. This true coming together not only helps to unite the community, but it serves another purpose as well.

“The funds for that are used for people in need in the community,” Cora says.

The Harris family uses their gifts to nourish folks with food, with compassion, with hope. No doubt there are lots of folks who are grateful to have them and their good hearts downhome again.

Kora’s Place

1621 Highway 43 S.

Demopolis, AL 36732


Hours: Wednesday-Saturday 8:00 am – 8:00 pm


Pucker Up!

Give your palate the pop of lemons’ pizazz with this month’s reader recipes.


When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

You’ve probably heard this old adage many times. It’s really not about the tart, sunny yellow citrus. It’s offered as encouragement to push through a difficult time.

But I’d like to look at it literally. I’d like to encourage you to actually make lemonade out of your lemons, with the emphasis on “make.” Pouring powder out of a pre-measured plastic cup into a pitcher, adding water and stirring is not making lemonade. That’s preparing lemonade. There is a difference; one you can taste. Or at least I can. And I want a little more for my 50 cents.

I’m one of those people who can’t drive past a kids’ lemonade stand without stopping. In my neighborhood, this susceptibility can get expensive, since there’s a good chance I’ll see children sitting at folding tables behind their hand-lettered cardboard signs smiling sweetly and/or waving furiously at every car driving by on any given spring Saturday and even on weekdays during summer.

I pull over to the curb, roll down my window and exchange my two quarters for a Solo cup filled about half way with the requisite pale yellow liquid. If the temps are above 85, I’m hot and thirsty (that’s May through October in Central Alabama, where I live), so I’m always looking forward to that first sip.

What I really love – and what I have actually gotten a few golden times – is real lemonade, made by squeezing the juice from real lemons, combining it with real sugar, adding a little water and pouring it all over ice with a few lemon slices floating in the mix for good measure. That’s making lemonade, folks. And it’s really not that hard.

But don’t stop there. There are so many things you can make with fresh lemons. Just look at the long list of reader-submitted recipes we got for this month. Try a few and add a new ending to the aforementioned time-tested advice the next time you give it: “When life gives you lemons, make lemon cheesecake or lemon chicken or lemon pudding …”

Carolyn Massey, Sand Mountain EC

Cook of the Month!

Carolyn Massey likes lemons so much, she mail-ordered a Meyer lemon tree a decade ago and now picks her own, fresh off her tree, every late fall and early winter. “One year it produced 23 lemons!” she said. She enjoys using her harvest in lemon pie, authentic lemonade (which her now-grown grandson loved making with her) and this month’s winning recipe, Linda’s Lemon Cheesecake. “My sister-in-law has been making this for years and often gives it as gifts. We all love it because it is so delicious and so, so easy to put together,” Massey said.

Linda’s Lemon Cheesecake

  • 18-ounce package cream cheese, softened

  • 114-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 graham cracker crust
    Use electric mixer to blend cream cheese and milk. Add lemon juice and vanilla extract; mix well. Pour into a graham cracker crust and chill overnight.

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake


  • 1 box lemon cake mix
  • 1 small box vanilla instant pudding mix (dry)
  • ¾ cup canola oil
  • 4 medium eggs, beaten
  • ¾ cup cool water
  • 4 tablespoons poppy seeds
    For glaze:
  • 116-ounce box powdered sugar, sifted
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • ½ teaspoon lemon zest
    Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Oil and lightly flour a Bundt tube pan. In a large bowl, combine cake mix and pudding mix. Stir in oil, eggs and water. Beat with electric mixer 2 minutes. Fold in poppy seeds, 1 tablespoon at a time. Bake until toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes. In a bowl, stir lemon juice into powdered sugar a little at the time until it becomes the thickness of a drizzle. Drizzle over cake, covering the top, with some running down the sides. Sprinkle zest lightly over top.
    Barbara Frasier, Sand Mountain EC

Lemon Chess Pie

  • 4 eggs
  • 1¼ cups sugar
  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon self-rising flour
  • 1 tablespoon self-rising cornmeal
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 19-inch pie crust
    In large bowl mix eggs, sugar and butter. Add remaining ingredients and pour into unbaked pie crust. Bake 35-40 minutes at 350 degrees or until center is set.
    Pauline Lowery, Pioneer EC

Lemon Meringue Pie

  • Pie crust (makes crust for two 9-inch pie pans):
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1½ cups shortening
  • Pinch of saltMix above ingredients together and set aside.
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1tablespoon vinegarMix above ingredients together and add to the dry mixture.
    Divide crust mixture into two parts. Use one part for a 9-inch pie pan. Bake pie crust in pan for 8-10 minutes or until lightly brown in 475 degree oven.Filling:
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 6tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3-4 lemons, depending on size
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 ¼ cups boiling water
  • 3 extra large eggs, separated
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 19-inch pie crustFor the meringue:
  • 1 small jar of marshmallow crème
  • Pinch of salt
    Grate lemon rind and set aside. Cut lemons in half and squeeze juice into separate container. Combine sugar, cornstarch and salt in saucepan. Gradually add boiling water. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue cooking for 1 minute or until mixture is clear and thickened. Stir small amount of hot mixture into beaten egg yolks. Return this mixture to hot mixture in pan and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in lemon juice, butter and lemon zest. Pour into pie crust.
    Beat egg whites and salt until soft peaks form. Gradually add marshmallow crème, beating until stiff peaks form. Spread over filling, sealing to edge of crust. Bake in oven at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned.
    H. Gene Klocke, Dixie Electric

Lemon Sawdust Pudding

  • 2 cans Carnation milk
  • 6 lemons (strain juice)
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 box graham cracker crumbsChill milk in freezer about 30 minutes, then whip until stiff. Add sugar and beat until dissolved. Add lemon juice and whip until mixed completely. Fill bottom of bowl with graham cracker crumbs. Put a layer of whipped mixture, then more crumbs, then whipped mixture, repeating until used up. Chill or freeze in freezer until ready to serve (best served frozen).
    Beverly Armstrong, Joe Wheeler EMC

Lemon Herbed Salmon

  • 2 salmon fillets
  • 1lemon, sliced
  • Fresh rosemary
  • Fresh sage leaves
  • Olive oilLightly grease baking sheet with olive oil. Top salmon fillets with lemon slices, followed by the fresh herbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until done.
    Robbie Sue Vantrease, Cullman EC

Lemon Tartar Sauce

  • 1 lemon
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 4 kosher dill pickles
  • 1/8 cup dill pickle juice
  • Pinch of smoked paprika
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ground pepperIn a bowl mix the chopped pickles, mayo, salt and smoked paprika. Squeeze half of the lemon and the pickle juice and add to the mixture. Stir as you add the fresh ground pepper. Refrigerate.
    Kirk Vantrease, Cullman EC

Lemon Chiffon Pudding

  • 5 tablespoons sifted flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup milk
  • ¼ cup lemon juiceMix flour and sugar. Cream butter into flour mixture. Beat egg yolks and milk in gradually. Add lemon juice. Beat egg whites until stiff, but not dry. Fold in carefully. Pour into greased baking dish (I use a one-quart dish). Place in pan of hot water about 1 inch deep. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.
    Jamie Petterson, Tallapoosa River EC

Lemon Chicken

  • 2 pounds chicken, cut up
  • 3 lemons (2 for slices, 1 for juice)
  • 2 sticks butter, sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced into rings
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 cups water
  • Salt and pepperPlace chicken in large casserole dish and salt and pepper it. Put butter slices over pieces of chicken. Squeeze lemon over chicken. Put garlic and onions over everything and put water in pan. Put foil over pan and bake chicken at 350 degrees until chicken is done. Take foil off a few minutes before taking out of the oven to allow the chicken to brown.
    Karen Turnquist, Cullman EC

Grandmama’s Glazed Lemon Cakes

  • 2 oranges
  • 2 lemons
  • 1½ boxes confectioner sugar
  • 1 box yellow cake mixIcing:
  • Lightly grate rinds from oranges and lemons into a bowl (don’t grate too deeply; the white part of the rind will make the icing bitter). Squeeze juice from lemons and oranges and mix with grated zest. Beat in confectioners sugar until smooth.Cakes:
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare cake mix according to package directions. Spray miniature muffin tins with cooking spray. Fill tins halfway with batter (not all the way to the top). Bake for 12 minutes or until done. Once cakes come out of the oven, dunk each cake while still warm into the icing, making sure you fully coat each one. Place cakes on a wire rack and allow to dry fully.
    Laura Tucker, South Alabama EC

Lemon Blueberry Truffles

  • 1 box of lemon cake mix
  • ¼ cup of sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ cup freeze-dried blueberries, crushedPour dry cake mix into a large bowl. Melt butter and combine it with the lemon juice and sugar. Stir ingredients until the dough holds together. Shape into 1 ¼-inch balls. Roll truffles in about a ½ cup granulated sugar. Chill in refrigerator for about an hour. Optional: Dip the truffles in white chocolate for a decadent treat.
    Shari Lowery, Pioneer EC

In touch with nature

The 4,000-square-foot Apalachee Exhibit Hall at the Five Rivers Delta Resource Center in Spanish Fort features many displays highlighting the delta ecology, beauty and natural diversity, including taxidermy displays of various animals, artwork and other items.


Celebrate delta’s wetland riches
in an up-close way

Aptly named and situated where the Mobile, Tensaw, Blakeley, Apalachee and Spanish rivers converge to create the 250,000-acre Mobile-Tensaw Delta, the Five Rivers Delta Resource Center covers 80 acres of reclaimed marshes along U.S. Highway 98, more commonly known as Battleship Parkway or the Causeway. The complex between Mobile and Spanish Fort will celebrate its 10th anniversary on April 13, 2017.

“The reason the facility is here is because we want to be the gateway to the delta for the purposes of conservation education, outdoor recreation and land stewardship,” Hank Burch, center manager, says. “It’s important to us to get people in touch with these resources and physically experience them so they can take better care of the resources and take ownership of them.”

The crowning jewel, the 4,000-square-foot Apalachee Exhibit Hall, features natural displays highlighting the delta ecology, beauty and natural diversity. Exhibits include taxidermy displays of various animals, artwork and other items. Open free to the public, the hall also contains live owls, mammals, reptiles, fish and many other exhibits.

“We have two live opossums, which are always visitor favorites,” says Shonda Borden, the assistant manager. “We have live fish, snakes, turtles, birds and alligators. Kids love the live spiders and insects, but they often creep out the parents. It’s important to teach children that we have a tremendous amount of insects and arachnids that are very important to the environment.”

Shonda Borden, the assistant manager of the Five Rivers Delta Resource Center in Spanish Fort, admires a stuffed bear on display in the Apalachee Exhibit Hall. The hall has displays of most of the animals that live or once lived in Alabama.

Visitors can even peer into an actual osprey nest. Staffers found the nest built very low to the water, making it vulnerable to storms. After the adult ospreys successfully fledged two healthy offspring, staffers brought the nest back to the museum.

“The nest was probably built by young ospreys and a storm would have taken it out,” Borden says. “We wanted those two adult ospreys to build another nest that was less vulnerable to the elements. Visitors can look inside the nest and see what the birds had been eating. People can see fish catfish bones, fish scales and a crab shell.”

Visitors can peruse the exhibits at their leisure or request a free guided tour. The center accommodates about 8,000 to 12,000 student groups per year. Many tours begin in the 90-seat Tensaw Theater, which periodically shows nature documentaries.

“Most students are from pre-kindergarten to fifth grade, but we also get middle school, high school and even some college groups,” Borden says. “We also get Boy and Girl Scout groups, senior citizen groups and even veteran groups.”

After visiting the museum, people might take a hike on one of the trails meandering through pine and oak forests. The Battery Trail overlooks Sardine Pass and the Blakeley River. A mulched path runs through the trees and shrubs of Bowles Wood. Finish the outing with a picnic. Visitors can use two pavilions and multiple picnic tables on a first-come, first-served basis for free or reserve them for a small fee. Cap off the day by visiting the Cypress Gift Shop.

Hank Burch, manager for the Five Rivers Delta Resource Center, shows a live gray rat snake to Kathy Hicks. The snake is one of several live specimens of animals that live in Alabama on display at the center in Spanish Fort, Ala.

While hiking, visitors might spot various reptiles, raccoons, opossums and other animals or see evidence of their presence. The area attracts more than 300 bird species throughout the year. During warmer months, look for alligators in adjacent waters. Endangered Alabama redbelly turtles lay eggs on the grounds.

People who prefer water can launch paddle craft at a new facility. No boat? Rent a canoe or kayak at Bartram Landing or take a two-hour narrated delta tour on a pontoon boat.

“We now have an ABA-compliant wheelchair accessible canoe and kayak launching facility,” Burch says. “We also have a new camping shelter in the swamp that’s only accessible by boat. We also operate the Bartram Canoe Trail where people can reserve floating campsites in the delta.”

The center also rents spaces for banquets, luncheons, weddings, business meetings, receptions or other such events. People can even request to rent facilities after hours. Up to 120 people can sit down for a meal or 300 can participate in other functions.

Throughout the year, the facility holds special events. In conjunction with the city of Spanish Fort, the Delta Woods and Waters Expo will be held April 27-29. In the fall, bird enthusiasts from all over will flock to the Alabama Coastal BirdFest. Also in the fall, children of all ages might enjoy trick or treating or taking a haunted hayride at Halloween. Special this fall, the center will host a traveling Smithsonian exhibit called “Waterways” from mid-November through mid-January, one of only six locations in Alabama to see it.

“Water is a big part of our story here at Five Rivers,” Burch says. “We wanted to bring in this exhibit and add a lot of local content to it. It takes a global perspective on water as a natural and cultural resource that ties humanity together.”

The Five Rivers Delta Resource Center, which is run by the state land management division, remains open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. For more information, call 251-625-0814. Visit

Rescuing history

Garlan Gudger, co-owner of Southern Accents Architectural Antiques in Cullman. Photo by Lisa Jones

Garlan Gudger, co-owner of Southern Accents Architectural Antiques in Cullman, has built a national reputation in the architectural salvage business. He’s one of the curators of Southern Makers, an annual Alabama event that celebrates Southern creativity and innovation, which this year moves from Montgomery to Birmingham Aug 5-6. – Lenore Vickrey

How did your interest in salvaging pieces of old homes and buildings start?

My dad, Garlan Gudger, Sr. started this business in 1969, before I was even born, so this business is all I’ve ever known! As a young boy, I would roller skate through the store and dig through buckets of old door knobs. Having been raised around this business, I not only learned to love architectural relics but more importantly, I learned to appreciate them.

What’s the oldest piece of salvage material you’ve found?

Since Southern Accents only carries American architectural antiques, I rarely find anything that I can date earlier than the early 1700s. However, I do have a cast iron fireback that is dated 1678. It is the oldest American piece I have ever rescued. It is on display in our showroom and it is marked “not for sale!”

Why is it important to save these pieces of old structures?

Architectural antiques are part of our American history. Each time we lose a historic building, we lose part of our past. By saving architectural pieces – solid wood doors, mantels, lights, corbels, trim, wrought iron, salvaged wood and more – we can give these incredible pieces a chance at a second life. Not only does this help preserve a piece of our history, but it contributes to the sustainability of some of our natural resources. If not saved, many of these pieces would end up in a landfill. The craftsmanship seen in so many of the rescued pieces is a dying art and needs to be preserved for future generations.

Where do you see your business in the next 10 years?

Southern Accents has seen a tremendous amount of growth the last few years. We have our own wood shop where we produce quality restoration and custom work. Our salvaged wood business has grown and now encompasses two warehouses of 30,000 square feet. We’ve started taking on more commercial design and installation jobs and the past couple of years have expanded our business to include event staging. My goal for the next 10 years is to continue doing what I love: rescue, restore, protect and document architectural elements of historical significance.

Deer me!

What’s eating your landscape?


The succulent plants you so carefully tend in your garden are like an oasis in a desert—a feast for the eyes and stomach, waiting to be harvested at just the right time.

Sometimes, though, the fruits of your labor are prematurely usurped by a garden intruder impressed by what it sees as a gourmet, all-you-can-eat buffet.

“Deer are looking for the highest-quality food, and our yards often offer the best smorgasbord,” said Dana Sanchez, a wildlife specialist for Oregon State University Extension Service. “When taking loving care of our plants—watering well and fertilizing—we’re producing a really superior plant compared to what’s in the natural environment. They are more tender and have more nutrition and water content.”

How do you keep deer from feasting on what you want to enjoy?

According to nationally recognized gardening expert Joe Lamp’l, creator and host of the award-winning PBS television series, “Growing a Greener World,” there are three primary strategies: exclusion through physical barriers, repellents and making appropriate plant choices.

“There’s no foolproof method for keeping deer from eating your landscape if they’re hungry enough, but there are some ways to minimize the damage,” said Lamp’l. “It takes persistence and a few tricks, but you can keep deer at bay.”

Fence them out

The most reliable way to address a deer issue is to create a physical barrier or a way to exclude deer from your landscape, Lamp’l said.

“Building a fence around your vegetable garden will do a great deal to reduce deer damage, but not just any fence will do,” he said.

Lamp’l suggests building a double, three-strand fence, like those used for livestock protection. Mount plastic insulators on 36-inch wooden, fiberglass or metal stakes. Make two concentric circles around the area, 3 feet apart. String the stakes in each circle together with wire strands, placing the wire in the outside circle, 18 inches from the ground. Then put two strands on the inner stakes at 10 and 24 inches.

Caught in the act: A young deer takes his pick of greens in a well-tended garden.

“A deer’s depth perception is not good, so they will sense the presence of the two fences, but will be very unlikely to attempt to jump both,” said Michael Mengak, wildlife specialist professor at the University of Georgia. “You’ve created a visual and physical barrier against them without putting up an unsightly, stockade-style fence. A deer may try to jump the fence, but it won’t be able to clear both circles. It will most likely jump back out than attempt to cross the inner fence’s 24-inch barrier.”

Electricity—either through solar power or a battery-operated source—can be added, but Lamp’l says that is not necessary in most cases.

If a double fence is not practical from a space standpoint, he suggests building a standard fence from posts and chicken wire, woven field wire or welded mesh wire at least 8 feet tall. Make sure the fencing is tight against the ground. Deer will not burrow, but they will look for an easy way to go under it.

Individual plants or smaller plant groupings can be protected by draping them with lightweight netting. Loosely secure the netting around the base of the plant to prevent the deer from nibbling on the leaves.

Turn to repellents

Frustrated gardeners have resorted to a variety of techniques to try to deter Bambi and friends from foraging and grazing on prized roses, vegetables and hydrangeas: human hair, Irish Spring soap shavings, aluminum pie pans suspended on string, motion-activated lights and water sprinklers.

Others have tried crushing garlic, concocting a mixture of fragrant herbs or spraying capsaicin oil onto plants to keep the deer away.

“Some of these methods may work for the short term, but deer are creatures of habit and they’ll adjust to these attempts to add a human scent to frighten them,” said Neil Soderstrom, author of Deer-Resistant Landscaping: Proven Advice and Strategies for Outwitting Deer and 20 Other Pesky Mammals.

“We’ve heard of people using powdered baby formula, homemade concoctions that contain rosemary or other herbs, hot sauce, and even human or animal urine,” he said.

Soderstrom said commercially available repellents have a higher success rate, but the key is to alternate their use.

“The odor will dissipate over time, so you must be diligent in applying them every 10 days or so, and after it rains,” he said.

Recognized brands are Liquid Fence, Deer Away, Deer Out, Deer Stopper and Hinder. They are applied directly to leaves and the stem to create smells and tastes offensive to deer.

Repellex offers two types of repellents: a liquid spray applied to the plants and leaves, and systemic tablets or granular forms put into the soil, then absorbed into the plant, making it bitter to animals.

The process takes several weeks, so it is important to use a spray on the foliage the first few weeks.

Most box retailers and nurseries offer a choice of products in liquids, concentrates or powders. Completely read the labels, including cautions, before using to ensure the product is safe when used on fruits and vegetables.

For an organic deer-repellent that is marketed as fertilizer, try Milorganite—a wastewater treatment byproduct that has been produced by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District for more than 90 years.

Milorganite is the result of recycling nutrients in the city’s wastewater by using microbes that are then kiln-dried, bagged and sold. The organic nitrogen-based slow-release fertilizer produces an odor that is offensive to deer.

“I’ve seen it used as a fertilizer and deer repellent, and the deer don’t seem to browse in areas treated with Milorganite,” Lamp’l said. “I find it to be very effective.”

Pick native plants

In the wild, plants develop defenses such as waxy leaves or prickles that make them more adapted to surviving grazing. Even when they do get nibbled, natives are more likely to survive than the succulent plants in our gardens.

“We’re often selecting plants from other parts of the world that didn’t get to learn through evolution about the herbivores in our ecosystem,” Sanchez said. “They’re naïve. Even roses that have prickles don’t have them around the beautiful blossoms, which the deer just snap off. They easily take what they want.”

Choosing the right kinds of plants—those deer typically do not like—can reduce the likelihood of free-range foraging in your landscape.

“Native plants are among the best bets for your garden and landscape,” Lamp’l said. “Native plants evolved at the same time as your area’s wildlife and developed their own resistance to deer feeding to survive.”

Some plants are more appealing to hungry deer than others.

Daylilies, hydrangeas, hosta, azaleas, rhododendron, roses, fruit trees, arborvitae and Leyland cypress are ready-made food sources. Garden experts recommend not planting these if you have a high-traffic deer area.

Instead, look for plants and trees on the less-likely-to-be-eaten list, including boxwoods, hollies, ornamental grasses, hellebores/Lenten roses, ferns, butterfly bushes, cedar trees, redwoods and hemlocks. Consider planting them in the outer reaches of your landscape.

“Deer are determined and persistent when it comes to filling their tummies,” Sanchez noted.

Sometimes combining deer-desirable plants with those deer do not like can reduce the chance of having your colorful flower beds mowed to the ground. Mixing marigolds with pentas or lantana or Angelonia with impatiens tends to keep deer from grazing. Some gardeners intersperse pansies with spring onions to make deer work harder to sort out the plants they like to eat.

“Use ‘decoy plants’ around your landscape to attract deer away from your valued plants,” Lamp’l said. “For instance, give up part of your property to deer-friendly plants in hopes that they will focus on this readily available food source. However, if the deer are hungry enough, they will eat anything, so no method is completely effective.”

As creatures of habit, deer tend to feed in the same areas for generations—which can be problematic when invading their territory to create new neighborhoods, compromising their food and water sources.

“The key is making sure we have a way to live with wildlife,” Mengak said. “It may mean habitat modification, but it’s important to strike a balance between the needs of people and the needs of animals.”

Check your local county extension office website for plant recommendations specific to your area and hardiness zone.

Grow your own sunshine

Meyer lemons can be grown in containers on your patio, but bring them inside if freezing temps are predicted.

Tips for home citrus production


What could be better than starting the day with a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice? Squeezing that juice from an orange harvested right outside your door, of course, which is more possible than you might imagine.

Oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes and other citrus fruits are tropical (to semi-tropical) plants that are primarily produced for the commercial U.S. market in frost-free regions of Florida, California, Arizona and Texas. But Alabama actually has a long and storied history of citrus production along our Gulf Coast, particularly with satsuma mandarin oranges, the production of which has been a waxing and waning there for more than a century.

In the past, that industry waned during cycles of extremely cold winters that severely damaged or killed citrus trees and crops, which in turn affected the ability of area growers to sustain markets for their fruit. Over the last few decades, however, research on cold-protection practices and the development of freeze-resistant cultivars have revitalized satsuma production in the state and even helped expand it as far north as central Alabama.

One of the more northerly Alabama citrus producers is John Neighbors, who produces a wide variety of produce on his farm located on the Coosa-Tallapoosa county line near Alexander City, including (but not limited to) satsumas, Meyer lemons and limes.

One key to Neighbor’s success has been his use of high tunnels (also called hoop houses), which are tall greenhouse-like structures typically comprised of metal or plastic pipe frames covered in plastic sheeting that can be removed or rolled up when warm weather arrives.

Though high tunnels are a relatively affordable way to provide cover and warmth to plants during cold weather, they may not be a viable option for home gardeners. Luckily, there are ways to grow citrus on a small scale in almost any part of Alabama by choosing freeze-tolerant cultivars and providing them with the proper growing conditions. If you’re interested in growing some liquid sunshine, here are some options.

For those living in central Alabama and south, citrus trees can be planted in the ground (and now is a great time to plant them, by the way). They just need a spot with full sun, well-drained soil and some protection from winter winds and freezing temperatures, such as a site near the south side of a house or other structure (though not too close to sewer and water lines or patios and sidewalks, where citrus trees’ extensive root systems can cause trouble).

For those in more northerly regions of the state or gardeners who don’t have an ideal site for in-ground trees, many citrus species do beautifully when grown in containers. These potted citrus trees look fabulous on a patio or in a sunny spot in the yard during the warm seasons and can be brought inside during the winter. Just make sure the container is large enough to accommodate root growth, is equipped with drain holes and is filled with a high-quality, well-draining soil media.

Home garden citrus trees require little maintenance — proper watering and fertilization and attention to pest or disease threats are the biggest concerns — so they can be easy and attractive additions to the landscape. But it pays to explore all the ins and outs.

Ask for advice from local gardeners who have successfully grown citrus, or check with your local Alabama Cooperative Extension System office or local plant centers or nurseries for help. You can also find information online, including one helpful Extension publication, Citrus for Southern and Coastal Alabama, which lists suitable varieties for Alabama and offers detailed advice on planting and caring for citrus, advice that can be helpful even if you live in farther north in the state.

Once you’ve got the details in hand, it may not be long before you can have some liquid sunshine in hand!