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Consumer Wise: Oct. 2016

Is your attic haunted by lack of insulation?

By Patrick Keegan and Amy Wheeless

Q: Winter will be here before we know it, and I’m wondering if more insulation could help keep my heating bills low. Where in my home should I look to add insulation?

A: When you venture outdoors in the winter without a hat and coat, you obviously will feel much colder, much faster. Similarly, when your home is not properly sealed and insulated, cold air sneaks in and heat escapes, making your heating system work harder and your home less comfortable. Sealing and insulating your home to efficient levels can cut your heating and cooling costs by an average of 15 percent, and sometimes much more—all while making you more comfortable in your home.

Your attic is one of the first places you should consider insulating since it is usually accessible and easy to inspect for air leaks and insulation levels. Additionally, most homes do not have enough attic insulation. Insulation standards for new homes increased in 2012, and many homes built before then do not have the current recommended amount of attic insulation.

Insulation is graded by its “R-value” – the higher the R-value, the greater the insulating power. If you live in a mild climate, your attic should have a minimum grade of R-38, or about 13-14 inches of insulation. If you live in a colder climate, R-49 is the minimum recommendation, or about 16-18 inches of insulation. More may be needed depending on your home and exact climate.

How can you tell if your attic is lacking in insulation? As a general rule, if you go into your attic and can see the ceiling joists on the attic floor, there is not enough insulation. Hiring a trained energy auditor is the best way to diagnose shortcomings with insulation or any other energy-related issue. Check with your electric co-op to see if they offer energy audits or can refer you to a local energy auditor. Your co-op may also offer a rebate for adding attic insulation.


Once you have determined that you need more insulation in your attic, there are a few things you can do before laying down additional insulation:

If you currently store items like holiday decorations in your attic, consider another suitable storage location in your home. If you must use your attic for storage, build a platform high enough to allow installation of the recommended level of insulation.

If you live in an older home, you should check your attic’s electric wiring. Is the insulation around the wires degrading? Do you have knob and tube wiring? In either case, you will likely need to replace the wiring before proceeding.

You will then need to decide who will do the insulation work. If a “DIY” project interests you, you’ll need to do some homework. Installing insulation is messy, potentially dangerous and requires special equipment. Fortunately, there are many experienced insulation contractors. You should discuss a few things with the contractor before you agree to hire them:

Be sure that you or your contractor seals any air leaks, such as around furnace flues and around any exposed air ducts in the attic. Air leaks can bring warm, moist air from your home into the attic, which can reduce the insulation value and create mold.

Pay particular attention to your attic door or hatch. This entry point is a significant contributor to heat loss and heat gain in the home.


If you have existing attic insulation, it is usually not necessary to remove it unless it is wet, moldy or contains animal waste.

Make sure there is sufficient ventilation in the attic. Warmth and moisture can build up in an improperly ventilated attic, which can lead to roof problems, such as roof rot or ice dams.

There are two types of insulation that you could place on your attic floor: batt/roll or blown-in/loose fill. Blown-in insulation requires special equipment to install, but it fills the space better than batt insulation, which can leave gaps and voids without careful cutting and placement around ceiling joists, vents and other attic impediments.

Insulation is most commonly made from fiberglass, cellulose or mineral wool. Many energy advisors recommend blown-in cellulose insulation due to its superior coverage, high R-value and air sealing abilities; blown-in cellulose insulation is treated with boric acid, which acts as a fire retardant and insect repellent.

Before you get started, consult with your local energy auditor or insulation contractor. They can help determine what type and material of insulation will work best in your home.

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Amy Wheeless of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on sealing and insulating your attic, please visit:

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

It’s pickin’ time

Illustration by Dennis Auth
Illustration by Dennis Auth


In 1956, my Daddy’s tractor business went bottom up – a victim of recession and a switch from row crops to pine trees. So Daddy went back to teaching school, which was what he did before trying his hand at business.

When summer came, he earned extra money measuring cotton.

Today, not many folks know about cotton measuring. To better control production and keep prices stable, government planners assigned each farm an allotment based on some bureaucratic calculus I still don’t understand. Put simply, the big farms were allowed to plant big fields and the small farms were told to keep it small.

In my county, where cotton was usually raised to supplement an income, few of the fields we measured were more than 20 acres — most were far less.

Getting on to pickin’ time

I got cotton in the bottom land

It’s up and growin’ and I got a good stand

My good wife and them kids of mine

Gonna get new shoes come pickin’ time. 

­–Johnny Cash, “Pickin’ Time”

To make sure farmers did not plant beyond what the government allowed, “field agents” were sent out to measure the planting and determine the acreage. If the farmer overplanted, he was told to plow it up or pay a fine. The farmer had to decide whether it was best to pay it off or plow it under. Thus another element of uncertainty was added to a way of life already at the mercy of weather, weeds and weevils.

Weekday mornings we piled into Daddy’s WWII surplus Jeep and off we went. When we arrived at a farm, we invited the owner to accompany us and watch while we measured.

During those months we met a lot of farmers, but one stands out from the rest.

He was an elderly black man who took us out to his patch. He was proud of it, and should have been. The middles were plowed clean, the rows chopped, plants growing tall and healthy. If there was ever a field capable of producing that prayed-for-bale-to-the-acre, this was it.

Only there was no acre.

Just two-tenths.

That was his allotment – two-tenths of an acre.

We measured it quickly and when we were done, I asked him why he went to all that trouble for such a small crop.

He considered me, kindly, and said, “I gotta have something for my mule to do.”

I had seen the animal in the lot by the barn. Fat, sleek, and like its owner, graying.

Man and mule, bound together by that slender thread called cotton. Each needing, depending on, the other.

Soon they would lay by the crop and come fall, it would be picked, ginned and sold. Then the farmer could pay his debts, buy things for the family, and get some sweet feed for the mule.

After that, the farmer and his friend could rest till it was time to plow again.

That was their world, a world made of cotton.


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

Outdoors: NaturePlex explored

Photo by John Felsher
Photo by John Felsher

Facility gives visitors a taste of the Alabama outdoors

By the early 20th century, once abundant wildlife resources declined to crisis levels throughout the United States. In 1935, some hunters and fishermen decided to do something about that and founded the Alabama Wildlife Federation.

“The AWF is the oldest and largest non-profit citizen’s conservation organization in Alabama,” says Tim Gothard, the AWF executive director. “AWF was founded by hunting and angling conservationists who were passionate about the outdoors and wanted to bring back the abundant wildlife resources they remembered we had earlier in this country and maintain them for future generations. Our three primary focus areas are conservation education, resource stewardship and preserving hunting and angling heritage.”

In October 2015, the AWF opened the NaturePlex on a magnificent wilderness oasis in Millbrook just up Interstate 65 from Montgomery. Today this complex more than achieves the three AWF conservation goals. In the first year, more than 30,000 people, half of them school children, visited the 23,000-square-foot facility.

A simulated beehive, left, and bat cave are among the displays inside. Photo by John Felsher
A simulated beehive, left, and bat cave are among the displays inside. Photo by John Felsher

“The NaturePlex represents a unique and extraordinary opportunity to touch the lives of both youth and adults,” says Marla Ruskin, an AWF communications specialist. “At the same time, we will also be taking steps to ensure that the generations to follow will understand the importance of being good stewards of the wildlife and other natural resources with which we have been richly blessed.”

At NaturePlex, children and adults enjoy the interactive and visual displays describing wildlife and habitats in the Cotton State. In the Discovery Hall, visitors can venture inside a simulated beehive or a bat cave, see small live creatures and much more. Afterward, view an informative movie in the 120-seat auditorium, watch the staff feed animals or peruse the items in the Bear Den Gift Shop. Sometimes, temporary traveling exhibits supplement the permanent displays.

Many schools arrange field trips to the facility. Periodically throughout the year, people can also participate in special programs. For the complete calendar of events, see

“We have planned activities going on all the time,” Ruskin says. “Every third Thursday night, bring the entire family out for a special program. Saturdays are always a big deal at the NaturePlex with movies playing throughout the day and special activities planned. The NaturePlex can be reserved for school field trips, teacher training workshops, seminars and other educational programs.”

In the summer, children ranging from 5 to 15 years old can attend various day camps. In his 10 years on Earth, Scott Graydon of Pike Road attended day camps for five summers.

“I love coming, here,” Scott says. “The pool is my favorite thing. I also like when we go to the creek where we make clay faces. We went to the aquatic center where we caught some bugs and bullfrogs and then went swimming in the lake. I liked seeing the snakes and holding them. I also liked making all the different stuff we did.”

Outside the NaturePlex building, visitors can explore the 350-acre Alabama Nature Center located on the historic Lanark estate. Isabel and Wiley Hill moved to Lanark in 1948 and built a house across a stream from an antebellum home. For the next 50 years, the Hills kept enlarging their home and tending to a 30-acre garden. Acquired in 2003, the property now serves as the headquarters for 25,000 AWF members.

Center visitors can walk on a mile of boardwalks running through sensitive wetlands or hike four miles of trails wandering through pine and upland hardwood forests. People can also fish in three lakes or enjoy the 7,200-square-foot Lanark Pavilion. People can make reservations to hold weddings, corporate functions and other events.

“Everything that we do here is really a testament to private individuals, corporations and foundations around the state who share that same passion that we have for striking that balance between use, management and protection of our outdoors resources so that future generations can enjoy them in the way that we have been able to do,” Gothard says. 

For more information, visit



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

Gardens: The luck of leaves


Looking for a little luck in the coming year? Try catching a falling leaf!

According to my husband (and other sources of folklore) it’s lucky to catch a falling autumn leaf before it hits the ground — a month’s worth of luck for each leaf caught, in fact.

I’m not as adept at catching airborne leaves as my husband is, but I console myself in feeling very lucky to see the display that those leaves provide before they fall, whether that be through the windshield of a car, on a wooded trail or in our own yard.

And it just so happens that the amount and brilliance of fall leaf color is dependent on a bit of luck: the luck of weather conditions that is. If the previous summer and early fall have been particularly dry, the leaves of deciduous plants (those that lose their leaves in the winter) will likely not produce vivid fall colors and may turn brown instead of colorful before they fall. The intensity of fall color is greatest when fall weather patterns provide warm, sunny days and cool but not freezing nights.

The technical reasons behind fall color have less to do with luck and more to do with science — harken back to all those terms we learned in high school, such as photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process through which sunlight is used by plants to turn water and carbon dioxide into oxygen (for us to breathe) and sugars, which plants use for food during their spring and summer growing seasons. As days get shorter in the fall and there is less sunlight to fuel the food-making process, deciduous plants begin to shut down and stop photosynthesizing.

Then there is the role of chlorophyll (yep, another term from our high school science pasts), which gives leaves their green color. As the plants stop photosynthesizing, chlorophyll ebbs away and allows orange and yellow pigments that are naturally in the leaves to emerge. The reds and purples that some plants display in their fall leaves are actually caused by sugars trapped in leaves as photosynthesis stops, while the brown color in leaves is caused by wastes left behind at the end of photosynthesis.

Whew, now that the science lesson is out of the way, how about a little lesson in how to appreciate the artistry of fall colors? Alabama abounds with many opportunities to see fall color and, according to the Farmers’ Almanac, this year’s prime leaf peeping season in Alabama should be between Oct. 19 and Nov. 4. If you want to take the luck out of finding this year’s best fall leaf displays, the Alabama Tourism Department and Alabama State Parks Division provide interactive maps and leaf-peeping trail ideas at

But even if you can’t go on a leaf-peeping journey, you can create your own fall showplace by planting the right trees and shrubs — and this is a great time of year to do some of that planting and often to get some good deals on trees and shrubs.

Among the recommended plants for fall color in Alabama are the old standbys: dogwood, gingko, redbud and red, Japanese and sugar maples. But you can also consider other plant choices such as crape myrtle, sourwood and blueberry, to name a very few.

October Tips

        •  Apply compost to gardens and turn compost piles.
        •  Test soil and add amendments as needed.
        •  Dry and save seed from end-of-season flowers, vegetables and herbs.
        •  Take cuttings of tender perennials and begin rooting them.
        •  Clean and store empty pots, garden tools and equipment for the winter.
        •  Plant lettuces, spinach, turnips, radishes, onions and garlic.
        •  Plant a winter garden cover crop (ryegrass, clover, etc.) to protect and enrich soil.
        •  Keep mowing lawns until no sign of new growth is evident.
        •  Fill bird feeders and birdbaths to attract migrating and local birds.


JACKSON, KATIE Gardening 2013

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

Worth the drive: The Waysider

The Waysider was voted the best non-franchise place for breakfast in Alabama in the 2015 “Best of Alabama” contest.

Gameday favorite spot feels like home

|View Video Here|

Story and photos by Jennifer Kornegay

“This place is like home to me, and the folks that come here to eat are like family,” said Linda Smelley, owner of The Waysider in Tuscaloosa. The historic restaurant, popular for its bountiful breakfasts and its biscuits, is actually in an old house, and the crimson-red, wooden cottage with its houndstooth awning feels like home to plenty of others too, as evidenced by the many regulars who return week after week to fill up on Southern first-meal favorites. Add the out-of-town relatives – the “football family members” who visit on University of Alabama home-game Saturdays to fuel up for a day packed with pigskin action and probably even more food – and Smelley’s got quite the clan to feed.

Grits and biscuits with every order

She has proven up to the task. The Waysider has been satisfying its large extended family since 1948, and while Smelley bought it in 1989, the restaurant has been a part of her life for more than four decades. “Some of my relatives bought it from the original owner, and I worked here for years before I bought it. I grew up here, and now my kids work here too,” she said. “I think lots of folks like coming here because of that family feeling; it’s like being at your grandmother’s.” When you combine this heartfelt heritage, the friendly welcome, the homey setting, the hot coffee that flows freely and fast, the hearty portions and the scratch-made biscuits, the result is an experience that is definitely akin to eating at your grandmother’s house.

A saucer of biscuits is the perfect accompaniment to sugar-cured ham and eggs.

That is, if your grandmother is a zealous, bordering-on-obsessed University of Alabama football fan. An almost life-size cardboard Coach Saban greets guests at The Waysider’s front door, and the frenzy of fandom continues inside. From the crimson carpet on the floor to the walls hidden behind images of iconic Tide football moments, newspaper headlines announcing U of A victories and signed photos of legendary coaches, The Waysider makes its allegiances clear.

Despite the Alabama memorabilia and spirit that envelops diners, even Auburn and Tennessee fans probably feel at home once their order comes out. Plates are piled with slim, spongy pancakes; sugar-cured ham freckled with brassy spots of crisped fat; and pale yellow clouds of scrambled eggs. A small bowl of thin, salty grits (perfect pork-dipping consistency) and a saucer of biscuits come with every order.

Crimson Tide memorabilia decorates the walls.

Servers, including Smelley’s son, pace the small dining area with its mix of sorority girls, senior citizens and everyone in between, offering customers more coffee and more biscuits. Some folks wave their hand over their mug, signaling they’ve had enough joe. But hardly anyone turns down an extra helping of the small, square-ish biscuits. Puffed out air pockets, plainly visible amid their many layers, render them soft and light. Browned to golden on the bottom, they don’t require any embellishment, but are often dunked in red-eye gravy or slathered with butter just the same.

If you ask Smelley the secret behind her biscuits, she’ll tell you there isn’t one. “It’s just your basic recipe,” she said. But there’s definitely some alchemy at work. “You just have to know how to knead the dough; there’s a feel to it,” she said.

Armed with this seemingly instinctive knowledge, Smelley and her kitchen crew bake biscuits by the thousands each weekend, especially in the fall. The restaurant sees crowds of more than 650 on game-day Saturdays, but even more the next day. “We serve close to 750 folks on Sundays,” Smelley said.

While weekends are all about the biscuits and other breakfast foods – it’s all The Waysider serves on those days – during the week, the restaurant also offers lunch, a rotating list of items (hand printed on a card each day) including pot roast, fried catfish and all kinds of Southern-style veggies, like Smelley’s favorite, eggplant casserole.

But on those special Saturdays in autumn, when the Tide faithful fill the place, there’s a feeling of shared purpose and pride that swells alongside waistlines. And when the game clock hits zero, it almost doesn’t matter what the scoreboard says. Start your day at The Waysider, and you’re already a winner.

The Waysider
1512 Greensboro Avenue, Tuscaloosa, AL


M-F, 5:30 a.m. – 2 p.m., breakfast all day; lunch from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Sat, 5:30 a.m. – 12 p.m., breakfast only
Sun, 6:30 a.m. – 1 p.m., breakfast only

Skeet shooting

Photo by Mark Stephenson

Skeet shooting in a cow pasture is alternative to commercial ranges

By Ben Norman

You don’t have to take the family to a commercial shooting range to enjoy an afternoon of fun breaking clay targets.

“Pull!” shouts Ellen Norman as her 13-year-old nephew, Charlie Elliott, releases a clay “bird” from the trap.

Norman makes a direct hit with a load of Number 8 shot from her 20 gauge and the “bird” disappears in a cloud of black smoke. She has just “smoked” her first clay target in an afternoon of informal clay target shooting with family and friends. From the look of satisfaction on her face, she’s just discovered what might be her newest favorite sport.

Ellen Norman takes aim as Charlie Elliott releases a clay target. Photo by Ben Norman

Shooting skeet, sporting clays or trap is excellent practice for the coming dove, duck and quail season. It is also great recreation for anyone with no interest in hunting but who enjoys the shooting sports.

Sporting clays has become very popular in the United States in the last 30 years, attracting thousands to its ranks annually. Sporting clay shooting simulates actual hunting conditions more than trap or skeet shooting. There is even a large “rabbit” clay target that skips along the ground like a cottontail rabbit. Shooting a sporting clays course is a lot of fun, but shooting at a commercial range can become expensive if one desires to shoot frequently or has to pick up the tab for the whole family.

There is an alternative to shooting at a commercial range. Most of us have access to a suitable area for shooting clay targets. A pasture, open field or sparsely wooded areas with a safe shot fall zone is all you need for an afternoon of shooting clay targets. The only cost involved for informal clay target shooting is the cost of the trap and clay targets, assuming you already have a shotgun and shells.

Target throwers or traps will run from $5 to $25 for a hand thrower to several thousand dollars for a professional model. Manual cocking traps start at around $30. The type of trap to buy depends on what you want to accomplish. If you simply want to brush up on your wing shooting skill or introduce the family or friends to the sport, a hand trap or inexpensive spring trap will probably meet your requirements.

One of the best traps I have used is the Trius One Step trap. This trap is loaded by hand but cocked and released all in one downward motion of your foot. It is very similar to depressing the clutch on a straight shift vehicle. With this trap you use the weight of your body to depress the spring rather than having to use upper body strength to cock it. Another advantage of the Trius One Step is that the shooter can operate it without assistance, making a solo practice session possible.

If you really get the clay target shooting bug, you may want to invest in in a commercial grade trap similar to the ones used at official courses. These traps are made for continuous use and are built to take it. They also provide a wider range of angle and speed adjustment than the less expensive spring traps.

Ben Norman enjoys clay target shooting in his field with family. Photo by Mark Stephenson
Ben Norman enjoys clay target shooting in his field with family. Photo by Mark Stephenson

Clay targets can be purchased at sporting goods stores and large discount stores. They are often used as leader items just prior to dove season every year and this is a good time to stock up on them. Another excellent time to find a discounted price on clay targets is after the hunting season is over.

Most any open choked shotgun can be used for informal clay target shooting. While semi-autos and over/under shotguns are the most popular on sporting clay courses, a pump, side by side or single barrel can be used. Young shooters or anyone of small stature will be less intimidated with recoil from the smaller gauges. The 20 gauge is preferred by many shooters because it offers a good shot pattern and low recoil. The 28 gauge and 12 gauge with light loads are also popular.

Shot shells are a matter of personal choice. Many shooters are happy with the bargain shells offered at the big discount stores while others prefer shells designed for sporting clays. The Winchester AA load is a longtime favorite of many experienced shooters. My favorite load for introducing a beginner to clay target shooting is the Winchester AA Low Recoil/Low Noise load. According to Winchester’s Laci Warden, their engineers used clean burning powder, a hinged wad and reduced load weight to offer a soft recoiling load while still maintaining excellent on-target performance.

As with any shooting sport, safety and ear protection should be a primary concern. Pick up a hand or spring trap, a box of clay targets and take the spouse, kids and a few friends to the back 40 to burst a few clays. It’s good family fun.

Ben Norman writes from Highland Home.

Carnegie’s legacy lives on in Alabama

Eufaula Carnegie Library looks like a grand mansion. Photo courtesy Eufaula Chamber of Commerce

By Marilyn Jones

I had just finished touring the Bessemer Hall of History Museum when my tour guide, Trisston Burrows, asked if I knew they also had a Carnegie Library. “It now serves as the chamber of commerce office and we’re very proud of it.”

I drove the few blocks to see what once served as its library. A stately brick building might not seem like a springboard of curiosity for some, but I was immediately interested — why would a Pennsylvania industrialist build a library in Bessemer, Alabama?

Andrew Carnegie

During the last 18 years of his life, Scottish-American Andrew Carnegie gave away nearly 90 percent of his steel industry wealth ($350 million equaling billions today) to charities, foundations, universities and communities to build libraries.

In the closing years of the 19th century and early years of the 20th century, a total of 2,509 Carnegie libraries were built around the world, 1,689 in the U.S. Alabama was the recipient of 19 library building grants, including five on university campuses. By the time the last grant was made in 1919, there were 3,500 libraries in the United States; nearly half of them were built with construction grants paid by Carnegie.

In Alabama, ten have been converted for other use and seven razed. Only two are still being used as libraries — in Eufaula and Union Springs.

Why libraries?

Books and libraries were important to Carnegie, beginning with his early childhood in Scotland and his teen years in Allegheny/Pittsburgh. There he listened to readings and discussions of books from the Tradesman’s Subscription Library, which his father helped establish. Later, while working for the local telegraph company, Carnegie borrowed books from his employer.

In his autobiography, Carnegie describes his personal experience as an immigrant who, with help from others, worked his way into a position of wealth. This reinforced his belief in a society based on merit, where anyone who worked hard could become successful. This conviction was a major element of his philosophy of giving in general and of his libraries as its best known expression.


The Eufaula Carnegie Library, 317 Eufaula Ave., looks like a grand mansion, with its two-story brick facade and yellow trim. An arched windowpane of colored glass adorns the space above the west entrance. A gabled portico, with a set of round Doric columns, welcomes patrons to the north entrance.

Built at a cost of $10,000 in 1903 and 1904, the city council agreed to pay $1,000 a year for its operation. It was Carnegie’s method to build and equip the libraries, but only on condition that the local authority match that by providing the land and a budget for operation and maintenance.

“The two front rooms of the library, now used as the genealogy, local history room and director’s office, feature identical corner fireplaces and high wooden mantels supported by Ionic columns,” says Ryan McCollough, communications coordinator for the Eufaula Barbour County Chamber of Commerce.

Another outstanding feature, McCollough says, is the library’s large second-floor auditorium. “In the library’s early years, the auditorium was the scene of high school graduation ceremonies, dances and other public events.”

Eufaula, a city of just over 13,000, is also known for its other historic buildings, many listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Seth Lore and Irwinton Historic District, with 667 contributing properties, is the second-largest historic district in the state.

The name Carnegie is displayed over the library’s arched windowpane of colored glass. Photo courtesy Tourism Council of Bullock County
The name Carnegie is displayed over the library’s arched windowpane of colored glass.
Photo courtesy Tourism Council of Bullock County

Union Springs

The architectural design of the Union Springs Carnegie Library, 103 North Prairie St., is Classic Revival-Beaux arts.

Efforts to open a library began in the late 1800s when the Ladies’ Lyceum was formed. After two years of fundraisers to buy 332 books, the library opened in the basement of the Baptist Church. Members paid $2 a year to borrow books. The library was open four hours a week with members of the lyceum volunteering to serve as librarian.

After the turn of the century, Miss Molly Norman wrote to Andrew Carnegie asking for help in building a public library. After city council appropriated $1,000 a year as operating funds, Carnegie approved a $7,000 grant for construction, which began in 1911.

Completely restored in 2010, the library features original antique furniture, light fixtures and mahogany woodwork. Like Eufaula, the library features a stage, dressing rooms and movie projection room on the lower level used over the past century for public events.

Union Springs has an unusual wealth of historic homes, businesses and monuments for a community of less than 4,000. On the city tour there are 48 stops. From an 1851 log cabin and Bullock County Courthouse (1871-1872) to the 1852 antebellum Foster-Chapman House, said to be the finest surviving example of the Moorish Revival style, the city offers a plethora of interesting destinations along its tree-lined streets.

It is a treasure for the state of Alabama to have two Carnegie libraries. Maintained by communities with a respect of history, they continue to fulfill their original mission to make books available, as was Carnegie’s wish.

Other library sites Used for a different purpose:

  • Bessemer
  • Decatur
  • Montgomery
  • Selma
  • Talladega
  • Troy
  • Alabama A&M
  • Alabama Polytechnic Institute
  • Judson College
  • Tuskegee University
  • No longer standing:
  • Anniston
  • Avondale
  • Ensley
  • Gadsden
  • Huntsville
  • West End
  • Talladega College

Co-ops Vote!

Future of rural America rests with voters



While the November presidential race is at the top of most voters’ minds this election season, it is the state and local races that have a more direct and immediate impact on the “kitchen table” issues that matter most to families in rural America.

An annual snapshot prepared by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service says “rural employment in mid-2015 was still 3.2 percent below its pre-recession peak in 2007.”

That same report found that rural America continues to experience population decline driven by residents moving to larger urban areas.

The trends underlying much of this outmigration – issues such as globalization, technology advances and the shift from a manufacturing-based economy to a service and knowledge-based economy – are largely beyond the control of any community, state or even country.

Although the challenges facing rural America are global, the prevailing sentiment among rural stakeholders and researchers is that the solutions are largely homegrown.

In other words, if rural America is to enjoy a prosperous future, it will be thanks to the ingenuity, self-reliance and determination of its people.

The rural electrification movement is a prime example of this.

When for-profit utilities based in urban areas declined to build electric lines in sparsely populated rural areas, the residents of those communities banded together to form cooperatives and build their own systems with the help of government loans.

Today, America’s electric cooperatives are finding new ways to support and promote the interests of the communities they serve.


Co-ops Vote

One program that is particularly relevant today is the Co-ops Vote initiative.

This non-partisan, nationwide program is designed to promote civic engagement and voter participation in communities served by electric cooperatives.

Co-op members can go to to gather information on the voter registration process in their state, dates of elections, information on the candidates running in those elections and explanations of key issues affecting rural America.

Visitors to the website can also take a pledge to be a co-op voter. By taking this pledge, they can send a message to candidates at all levels of government that electric cooperative members will be showing up at the polls in force, and are paying close attention to the issues that impact the quality of life in their communities.

Growing our own leaders

To answer the call for more rural leaders, America’s electric cooperatives created the Washington Youth Tour program.

Each year, approximately 1,700 high school students representing electric cooperatives from across the nation converge in Washington, D.C., for a weeklong, all-expenses-paid leadership development experience.

Alabama sent 47 bright young students to Washington in June, all from rural areas and small towns that will need their leadership in years to come.

Taking action for the future

The challenges facing rural America will not be solved by one person, one idea or one action. But on Nov. 8, we will determine which leaders we trust to enact policies that will help small communities help themselves.

In the 2012 national elections, voter turnout dropped by 9 percent overall, but the decline in rural counties was 18 percent — twice that of the nation as a whole. To make sure our rural voices are heard, we have to vote.

Study the issues that are critical to the future of your community. Look at the positions and backgrounds of every candidate running for every race from president to county road commissioner. Decide which ones are best qualified to address these issues. Then join millions of fellow electric cooperative members at the polls.

Alabama Recipes: Campfire cooking


Get fired up

Campfire cooking can be both simple and scrumptious

By Jennifer Kornegay | Photos by Michael Cornelison

Food cooked over an open flame has remained popular long past the era when it was the only option. Making meals outside is no longer a necessity, but a treat, in part, because a flickering fire’s intense heat sears quickly and seals in ingredients’ moisture and inherent goodness. Its smoke slithers into veggies and sinks into meat, leaving its flavor and fragrance behind. But these aren’t the only reasons we do it.

There’s something exciting about taming a raw element and bending it to our purpose. Something instinctive and thrilling about the crackle, pop and sizzle of food being transformed by a red-orange blaze, something that goes beyond the thermodynamics and chemistry of cooking and into the realm of magic. And the purest form of this experience is even more primitive than lighting up the patio grill: cooking over a campfire.

If you’re planning on doing some camping this fall, choose a few of this month’s reader-submitted recipes and stow them in your backpack. They’re easy and tasty and will help you take your campfire cooking beyond the basics.

– Jennifer Kornegay

Cook of the Month

Kassie Luster, Central Alabama EC

Kassie and her family enjoy spending time in the great outdoors, often pitching camp at Lake Mitchell and at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores. She and her daughters, ages 8 and 12, especially like preparing meals on a campfire. “We love cooking together and spend a lot of time in the kitchen, but we also love cooking outside,” Kassie said. The Campfire Hash recipe is one the three have been working and is now part of their homemade “camp cookbook.” We’ve been adding things to our personal campfire recipe book, and we’ve not even had a chance to try them all out yet, but we’ll keep camping, so we’ll get through them all eventually!” Kassie said.


Campfire Hash

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 pound smoked kielbasa, halved and sliced
  • 1 4-ounce can chopped green chilies
  • 1 can (15 1/4 oz) whole kernel corn, drained

In a large skillet, cook and stir onion in oil until tender. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add potatoes and cook uncovered for 20 minutes. Add kielbasa; cook and stir until meat and potatoes are tender and browned, about 10-15 minutes. Stir in chilies and corn; heat through then serve.

Grandma’s Campfire Beans

  • 4 to 6 cans (14 to 16 ounces each) pork and beans
  • 6 slices bacon
  • 1 clove garlic, minced fine
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cups brown sugar (light or dark)
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • In large pan, fry bacon until crisp. Remove from pan, drain, and crumble. In same pan, sauté onions and garlic until golden. Drain off most of grease then add to pan, the rest of the ingredients. Stir and cook until bubbly, then simmer 10 to 15 minutes.

Mary Ann Gove, Cottonwood, Ariz.


Onion “Kisses”

Ingredients needed per person:

  • 1 sweet Vidalia onion
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 beef bouillon cube
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire or steak sauce

Peel and slice the ends off each onion and carefully core out a cavity. Tuck a bouillon cube into the cavity, follow with butter and finish with sauce. Pull the foil up and around the onion, twisting the top to close (like a Hershey’s kiss). Set in fire 10-15 minutes.

Janie Whelton, Baldwin EMC


Dutch Oven Blueberry Pie

  • Blueberry pie filling
  • Small can crushed pineapple
  • Butter or margarine
  • Box cake mix
  • Sugar


  • Dutch oven with sunken lid
  • Charcoal

Start with a mound of charcoal that is burning well. Butter the bottom and inside of the Dutch oven with butter or margarine. Put in the blueberry pie filling and the crushed pineapple. Sprinkle cake mix on top of the filling and pineapple mixture. Cut up the rest of the butter or margarine and scatter it over the cake mix. Sprinkle with white sugar. Set the Dutch oven on the charcoal, placing several pieces of charcoal on top of the oven. Let it cook until done.

Edward Armstrong, Joppa

Mountain Pie

  • Butter
  • 2 slices of bread
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
  • 5 slices of pepperoni
  • 2 tablespoons of pizza sauce


  • Square Pie Iron

Heat up the pie iron in the fire for about 5 minutes; while that is heating, butter both pieces of bread. Take out and open up the pie iron, placing a piece of bread on each side, butter side facing the iron. Spread the pizza sauce, add the cheese, & top with pepperoni on one side or you could put it on both sides. Carefully close the pie iron together and place in the fire for about 5-7 minutes.

(Considering you probably won’t take your measuring cups camping, you can always add as much of each ingredient that you want to better fit your taste. Also add veggies to make a Supreme Mountain Pie!)

Autumn Miller, Wiregrass EC

Adam’s Swamp Brunswick Stew

  • 2 cans chicken broth
  • 1 can water
  • 2 cups cooked chicken (I use the frozen Southwestern Tyson strips)
  • 1 16-ounce carton Lloyd’s Barbecue Pork
  • 1 16-ounce bag frozen gumbo vegetable mix
  • 1 16-ounce bag frozen green baby lima beans
  • 1 16-ounce bag frozen whole kernel corn
  • 1 large Vidalia onion, chopped fine
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • ½ cup barbecue sauce
  • Dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a Dutch oven. Bring to boil, then turn heat down, cover and let simmer 45 minutes. Serve with hot corn bread.

Jackie Skelton-Vice, Black Warrior EMC

Hobo Dinner

  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 6 baking potatoes
  • 3 Vidalia onions
  • 1 campfire

Make 6 patties from ground beef. Slice baking potatoes in half. Slice onion. In 6 separate foil sheets, place 1 patty, 1 slice of onion and 2 slices of potato and wrap. Place on grate on campfire or grill. Cook for 30-45 minutes. Remove carefully and enjoy!

Gail Cole, Baldwin EMC


Campfire Sweet Potato Halos

  • 3 medium sweet potatoes, thinly sliced
  • 4 medium red onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/8 cup fresh parsley, shredded
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 sticks of butter, cut into small pieces
  • Salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup feta cheese

In an iron skillet, arrange the sweet potatoes around the edge if the skillet to form the halo. Place onion slices in between every few sweet potato slices. Top with olive oil and butter and cook on the hot fire coals for 1 hour, basting with the melted butter. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and feta cheese.

Kirk Vantrease, Cullman EC

Send us your recipes!

Please send us your original recipes, developed by you or family members, and not ones copied from a book or magazine. You may adapt a recipe from another source by changing as little as the amount of one ingredient. Cook of the Month winners will receive $50, and may win “Cook of the Month” only once per calendar year.

Share a story about your recipe! Whether it’s your grandmother’s best cake or your uncle’s camp stew, every recipe has a story behind it. We’ll pay $50 for the best recipe-related story each month.

Recipe Themes and Deadlines:
Dec. Christmas Cookies Oct. 8
Jan. Comfort Food Nov. 8
Feb. Cooking for Two Dec. 8

Campfire cooking tips

Use these bits of wisdom to easily and efficiently prepare your campfire meals.

    • • Start by finding a flat, level spot for your fire. Keep at least a10-foot radius between your fire and supplies, tents and chairs, and steer clear of low-hanging branches or brush. Then, create a spot for your fire by getting rid of leaves and other debris and digging a small pit. Next, circle your area in rocks or stones.
    • • Gather both small sticks and large ones, and remember that dry wood works best. Form a tepee of smaller sticks over a bundle of leaves, dry grass and tiny twigs. Light the bundle and blow on it gently to help the flame catch the tepee sticks. Once the fire is going, slowly build it up with larger sticks stacked against your tepee.
    • • Always have some water near by to extinguish a fire that gets out of hand, and never leave your fire unattended.
    • If you’ve got a full day of hiking and other activities planned before you start dinner, help keep your meat at a safe temperature by freezing it before adding it to your cooler. And use a meat thermometer to ensure that chicken or other poultry is done before you take it off the fire.
    • • Chop, prep and measure as many ingredients as you can at home, before you set off to the campsite.
    • • Remember to pack paper towels, a cutting board, one large knife and long-handled tongs for removing food from the fire.

And when you are ready to leave your campsite, follow the guidelines set forth by the Leave No Trace organization, including burning all wood and coals to ash, putting out campfires completely and scattering cool ashes. More information is available at

Brewing up business

At Jack Daniels’ Cooperage in Trinity, 118 employees make up to 1,000 barrels a day for the popular whiskey brand; the wooden barrels are integral to the product’s final taste, which all starts with the white oak which imparts a rich, earthy flavor while removing impurities that can mar the liquid’s smooth finish.
At Jack Daniels’ Cooperage in Trinity, 118 employees make up to 1,000 barrels a day for the popular whiskey brand; the wooden barrels are integral to the product’s final taste, which all starts with the white oak which imparts a rich, earthy flavor while removing impurities that can mar the liquid’s smooth finish.

Distilleries, wineries, breweries make impact on state’s economy

By Jennifer Kornegay

Beer, wine and spirits production in Alabama is a growing business segment, one quickly becoming a significant piece of the state’s economic puzzle. Thanks to a loosening of liquor laws over the last seven years, we’re experiencing a craft-brewery boom. It started with only one in 2008. After a few years of fermentation, there are now more than 28 (with a few more set to open soon) scattered all over the state.

Those growing our native grapes and transforming their juice into flavorful wines are flourishing, too. Established vineyards are expanding and new ones are being founded.

In 2013, the state’s first legally made liquor since prohibition was distilled, and there are now several companies giving us Alabama-made spirits, letting us mix a little state pride into our cocktails.

We even scored a leading role in the storied imbibing institution of another state. The barrels that hold one of the world’s most loved (and well-known) whiskeys are made in Alabama.

Here’s a quick look at the business side of booze in our state.

Foaming facts


In 2009, when changes to state law made opening a craft brewery possible, beer production in Alabama hopped up from 1,000 barrels annually to almost 30,000 barrels by 2013. That number is still steadily rising, as the breweries currently operating in the state are malting, milling, mashing and fermenting more and more and turning out a diverse array of suds that seems to be ever expanding. And there are several new breweries slated to open this year, pushing the total to 34.

According to Dan Roberts, executive director of the Alabama Brewers Guild, the growth has been “explosive.” Folks had been thirsty for Alabama-brewed beer for a long time before the top was popped on the industry, and the demand is still going strong and keeping the breweries busy. “Most are having a hard time keeping up,” he says. “That bodes well for the future.”

It bodes well for all Alabamians too. A 2015 study conducted by Jacksonville State University found that the state’s craft breweries are having a $100 million economic impact. That’s a lot of money, but Alabama-based breweries still hold only a tiny fraction of the market share for beer consumed in our state.

“We are about 1 percent, so there is a lot of room to grow,” Roberts says. “And we have a lot of growth left in us. We’re not at the apex yet; there’s still a ton of potential.”

Just like the initial law change in 2009 that got the industry going, as more restrictions are removed allowing product to move to its market faster and easier, the brewing business attracts more people and creates more jobs. One longed-for piece of legislation, known as the “beer to go” bill, finally became law in 2016.

Since June, breweries and brewpubs have been able to sell customers beer in containers they can take home. “Most of the legal hurdles are down now,” Roberts says. “It’s now on the breweries to make good beer and make smart decisions.”

But what the state’s booming beer industry is providing equals more than the sum of its economic impact numbers. According to Jason Wilson, founder of Gadsden’s Back Forty Beer Co. and president of the Brewers Guild, it’s also had positive social and cultural effects.

“It’s great because we’re now keeping some of the money spent on beer here in the state, but it’s beyond that. It’s a representation of an increased interest in new ideas and in things really ‘crafted,’” he says. “It’s also showing how consuming beer responsibly can be an enjoyable part of our lifestyle here.”

And most of our craft breweries are owned by folks from the cities and towns in which they are based, like Back Forty. “I’m a fifth generation living in Gadsden,” Wilson said. “And that’s how it is for a lot of us (in the brewing industry). We’re involved in our communities and committed to their futures, so we give back. As we are successful, we work to make the places we call home more successful too.”

Barreling along

It’s true of anything we eat or drink: Quality ingredients yield a better tasting product. When it comes to whiskey, the ingredient list includes wooden barrels.


“At Jack Daniels, we consider the wood an ingredient; without the wood and the charring, you get no color; whiskey is actually distilled clear. It also helps with flavor. Up to 50 percent of a whiskey’s flavor comes from its barrel,” says Derrick Connor, the plant director at the Jack Daniels Cooperage in Trinity, the place making a good portion of these barrels.

The cooperage started crafting the crucial storage vessels for several versions of Jack Daniels Whiskey, including the famous Old No. 7, in July 2014. Today, approximately 118 employees contribute their labor and skill at the 60-acre site to make 800 to 1,000 barrels a day. (Jack Daniels is one of the only distilleries in the world to still make its own barrels.)

Joe Wheeler Electric Membership Cooperative, one of Alabama’s 22 rural electric cooperatives, supplies electricity to keep the plant running.

As Connor explained, the barrels they’re building are integral to the product’s final form. Whiskey ages and mellows once put in a barrel, soaking up some of the wood’s rich, earthy flavor while the wood also removes impurities that can mar the liquid’s smooth finish.

It all starts with the trees. “All of our wood is white oak, trucked in from mills in Stevenson, Ala., or Clifton, Tenn.,” Connor says. These wood planks are then transformed into tastemakers by a combination of automated and hand assembly. The wood is dried in a kiln, making it easier to cut into staves (the pieces that make the sides of the barrel) and heads (the round pieces that cap the top and bottom).

The heads are planed by a machine, and then sent to a rounding table where workers finish them by hand. The staves are cut to size and angled joints are added, allowing the barrel to be put together in the next step.

When the elements are all cut and approved, it’s time to “raise” the barrel. This is when a worker forms the staves into the traditional barrel shape. A quick ride through a steam tunnel makes the staves pliable, so the barrel will be more accepting of the metal rings dropped around it, and then it heads toward the real heat.

The charring process is quick but intense. Each barrel is run over a natural gas flame and is allowed to ignite for 15 seconds; tongues of fire flicker along its inside walls and burn them black, creating a layer of charcoal, before the blaze is extinguished. “It’s really pretty exciting to watch,” Connor says. The whiskey seeps about ½ inch deep into the barrels’ sides, which are now coated in a natural charcoal filter that removes any impurities.

The cooperage is one of two that serve Jack Daniels (the other is in Kentucky) and is currently focused on more hiring and training as future growth is expected.

In high spirits


In 2013, the first liquor produced legally in Alabama since prohibition started flowing from Union Springs, a spot infamous for secret moonshine stills, when High Ridge Spirits started making its legitimate “liquid lightning.” High Ridge Spirits is currently making three ‘shines, the original Stills Crossroads Alabama ‘Shine and two flavored versions, Apple Pie and Peach. It also offers its 27 Springs Gin and Vodka.

In the three years since High Ridge Spirits started, several other small-batch craft distillers have begun bottling, including Redmont Distilling in Birmingham, Gibson Distilling in Dale County, Wolf Creek Distillery in Elberta and John Emerald Distillery (JED) in Opelika.

Founded by father-son team John and Jimmy Sharp in 2014, JED is named after Jimmy’s grandfather. After brewing beer at home for years as a hobby, the duo thought about doing it professionally. “We actually always enjoyed whiskey more, but we didn’t think we could do that legally in Alabama,” Jimmy says. When they found out they could, and noted the number craft breweries already popping up around Alabama, they decided to found their distillery, which makes John’s Alabama Single Malt Whiskey, Gene’s Spiced Rum (made with Alabama-farmed sugar cane) and Hugh Wesley’s Gin (made with juniper berries that grow wild in area woods).

Sharp is excited by the new laws that allow distilleries to conduct both on- and off-premise sales and believes it will lead to an expansion of the industry. “It means a smaller distillery can become a viable as business,” he says. “I think we can expect several more super micro distilleries to open up in the next few years.”

More distilleries mean more jobs and more taxes flowing into local and state coffers. “The new laws also encourage smaller experimental runs, which should lead to some interesting products in the future,” Sharp said.

Great grapes

When you think of wine, does Alabama come to mind? Maybe not. But maybe it should. The state currently has 17 wineries that cultivate plump grapes, crush and ferment them, and bottle the resulting liquid. Most rely on our area’s only native grape, the muscadine, although a few grow other varieties like Norton, and one, Maraella Winery in Hokes Bluff, is growing old world cabernet grapes. All total, more than 250 different wines are being made in Alabama.

Wineries have been operating here for years before a single brewery or distillery opened (the first, Perdido Vineyards, opened in 1972), and since 2011, the production of wine in Alabama has more than tripled, with the state’s production volume rising from No. 41 to No. 37 in the country.

This year, this segment of the alcohol industry is benefitting from new laws too. One of them gives Alabama’s wineries the ability to open a tasting room that’s separate from their vineyard and winery operations location. Wineries could already sell their product directly to customers, but only at the facility where it was made. A second new law allows wineries to offer samples and hold tasting events at other retail businesses (as long as they have a license for off-site-consumption liquor sales).

Thanks to the many changes in the legal environment in the last few years, the business of making and selling beer, wine and spirits is going strong and still growing in our state. It’s all part of larger “maker movement,” a return to the heritage of taking the time to make things locally and make them right that should make Alabamians proud. But there’s more to it than that; beyond the “home state” pride these companies and their products can induce, they’re providing needed jobs and having an increasingly positive economic impact on the cities and communities in which they’re based as well as on the entire state. Everybody can say cheers to that.

See & Sip

If you want to learn more about the making of Alabama wine, beer and spirits, check out a few of these spots that offer tastings, behind-the-scenes tours or both. Check their websites for specifics.




New beer trail highlights craft breweries in North Alabama


The Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association (AMLA) has announced the new North Alabama Craft Beer Trail and the North Alabama Craft Beer Passport. The Trail invites craft beer enthusiasts on a self-guided tour of eight North Alabama microbreweries offering hundreds of unique flavors custom to the region.

Available on, the self-guided tour features eight microbreweries and tasting rooms located in Florence, Huntsville, Madison, Cullman, Guntersville and Gadsden. “Designed for residents and visitors to enjoy, the North Alabama Craft Beer Trail is a unique attraction highlighting Alabama-made beer while providing a boost to the North Alabama economy,” said AMLA President/CEO Tami Reist. “The Trail spotlights fresh, locally-brewed beer and is another opportunity to give visitors a unique destination experience that can only be enjoyed in North Alabama.”

Participating breweries on the North Alabama Craft Beer Trail:

Goat Island Brewing, Cullman

Singin’ River Brewing, Florence

Back Forty Beer Company, Gadsden

Main Channel Brewery, Guntersville

Mad Malts Brewing, Huntsville

Salty Nut Brewery

Straight to Ale, Huntsville

Blue Pants Brewery, Madison

Passage of the Free The Hops Gourmet Beer Bill in 2009, the Brewery Modernization Act in 2011, and the 2016 Growler Bill removed some of the restrictions on beer production and consumption in Alabama and has led to an increase in the creation of microbreweries in the state. The Alabama Brewers Guild estimates as many as 300 people work in Alabama-based breweries or brewpubs and an economic analysis produced for the trade group by Jacksonville State University estimated that total employment could increase by 655 jobs within five years under the new law, with an additional economic output of more than $100 million.

Along with information available online, a new tourism brochure has been developed providing craft beer lovers with location information, beer selections, taproom hours, tour information and a passport. Brochures can be obtained by calling AMLA at 800-648-5381 or are available at the AMLA office or at any participating brewery.

To participate in the North Alabama Craft Beer Trail, stop by any participating brewery to pick up a passport. Visit each one and receive a stamp. After completing the passport, craft beer enthusiasts will be able to win a free keepsake bottle opener as a prize from AMLA.

The North Alabama Craft Beer Passport is modeled after the North Alabama Wine Trail Passport created by AMLA. Visitors stop by the six locations of the North Alabama Wine Trail to receive a stamp. After visiting all locations, wine lovers return the completed passport to AMLA for a free gift.

According to Becky Berta of Jules J. Berta Winery, the North Alabama Wine Trail and Passport has had a direct impact on their bottom line. “The North Alabama Wine Trail’s marketing efforts of a brochure and passport have paved a way for attracting new business and now we are seeing many repeat customers. The Trail has brought the six wineries together and allows us to create special events and cross-promote one another. If you want to create a spark in your business, you have to actively promote it, and The Wine Trail and Passport have given us just that,” said Berta. The Trail and Passport launched in the spring of 2015 and approximately 1,000 visitors have completed the Trail.

Information related to the Trail and Passport can be found at The North Alabama Craft Beer Trail is membership-based.

For more information or to inquire about joining, call AMLA at 256-350-3500.