By Jerry Spencer

Grow Alabama is supporting our farmers in producing the quality and variety of food you want–providing a market for them, re-establishing farm-to-stores infrastructure and coaching them in environmental sustainability and optimization of their on-farm production.

I have a memory from 1953, I was 7 years old: I was sitting in the second grade at Midfield, Elementary, and the teacher was reading from The Weekly Reader, “Alabama is one of the few states in the country that can grow most of the food its people need.” I felt a sense of pride as she read about Alabama’s ability to do something good and take care of its own. This is my earliest memory of having a sense of pride in my State, my place of origin. This experience was backed up as my mother and grandmother took me to the Finley Farmer’s Market, in Birmingham, where they bought bushels of peas, beans, corn and watermelons. I remember my dad bringing home fresh eggs, smoked hams, fresh chickens, tomatoes and other summer veggies that people had given him in trade for doing work for them.

Now, decades later, Alabama imports, from some other state or country, more than 95% of all it eats. And we, as Alabamians, send more than $50 billion to those places, robbing our state of jobs, health, education and its own prosperity. Thankfully, a new, more sustainable approach to farming, food production and distribution is already emerging to replace current long-distance industrial systems. This new sustainable agriculture is being developed primarily by farmers, rather than by the people in our agricultural universities or government agencies.

Until recently, most sustainable farmers marketed their products directly to their customers, at farmers markets, roadside stands, on-farm sales, or through community-supported agricultural organizations (CSAs). The challenge of today is to find new marketing/distribution alternatives that will allow far larger numbers of farmers to produce food for far larger numbers of customers –without compromising the principles of sustainability.

The Grow Alabama program, a farmer-to-consumer cooperative, represents an attempt to take a logical next step toward developing a local, sustainable food system. In essence, Grow Alabama is a multi-farm CSA. In a typical CSA, one farmer has to connect with enough customers to support his or her farm and provide those customers with a wide assortment of crops and varieties of quality food items each week, a very big challenge. A multi-farm CSA, a farmer cooperative of sorts, would seem to remove many of the constraints to future growth of the CSA concept and facilitate the farm-to-consumer distribution.

The Grow Alabama delivery service provides an interim market for our growers, while we are teaching them to plan their farms for economic and environmental sustainability and re-establishing the infrastructure for grocery store re-stocking. The Grow Alabama delivery service will buy their produce at “Fair Trade” prices (20% above market prices) and deliver to you. This state-wide network of delivery locations is growing and expanding to many more cities and towns of Alabama with the assistance of local representatives, called Area Managers, in North, South and Central Alabama. The cost to you is very close to grocery store prices, usually lower. You eat better, our farms grow more.

This is about more than just food – it’s about reconnecting people with each other and the earth, participating in its mending. Grow Alabama is about renewing and regenerating the land and the people of our “used up” rural places, while providing all its people with quality food.

To get your location, city, town involved call the Grow Alabama office at 205-991-0042. You may also learn more and start your own delivery of sustainably grown, Alabama produce and meats by going to the Grow Alabama website: www.growalabama.com.

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