Sweet Home-Grown Alabama

“Good for the Soul” says the posters taped to the dozen white tents. Customers mill from one seller to the next as a lone guitarist croons the song, “Blackbird singing in the dead of night…” It is a smaller market compared to the last few weeks, but has plenty of options for those in search of healthy eating. In the digital age of technological efficiency there is little room left for the old-fashioned farmers or grown in the backyard produce that was the heartbeat of historic Alabama, but as “Going Green” makes a come-back so does education about the importance of natural agricultural.

Every Thursday from 3-6 p.m. a farmers market sells organic produce outside Canterbury Episcopal Church on 5th avenue near UA campus. Most of the buyers are UA students or faculty who come for a fresher and cheaper selection of vegetables, meats, eggs, fruits and more.

Bubbles Bailey, from Montgomery, AL, learned how to make soaps and lotions in 2006 by practicing homemade recipes. She quit her job working in an office to do it full time.

“I stopped worrying about fitting in the box,” she says.

She uses raw honey from her bee hives, goat’s milk and more to create skin care products that are healthy for your skin and natural. Bailey says she enjoys what she does and the freedom of working for herself.

“Being an entrepreneur, you just got to find what you’re passionate about. Don’t wait till you’re 50 yrs old like I did.”

Homegrown Alabama, a UA student organization, founded the market. Mostly a collection of 10-20 graduate and undergraduate students majoring in American studies, they are dedicated to reaching out and educating others on healthy eating and supporting the agriculture community. <http://homegrownalabama.ua.edu/&gt;

They have multiple programs designed to convince more people to shop at the market. Students can swipe their id cards and swap out their Bama cash for tokens that are used to purchase goods. There was also an EBT plan (Electronic Benefit Transfer which was previously called food stamps). EBT refunds an individual $5 for every $10 spent at the farmers ‘market, but depleted funds ended the program a few weeks ago.

Many students still do not know about the market or think that it is not worth their time to visit

Corinne Jones, sophomore, “I’ve heard about it. This year I’ve become more familiar with it, and I’ve seen it around, but not been.”

“No, I haven’t gone, but I’m going to starting this semester,” senior Hannah Waits says. She admits that she loves to cook and makes dinner 3-4 times a week, but she shops at big grocery stores.

Another drawback is that college students do not have the time, energy or experience to prepare meals.

“I cook maybe 3 or 4 times a month,” Jones says. “I usually don’t even get home till 11 at night.”

Quinn Rowe, junior in TCF, “I might die by the time I’m 40 because of how many quarter pounders I eat.”

It is the fourth year that the farmers market has come to campus. Lindsey Turner, assistant marketing manager for Homegrown Alabama, calls it the best year so far with 18-20 vendors consistently coming to sell their goods. Most farmers drive for 45 minutes to get to Tuscaloosa, and all but one attend other weekly markets such as Pepper’s Place in Birmingham.

After the market closes in October, Homegrown Alabama will begin to organize the market starting in May. They also will host film screenings at the Ferg with guest panels aimed to discuss plights facing farmers today and education on organic produce.

There are other groups on campus that also center on the environment. UA Environmental Council focuses on activism and tends to the community garden at the Arboretum. The Druid City Garden project is led by an Honors College professor Rashmi Grace and her UH 300: Food and Community class. <http://www.druidcitygardenproject.org&gt;

Though, not many of the vendors were affected by the tornadoes in April, Homegrown Alabama helped Grace replant the Druid City Garden after it was destroyed.

New College also has a farming project that teaches students about agriculture. UA offers other programs of its own such as a nutritional promotion where students can talk to dietitians about how to live healthier (for appointments call 348-2778). The university also instated Project Health, which is an organization that educates students on anything from alcohol and drugs to financial stability and suicide.  < projecthealth.ua.edu>


From Farm to Plate

I know this subject matter might be a little off the journalism and technology track, but I believe there are ties that exist if one takes a long and hard look. So far, I have focused tightly on just the system of journalism, or a mainstream journalism subject (like politics). For this blog entry, however, I want to weave the idea of how our new age of reporting can have a greater affect on immensely dense and tangled issues.

For me, finding such a ball of opinions and facts would be easy due to one class I am taking through the UA Honors program. It is titled “Food and Community”; and it has dramatically changed the way I see food and how I eat it. Now, I am the bane of my friends’ and families’ existences because I continuously babble about the horrors of farm animal abuse, agricultural corporation monopolies that threaten family farms, the dangers and mistreatment employees face at meat-packing factories, the consumer’s ignorance about the drugs and processed chemicals injected into every aspect of food… The list goes on and on.

I wish I could stop caring. I wish that I had never taken this class, so that I could live blissfully unaware. But instead, all I can do is pass on my knowledge.

Here is a cluster of topics that encompass the greater issue of how our country’s complex agriculture and meat industry needs serious consideration by Americans. People don’t know what they need to know. Hopefully, this blog might help with that.

Tracking from farm to plate:

In most cases, you will never know where your food originally was grown. Farming and ranching depends on a series of processes that include processing the food in factories, packaging it (sometimes in other factories), transporting it to main facilities that then ship it to other stores, until it finally comes to you in a grocery aisle in a supermarket. The best thing you can do when decided between two brands is to do some research about the company and read the labels looking for ingredients or terms you understand.

JustBare is a good example of a chicken company that cares about it’s animals and it’s customers. They are environmentally conscious and extremely transparent about the food they serve. A code is on every one of it’s packages that the consumer can type into the website and find out what farm the chicken came from.

McCormick is a poor source of information about where the spices in their blends. A vast majority of our spices come from other countries, but surfing McCormick’s website never gives the consumer a clue. They use pretty pictures of cookies and delicious recipes to distract from the fact that they do not tell you anything concrete about how their product is made.

The issues of large-scale farming and ranching:

The NewYorkTimes has done an excellent job of covering farming and ranching from all sides. Here is a whole index of stories.

Oprah did a segment on the cattle industry. Lisa Ling went into a slaughterhouse to tell the story of how cows become steaks. Warning: this is a graphic video.

Lisa Ling had permission to videotape, but it is rare for anyone to get a glimpse into the food industry. Many companies want to protect trade or product secrets, but this can also hide transgressions against animals, health or safety code violations.

Any knowledge of these abuses usually comes from secret filming behind closed doors. New York, Iowa and other states are now passing bills that make a crime out of taking pictures in the facilities without the company’s permission. However, many argue that this is the only way to find out the truth.

Since corporations began taking over our nation’s food industry, they have continually fought legislation that would cost them money. They do not want to disclose evidence that would change the public’s view of their products. Therefore, they hide employee accidents that occur because of ignored safety regulations, and argue that consumers do not have the right to know about food recalls (the FDA does not require them to announce when food is taken off the market for safety concerns).

Organic and healthy:

There are many organizations and clumps of farmers and ranchers that believe in the traditional styles of growing food–totally natural. Natural Health News is a nonprofit devoted to covering green farming and educating the public about healthy eating.

In Tuscaloosa, there is a student led farmer’s market, called Homegrown Alabama, where most of the vendors sell organic produce.

Other sources of information:

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

Fast food nation: the dark side of the all-American meal by Eric Schlosser