Grow Alabama Delivers Fresh Local Produce

Grow Alabama Delivers Fresh Local Produce

It is a common sight alongside nearly any rural road throughout Alabama. Acres of farmland producing a wide variety of tasty vegetables, from squash and corn and sweet potatoes to the state’s beloved trio of greens: collard, turnip and mustard. Dairy cows are plentiful, and there seemingly is a chicken in nearly every spot.

But even though it is easy to see such produce from your car window, it can be difficult to find Alabama grown-and-raised products in your grocery store. State agricultural officials have estimated that more than 95 percent of the fresh produce in Alabama grocery stores originated from someplace other than Alabama.

Jerry Spencer says there is no reason why the fertile soil of Alabama cannot adequately feed the people of his home state. That is why he founded Grow Alabama, an organization that enables people to purchase fresh vegetables, fruit, dairy and meat products, all produced by Alabama farmers.

“People go into a grocery thinking they’re getting some Alabama produce, but actually it is rare that anything there is from Alabama,” Spencer says. “Grow Alabama started about four years ago with the intention of really turning this around.

“We are teaching the farmers in rural Alabama to produce a valuable product that will be purchased by the consumers of the population centers. That allows for a recycling of our money that keeps it in the community of Alabama.”

Not only does buying local food help the state economy, Spencer says it also provides customers with the best-tasting food. Much like the way a new car drops in value the second it leaves the lot, Spencer says food begins losing both flavor and nutritional value shortly after it is harvested. He says all of Grow Alabama’s products are made available for home delivery or pickup at the Findley Avenue headquarters within 24 to 48 hours of leaving the farm.

“When food comes from local sources, the flavor comes with it,” Spencer says. “The fresher it is, the more flavor and nutrient content it’s going to have. You just can’t get that same flavor when it’s traveled a week to get here.”

Grow Alabama offers several weekly vegetable options that change throughout the year, based upon what is fresh during the current growing season. In addition to such staples as tomatoes, lettuce and peaches, Spencer says Grow Alabama also provides specialty items that rarely are available fresh to the general public.

“We grow some Italian greens that really only restaurants have,” Spencer says. “We have heirloom tomatoes. Those are not generally available, and most of them have come a long distance and their flavor is almost gone.

“In the grocery stores you can get a snap bean or a pole bean, and that’s about it. We have Haricot Vert beans, a little French sweet green bean that is really only available to restaurants, and they have to order it from 1,000 miles away. We’ll have Rattlesnake beans and the Blue Lakes and the Kentucky Wonders. Most of the little red potatoes that people love come from Colorado or Washington. We grow our own new potatoes, so you can get them farm fresh.”

Grow Alabama also offers organic milk as well as fresh eggs and poultry. A sampling of the products is available for free each Thursday during a Share the Harvest luncheon.

Spencer acknowledges that most people are attracted to Grow Alabama’s food offerings primarily for the taste and health benefits. But he says it is equally important to him that the state supports its local farmers.

“There are a lot of old farmers in this state sitting in rocking chairs,” Spencer says. “These rural communities need economic development. Instead of buying our food from California, we can get it fresh from right here in Alabama and support our local communities. This is a mission that inspires me every morning.”

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