Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Grow Alabama's Special Treat

I have been using Grow Alabama as my main source of produce for over a year now. With a name like "Grow Alabama" you would think it would be pretty self explanatory. I signed up late last summer all excited about supporting Alabama farmers. Then winter rolled around and I noticed that some of the produce wasn't coming from Alabama.

Don't get me wrong, I wasn't mad about the citrus from Florida or even the mushrooms from Tennessee. In my mind, it was some sort of fair trade with neighboring states. Then I saw spinach from Arizona last winter, a red flag sprung up.

I sent Facebook messages asking if this was true. I stated that if the only crop Alabama could grow was cabbage and sweet potatoes, then I would passionately eat them all winter. They explained due to the harsh weather that summer, a lot of crops weren't successful. So they were supplementing until the farmers could really develop their winter selection. Um... I guess that's okay. Maybe not everyone is so passionate about their cause that they're willing to eat cabbage soup all winter (but maybe you should be!).

Well, during the 2010 growing season I went to Pepper Place Market several times and to a workshop at Jones Valley Urban Farm. I found myself no longer content with just getting a box at my doorstep. Something was missing. I was yearning to have a deeper connection. So I thought that meant I wanted to try and start a container garden on my back patio that gets three hours of sunlight. Um... negative.

Well, I settled back in with the box and as it got colder the idea of container gardening left. I was getting tomatoes well into November and December and that was making me nervous. I distinctly remember getting mostly cabbage, roots, and greens this time last year. Well then I received avocados in my Grow Alabama box... in December. They came with a note explaining that due to a harsh freeze that week, green beans were being replaced with this special treat. WTF?

I became angry. I knew quite well that avocados could not bear fruit in the state of Alabama. On top of that, the only place that you could possibly grow them is Southern Florida. These avocados looked just like someone had gone shopping at Publix. So what does this someone do? Oh no... I didn't call. I am too passive aggressive for that. No... I sent an angry Facebook message.

Where did the avocados come from? I highly doubt they came from Alabama. Y'all make me nervous when you put stuff like that in the box.  I'd rather have a box full of Alabama grown cabbage than have produce from other states. If that's all there is available, then I will happily eat that. I support your organization because it supports Alabama.

Then their reply was...
There was a note in your box about the avocados. When the beans froze out last weekend i had to make a quick substitute and decided to do something daring and take the opportunity to do something rarely done. they came from california. We have more from alabama at this time of year than Alabama has ever had. enjoy the avocados.
What makes me really angry about this "daring" action is that Grow Alabama consistently spouts off figures about how much money Alabamians throw into the pockets of Californians. They even villianized their strawberries earlier this spring. For an organization who wants so desperately to put money back into a true food system, they sure are quick to throw it somewhere else when times get tough.
I stand by what I said... I'd eat cabbage and sweet potatoes all season if it meant an Alabama farmer was getting a real paycheck.
So... the point of all this? I am currently searching for a new CSA. I want to meet the people growing my food and talk to them. Grow Alabama was a great starting point and hopefully they'll get to their goal, but my days of supporting them are coming to a close end. I've already contacted a few organizations for information. So as all this unfolds, I will share what I find with my readers.
Do you have a CSA or support any local farms? Is it something you are interested in? Please share any information you can in the comments section.


  1. Mandy, I look forward to seeing how your search develops. We, too, look forward to our weekly bounty of Alabama-grown produce and have had some issues with Grow Alabama. Unfortunately, we are about a year away from having our own land (back yard) ready for planting, so we really rely on and trust our local CSA. Glad you said what we've been pondering for some time now...

    What other CSA opportunites have you found?

  2. Good luck, Mandy. I'm still really interested in the CSA box, but it makes me nervous because A) I want to do it to support the local farms in Alabama, but B) I don't think I could eat cabbage and sweet potatoes as my only veggies all winter.

    Keep us posted on your findings---great post!

  3. LK - Thanks for commenting! Always glad to see a new face. If you get a back yard I might have to come help you and take some bounty!

    Summer - I doubt I really could eat cabbage all winter, but sweet potatoes wouldn't be too hard. But my point is... I am willing to eat the "boring" winter veg that has been traditionally eaten in the South.

    I have talked to Amanda Storey (over at Food Revival) and e-mailed ASAN. Both have reccomended Jones Valley Urban Farm. I have e-mailed JVUF. Both have said that it's kind of slim pickings in the winter. Hopefully I can get a post out on the subject by the end of January.

  4. Interesting post-- I did a 6-month subscription with Grow Alabama this year and had both positive and negative experiences. I understand your frustration but also can see why some flexibility is necessary in this business. According to Grow Alabama, the Alabama farming state is not a strong one; perhaps these are simply growing pains at the beginning of a return to local farming in the state.

    I am also looking into Snow's Bend in Tuscaloosa, where I live. We also have a long farmers-market season, so that is always an option, if slightly less convenient. I think my money goes further with a CSA.

  5. Laranav,

    I understand the flexibility, but avacados? Stay tuned, I hope to expand on this topic soon. I have a friend who wants to share some information about the company with me.

  6. Hey, did you find an alternative? I just got my first Grow Alabama box and was a little underwhelmed. Now I'm really even more disappointed. :-/