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July 18, 2006   Email to Friend 

Jeff Helms
(334) 613-4212
July 18, 2006

Alfa employees shop for peaches, tomatoes and other produce at the 3rd Annual Farmers Market Day.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Employees of the Alabama Farmers Federation and Alfa Insurance braved near 100-degree heat Tuesday to stock up on juicy peaches, vine-ripe tomatoes, colorful bouquets and other farm-fresh products. But they didn't have to go to the field to enjoy the state's agricultural bounty. That's because Alfa's 3rd Annual Farmers Market Day brought the produce to them.

About a dozen central and south Alabama farmers transformed a parking lot at the Alfa headquarters in Montgomery into a full-fledged farmers market where close to a thousand employees had the opportunity to browse among white tents for a staggering array of fruits and vegetables.

Colleen Atkins of Alfa's Life Insurance Department was among shoppers who seized the opportunity to "Buy Fresh, Buy Local."

"It's nice because when you work Monday through Friday you don't have the opportunity to visit the farmers market, and Saturday mornings are taken up cleaning house and doing laundry," said Atkins, whose shopping list included blueberries for a pie. "I wish we had these farmers market days more often," she added. "I enjoyed the opportunity to get some fresh fruits and vegetables. As policyholders and employees, we are part of the Alabama Farmers Federation, and this is a very tangible way we can support the farmers in our area."

Brian Hardin, director of the Federation's Horticulture Division, said the Farmers Market Day, which was started as part of the Alabama Farmers Market Authority's "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" campaign, has been a huge success.

"It's a great opportunity for our farmers, and it's at a good time of the week because a lot of the other farmers markets in the area are open later in the week," he said.

In addition to providing another marketing opportunity for farmers, Hardin said the event reminds employees of Alfa's roots -- which can be traced back to 1946 when the Federation started the insurance company to provide fire coverage for rural families.

"This is a chance for Alfa Insurance employees to be a part of that heritage and to see what we are trying to do to help Alabama farmers," Hardin said. "Hopefully, these employees will come out and see the selection and quality of produce available and will be more inclined to shop at other farmers markets."

Monica Carroll of Ozark was among the first farmers to sign up for the Alfa Farmers Market Day three years ago. She said it has been great for her business.

"We greatly appreciate it, and we look forward to coming here each year," she said. "On the farm, we call it 'Alfa Day,' and it is one of the best sales days we have all year -- even though we sell at the farmers markets in Enterprise and Troy. It's also good for advertising because we hand out our business cards. Today, I had seven or eight hampers of peas that were pre-ordered before we got here."

Besides benefiting area farmers, Don Wambles, director of the Farmers Market Authority, said having the growers come to the Alfa complex is a service to the company's employees.

"We are providing the employees here access to fresh produce, and they also get to see what the producers have to go through each day -- out in the heat - to provide food for Alabama families," Wambles said. "Most people are three or four generations removed from the farm, and this gives them a chance to experience the taste of farm-fresh produce that just can't be duplicated in a grocery store chain."

Although Wambles said he would like to hold more farmers markets at businesses in Alabama, he said it's often difficult for farmers to visit individual companies because it takes them away from their farms and other weekly or year-round farmers markets.

That's why the "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" campaign has been so important to farmers. Through its website, www.BuyLocalAlabama.com, the program helps shoppers identify roadside stands, farmers markets, U-pick operations and community supported agriculture programs where they can get farm-fresh produce.

John Aplin of Dothan said the "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" program has been one of the best things that's ever happened for Alabama farmers.

"Produce sales all over the state have really taken off the last few years with the 'Buy Fresh, Buy Local' program," he said. "It's some of the best money that's ever been spent promoting Alabama produce."

Farm-fresh products available at the Alfa Farmers Market Day included peas, okra, herbs, melons, squash, corn, carrots, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, blueberries, honey, corn meal, peaches, honey, fresh-baked bread, homemade salsa and flowers.

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