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July 18, 2007   Email to Friend 

Darryal Ray
(334) 613-4187
July 18, 2007

John Aplin of Aplin Farms in Slocomb bags up eggplants, peppers, squash and tomatoes for Alfa employees.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Hundreds of employees filled bags with everything from peaches to peas and cucumbers to corn on Tuesday, but Don Wambles, director of the Farmers Market Authority, called Alfa's fourth annual Farmers Market Day a "dessert" he'd like to share with more companies around the state.

"This is like dessert after a seven-course meal," said Wambles as workers from Alfa Insurance and the Alabama Farmers Federation shopped for juicy peaches, vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh corn and other farm-grown treats in the company's parking lot. "I mean that in a good way because it's good for the farmers and it's good for the consumers."

Alfa Farmers Market Day, which began as part of the Authority's "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" campaign, has become so successful that Wambles would like to see it spread to other Alabama companies.

"This event is providing the employees here at the Alfa office a wonderful break from the daily routine," he said. "They get to come out and experience first-hand the fruits of our farmers' labor as fresh as they can get. Most of this stuff was picked yesterday afternoon or this morning."

"I would love to have a half dozen or so of these events throughout the course of the summer. I think it would be good for corporate Alabama as well as our producers," said Wambles, adding that negotiations are under way with at least one other major corporation to do just that.

"However, you've got to be real careful about one-day events from a farmer's standpoint because you're asking him to do something entirely different than what he's done the rest of the week," Wambles said. "And he's got to have product for his other markets that he's committed to."

Even so, both vendors and shoppers were pleased with the turnout.

Two lines, both about 20- to 30-feet long, snaked their way around the parking lot to the Burnette Farms tent where Mary Charles Burnette was selling Chilton County peaches, a crop many thought wiped out by the Easter weekend freeze.

"We predicted a 40 percent crop in April, but it's a lot better than 40," she said. "Of course, now we are having plenty of rain. But the dry weather really has been a big credit to the peaches being so sweet. If peaches had a choice, they'd rather have less water than too much water."

Burnette said of the farmers markets she works, she counts "Alfa Day" among the best. "The last few years, we've only had two people come and work," she said, "but this year, we brought four and we've needed every one of us. This is a good turnout."

Likewise, Joe Lambrecht of Wetumpka, who was selling grits, cornmeal, wheat and hydroponic lettuce, said the Alfa event helps his farm year-round.

"What have you got here? About 400 folks?" asked Lambrecht. "We'll see about 400 folks here in about an hour and a half. You can't buy that kind of exposure nowhere. ... The people we meet today will call us and come to our retail store at the farm. We come out in the summer to the markets, but after that, they all come to us. That's good when they come to you."

Mary Sharpe of Alfa's loans department bought tomatoes and squash, and was checking out the peaches. "I wish they had this more often, maybe once a month," said Sharpe. "I really would."

Brian Hardin, who coordinated the event as director of the Federation's Horticulture Division, said Alfa Farmers Market Day shows just how hungry people are for fresh, local produce. "It's obvious that people enjoy it and want it, and we're proof positive that when given the opportunity to buy fresh and buy local, they will buy it."

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