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May 30, 2008   Email to Friend 

Jeff Helms
(334) 613-4212
May 30, 2008

Alabama Farm-City Chairman J. Paul Till, right, facilitates a discussion about county programs and activities with volunteers attending a workshop May 29 in Montgomery.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- County volunteers committed to fostering better understanding between rural and urban residents met in Montgomery May 29 for a Farm-City workshop.

National Farm-City Week, which is celebrated each year the week before Thanksgiving, began in 1955 as a way to bridge the gap between farmers and their city neighbors. In Alabama, county Farm-City committees not only organize tours and dinners during the annual observance, but they also sponsor educational programs throughout the year.

Alabama Farm-City Chairman J. Paul Till said the workshop gave the more than 20 Farm-City volunteers in attendance a chance to share ideas about how best to promote the interdependence of farmers and consumers.

"Developing a better understanding between rural and urban people is more important now than ever as farm numbers decrease and urban sprawl increases. That is what Farm-City is all about, and Alabama is recognized as having one of the best Farm-City programs in the nation. But we can do even more and even better," Till said. "Having a Farm-City training seminar, where local committees share ideas and success stories about their programs, is one of the best ways we can improve and keep our efforts fresh, exciting and effective year after year."

A highlight of the workshop was a panel discussion by the chairmen of Alabama's two top county Farm-City committees for 2007. Jan Parker and Lee Ann Clark, co-chairs of the St. Clair County Farm-City Committee, shared how they use a scarecrow contest, cooking demonstrations and library reading programs to reach people of all ages. The scarecrow contest engages local businesses in a friendly competition, while the reading program is geared toward young people. In April, St. Clair County was recognized for having the Overall Best Farm-City Committee in the state during an awards luncheon in Birmingham. The committee qualified for the overall prize by winning the top award in the large-county division.

Among smaller counties, the top award went to Pickens County. Dianne McCool, who co-chairs that committee with Sam Wiggins, talked about their essay and poster contests, farm tour and media coverage. Doug Sanders, editor of the Pickens County Herald, serves on the county Farm-City committee. McCool credited Sanders for boosting the effectiveness of the program through his extensive coverage of the committee's activities. One of the most unusual activities of the Pickens County committee is its partnership with a program through the University of Alabama that prepares doctors to work in rural areas.

In addition to the panel discussion, Alabama Farmers Federation Communications Director Jeff Helms gave a presentation on "Partnering with the Press," to spread the word about Farm-City activities.

"If you have a farm tour that involves 100 people or a poster contest with 200 hundred entries, you are able to reach those participants with the Farm-City message. But when the media covers those events and activities, you are able to reach thousands more," Helms said. "At its core, Farm-City is a public relations program. If we don't work with the media to promote our county Farm-City programs, we are missing the majority of our audience."

Following Helms' presentation, workshop participants from across the state had a chance to share what their Farm-City committees are doing. Dozens of ideas were discussed including food drives, farm days for kids, pumpkin carving contests and Ag in the Classroom programs.

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