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July 25, 2008   Email to Friend 

Darryal Ray
(334) 613-4187
July 25, 2008

Keith Wise of Wise Farms in Clanton fills another peach order for Alfa employees during the 5th Annual Alfa Farmers Market Day.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- For four years, Cynthia McCoo enviously watched her co-workers at Alfa Insurance return to their desks from Alfa Farmers Market Day carrying bags and baskets laden with fresh fruits and vegetables.

"I always wanted to come, but couldn't," said McCoo, explaining that she works a second job and would've had to leave her purchases too long in a hot car.

But when Alfa Insurance and the Alabama Farmers Federation held its fifth annual Alfa Farmers Market Day on Thursday, McCoo was there, right along with about 1,000 of her coworkers. For one hour, the south parking lot of Alfa's main office in Montgomery became an open-air market with vendors offering everything from fresh peas and watermelons to peaches and stone-ground cornmeal.

With such a plentiful bounty, it wasn't long before McCoo had her own plastic bags filled with peaches and cantaloupe.

"I really need to eat more fruits," said McCoo, who works in Alfa's Information Systems Department. "It makes me feel better to be able to meet the people who grow this. We all need to get back to basics."

Mac Higginbotham would agree with that.

"This is a great way for the employees of Alfa to experience the passion and dedication all farmers put into their products," said Higginbotham, the new director of the Federation's Greenhouse, Nursery & Sod and Horticulture Divisions. He was not only experiencing his first Alfa Farmers Market Day but was also responsible for bringing it all together. "Seeing, face to face, those responsible for feeding our families is a comforting feeling."

Marjorie Truett-Weaver, who works in Alfa's Commercial Underwriting Department, said being able to talk with those who actually grow the fruit and vegetables is reassuring, especially since so many grocery shoppers rely on food from afar.

"I love it. I love it. My husband and I both enjoy fresh vegetables and this is a good way to get it, from right here," said Truett-Weaver whose bags were filled with okra, squash and honey. "It makes you feel good when you know where it's coming from. We enjoy visiting with (the farmers)."

That, of course, has been the goal of Alfa Farmers Market Day all along, ever since its inception five years ago as part of the Alabama Farmers Market Authority's "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" campaign.

"I think convenience means a lot," said Mary Charles Burnette, who brought along daughter Jenny and son Jared to help at the Burnette Farms tent. "A lot of people won't go to a market if it's out of the way, but Alfa's made it very convenient for them to walk right here. Convenience is important, but a lot of people are turning to freshness."

The Burnettes were joined at the market by Joe and Patty Lambrecht's Oakview Farms Granary of Wetumpka, Jean Higdon's GiGi's of Montgomery, Keith Wise of Wise Farms of Clanton and Carroll's Farm Fresh Produce of Ozark, an operation owned by current Outstanding Young Farm Family Chris and Monica Carroll.

In addition, a pre-schooler sales force from Alfa's daycare center arrived with a wagonload of lemonade to help shoppers combat the 90-degree-plus heat.

"It's a huge turnout," said Susie White, Alfa's employee relations and training manager. "The cloud cover is helping sales, and the kids seem to be enjoying themselves selling lemonade."

Keith Wise said the Alfa market, which only lasts one hour, is attractive because he can reach so many customers in a very short time. "It's quick for what you get," said Wise, who brought tomatoes, eggplant, okra, squash, peaches and cucumbers. "I wish I had some watermelons. I could have sold a pile of them."

"It's been hot, but it's been a good day," said Mary Charles. "For that one hour, it ranks right up there with the busiest markets. It's been a steady flow."

"This market means a lot of things for Oakview Farms," said Patty Lambrecht, who brought along granola made from the farms' grains and honey. "We have regular customers who come to see us even after this day is over, and we have had regular customers for the last several years we've been out here. And they appreciate everything that comes out here -- all the produce, all the grains, everything."

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