Celebrate all the goodness of summertime fruit and vegetables – and the hard-working farmers who grow them – at Sweet Grown Alabama (SGA) Day on July 23.
Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries Rick Pate is encouraging shoppers to visit their local farmers market and support local growers. It is a good idea, Pate noted, considering the supply-side issues the US faces.
From Cullman to Foley, several farmers markets on Saturday will host Sweet Grown Alabama representatives who will share the importance of buying locally grown products. They will also provide resources for finding farmers across the state.
Pate said July is when farmers markets are bursting with corn, green beans, yellow squash, zucchini, peppers, blueberries, cantaloupe, peaches, strawberries, watermelon and more.
He wants Alabamians to take advantage of the state’s delicious, high-quality produce. Pate said there’s no downside to buying from Alabama farmers.
“If you buy local, this allows you to eat better food, you’re going to support local businesses, and that money’s going to stay in your local economy,” said Pate, commissioner for four years. He pointed out that many of the tomatoes, watermelons and peaches that Alabama residents buy from grocery stores are from California, Arizona, Mexico, Georgia and Florida.
Sweet Grown Alabama markets offer the freshest produce. (Donna Cope/Alabama NewsCenter)
“The food tastes better when you buy local,” he said. “It helps Alabama farmers.”
Some customers don’t realize that value-added products at farmers markets – jams and jellies, flower bouquets, whole cuts of lamb and other meats and pickles – are not taxed. Since Gov. Kay Ivey passed the Sweet Grown Alabama Act on April 11, 2022, farmers do not have to charge sales tax on these items.
A ‘win’ for farmers, customers and Alabama
Farming, by definition, is an isolated vocation, Pate said.
During the past two years, farmers’ work environment helped them avoid some challenges faced by COVID-19. As the BA.5 omicron subvariant delivers widespread waves of infection globally, Pate expects the state’s farmers to be more “insulated” than some. He doesn’t expect the subvariant to negatively affect Alabama’s local food markets.
Ireland Farms products are at Pepper Place Market. (Donna Cope/Alabama NewsCenter)
There is no state sales tax on pickled vegetables at farmers markets. (Donna Cope/Alabama NewsCenter)
Magic City Mushrooms’ fresh fungi can be found at Pepper Place Market. (Donna Cope/Alabama NewsCenter)
Many farmers take credit cards. (Donna Cope/Alabama NewsCenter)
Sandlin Farm in Holly Pond grows tomatoes and other produce. (Donna Cope/Alabama NewsCenter)
“Farmers don’t get COVID as much as urban people do,” said Pate, who lives in the Black Belt in Lowndes County. “If you’re buying local, all those issues we had in processing plants and transportation don’t come into play.”
Under Pate’s leadership, the Department of Agriculture and Industries has added innovative programs while navigating the challenges that came with COVID-19. From sponsoring the state’s new hemp program to ensuring Alabama’s food supply is safe, sustainable and abundant, the department employees have contributed to farmers’ success.
“We created, along with industry partners, the whole Sweet Grown Alabama movement, the whole certified farmers market here at the Department of Agriculture,” said Pate, who grew up raising white Charolais cattle and took over running the family farm 10 years ago, when his father died. “If I didn’t believe in it or didn’t realize how important it was, we wouldn’t have it here; we wouldn’t waste the resources. But we know it is hugely important, not just about the food, but it’s important to our rural communities.
Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes does a brisk business. (Donna Cope/Alabama NewsCenter)
With the Sweet Grown Alabama Act, farmers don’t have to charge state sales tax for flowers. (Donna Cope/Alabama NewsCenter)
“A man or woman can have 5 or 10 acres and grow okra and squash and have some supplemental income,” Pate added. “I look at it as an opportunity to protect our rural communities, and the food tastes better. There are so many ‘win-win-wins’ that come out of people buying local.”
Enjoy Sweet Grown Alabama Day
On July 23, shop for fresh produce and other goods while meeting farmers and Sweet Grown Alabama representatives at these locations:
- Bessemer Farmers Market, 100 14th St. Highway 150 in Bessemer.
- Coastal Alabama Farmers and Fishermen’s Market, 20733 Miflin Road in Foley.
- Market at Pepper Place, 2829 Second Ave. S. in Birmingham.
- Montgomery Curb Market, 1004 Madison Ave. in Montgomery.
- Prattville/Autauga Farmers Market, 332 Doster Road in Prattville.
- Town of Berlin Farmers Market, 461 County Road 1615 in Cullman.