I believe that these startlingly yellow fields in bloom right now throughout north Alabama are full of the plant that canola oil comes from. But I’m not sure about that — somebody told me when I asked. But I am sure I love living someplace where farming, fields and what’s-in-bloom-now are topics of conversation.
I drive by this store in Tuscumbia, Alabama, at least twice a day. It’s a discount/closeout/salvage type of retailer that has all sorts of bargains to browse through. Plus, since it’s gotten warmer, the owners have put this patio furniture outside in an fenced-in area right beside the highway. For weeks as I’ve driven past, I’ve glanced over and thought to myself, “Oh, that’s so nice that they’ve put signs on their furniture warning folks that it’s ‘hot wood’ so they don’t touch it or sit down and maybe hurt themselves.” Yeah, I know, I know — but how else to explain signs that say “Hot Wood”? I suddenly one day realized, of course, that the signs actually say “Not Wood” instead of “Hot Wood” and are advertising furniture made out of sturdy wood-like plastic. Sort of reminds me of the sign in Huntsville, Alabama, that I mistook for a neighborly invitation to “Drink Locally” when I was really being asked to “Bank Locally” — although I’m a big fan of both. But surely your first thought when you saw the furniture photo was “Hot,” too. Right? Please??? A little help here??? And in more drive-by double-takes, my Dear Husband was the one who first spotted this John Deere tractor parked in the car lot of a dealership in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. “You’ve got to go take a picture of it,” he said. “I’ve never seen a tractor for sale at a car dealership.” So I checked it out, and he was right: The sight of a farm tractor parked in the midst of mini-vans for sale is a bit jarring. I mean, did somebody trade the tractor for a car? Would people wandering through the lot looking at the latest sedan models suddenly decide they wanted a tractor instead? Or maybe are tractors now the new family vehicle and we’re at the beginning of a surprising new trend? I’ll keep you posted. In any case, I love living someplace where cars and tractors happily co-exist.
There’s a commercial on TV about some sort of food where the voiceover says something along the lines of “Nobody comes home and says, ‘I can’t wait to eat a big bowl of lettuce.'” But that’s exactly what happens in our house on the days our local hydroponic farmers, Steve and Connie Carpenter, open their farmer’s market. I promise you that once you eat fresh hydroponic lettuce, you will never let plastic-packaged iceberg pass your lips again. Steve’s explained why lettuce develops more flavor when it’s grown hydroponically, but all I know is that a sandwich made with good toasted homemade bread and some of this tender-yet-crunchy lettuce is beyond delicious. Literally, it’s one of the things we just stand there and eat out of our fridge. But if you want actual recipes, go to http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20100428/ARTICLES/4285000 to find some recipes from a “Meatless Meals” cooking class I covered recently. Sherry Campbell, my friend and the director of the Shoals Culinary Center in Florence, Alabama, is a confirmed meat lover, but fresh and homegrown vegetables rank right up there with her, too, and she gave us some wonderful veggie recipes — although of course she admitted that at home she’d add a nice grilled steak to the menu. Go to http://www.jackolanternfarm.com/ to find out more about Jack O’Lantern Farms. Farmers’ markets are gearing up here in northwest Alabama/northeast Mississippi/southern middle Tennessee, and we can’t wait.
My dad — my parents live in Manchester, Tennessee — is retired from John Deere, but that’s only given him more time with tractors, not less. He and my mom are serious antiques collectors, and while she heads for the linens and Depression glass, he can spot a rare tractor part or tool from a mile away. Also: Actual tractors. At least the wrenches and oil cans and other portable items he collects are easier to store and organize. He does a great job of documentation and has an impressive library of tractor advertisements, manuals, giveaways and other tractor-related paper goods. He even led a workshop on “Industrial John Deere: In the Beginning” at the recent Gathering of the Green conference in Davenport, Iowa. My dad also likes fish. Not to catch or to eat, but to stock the pond at his tree farm/nursery. The fish eat the algae and pretty much keep the ecological system going strong, although I think my dad likes to talk to them them while he’s mowing. Just as long as they don’t talk back …
I know. It’s not my usual Saturday shopping stop, but when there’s only one retailer for miles around, what are you gonna do? I was in Elkmont, Alabama, headed for a cheese-making class at Humble Heart Farms — http://humbleheartfarms.com/ — when the hay bale in front of the Saddle Rack Farm & Pet Supply beckoned me. Actually, it was the llamas, roosters and other assorted animals in the front fenced-off area near the highway that grabbed my attention, but sadly they wouldn’t cooperate for photos so I only can promise you that they were there. I love poking around feed and farm stores — my love for Rural King, the farm/home store found mainly in Illinois and Indiana, is well documented. Something about hanging out with bins of seeds and samples of fencing reminds me of when I was little and I’d go places with my dad. We didn’t have a farm (although he has a nursery now) so I’m not sure why I associate feed stores with him. But he did sell John Deere industrial tractors and for years we had a vegetable garden, so mud, dirt and dust were familiar parts of my childhood. But we never had a hay bale in a front yard. My dear husband, on the other hand, did grow up on a farm and so probably is not as fascinated with feed stores as I am.
I don’t know what time it is in your part of the world, but here in northwest Alabama/northeast Mississippi/southern middle Tennessee, it’s cotton-picking time. Cotton is a top crop in Alabama, and the counties in my corner of the state are among the top producers state-wide. (I looked that up at www.alfafarmers.org just to impress you all with my knowledge.) Cotton’s history in the South is a long and at times not an honorable one, but people all over — white, black, rich, poor — still have memories of back-breaking work in late-fall heat. I remember my maternal grandfather reluctantly sharing his less-than-happy cotton-picking experiences as a boy growing up near Jackson, Mississippi. Today, it’s pretty much huge machines that do the work, from what I can tell. And while it’s true that I know next to nothing about the cotton industry, I do think it’s encouraging that in our wireless nano-techno get-it-done yesterday world, sometime’s it still as simple as putting seeds in the ground … and hoping for the best.
Any store with a sign on its front door requesting customers to “check their firearms at the customer-service desk for safety purposes” goes straight to the top of my favorites list. This is Scruggs, in Tupelo, Mississippi — a sort of combined feed store, general store and John Deere dealership. Think Home Depot, farmer-style. My husband swears it’s the best place to buy mouse traps and other mysterious manly things he uses around the house and I’m happy to let him be in charge of those chores. And even though we don’t have a horse or cows or cornfields, I still like to wander around Scruggs’ aisles and browse. I think I like this store because it reminds me of one of my all-time favorite retailers — Rural King. And my all-time favorite Rural King store is in my mother’s hometown of Effingham, Illinois. When we’d go visit my grandparents, we’d usually stop at the Rural King, which anchored the local mall. (Who needs a JC Penney’s or a Sears when you can buy everything from jeans to seed at the Rural King?) For the longest time, that Rural King was the only place my dad could find Carhartts, and I’d usually find a comfy and cozy sweater while my brothers would head for the toys and my mom to the flower-gardening aisle. Maybe I’m just a country girl at heart. Check out Scruggs at http://www.scruggsfarm.com and Rural King at http://www.ruralking.com/
I know y’all think I’m a chic and urban big-city sophisticate — isn’t that right???!!! — but the truth is that I’m just a country girl at heart. Okay, that’s a lie, too. I did not grow up anywhere near a farm, except when I went to visit my friend Debbie out in Beechgrove, Tennessee. But my dad has a nursery and tree farm and I love going out there, so I figure that’s close. The Ponderosa Tree Farm is just a couple miles or so from my parents’ house in Manchester, Tennessee. My dad grows and sells pines, hollies and burning bush — and has loads of fun. Well, again, that may not always be true — in the right-hand photo above, he’s trying to pull a mower out of the mud. I did not take photos of the resultant tractor pull, when the back wheel of the tractor reared up what looked to be several feet in the air and I was running through the calculations in my mind of how soon after the tractor flipped over could I call 911 and somebody would be out here or would I have to rescue my dad myself which I would, of course, although it would mean ruining my shoes in the ankle-deep mud but he’s my dad, for gosh’s sake. Luckily, everything turned out OK, although he did admit that perhaps he shouldn’t have been mowing in ankle-deep mud to start with. Farmers!
It’s cotton-picking time in northwest Alabama. When we first moved here 13 years ago from middle Tennessee, my young daughters thought the cotton looked like snow on the fields this time of year — and I still think that! Farmers are in the midst of harvest right now, so the rest of us share the roads with hardworking traveling tractors and escaped flying cotton strands. Of course, everything’s all computerized and digitized in 2008, but many people who grew up country around here still remember picking by hand. I love driving by a mechanically harvested field with folks who know from experience
... and after.
where the phrase “in high cotton”* comes from. They shake their heads and say in that “back-in-my-day” tone of voice, “Daddy would never have allowed us to leave the fields with so much cotton like that.”
But I love living someplace where tractors and cotton and dirt and gin (not the liquor!) reports on the morning radio are important.
* “In high cotton” means that the cotton plants are high enough so that you don’t have to stoop or bend over to pick it.