SOUTHERN SUSTAINABLE FARMING
Newsletter of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
Summer, 1994, issue.
For more information contact:
Keith Richards, editor, firstname.lastname@example.org (email), 501-521-7922,
1533 S. Duncan, Fayetteville AR 72701
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SOUTHERN SAWG
by Keith Richards
On the weekend of May 17-19, 1991 at the Highlander Center in New
Market, Tennessee, 25 people representing 17 organizations
founded the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
(SAWG). Their intent was to give Southerners a say in how they
wanted to solve agricultural and rural problems in the South, and
give farmers the lead role in the process of making Southern
agriculture more sustainable.
Many groups, especially in the Midwest, had worked together on
the 1990 Farm Bill to shape it according to their needs and
vision of sustainability. But the South had been
under-represented. Keith Jones of Texas, remembers, "A lot of
discussion was occurring on sustainable agriculture and being
driven by the Midwest because they were more organized. The
views of the South weren't being heard. We wanted to have
Southerners articulate the South's needs and look for solutions
ourselves instead of looking to others."
Groups in the South were already working on pieces to the puzzle
of sustainability, like rural community revitalization, saving
family farms, minority farmer assistance, environmental quality,
safe food, farmer-controlled marketing and credit reform. The
time was ripe to begin a dialogue between all of the efforts.
"It was encouraging and exciting to see groups come together from
the whole region", recalls Jackie Langston of North Carolina,
"especially since the South had not been in the forefront of
sustainable agriculture up to that time".
"A real spirit of camaraderie developed when we realized there
were lots of folks all across the region who were working on the
same issues", says Keith Jones. "We saw we had the critical mass
to make a real change on some of these issues."
Most important of all, the creation of a working group on
sustainable agriculture brought farmers to the table. Benny
Bunting of North Carolina says, "I looked at the creation of
Southern SAWG as an opportunity for farmers to participate in the
dialogue controlling our livelihood. I was pleased that my views
as a full time farmer and advocate paralleled with others
interested in food safety, water quality, air quality, and
"I'd felt kind of isolated in Oklahoma", recalls Teresa Maurer.
"I felt a sense of excitement that there would be region-wide
activity on getting farmers to participate, especially in policy
setting and research initiatives." John Matthews of Arkansas adds,
"Sustainable agriculture was in danger of being co-opted by the
same people who controlled conventional agriculture land grants,
government and agribusiness. You can't go to the same store for
solutions that you bought your problems from."
The creation of the Southern SAWG was an attempt to change the paradigm,
to turn to the great diversity of farmers and their allies for solutions.
Original Mission & Goals
At the Tennessee meeting a steering committee was formed of Larry
Williams (AR), Helen Vinton (LA), Betty Bailey (NC), Kathy Aman
(KY) and Keith Jones (TX) to further define the goals, objectives
and a mission statement for approval by the full membership.
Their original mission statement read: The Southern SAWG is a
regional network involved in sustainable agriculture and rural
1. Empowers farmers to develop policy and implement programs
resulting in economic and environmental sustainability of our
2. Increases the capacity of each member group by sharing
resources and collaborating on program development.
By the end of 1991 an ambitious list of long-term goals were
1. To involve traditional farmers in the sustainable agriculture
movement, in the policy-making process, and in setting research
and program priorities of public institutions.
2. To expose grassroots farm leaders to a wide variety of options
for rural policy, including experience from other countries.
3. To expand our cooperative relationship with the Midwest SAWG
in order to monitor both federal policy and new programs in other
states, and to participate in a national dialogue on sustainable
agriculture provisions of the 1995 farm bill.
4. To enable citizen oversight of land grant university,
extension, and economic development agency priorities; and work
to ensure farmer and nonprofit representation on boards and
5. To develop a basis for cooperative programming between rural
organizations in the region; maximize effectiveness by sharing
staff and research resources; and increase the capacity of these
organizations to create new public policies.
6. To cooperate in creating and expanding regional marketing
opportunities for farm products produced using sustainable
7. To develop and share practical methods for increasing reliance
on renewable on-farm resources while increasing rural employment
opportunities in the Southern region.
Since the working group model was originally designed to be
fluid, structure was kept to a minimum. Through the first three
years, the group usually focused on work to be done, creating ad
hoc or simple structures to accommodate each issue.
The steering committee evolved to include one member from each
state, elected by the Southern SAWG organizations in that state.
Other committees formed around specific projects taken on,
including fund-raising, SARE, policy, marketing, land grant
accountability, communications, annual conference, and
newsletter. In late 1991, Michael Sligh was hired as a half-time
coordinator for the group.
The Southern SAWG now includes 47 organizations in 13 states
broadly representative of the range and diversity of farmers and
citizen interests in the region. Annual conferences, with
educational workshops and working sessions, have been held for
the past three years in Louisiana, North Carolina and Texas.
Committee meetings have been held in six other Southern states.
A communications system is constantly being expanded to link all
member organizations and key individuals through E-mail, faxing,
postal mail and phone.
Accomplishments So Far
The members of the Southern SAWG have made significant
accomplishments in their brief three years of working together.
1. The Southern SAWG has helped place more farmers and supporters
of sustainable agriculture on the Administrative Council and
committees of the Southern SARE/ACE Program.
2. The Community Farm Alliance (on behalf of the SSAWG) was
chosen to lead a federally funded strategic planning project to
determine funding priorities for the Southern SARE Program. See
the article on State of the South.
3. Through the Farmer First Project, the SSAWG funded interviews
and local organizing to increase farmer involvement in
sustainable agriculture in several Southern states.
4. Marketing surveys were conducted to assess the marketing
opportunities and obstacles for organic products in the South.
A marketing conference and subsequent marketing workshops have
been held to provide training in cooperative marketing, direct
marketing, and the concept of community supported agriculture.
Also a marketing resource directory has been compiled for the
5. The Southern SAWG began identifying farmers who had successes
in farming more sustainably, and created forums for them to tell
their stories through conference workshops and in print.
6. Local and state farmer focus group meetings have been held to
assess research needs and develop initiatives for stimulating
sustainable practices. This process has helped create a new
commitment by several land grant universities in the South to
sustainable agriculture research and farmer involvement in
determining research and education priorities.
7. The Southern SAWG helped initiate and increase participation
in the National Dialogue on Sustainable Agriculture leading to
the 1995 Farm Bill. See the accompanying story, Grassroots
Campaign Builds Towards 1995 Farm Bill.
No matter how much is accomplished there is always more to do.
More legislation needs to be passed. More research and education
needs to be redirected. More markets need to be identified and
explored. More knowledge needs to be transferred from farmers to
farmers. More groups and interested individuals need to be
If you want to work for sustainable agriculture, join one of the
Southern SAWG organizations in your area:
Acadiana Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (LA)
Agricultural Resources Center (NC)
Agricultural Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA)
Alabama Organic Fruit and Vegetable Growers
American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (NC)
Arkansas Land and Farm Development Corporation
Arkansas-Oklahoma Sustainable Agriculture Network
Carolina Farm Stewardship Association
Community Farm Alliance (KY)
Farm Plan Advocates (NC & SC)
Florida Certified Organic Meats
Florida Organic Growers Association
GAIA Agriculture Consulting (AR)
Georgia Organic Growers Association
Help Our Polluted Environment (LA)
Indian Springs Farmers Cooperative (MS)
Janus Farms Institute (NC)
Kentucky Organic Farmers Association
Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture
Land Loss Prevention Project (NC)
Louisiana Citizens Recycling Environmental Advisory Council
Louisiana Environmental Action Network
Louisiana Inter-Church Farm Crisis Coalition
Mid-South Organic Cotton Growers Association
Mississippi Action for Community Education
Mississippi Association of Cooperatives
National Contract Poultry Growers Association
North Carolina Coalition of Farm and Rural Families
North Carolina Council of Churches Seeds of Hope Program
North Carolina Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
Organic FarmersU Associations Caucus
Ozark Organic Growers Association (AR, MO & OK)
Ozark Small Farm Viability Project (AR, MO & OK)
Rodale Institute Mid-South Farmers Network
Rural Advancement Foundation International USA
South Carolina Christian Action Farm and Environmental Coalition
Southern ECHO (MS)
Southern Mutual Help Association (LA)
Sunbelt Organic Growers (FL)
Tennessee Land Stewardship Association
Tennessee Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
Texas Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
Training and Development Resources (NC)
Virginia Association for Biological Farming
Virginia Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
United Methodist Hinton Rural Life Center (NC)
For more information, contact your state Southern SAWG steering
8 STEPS TO SUCCESSFUL VALUE-ADDED MARKETING
Adapted from a presentation by Woody Plaut at the SSAWG Farmers
First Conference in Raleigh, NC, January 1993.
1. Know your motivation:
* Make sure your venture is a reflection of your life.
* Establish and write down your philosophy and rationale for
what you are doing, because ultimately the hard decisions are
answered at that level.
2. Research and sourcing:
* Thoroughly research costs and regulations that apply to your
enterprise before you invest.
* Source everything from ingredients, to tape, to shipping
labels and packaging.
* Research state and local health department rules and follow
them. Remember, the inspectors are trying to help you run a
* FDA guidelines for food processing and labeling are in title
code books 20 and 21.
3. Learn the market and define your niche:
* Attend trade shows.
* Talk with people in the industry.
* Read the trade magazines.
* Network with your state agricultural marketing division.
4. Start small:
* When its your money you watch it closer.
* In the beginning, learn all aspects of your business rather
than hiring services out of house.
5. Keep flexible:
* Never stop studying the market,it always changes.
* Don't be afraid to redefine yourself with the changing
market demands. However, don't compromise your philosophy or
you'll find yourself rudderless on the turbulent sea of the
* Figure true unit costs.
* Keep records on the real costs of doing business, including
* Investigate the price of similar products. Can you sell
your product at a competitive price?
7. New product development:
* Keep testing new products, labels, packaging, et cetera and
always take notes.
* Keep track of new products introduced by the competition.
* Keep an active updated file system of information about
areas of interest, materials and sources.
* Do regular variety testing.
* Sampling sells. Feeding people sells your product.
* Participate in your state agricultural marketing program,
especially when you can get feedback from the public.
ATTRA HAS THE ANSWERS
ATTRA (Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas) has the
answers to your questions on sustainable agriculture. Their
staff of 24 (including 15 with technical expertise) collects and
disseminates information to help farmers, extension agents,
agricultural support groups, researchers and educators.
ATTRA has over 45 Information Packages (IPs) already assembled
on many subjects, such as Farm-Scale Composting, Sustainable
Fertility Management, Cover Crops and Green Manures, Sustainable
Poultry Production, Organic Vegetable Production, Crawfish
Aquaculture, and Marketing Natural or Organic Meat, Poultry and
Eggs. These IPs contain five to 20 pages of a topic review
written by one of the technical specialists, supplemented by
reprints from journals, books and newsletters.
If you have a specific question not covered by an IP, a
specialist will be assigned to personally pull together resources
to help you find an answer. Just be aware that this is not an
instant service. Because of high demand, the process may take
three to four weeks.
Four-page summaries introducing the basics of sustainable
agriculture methods and philosophies are available in quantity
for conferences, field days or group meetings. Resource lists of
sustainable agriculture organizations, publications,
apprenticeships, university programs, videos, slides and tapes
are also available.
Best of all, this service is free to users, since ATTRA is funded
by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Call 800-346-9140.
Six sustainable agriculture publications are now available on
FolioViews computer diskettes, including:
1. SARE/ACE Research Reports (including all four regions)
2. Sustainable Agriculture Directory of Expertise
3. Showcase of Sustainable Agriculture Information and Education
4. Agronomy Handbook (containing both conventional and
5. Cover Crops Handbook
6. Proceedings from the Participatory On-Farm Research and
Education for Sustainability conference sponsored by the
University of Illinois.
Each program is indexed for search capability. No special
software is needed outside of a PC-type computer with a 3.5-inch
floppy drive. For each diskette program, send two high-density
3.5-inch diskettes or $10 to: Dr. Phil Rasmussen, Agricultural
Systems Technology, Utah State University, UMC-2300, Logan, UT
84322-2300. Phone 801-797-2230 for further information.
EXTENSION AGENTS TO BE TRAINED IN SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE
by Jim Lukens
A program to help Extension agents become more knowledgeable
about and responsive to the needs of sustainable agriculture is
being launched this summer. Funded under Chapter Three of the
USDAUs Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)
Program, this effort needs farmer and Southern SAWG member
involvement to be successful.
Each land grant university will receive $10,000 to develop a
strategic plan for Extension training in sustainable agriculture.
Many land grants will be reaching out to sustainable agriculture
farmers and organizations for help in developing and promoting
this plan. This is your opportunity to work with the land grants
in your state.
About $500,000 will go towards funding regional training projects
across the South and funding a region-wide sustainable
agriculture coordinator. Projects to train Extension, SCS and/or
ASCS personnel about sustainable agriculture in 1994 will be
selected by the SARE/ACE Administrative Council in June. It is
important that farmers, with their wealth of knowledge, are
involved as participants in these projects.
A region-wide sustainable agriculture coordinator will also be
chosen in June by the SARE/ACE Administrative Council to develop
and coordinate the whole Southern training program. Farmers and
sustainable agriculture supporters should be ready to help this
coordinator suggest priorities to guide future training projects.
Extension directors in the Southern states have pledged to help
make this program work. Those of us who care about making
agriculture more sustainable need to help them keep that promise.
For more information about the sustainable agriculture Extension
training program, contact: your state Extension Service; your
state Southern SAWG Steering Committee member; or Paula Ford,
Program Manager, Southern Region SARE/ACE Program, 1109
Experiment Street, Griffin, GA 30223-1797, phone 404-412-4788 or
GRASSROOTS CAMPAIGN BUILDS TOWARDS 1995 FARM BILL
by Julie Burns, Keith Richards & Michael Sligh
Now is the time for Southerners to speak out about their needs
for sound rural development, survival of family farms,
redirection of research and extension programs, protection of the
environment and access to healthy food. With the Food,
Agriculture, Conservation and Trade Act of 1995Qcommonly called
the RFarm BillSQonly one year away, a window of opportunity is
open to steer national policy towards the ideals of sustainable
Building on coalitions established and strategies employed during
the last two farm bills, a National Campaign for Sustainable
Agriculture is already underway. Over the past 18 months,
Sustainable Agriculture Working Groups (SAWGUs) across the
country held more than 100 grassroots workshops to generate
policy ideas for the upcoming Farm Bill.
Bringing together consumers, environmentalists, commodity
organizations and farm workers, as well as a wide array of
agricultural groups, the National Dialogue for Sustainable
AgricultureQa prelude to the campaignQidentified the common
ground between stakeholders. This process culminated on February
26-27 in Washington, DC where 350 delegates from 42 states
targeted a set of 20 priority policy options for inclusion in the
1995 Farm Bill.
With 35 delegates from Southern SAWG organizations in
attendance,many of the priority issues identified in the Southern
region emerged as national priorities. These include:
* Reorient USDA programs to support and promote local
marketing, cooperatives, and value-added processing in rural
* Shift commodity program subsidies into Rgreen paymentsS to
reward environmentally sound practices, and raise nonrecourse
* Strengthen existing programs to help farmers reduce
pesticide use and address water quality problems through
* Preserve and expand minority land ownership by increasing
access to USDA programs and decision-making bodies,
* Reform dairy policy to discourage over production and
increase income to producers,
* Reauthorize the SARE program,
* Give collective bargaining rights to contract farmers and
* Require labeling of products containing rBGH, other
genetically engineered foods, and irradiated foods.
Farmers, representing less than two percent of the nations
population, have very little clout in the federal legislature.
This is why coalition building and grass-roots involvement are so
important to the national campaign.
In 1985, family farm groups banded together with labor
organizations to introduce a RSave the Family FarmS omnibus bill
that focused on better price policies for farmers. A credit
reform bill came out of that campaign, but success was limited
because several other interest groups were working on competing
>From this experience, organizations working for sustainable
agriculture realized they couldn't change policy alone or with a
scattershot approach. For the 1990 Farm Bill, clusters of
coalitions comprising farmers, labor, consumers and the
environmental community worked together on specific pieces of
legislation. This strategy proved effective in getting more
legislation introduced and several pieces passed, but the
coalitions still lacked the clout to see all the programs funded
The 1995 National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture includes
broader constituent and geographical diversity than ever before.
By continuing to build larger coalitions, this process has the
ability to influence national agricultural legislation and lead
to a unified vision for a national food system.
The campaign needs grassroots involvement from everyone in
the Southern SAWG network to be successful. The South is
critical because House and Senate Agriculture Committees include a total
of 25 members from the Southern states, with Texas, Arkansas,
Georgia, Kentucky, Florida and North Carolina having the highest
Julie Burns, the coordinator hired by the Southern SAWG for this
campaign, urges, discuss the issues in organizational meetings,
identify volunteers who really care about these issues, and make
plans for participation now. There will be a need for rapid
communication systems set up using phone trees, faxes and E-mail
to keep everyone informed of developments and to target certain
legislators at critical moments before votes.
As the campaign progresses into 1995, the Southern SAWG will
be creating media events in several states. Groups will be
needed to lobby; to call, write or meet with legislators in Washington,
DC; and to testify before congressional committees. Julie will provide
information and training assistance to Southern SAWG organizations for
the duration of the campaign.
The opportunity for change is greater now than at any time in
recent history. There is a general recognition that the farm
policies begun in the 60Us and early 70Us emphasizing production
and exports have failed. The loss of family farmers has been
devastating to rural communities, and indirectly adding to the
demise of cities by concentrating more and more people in crowded
urban areas. Meanwhile, consumers are demanding safer food and
less chemical pesticides in their environment.
New faces in Congress; a Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Espy, who
has emphasized rural development; and an administration that is
more environmentally friendly are all potential allies. But we
still have a long way to go to bring everyone together. 1995
will be a crucial year in this continuing process.
For more information or assistance, contact: Julie Burns, 4
Lands Road, Asheville, NC 28805, phone 704-299-1922.
AUDIOTAPES FROM ECO-FAIR TEXAS AVAILABLE
Audiotapes from the 1994 Southern SAWG Annual Conference at
Eco-Fair Texas are available through Morris Media Associates.
Just a few of the workshops and speakers available on tape
Farmer Stories: Innovative Marketing for Sustainable Agriculture
by Dennis Holbrook and Bob Constien,
Farmer Stories: Producing and Selling Organic Cotton by Lorna
McMahon and Dave Nix,
Farmer Stories: Grass-based Dairying (including information on
farmstead cheese) by Tom Trantham and Alyce Birchenough,
Farmer Stories: Raising Fruits & Vegetables More Sustainably by
Mark Cain and Steve Sprinkel,
Farmer Stories: Producing Row Crops More Sustainably by Joe
Judice and Jim Whitfield,
Community Supported Agriculture (two parts) by Jean Mills, Hugh
Lovel and Pam Clay,
Soil Fertility: The Secret To Successful Farming by Eliot
Balancing the Soil by Neil Kinsey,
How a Farm Bill Works by Betty Bailey,
Keynote Speech by Wendell Berry.
Tapes are $8.00 each (tax and shipping included). For a complete
listing, or to place an order contact: Morris Media Associates,
4306 Wildridge Circle, Austin, TX 78759, phone 512-343-7900 or
JIM HIGHTOWER, A VOICE FOR THE PEOPLE
Jim Hightower recently launched a new Saturday and Sunday call-in
Talk Show called Hightower Radio, syndicated from coast to coast
by the ABC Radio Network. This show will compliment the
two-minute Hightower Radio Commentaries that have aired on radio
stations daily since February 15, 1993.
A former Texas Agriculture Commissioner, Hightower is
straight-talking, anti-establishment and fun. He talks from the
kitchen table on health, the environment, food, work, the
economy, the need to put people back in our democracy and the
pursuit of happiness.
While his shows point out what's not working in America, they
also highlight what does work, particularly at the grassroots. It
is his belief that the big gap is not between the right and the
left, but between the rich and the rest of us.
For more information contact: Hightower and Associates, PO Box
13516, Austin, TX 78711, phone 512-477-5588 or fax 512-478-8536.
Radio stations can contact Amy Bolton, Saddle-Burr Productions,
410-362-5345 for program information.
NORTH AMERICAN LIVESTOCK CENSUS RELEASED
Taking Stock: The North American Livestock Census, recently
published by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy of
Pittsboro, NC, presents an inventory of North American breeds and
describes the status of livestock genetic diversity. The book
considers the impact of current agricultural trends on genetic
resources, the significance of livestock for sustainable
agriculture, and presents a powerful case for livestock genetic
Taking Stock is available from the American Livestock Breeds
Conservancy for $14.95 plus $2 for shipping. Send check or money
order to ALBC, PO Box 477, Pittsboro, NC 27312, or call
919-542-5704 with MasterCard or Visa orders.
NATIONAL ORGANIC STANDARDS ONLY MONTHS AWAY
The process to create national organic food production and
processing certification standards, begun with passage of the
Organic Foods Production Act in the 1990 Farm Bill, is nearing
the end of the initial recommendation stage.
The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), appointed by the
Secretary of Agriculture in 1992, has been holding public input
hearings and developing recommendations for implementation of the
Nation Organic Production Program for the past two and a half
According to Michael Sligh, NOSB chairman, ROur board handed off
recommendations to USDA for standards on accreditation, crops
(including the farm plan), livestock, imports, processing and
handling at our recent week-long meeting in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
We will work over the summer on livestock confinement standards,
use of USDA shield, import fumigation prohibitions, further
labeling requirements, and the proposed national list of
prohibited natural and allowed synthetic materials for use in
certified organic production, handling and processing.S
Based on these recommendations, the USDA will draft regulations
and circulate them for public review by early 1995. The
regulations will be published in the federal register as they are
developed and again when a final version is prepared to give one
last opportunity for public comment.
Sligh strongly urges farmers, handlers and processors to
carefully scrutinize these recommendations before they become
regulations both for the impact on their lives and to prepare
themselves for compliance. He points out that the USDA is
required to conduct a socio-economic impact analysis to determine
potential damage prior to implementation.
To be added to the NOSB mailing list, contact: Dr. Harold Ricker,
National Organic Program, AMS/TMD/USDA, Room 4006-S, PO Box
96456, Washington, DC 20090-6456, phone 202-720-2704 or fax
To discuss concerns about the program, contact: Michael Sligh, PO
Box 727, Mauldin, SC 29662, phone 803-297-8562 or fax
SOUTHERN SARE/ACE PROGRAM AMASSING RESEARCH
by Keith Richards
The USDA Sustainable Agriculture and Education (SARE) and EPA
Agriculture in Concert with the Environment (ACE) Programs have
been funding grants for sustainable agriculture research and
education since 1988. These programs are divided into four
regions: Northeast, South, North-Central and West. In the South,
over $7 million has been granted to 94 projects since this
Two examples of projects funded include:
1. On-Farm Demonstration and Research of Low-Input Sustainable
Farming. Funded from 1989 to 1992, this program established
on-farm research projects across North Carolina on such topics as
intercropping legumes in horticultural crops, herbicide reduction
in soybeans, and chemical changes in soil in transition from
conventional to organic management. For a published report of
their findings, send $5.00 for the On-Farm Demonstration Project
Report to Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, 115 Main St.,
Carrboro, NC 27510 or call 919-968-1030 for information.
2. Organic Soil Amendments of Agricultural By-Products for
Vegetable Production Systems in the Mississippi Delta Region.
Farmers with the Arkansas Land and Farm Development Corporation
are evaluating local waste products such as cotton gin trash and
poultry litter as soil amendments for vegetable crops. Other
cooperators on this project include the University of Arkansas
and Mississippi State University's Cooperative Extension, the
University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Virginia Tech University,
and the Rodale Institute. For more information, contact project
coordinator Tina Gray Teague, College of Agriculture, PO Box
1080, Jonesboro, AR 72467, phone 501-972-2043.
All projects are required to disseminate information about their
findings, according to Paula Ford, the Southern Region SARE/ACE
program manager. Contact project coordinators for research
results or possible site visits.
For a complete list of funded projects and individual
descriptions, contact: Paula Ford, Southern SARE/ACE Program,
1109 Experiment Street, Griffin, Georgia 30223-1797, phone
404-412-4788 or fax 404-412-4789.
STATE OF THE SOUTH IDENTIFIES BARRIERS TO SUSTAINABILITY
The biggest barriers to more sustainable agricultural systems in
the South lie beyond the farm, according to a preliminary report
from the State of the South project.
Sponsored by the Southern SAWG and funded by the Southern SARE
program, the RState of the SouthS project has been gathering
input through focus groups, surveys, database analyses, and
opportunity workshops for a portrait of sustainable agriculture
in the South since 1992. The final report, due out in September,
will identify key constraints to increased sustainability of
Southern agricultural systems, and suggest opportunities for
research and education projects to remove those constraints.
RA major accomplishment of the project so far, according to
project director Jim Worstell, has been motivating farmers,
researchers, extension and agency staff to work together to
conceptualize the best opportunities for sustainable agriculture
research and education in their region. Nearly 1000 people,
including over 700 farmers, participated in focus groups and
workshops in 11 Southern states.
Worstell says, every focus group in the study concluded that
marketing systems, research/education paradigms and policy
systems override constraints at the farm level. The focus
groups also concluded that the best opportunities for overcoming
constraints will require organized, local farmer groups focused
on those above-farm issues.
Six region-wide constraints to increased sustainability emerged
through the focus group process, according to Worstell. They
1. Profitable and environmentally sound production
practices especially in the areas of pest and habitat management,
and soil fertility and biology.
2. Sustainable marketing alternatives focusing on value-added
3. Information, communication and feedback systems between
producers and researchers stressing whole farm systems and farmer
to farmer exchange.
4. Research to define policies which will increase
sustainability at all levels of the agricultural
system concentrating on marketing policies, environmentally sound
commodity programs, and changing research/education paradigms.
5. Interaction and communication between farmers,
environmentalists and consumers.
6. Water qualityQespecially focusing on animal waste
Preliminary information and analyses are available by contacting:
Jim Worstell, RState of the South,S 148 Lost Fork, Richmond, KY
40475, phone 606-623-7250 or fax 606-624-5733.
SWEET HOME ALABAMA: A LABOR OF LOVE FOUNDED ON CHEESE
by Keith Richards
ELBERTA, Alabama. Down along the Gulf coast of Baldwin County,
Bermuda grass pastures form a checkered pattern in the thick
pine, oak, magnolia and bayberry woods. Although farming has
been part of the landscape for over a century, this is an area
associated with shrimping more than milking, and cheese-making is
absolutely unheard of. Or was unheard of until Alyce Birchenough
and Doug Wolbert bought 40 acres here nine years ago.
Heading out of Elberta towards the Florida state line, never more
than 10 or 12 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, colorful handmade
signs point the way down a dirt road to Sweet Home Farm, RHome of
AlabamaUs Original Farmstead Cheese.S There at the end of the
lane, Alyce and Doug have created a farm enterprise that centers
around making cheese and selling it to the increasing number of
people who come to this corner of the world.
East of the central yard on Sweet Home Farm sit a cattle loafing
shed, milking parlor, cheese-making room and cheese storage
cooler. This is the heart of their operation, where Alyce and
Doug transform the milk into more than 15 varieties of cheese.
Inside you can feel the three strands of their guiding
philosophy: self-sufficiency, valuing quality over quantity, and
shaping work around what they love. Doug built the buildings and
installed the equipment himself, mostly from materials he
salvaged or recycled, so the place has a hybrid feeling of
functionality combined with whimsy. The last rays of sunlight
will filter through a well-placed piece of stained glass and
shine onto bricks salvaged from a demolished motel.
On the evening I visited, Alyce was milking eight cows, bringing
them into the small parlor and hooking them to automatic milkers
two at a time. As she calmly handled the animals without benefit
of stanchions, Alyce told me about their decision to install an
automatic milk line. Each piece of technology on their farm has
been weighed between the savings it brings in time and energy,
and the quality it adds or detracts from their lives and their
products. When they first put the line in, they milked enough to
make one batch of cheese, then disconnected it for two months
until they could judge the final product. Luckily the automation
didnUt detract from the quality of their cheese, so now they save
an hour per milking by not having to hand carry the milk from
cows to tank.
They usually milk about 12 cows at any given time, keeping
another 12 heifers and dry cows as replacements. Their herd is
based on the amount of milk they need to produce 10,000 pounds of
cheese per year. Averaging four to eight gallons of milk per cow
per day, their goal is to produce a target amount of cheese with
the fewest number of cows. If one of the Guernseys goes below
four gallons of production for long, sheUs a likely candidate for
Recently, they added beef cattle to their operation, so when milk
cows lose productivity, they are used as brood cows. The
Guernseys are bred with Angus or Brangus bulls to produce a 3/4
Angus, 1/4 Guernsey feeder cow. These are sold at a local
auction when they reach 300 to 500 pounds.
While Alyce milked the cows, Doug was on the west side of the
farmyard, beyond the canning kitchen, machine shop and old
restored farmhouse, milking four Nubian goats by hand. The goats
average one gallon of milk per goat per day, providing variety to
the Sweet Home products, complimentary grazing on their pastures,
and lively personalities to the farm.
As I watched Doug rapidly fill buckets with milk, I asked about
the origin of their stock. He told me they keep closed herds,
artificially inseminating all their cows and naturally breeding
the goats. Again, quality counts.
Doug says, Raising your own stock gives you a totally different
relationship with the animals from when you buy them. It also
keeps him from being tempted to buy some animal with a pedigree
or papers. Papers don't mean a thing to me. He points out,
When an animal has papers it only causes you to hang onto her
Looking For a Farm-Based Business
Alyce met Doug in Michigan, where he was running his own sawmill
and collecting usable junk. After marrying in 1978, they began
looking for a home-based business. Alyce says, We didn't know
what we were doing.
Earlier, Alyce had received a bachelors degree in Food &
Nutrition from Southeastern Louisiana University and had a
propensity towards making food. Doug gave her a Jersey cow for
a wedding present, and despite its horns and nasty disposition,
they liked having the fresh milk. So they sold the Jersey,
bought a Guernsey, and Alyce began experimenting with making
cheese. After reading books and practicing on her own, she took
a course at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. By
1983, she and Doug decided cheese was to be the foundation of
While they built up a foundation herd, Doug raised a barn and
Alyce raised capital by working at factory jobs. In 1985 they
moved to Alabama, bringing their cows, lumber, bricks, equipment,
and even a chicken coop. Doug built more buildings and worked as
a well driller while Alyce worked on the farm. Meanwhile, they
shipped milk to a local coop for two more years.
Slowly, through sweat equity, Sweet Home Farm grew. We went to
the local inspectors before we put up our first brick here to
help us with the design and so on, explains Alyce. They wanted
to make sure they met all the health and building codes from the
start. Once they did, they obtained a commercial license for
making cheese and they were in business.
Now they make a batch of cheese every three to four days. Alyce
has 15 varieties that she makes regularly, including Bama Jack,
Gouda, Montabella, Feta, Edam, Cajun Spice, Dagano, Garden
Vegetable, Baldwin Swiss, Blue, Garlic Blue, Romano, Pepato
Asiago and Cheese Fudge. She says the amount is based on their
market. If she made only two, they would need more markets.
She will sometimes make an unusual variety for special occasions
or special orders. And Alyce makes small amounts of both hard
and soft goat's milk cheese seasonally. All the varieties are
aged for at least 60 days to fulfill the health requirements for
raw milk cheese.
As by-products, Alyce also makes cottage cheese and sour cream
butter that she sells for $5.00 per pound. There is a waiting list
of customers for the butter. Doug drinks most of the buttermilk,
saying it is a perfect replacement drink for the fluids and
minerals lost through sweating on hot, humid Gulf days.
Often people ask Alyce, if you make the cheese, what does Doug
This is a joke between them, because Doug describes himself as
naturally hyperactive. The day I visited, Doug had a full page
list of things to do before lunch, including hug Alyce.
Besides building, repairing and milking, he has also learned to
make cheese so Alyce can get away for more than one or two days
at a time not that she does.
Tending the Land
One of Doug's favorite chores is tending to their land. Before
buying the property, he studied soil maps and discovered there
was a small band of soil with good structure between the sandy
soils along the Gulf and heavy red clay further inland. This is
where Sweet Home Farm lies.
The farm's original 40 acres is broken into six paddocks
surrounding the central yard. About 11 acres along the lowest
land is in woods, and one hay field is beyond the woods on the
All of our fields have a border of woods for shade and a little
herbal, explains Doug. That's important for the cows this far
Doug walks the pastures every day so he can better understand his
land. He believes he had an advantage in coming to this place
without preconceived notions. He says he wasn't set in any
patterns or trained to think by so-called experts. He came with
an open mind, asked lots of questions of his neighbors, and
Besides neighbors, Doug gets his information from old
agricultural books. He advises, you have to sift through the
bad, like recommendations for DDT. He also consults charts from
Extension. The Extension service is not on the cutting edge, but
they do have the basics,S says Doug encouragingly.
Doug has tried all kinds of grass and legume mixtures in the
pastures, but likes alicia Bermuda grass interplanted with Haifa
clover (an Israeli variety), oats and Puna chicory. He says the
cows seem to really like the big leafed clover, and the chicory
is high in crude protein. He seeds them at a rate of 2 lbs to
the acre for the chicory, 3 lbs for the clover, and 100 lbs for
the oats. After some searching he found a John Deere 1500
Powertill grain drill that seeds directly into the Bermuda by
rotovating a shallow seed bed ahead of the drill.
Since their density of cattle is fairly low, Doug spreads broiler
house litterQat $27 per ton deliveredQand lime for fertility. He
has tried crab and shrimp meal, but it includes too much trash to
make it worthwhile.
They graze their herd nearly year-round, rotating them through
the fields with the milk cows getting first priority, then the
dry cows and heifers. The goats have free access to pasture all
the time, but seem to be more affected by inclement weather and
go into their shed often. At night, the milk cows are left in
the loafing yard next to the milking parlor and their feed is
supplemented with a little hay. Doug says this keeps the cows
from getting too loose. Doug cuts his own hay, occasionally
buying a little extra from the neighbors.
Our herd is pretty healthy on the whole because they're out on
pasture all the time, says Alyce. Then she adds, but as they
say, if you don't have cows, you don't have problems.
For fly control, they use ducks and a beneficial fly parasite
called Muscidifarax zaraptor, Spanglia. The ducks pick through
the manure and eat all the eggs and larvae they can find,
especially around the edges of the milking parlor between grass
and cement. Doug buys the fly parasites from Bozeman BioTech and
releases them periodically throughout the year to keep fly
populations in check.
Because of the high population of soil-borne parasites and
pathogens in their warm environment, they have to worm and
vaccinate their cows on a regular program. Still, they've often
lost a cow after first frost, and don't know the cause even after
having expensive tests run last year.
Recently, Doug and Alyce felt forced to buy 20 more acres across
the road to the south. The former owner was spraying chemical
pesticides and the drift blew onto their property. Once Doug
fences the boundary, he will use this pasture for rotational
grazing of their beef cattle, dividing it with moveable
Customers Come To Them
Besides all their other chores, Alyce and Doug also operate a
little cottage store, open 10 am to 5 pm, Wednesday through
Saturday, at the front of their property.
When they bought their farm, they planned on selling the cheese
through mail-order, so their location at the end of a dirt road
didn't seem to be a factor. For a little advertising, Alyce had
a publicist friend help her write a press release to send to the
local newspapers. Eventually, one paper sent a reporter out and
printed an article. Then another did, another and another, until
Sweet Home Farm was a regular feature for the print media and
television stations from Pensacola to New Orleans.
With the customers coming to them, mail-order sales became
superfluous. Most of their customers are retired snow birds
from the Midwest who come down for the winter, Southerners on
vacation, or city people out of Mobile and Pensacola. Alyce
catches the travelers by putting out brochures at each of the
Welcome Centers to the state. The brochures (10,000 yearly) cost
about five cents apiece to print. She had to get them okayed
through the Alabama Department of Tour & Travel, who stock them
I was very reluctant at first to put brochures in the Welcome
Centers because I thought it would be too diffuse (of
advertising). But it has been a wonderful thing, marvels Alyce.
In addition to cheese, cottage cheese and sour cream butter,
they've added a few complimentary items in the store. Alyce
makes up nine loaves of bread every night to bake and sell in the
morning (nine is how many her oven will hold). They sell
homemade pepper jelly, kumquat marmalade, praline syrup, a few
vegetables when their large garden overflows, and pecans from the
grove behind their cattle shed. They've even added local honey
from a neighbor, regional wines, sausage, and crackers because
these items go well with the cheese.
They've learned some secrets to retail selling over the years.
First and foremost is to readily give away samples of the cheese.
They also had to learn presentation. Originally, they put out
bulbs of elephant garlic in a bulk basket straight from the
garden and charged $4.00 per pound. No one would touch it. So
Alyce tried cleaning it, broke it into cloves, and packaged it in
net bags. Now it is one of their big sellers at $1.00 per bag
($6.50 per pound).
Operating a retail store on your farm can be an enlightening (and
sometimes frightening) experience, finding out just how ignorant
the general public has become about their food. Doug tells a
story about a couple who came into the store one day and asked
why there were cows on the farm. When Doug replied that that's
where the cheese came from, they literally backed out of the door
without buying anything.
Most customers, though, really like the turkeys that strut around
the yard and the chickens in the pen next door. With cattle and
their companion egrets grazing at the edge of magnolia trees, and
the smell of honeysuckle heavy in the air, Sweet Home Farm
presents visitors with a bucolic scene.
Meanwhile, it's milking time again. Alyce and Doug both point
out a fat toad behind their water heater, proudly telling me it
is death on cockroaches. Then they are off in perpetual motion,
creating another day's labor of love.
SOUTHERN SUSTAINABLE FARMING SURVEY
The purpose of this newsletter is to serve the sustainable
agriculture community of the South. We need your feedback to do
this well. Please take a moment to fill out this survey and
return it to the address at the bottom of the page. Thank you.
(Please check all that apply.)
Overall, what did you think of this issue?
 very useful  somewhat useful  not useful
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 not enough depth  too much depth  just the right depth
 well written  interesting
Which articles did you read?
 Sweet Home Alabama: A Labor of Love Founded On Cheese
 A Brief History of the Southern SAWG
 Grassroots Campaign Builds Towards 1995 Farm Bill
 RState of the SouthS Identifies Barriers To Sustainability
 Southern SARE/ACE Program Amassing Research
 Extension Agents To be Trained in Sustainable Agriculture
 National Organic Standards Only Months Away
 8 Steps To Successful Value-Added Marketing
What topics would you like to see covered in the future?
 News of SSAWG business and actions
 SSAWG member profiles
 Info about sustainable agriculture research & demonstration
 Stories on successful sustainable farmers
 Coverage of policy issues that affect Southern farms
 Discussion of sustainable agriculture research needs
 News of markets and marketing tips & information
 Coverage of sustainable agricultureUs role in rural
 Resource lists with addresses and phone numbers
 Calendar of events
 Appropriate advertising
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City: State: Zip:
Return this form to: Southern Sustainable Farming, 1533 S.
Sweet Home Farm, 27107 Schoen Road, Elberta, AL 36530.
Cutting Edge Agri Products, RR 1, Box 234AA, Lowry City, MO
Oldfields Seed Co., PO Box 190, Mt. Sterling, KY 40353.
Beneficial Insectary, 14751 Oak Run Road, Oak Run, CA 96069.
Phone 916-472-3715 or fax 916-472-3523.
BIOFAC, Inc., PO Box 87, Mathis, TX 78368. 800-233-4914 or
Bozeman Bio-Tech, PO Box 3146, Bozeman, MT 59772. 800-289-6656
M & R Durango Inc., PO Box 886, Bayfield, CO 81132. 800-526-4075
Rincon-Vitova Insectaries, PO Box 1555, Ventura, CA 93002.
800-248-2847 or 805-643-5407.
CALENDAR OF EVENTS:
JULY 31: SARE Mulch Project Field Day, Twin Oaks Farm, Louisa
Co., VA. Call 804-263-4557.
AUGUST 6: Organic Market Garden Field Day, Williamsburg VA area.
AUGUST 13: SARE Mulch Project Field Day and Farm Tour, Dayspring
Farm, King Queen Co., VA. Call 804-785-9401.
AUGUST 14: SARE Mulch Project Field Day and Farm Tour, Potomac
Vegetable Farms, Loudon Co., VA. Call 703-882-3885.
AUGUST 20: Soil Health and Composting Workshop, Seven Springs
Farm, Floyd Co., VA. Call 703-639-0160.
SEPTEMBER 23-25: Southern SAWG Steering Committee Meeting, Gulf
State Park, AL. Call 501-521-7922.
OCTOBER 10: National Organic Standards Board meeting, California.
Call 202-720-2704 for details.
NOVEMBER 4-6: RSeed Saving,S Tennessee Alternative Growers Assoc.
Annual Conference, Standing Stone State Park, TN. Call
NOVEMBER 18-20: Carolina Farm Stewardship Assoc. Annual
Conference, Winthrop College, Rock Hill, SC. Call 919-968-1030.
JANUARY 13-15, 1995: SOUTHERN SAWG ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Gulf State
Park, Gulf Shores, AL. Call 501-521-7922 to suggest workshops or
presenters you would like to see. More details in next issue.