3 weeks ago

Could emerging Alabama bamboo industry eventually outperform pine?


Could Alabama become home to a major new industry centered on bamboo farming and product manufacturing?

Southern Research and its Prosperity Fund initiative are teaming up with Resource Fiber, a bamboo fiber products company, to help realize the commercial potential of bamboo in a state known for thick pine forests.

Marsha Folsom, Resource Fiber’s Chief Development Officer/Governmental Affairs/Economic Development, said The Prosperity Fund has connected the firm with Alabama businesses interested in exploring industrial applications of bamboo and university professors who want to do bamboo research.

Meanwhile, Southern Research’s testing facilities are evaluating company bamboo products to determine strength and other important characteristics to advance their product development efforts.

“We are very excited about the prospects for the future with Southern Research and its Prosperity Fund and what this collaboration will do for the expansion of economic development around the mass cultivation of bamboo and manufacturing of bamboo industrial products in Alabama, a first for the U.S.,” Folsom said.

Southern Research and its Prosperity Fund initiative are providing testing services to Resource Fiber, a firm that wants to launch mass cultivation of bamboo and manufacture bamboo industrial products in Alabama.

She added that one of Resource Fiber’s goals is to act as a magnet to attract other industries interested in utilizing bamboo fiber to Alabama and the region.

“Collaboration with Southern Research serves as a key component to making that happen,” Folsom said.


Steven Puckett, managing director of The Prosperity Fund, said the economics of bamboo are compelling. Bamboo grows rapidly, up to two feet per day, and it yields 20 times more fiber than trees, with no replanting necessary. Plus, it requires little water and no pesticides.

Estimates show that bamboo could yield considerably more revenue per acre annually than pine, Puckett said.

“Bamboo cultivation and product manufacturing could one day become a significant new industry in Alabama, and that’s why The Prosperity Fund is keenly interested in its future possibilities,” Puckett said. “We are committed to investigating innovative solutions that spark job creation and foster sustainable growth through a new brand of economic development.”

The testing of bamboo samples is now underway at Southern Research’s Birmingham engineering facilities, focusing on factors such as strength and flammability that are integral to product development.

“Southern Research is performing testing on the bamboo product as the company moves forward to achieve the certification needed for commercial use,” Puckett said. “Certification is an expensive process, and we are helping work out all the kinks as they prepare for the certification process.”

Southern Research and its Prosperity Fund initiative are providing testing services to Resource Fiber, a firm that wants to make bamboo industrial products in Alabama.

Folsom said the testing at Southern Research will provide Resource Fiber with performance information before it sends product samples to third-party laboratories for industry certification. Securing that certification is key to market acceptance for the company’s products, which include bamboo rail ties and bamboo nail laminated timbers for the construction industry.

She expects Resource Fiber to work with the Prosperity Fund to expand the testing to other products in the future.

“We see this collaboration continuing and hopefully expanding into the future. A myriad of products can be made from bamboo,” Folsom said. “Through collaboration and drawing on the respective expertise from both Resource Fiber and Southern Research, we can establish Alabama as the epicenter of bamboo research, bamboo farming at scale, and bamboo manufacturing expertise in the U.S.”


While bamboo represents a $60 billion industry worldwide, there hasn’t been much of an attempt to capitalize on it in the United States, according to Resource Fiber, which calls itself the nation’s only vertically integrated bamboo fiber products company.

Resource Fiber now operates a 100-acre in-field bamboo nursery in Greene County, located in Alabama’s “Black Belt,” named for the rich, fertile soil that made it a key cotton-producing region. With the doubling of the size of its nursery, the company expects to provide enough plants to populate 100,000 to 150,000 acres of bamboo over the next decade.

A Southern Research technician splits a piece of bamboo as part of testing conducted for Resource Fiber, which wants to launch a bamboo industry in Alabama.

While much of Resource Fiber’s focus is on the Black Belt, its growth potential has implications for the Alabama coal counties targeted by The Prosperity Fund. The company intends to move its production facility to Tuscaloosa County, and Puckett has connected it to support businesses in Walker and Jefferson counties already.

“As the bamboo economy grows in Alabama, we fully expect many more counties other than those in the Black Belt to benefit through expanded manufacturing of bamboo products utilizing bamboo fiber grown in Alabama,” Folsom said.

With financial backing from the Appalachian Regional Commission, Southern Research formed The Prosperity Fund in 2017 to accelerate small business growth and job creation in four Alabama counties hurt by the coal industry’s downward spiral.


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11 hours ago

Longtime journalist, Tuscaloosa native and Pulitzer Prize winner Les Payne dies

Longtime New York journalist and Tuscaloosa native Les Payne has died at age 76.

Payne’s family confirmed his death to Newsday, where he worked for nearly four decades, rising through the ranks from reporter to associate managing editor. The newspaper reports Tuesday that Payne died unexpectedly Monday night at his home in Harlem.


Newsday Editor Deborah Henley says Payne established a standard of journalistic excellence that has been “a beacon for all who have come after him.”

Payne oversaw foreign and national coverage, was an editor of New York Newsday and wrote a column. He was part of a Newsday reporting team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1974 for a series titled “The Heroin Trail.”

He also was a founding member and former president of the National Association of Black Journalists.

(Image: Darlene Lewis/Vimeo)

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

11 hours ago

Peggy Sutton is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

Peggy Sutton did not start out wanting to create a powerhouse food business. She just wanted to eat like her grandparents did.

Sutton, a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact, planted grains at her home in Fitzpatrick about 15 years ago and waited for them to sprout. Before the Industrial Revolution, most people made flour from spouted grains, not from crops harvested with a combine.

Sutton soaked the grains in mason jars in 2005, dried them and then ground them into flour with a small mill in her home.

“I was blown away by the taste,” she told Kitchn.com in 2015. “It was so good, and I was hooked. And to me, that’s actually the most important thing.”


The real benefit, the secret to Sutton’s commercial success, were the health features. She told Kitchn.com that flour from sprouted grains preserves vitamins and minerals that are eliminated in modern farming. Those nutrients produce naturally fortified flour.

At first, Sutton tried to spread the gospel of sprouted grains, but friends and relatives asked Sutton if she could just make the grains for them. She did, and To Your Health Sprouted Flour Co. was born, according to the company’s website. More than a decade later, Sutton’s idea has grown into a business that produces more than 3.6 million organic whole-grain sprouted flour a year and is the largest supplier of organic sprouted flours in the world.

The production moved from her home kitchen to a commercial kitchen inside a barn in 2006 and four years later moved up to a 7,200-square-foot facility. The company added a second facility in 2013 and expanded again in 2015. To Your Health Sprouted Flour Co. employs more than 30 people and ships grains, flours, legumes, seeds, nuts and other snacks to 14 different countries.

Sutton touts the not-too-subtle differences between her flour and the products on sale at the local supermarket.

“It’s the difference between eating a tomato and a potato,” she told Alabama Power’s Alabama NewsCenter last year. “Sprouted flour tastes better, is easier to digest, has more enzymes and is just more nutritious than regular flour.”

Sutton did not just luck into the business. She had spent three decades working in marketing and management positions in Montgomery, Atlanta and Columbus, Georgia. She returned home to Fitzpatrick, a rural community south of Montgomery, to take a job as director of the Alabama Hospice Organization.

Then, the flour business started to take off. Orders grew so fast that she decided to stop making baked goods and concentrate full time on producing flours. It was a call from Whole Foods that kicked the business to a different level. The chain grocery store wanted 10,000 pounds.

“At that time, we were only making about 1,000 pounds a week, but I knew we could do it,” she told Alabama NewsCenter. “Unfortunately, we live at the end of a dirt road, and the trucks couldn’t get in to pick up all that flour. So we had to expand.”

Sutton’s business even has landed her picture on the back of Kashi cereal boxes. She told This is Alabama last year that Kellogg’s, which makes the organic cereal, contacted her in 2014 and decided to use her image after hearing her company’s homegrown story and coming away impressed with the quality of the grain.

“I told my husband, it’s not the front of the Wheaties box, but I’m not complaining!” Sutton told the website.

Sutton will be honored with Gov. Kay Ivey in an awards event March 29 in Birmingham. The Yellowhammer Women of Impact event will honor 20 women making an impact in Alabama and will benefit Big Oak Ranch. Details and registration may be found here.

Brendan Kirby is senior political reporter at LifeZette.com and a Yellowhammer contributor. He also is the author of “Wicked Mobile.” Follow him on Twitter.

BCA endorsement is a real head-scratcher

Campaign season is officially upon us.  Yard signs are popping up at every street corner and on trees along our roadways, the monthly FCPA reports showing candidate fundraising activity are on full display and endorsements are being rolled out by groups across the state.  While there has been an age old debate about the true value of endorsements, especially from elected officials, there is no question that an endorsement from the likes of ALFA, the Business Council of Alabama, the Realtors Association, just to name a few, can prove to be a major shot in the arm for a candidate seeking statewide office in Alabama.


Aside from the very large campaign checks they can dole out at a moment’s notice, these groups have a strong network of very politically active members across the state who ban together to turnout the vote for candidates who align with their interests.  The endorsements, on many levels, can provide a little-known candidate instant “street cred” and very quickly propel their candidacy to new heights.  So, it is no mystery as to why potential candidates can spend more than a year ahead of an election cycle traveling to local ALFA meetings and visiting with key business leaders to lay the groundwork for just the opportunity to win a coveted endorsement.  Quite simply, being shunned by one of these groups may not break one’s campaign but receiving their blessing can certainly make one’s campaign.

The Alabama Civil Justice Reform Committee, or ACJRC to the Montgomery insiders, was established in the 1990s by a wide range of business associations banding together to recruit and finance conservative judicial candidates to put an end to the “tort hell” environment created over the years by the trial lawyers that had embedded itself inside of the Alabama Court System.  The effort, conducted by none other than famed political consultant Karl Rove, was wildly successful and, over time, turned the state’s court system from one of the least business-friendly in the country into one of the most.  This feat was not easy and the ACJRC continues to work to build a wall around the court system to protect it from anti-business forces.

So, when the Business Council of Alabama made the decision to endorse Mobile County Circuit Judge Sarah Stewart in the race for Supreme Court, to say the other business associations in Montgomery were stunned would be an understatement.  It could be likened to Tua Tagovailoa shedding his Alabama jersey in the National Championship game, walking to the Georgia sideline and lining up at quarterback for them on the next series.  Those who had worked so hard to preserve the coalition were angered because they fully understand the aforementioned benefits that come with a major endorsement.

According to the ACJRC, one should look no further than a case involving South Alabama Brick to understand that Stewart’s judicial record is far from business-friendly.  Her ruling, eventually overturned by the Alabama Supreme Court, would have required business and property owners to warn independent contractors along with their employees of any potential hazards, no matter how large or small, they could encounter while on the job site even if the contractor had more expertise regarding the issue.  Furthermore, the burden of making sure the contractor’s employees were operating in a safe manner would have been unduly placed on the business owner regardless of whether or not the contractor had implemented his or her own operational safety standards.

However, the specifics of this particular endorsement aside, the more important issue may be the fracturing of the coalition on this race and the Business Council’s unwillingness to explain the endorsement to us and others. The civil justice arm of the business community is now pitted against what used to be its single strongest member. These groups have held the line and worked arm in arm for years. The fact that the Business Council would change jerseys on this one is truly a headscratcher.

The Yellowhammer Multimedia Executive Board is comprised of the owners of the company.

(Image — Yellowhammer News Graphic)

12 hours ago

Auburn takes part in urban tree canopy study

Auburn will take part in an urban tree canopy study.

The Opelika-Auburn News reports the city of Auburn and the Green Infrastructure Center entered an agreement to evaluate the canopy, which is layered with leaves, branches and stems of trees that cover the ground when viewed from above. The study looks to improve the planning of any future reforestation efforts.


Recommendations for tree removal will focus on elimination of exotic invasive trees to reduce over-competition, increase diversity and increase forest health.

The Green Infrastructure Center is a non-profit organization based in Charlottesville, Virginia. The organization will use satellite imagery to map the land cover of Auburn.

“The study will also help create healthier communities by realizing the many benefits that trees provide other than just clean air and shade,” said Karen Firehock, executive director of Green Infrastructure Center.

Firehock said Auburn is one of 11 cities chosen for the study. Other cities include Charleston, South Carolina, Jacksonville, Florida, Norcross, Georgia, and Lynchburg, Virginia.

The Alabama Forestry Commission is administering a grant to fund the project.

“We’ve been trying to work with the Alabama Forestry Commission for the last couple of years on a variety of projects focusing on green infrastructure,” said Daniel Ballard, watershed division manager for the city of Auburn’s water resource management team. “Trees are the original green infrastructure. They have a few different programs that they manage and one of these being this federal grant that they administer that focuses on urban forests for the specific purpose of improving storm water management.”

Ballard said Auburn was a good fit, because of the city’s continuous growth. He said the city’s impaired watersheds, which are water quality areas of concern, will be part of the study and are always a priority for the city.

“There are areas within the Parkerson Mill Creek watershed, the Saugahatchee Creek watershed, or the Moores Mill Creek watershed that are all priorities for our department,” he said.

Ballard said Auburn was already pursuing a green infrastructure master plan, which will integrate parks and natural areas, greenways, bike paths, sidewalks and habitat corridors.

“This project filled in a gap in that master planning process,” Ballard said. “Although we’re not evaluating urban tree canopy in our green infrastructure master plan, we are in that process looking holistically at the way we manage storm water and not just trees.”

(Image: Auburn University)

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

13 hours ago

Alabama Sheriff’s Association director: Jail food allowance reform ‘should have been done 50 years ago’

Reforming what county sheriffs do with unspent jail food allowances should have been accomplished a long time ago, Robert Timmons, Executive Director of the Alabama Sheriff’s Association, told Yellowhammer News on Tuesday.

“It should have been done 50 years ago,” Timmons said. “It’s an antiquated law.”


Timmons pointed to a 2009 article in the Montgomery Advertiser, which reported on some of the controversy around the jail food allowance issue. He went back even further to demonstrate how long this conversation has been going on, pointing to a special report published in 1919 about how the Jefferson County Sheriff was managing such allowances.

Several counties have taken the initiative, not waiting for the legislature to make broad and binding reforms.

Randolph County requires the sheriff to deposit unspent fund into a surplus account. In Russell County, the sheriff is still responsible for feeding prisoners but the county buys the groceries and any excess money goes into the general surplus fund.

Until change comes to all counties, though, Timmons defends the sheriff’s prerogative to keep unspent allowances because it is allowed by law.

“Everything that the Alabama sheriff does has to be administered by an act of legislature. He cannot receive money, he cannot spend money, he cannot create policies outside of his procedure manual.”

As for the quality of inmate food, Timmons challenged the charge that inmates aren’t well-fed.

“Everybody uses day old bread,” he said. “You probably have day old bread at your house right now. They’re eating better than they do on the outside. Most of the inmates will tell you that.”

(Image: National Sheriff’s Association/Facebook)