4 years ago

APPETITE FOR GROWTH: Alabama food companies are booming, expanding operations

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Companies across Alabama are investing millions of dollars in new and expanded specialty food processing operations that tap into growing national trends.

From pickled okra and salsa in Pike County to dehydrated fruits and vegetables in Foley, the projects were part of a record year of economic development for the state in 2015, with overall announcements that totaled $7 billion and 20,000 jobs.

They seek to capitalize on the popular push among consumers to eat more locally sourced foods. At the same time, they’re providing employment and investment in Alabama’s rural areas, as well as new avenues for the state’s farmers to bring their own products to market.

“Alabama’s roots are in agriculture, so food processing operations are a natural way to grow the state’s economy,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “These businesses are also poised to benefit from the latest consumer food trends.”

Bon Secour Valley Ingredients dehydrates fruits and vegetables , including chicory, and turns them into flours and powders. (Image: BSVI)
Bon Secour Valley Ingredients dehydrates fruits and vegetables , including chicory, and turns them into flours and powders. (Image: BSVI)


SUSTAINABLE APPROACH

In Baldwin County, Bon Secour Valley Ingredients is a new company that will dehydrate fruits and vegetables and also mill them into flours and powders. Products will include sweet potatoes, chicory, carrots and kale, sourced from farms in Alabama or elsewhere in the Southeast.

The $8 million, 65-job operation in Foley is scheduled to start up this summer.

BSVI is a new division of the Woerner Companies, a family agriculture business that primarily sells turf products.

“We’re trying to move into sustainable agriculture and to do that, dehydration and food ingredients are where it’s at,” said Christina Woerner McInnis.

BSVI will use local produce that’s not pretty enough to make the cut for supermarket shelves but still has the same taste and quality. The result will be new markets for produce that might otherwise go to waste, McInnis said, particularly when it’s turned into powders.

“We could sell it to a food company that might put it in a soup or to a company that would put it in a dog treat,” she said.

Bon Secour Valley Ingredients’ chicory after processing.
Bon Secour Valley Ingredients’ chicory after processing.

Mike Murphy, general manager for BSVI, said the business aims to capture some of the massive food waste that occurs in distribution channels, estimated at 1.3 billion tons globally.

“A third of the food that’s grown in the world never makes it to the fork,” he said.

INVESTMENT ON THE MENU

Another new company is iSpice, which is investing $9 million in the Clarke County town of Jackson, where it is renovating a building. While the facility will mainly be a packaging operation, it also will have grinding and blending capabilities.

Large retailers and food service companies will be iSpice’s key customers. Operations are expected to begin this summer.

In Pike County, Southern Classic Food Group in Brundidge is starting a new division called Magnolia Vegetable Processors, which is scheduled to begin producing pickled okra in August, followed by pickles and pickle relish.

“For years, we’ve had people ask us about whether we do pickles, and we’ve always used pickles as an ingredient in our tartar sauces and Thousand Island dressing,” said Chuck Caraway, president of Southern Classic Food Group.

The company is spending $5.5 million on the project and plans 60 new jobs. In the second phase, the plan is to make salsa, now the No. 1 condiment in the U.S.

An expansion also is under way in the main business, Caraway added. The company is spending $3.2 million and adding 21 jobs in a project that is installing a new production line for fruit juices.

Southern Classic Food Group makes a wide range of condiments, the largest being mayonnaise, that is sold to retail, food service and industrial customers that use it in chicken, potato and pasta salads.

GROWING OPERATIONS

Other established food producers in Alabama are expanding, too.

Jeff and Peggy Sutton operate the To Your Health Sprouted Wheat Co. in Bullock County.
Jeff and Peggy Sutton operate the To Your Health Sprouted Wheat Co. in Bullock County.

In Bullock County, To Your Health Sprouted Flour Co. has a $3 million, 20-job project.

The company, launched 10 years ago by Bullock County native Peggy Sutton, is the world’s biggest producer of organic sprouted grains and flours with more than 50 products. Current production averages 50,000 pounds per week.

Sprouted products have surged in popularity in recent years, thanks to their taste and nutritional benefits, and the total market is expected to soon eclipse $250 million in revenues.

To Your Health Sprouted Flour Co. exports to several countries and counts among its customers big names such as Kashi, Nature’s Path, Amy’s Kitchen and Whole Foods Market.

The well-known Sister Schubert’s brand, maker of dinner rolls, sausage wraps and other baked goods sold in thousands of stores across the U.S., also continues to invest in its Alabama operations. The most recent is a $2.2 million wellness center at the company’s bakery in Luverne.

The facility features comfortable chairs, big-screen TVs, showers, vending machines and large windows that bring in plenty of light, said Patricia “Sister Schubert” Barnes.

“This is an affirmation of how important our employees are to us,” she said. “When they take a break, they need something like this. At the same time, we’re constantly adding things to the bakery and improving it.”

Barnes said there are new products on the horizon for Sister Schubert’s, but it’s too early to talk about them. She feels blessed to be in Alabama, and she considers herself an ambassador for state-made products.

“I love all Alabama products and I do often go to seminars and give speeches and help people who are trying to start another business here,” Barnes of Sister Schubert said. “It’s a real joy for me to be able to inspire people to do what I did 25 years ago.”

8 mins ago

7 Things: Alabama GOP Senate race closes out, no mask needed to vote, battle over returning to school coming and more …

7. Kids have to go back to school

  • Schools across the country will have to reopen for in-class instruction for the fall semester, according to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, even though some states are still concerned over coronavirus cases. 
  • DeVos said “kids cannot afford to not continue learning,” adding that it’s “not a matter of if” but “a matter of how.” DeVos did say that there can be exceptions made for areas that become coronavirus hotspots and reiterated that the main focus is keeping kids from falling behind any more than they already have from the spring semester. 

6. Nearly 9,000 coronavirus cases in one week

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  • The Alabama Department of Public Health reported the data for the week of July 5-11 showing that the state gained 8,935 cases throughout the week; the current statewide total is 51,294, and the growth seems to be constant.
  • Since the pandemic began, there have been 1,086 deaths, with over 95% of deaths being in those with underlying conditions, and about 80% of those being people being 65 years and older. Madison County’s current case total is 2,119, Jefferson County is at 6,433 and Montgomery County has 4,430. 

5. Trump wore a mask in public for the first time

  • President Donald Trump visited the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he met with wounded U.S. soldiers and the nurses and doctors at the facility, so of course, he wore a mask. This was one of the first times he has worn one publicly. 
  • Trump said “it’s expected to wear a mask” in a hospital, but he previously has declined to wear a mask at press conferences over concern on how the media would portray him in a mask. 

4. Trump commutes Roger Stone’s sentence, media declares it the worst thing ever

  • On Friday, after months of speculation and a judge’s decision not to delay sentencing, President Donald Trump commuted the sentencing of his ally Roger Stone, who was sentenced to 40 months for lying to Congress.
  • The media’s outrage remains insatiable, but former FBI special counsel Robert Mueller was so offended by this he took to the pages of the Washington Post to declare that Stone is still a convicted felon. He also defended the entire investigation in spite of evidence that continues to show the entire thing was a farce based on the questionable behavior by many in the Obama administration.

3. Alabama schools have some plans on how to open — unknown if children will return

  • Alabama’s K-12 schools are preparing to reopen next month, but the battle over whether or not that is safe is starting to ramp up with Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) saying that if schools reopen, “it will probably be three weeks and schools will have to shut down and do all virtual.”
  • Singleton proposes following a plan offered by the Alabama School Nurses Association that would cost $150 million and require the building of nurses stations/isolation rooms at every single school, testing machines and supplies for 500,000 tests, and the hiring of approximately 300 nurses for the schools around the state that don’t have one, which seems unlikely by next month.

2. Sessions is still fighting back against Trump attacks

  • Over the weekend, President Donald Trump once again weighed in on the Alabama U.S. Senate runoff calling former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions a “disaster.” Sessions responded to the petty remarks by dismissing Trump’s attack as “juvenile insults,” concluding that “Alabama does not take orders from Washington.”
  • Meanwhile, former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville has been endorsed by Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth and was described by him as a “tough fighter that Alabama needs in the U.S. Senate.”

1. You can’t be required to wear a mask to vote

  • Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill and Attorney General Steve Marshall have released a statement that polling places can’t require people to wear masks to vote in the runoff on July 14. 
  • Merrill said, “While it can be ‘strongly recommended’ that an individual wear a mask, it cannot be require.” By Article III, Section 177(a) of the Constitution of Alabama, eligible citizens have a right to vote, and Merrill reinforced that “we will continue to see that the right for every eligible Alabamian to vote is protected.”

15 hours ago

A victory in court for school choice

The U.S. Supreme Court recently delivered a “big win” for school choice and religious freedom. School choice enables competition, which economists find generally improves the quality of goods and services. I believe that this result will apply to education, and specifically public schools.

Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue involved 2015 legislation allowing tax-deductible contributions for scholarships to private, non-profit schools. The Montana Supreme Court struck down the act in 2018 as an unconstitutional use of public funds for religious purposes, including any school or college controlled by a church. Montana’s constitutional provision is a “Blaine Amendment” dating to the 19th century to prohibit state aid to parochial schools; 37 states, including Alabama, have Blaine Amendments.

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The constitutional issues involved were the First Amendment’s separation of church and state and religious discrimination in government policy. Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion found the Blaine Amendment discriminatory: “A State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

The Montana Supreme Court struck down the entire school choice program based on the Blaine Amendment. Although Montana’s legislature could have enacted a scholarship program applying to only non-church private schools, this would have significantly restricted parents’ choice. According to the Institute for Justice, which litigated Espinoza, Blaine Amendments are often used to block school choice. Only a narrow interpretation of Alabama’s provision allowed the Alabama Accountability Act to withstand challenge.

Separation of church and state is wise constitutional doctrine. Still, I do not see the scholarships as violating separation of church and state. The public “dollars” involved are taxes foregone. Church-affiliated schools often operate at a loss, so tuition scholarships will not yield profits to support other activities and presumably provide enough education to qualify as schools.

George Mason law professor Ilya Somin offers an illustrative comparison. No one worries that tax exemptions for religious charities or police and fire protection for churches constitute state support for religion. Tax deductions for scholarships do not establish a state religion.

Church-affiliated schools provide a variety of education consistent with their doctrine and moral teachings. The goal of school reform should be, as economist John Merrifield emphasizes, a diverse menu of options to suit students’ varied learning styles and parents’ values. Church-affiliated schools accomplish this.

School choice policies will make Americans more equal. Affluent Americans, who can afford private school tuition, have long enjoyed school choice.

American higher education features school choice. Alabamians can attend any of the state’s 14 four-year universities or more than 30 two-year colleges at in-state tuition rates. These institutions offer diverse educational options. Two-year colleges offer vocational programs and inexpensive core classes. Four-year universities include one modeled after a liberal arts school, large and small campuses, and numerous online degrees. Federal student aid and loans help make private colleges affordable.

By contrast, K-12 public schools require students to attend their assigned school. After paying taxes to support government schools, many families cannot afford private school tuition. The economic case for public education stresses ensuring all students can afford schooling, which school choice accomplishes.

Choices unleash quality-enhancing competition. Some of America’s best public schools are in affluent suburbs where districts must compete for students because parents can afford private schools. It is tempting to attribute suburban districts’ quality spending, but statistics show otherwise. In 2018, Baltimore city schools spent $250 less per pupil than Montgomery County (Maryland) and $1,000 more than Fairfax County (Virginia) in suburban Washington, two of America’s most affluent counties.

In time school choice will force beneficial changes in public school curriculum. Currently, the curriculum is a political football which both parties seek to control. Teachers educate children in classrooms; politicians in Montgomery or Washington shape learning only through bureaucratic controls forcing a curriculum on local schools. School choice will empower parents to find schools that help their children learn. To successfully compete for students, control will need to be devolved to schools and teachers, which I see as a very good thing.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

16 hours ago

VIDEO: More municipalities opt for mandatory masks, schools head towards in-class instruction, Sessions/Tuberville race nears the end and more on Alabama Politics This Week …

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Alabama Democratic Executive Committee member Lisa Handback take you through this week’s biggest political stories, including:

— Will Governor Kay Ivey consider a statewide mask ordinance as more municipalities adopt ordinances and pressure continues to mount?

— Are parents going to feel safe sending their kids to school in the Fall?

— Who will win the Republican runoff between former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville?

Jackson and Handback are joined by former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to discuss the runoff election for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL).

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Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” at people who think the government can’t put in more restrictions when they have shown they can, and probably will, do more if the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t get under control.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN.

18 hours ago

Alabama sisters continue their family’s farming legacy

Sisters Allie Corcoran and Cassie Young loved growing up on a farm in Eufaula, but once they left home and earned their degrees at Auburn University, they realized their hearts were still at the family farm.

“I always knew I wanted to come home and be part of the farm, but I didn’t know where I would fit in,” Young said. “The only things I have ever felt close to, or had a desire to be a part of, were farming and working with people. At Auburn, I considered a career in family and adolescent counseling, but I knew it would be difficult to find work in this field near home and I was unwilling to move.”

When the sisters were growing up, their family raised crops such as cotton, peanuts, soybeans, corn, grain sorghum and wheat, along with cattle. The family managed a peach orchard.

Their childhood experiences and love of farming pushed them to find their eventual calling, and they opened Backyard Orchards near Eufaula in 2010.

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“Our father had the idea to start a u-pick operation,” Young said. “We had an exciting concept for a new family venture and found the perfect location, so we decided to become entrepreneurs.”

Backyard Orchards gave the sisters the path they longed for in fitting into the family business. They offer u-pick and freshly packed produce.

Fruits currently ripe for picking are peaches and blueberries. There is a variety of fresh vegetables available, including potatoes, onions, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, field corn, sweet corn, peppers, peas and okra.

There is an onsite cafe that serves homemade pies, fudge and ice cream – the perfect end to a day on the farm. The barn, pavilion and grounds can be rented for weddings, birthday parties, corporate events and more.

Under COVID-19 safety measures, visitors are not required to have a reservation, but should follow these guidelines:

  • Stay with your group and remember to social distance while in the fields and store.
  • When the store is busy and social distance is challenged, send one group representative into the store to pay for and/or order food and ice cream.
  • There are sinks for handwashing located in the restrooms. Hand sanitizer is located throughout the store.
  • Pick up café orders from the window located outside on the front porch.

The orchards allowed the sisters to carry on the traditions from childhood that they always dreamed of passing on to their own children.

“Some of my fondest memories are the simplest ones involving our whole family: playing in the cottonseed and corn, jumping on hay bales and cotton modules, riding around with my dad to check on pivots or crops and playing in the irrigation with my sisters and cousins,” Young said. “Farming is a difficult life, but the family experiences have made it a wonderful life.”

Young and her husband have three children: Gardner, 10, Sterling, 7, and Cade, 4.

“Gardner has been picking squash with me since he was a baby,” Young said. “He now helps his dad pick and sell watermelons. Sterling wants to start helping me at the local farmers market. Cade is still too young to help on the farm, but he loves to eat the ice cream.”

Young sees them creating memories and experiences like she had with her sister as a child.

“I hope they all want to play a role in either the orchard or the family farm one day, but only if that is where their hearts lead them,” she said. “Right now, they are growing up the same way I did and enjoying the simple joys of childhood on the farm.”

The sisters continue looking for ways to enhance the orchards and develop the business. Plans are in place for planting blackberries, expanding the peach orchard and increasing the strawberries plants.

To learn more about Backyard Orchards and plan a family outing, visit the website or follow them on Facebook.

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

22 hours ago

Alabama native Rachel Baribeau is Changing the Narrative and expanding her own

Sportscasting is a tough business for anyone, but has been traditionally even more difficult for women. That’s why the change in direction for Rachel Baribeau won’t make sense … until you hear her explain it.

“I am always evolving – as a woman, as a queen, as a daughter and a friend and as a fiancee and a future wife – I am always trying to be better. I’m a lifelong learner.”

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Rachel Baribeau is Changing the Narrative in college sports and beyond from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The Auburn graduate and former Pell City resident had a career many would consider perfect: covering SEC football and other sports, from the sidelines and from her college football talk show on Sirius/XM (where she was the network’s first female college sports host).

Baribeau was well-respected enough among her peers to be granted a Heisman Trophy ballot. But it was her work away from the microphone that made the most noise.

“The idea that there is royalty inside of all of us; that there is legacy and purpose and greatness.” Baribeau beams as she describes the impact of the conversations she had been having with college athletes.

Changing the Narrative” was Baribeau’s passion project – a movement that promotes positive mental health and inspiring people to build a positive legacy for others. She took her “Purpose – Passion – Platform” message on a nationwide tour of college football programs, filled with candid heart-to-heart conversations.

After spending four years on this consulting journey, Baribeau announced last October that she would be walking away from sports to concentrate on Changing the Narrative full time.

“I started with this desire and belief that athletes could trend for something other than bad news,” Baribeau said.

Now a nonprofit, Changing the Narrative has expanded further. Baribeau is now in demand in locker rooms, board rooms, law enforcement agencies and entire athletic conferences. “We already have the Big Ten on board; how great would it be to be in all of the Power Five conferences?”

Baribeau is scaling the program in several ways. First, the pandemic has forced a shift to more online training and modules. Second, the material is being tweaked to skew younger for high school audiences. Finally, Baribeau is training a network of other speakers including former athletes who can bring their own experiences of Changing the Narrative to even more audiences.

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)