Updated: Mar 18, 2019
photography also by Holly Lynne Killian
Early in March, a few members of the Jefferson County Young Farmers Committee attended the annual Alabama Young Farmers Conference in Montgomery. The Conference included tour stops to various types of farms. For our new Chairman, Evan Nelson and several other new members, this was a great opportunity to explore ideas and return more motivated than ever.
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so the first stop at Blue Ribbon Dairy allowed the group to fuel up on fresh milk! There, dairy owner, Michaela Sanders shared her story and process from milking the cows to bottling the product. "Dairy cows are divas," she exclaimed! In addition to grass and hay, her cows are fed mineral enriched feed to keep them from getting sick.
Michaela's farm includes several different breeds of cows: Jersey and the signature black and white Holstein. Michaela milks them all, explaining that Holsteins produce the most amount of milk in a day. On average, she milks about 5 gallons a day per cow. Furthermore, Blue Ribbon Dairy does not add any extra ingredients or water; with the exception of cocoa powder and sugar for their delicious chocolate milk. Vice Chairman Jeb Tate and his wife Brooke both agree, "This is the best milk and chocolate milk I've ever tasted."
While over 200 gallons of Blue Ribbon milk are sold per week at the local Elmore County store, Michaela does have goals to start selling in Publix stores too. It is important to her to keep her bottling products sourced from Alabama. The bottles and jugs are sourced from Troy, Alabama and the labels are ordered from Moody, Alabama. The caps are sources from Birmingham; however, we are sad that Blue Ribbon is not available for purchase here.
The group closed out the dairy tour by petting the new calves in the barn and then loaded the bus for the Tallapoosa Girl Ranch. After traveling the winding roads, the group finally reached the beautiful ranch secluded off in the countryside. With tours of their dormitories, rec center, and barn, the goal of the ranch is to teach life lessons, responsibility, and accountability through farming chores and group worship. The ranch includes orchards, gardens, and a cow-calf operation. These are essential outlets; for all of these girls have suffered through painful events in their lives. The Girls Ranch and its house parents do amazing things to help turn around lives and set these girls back on the path to personal and professional success. Most of their equipment and supplies are acquired through donations and they are always needing more. This tour stop touched the hearts of all and inspired many of us to become involved.
After lunch and a friendly encounter with the farm duck, we left the serene setting of the Girls Ranch closing out the tour at Whipporwill Vineyards. Participants were treated to a farm tour of endless scuppernog, grape, and muscadine vines flowing down into the horizon. Owner Tim Watkins showed the process of harvesting the fruits on all 15 planted acres and explained the normal day-to-day operations. The vineyard offers 12 different varieties. Every wine is bottled, labeled, and corked by hand selling in 10 different ABC stores. In the near future, owners Tim & Vickie Watkins hope the Alabama Senate Bill 243 will be passed so they can expand their business and ship their wine far and wide. Since shipping wine is currently illegal in Alabama, the only way to purchase their product is directly from the vineyard or the list of local ABC stores.
Not only does the vineyard bottle and sell wine, they also grow and make their own cane syrup, offer u-pick days, and hold weddings. Later, participants were treated to a wine tasting which included several of their favorite wines and best sellers. A brilliant way to close out the eventful day!
A long and perceptive day was had, but overall the group grew closer, networked with other counties, gained inspiration, and came back renewed to jump start programs here in Jefferson County. Chairman Evan Nelson and his wife Christy are ready now more than ever to jump in and help the Federation Board promote and support Jefferson County agriculture.
For more photos from the conference, visit our FB page: https://www.facebook.com/jeffcoyoungfarmers/