The Cullman Tribune is celebrating the Alabama Bicentennial (1819-2019) with statewide field reporting by Alabama Master Gardener/Botanical Artist Ben Johnson South. This year-long feature, “The 67-County Alabama Garden Party,” will spotlight different counties each week. Each county will get its own “quilt block,” along with a historical profile, and we’ll share a recipe specific to the area. At the end of the year, all 67 counties will be put in a book to commemorate the Bicentennial.

Lee County

Alabama’s largest agricultural college, Auburn University, was chartered in Lee County in 1856 as East Alabama Male College, a liberal arts school. In 1872, it became the state’s first public land-grant university and was renamed Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama.

Even from the early years in Antebellum Alabama, Auburn University has been innovative and highly influential and has become one of the finest agricultural institutions in the nation. Many top-notch farmers in our state never set foot in any college, but for those not raised on a farm and those who wish to ground their botanical interest with more science and book knowledge, Auburn University is a superb choice.

Agriculture is a science which includes plant study, soil research, the interaction of weather with vegetation and also has a focus on livestock. Considering that 6% of total exported goods from Alabama come from plant and animal products, the future for agriculture in our state looks sunny. (Alabama is the 31st largest agricultural exporting state, shipping $1.3billion in domestic agricultural exports abroad in 2017 per the latest data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.)

It’s my belief illuminated by this year-long, county-by-county exploration of where PLANTS + PEOPLE come together across the state over the past 200 years, the 67-County, Alabama Garden Party, that “gardening is Alabama’s popular art.” Relative to that, Auburn University is also the state’s best-rated school for garden design, landscape cultivation and turf management.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) is part of Auburn University’s outreach with professional associates in each of our state’s 67 counties. The Alabama Master Gardeners program, which has 34 distinctive clubs thriving throughout the state, is sponsored by ACES.

Anticipating the 2019 celebration of Alabama’s Bicentennial, I created a roster of “200 WAYS TO SAVE ALABAMA FOR THE NEXT 200 YEARS.” Before this document was published, two agriculturally astute Auburn University graduates, my home county’s ACES coordinator (Class of 1983) and the director of the North Alabama Agriplex, a “farm heritage” nonprofit (Class of 2001), helped refine my thinking and shared their ideas for bolstering sustainability initiatives and environmental awareness.

While we are in future-thinking Lee County on our 67-County, Alabama Garden Party tour, let’s explore a few ideas from “200 WAYS TO SAVE ALABAMA FOR THE NEXT 200 YEARS,” then chow down on some “brain food” and link to the full listing. Here are a dozen plant-centric examples, many of which are being studied in the agricultural programs at Auburn University:

#2—CAN IT- The Alabama Cooperative Extension System, with an office in each of Alabama’s 67 counties, teaches canning, pickling and freezing food preservation.

#5—PROVIDE NUTRITIOUS FOOD TO THE NEEDY- Alabama spends $65 million in taxpayer dollars each year on colas and candy; a simple barcode change as was made by the state nutritionist in Maine could swap the sugar allowed to real food, including farm fresh produce.

#8—PLANT A BICENTENNIAL SHADE TREE

#11—WASTE NOT WITH “COUNTYWIDE” GLEANING- Share unharvested produce with food charities.

#12—DON’T PLANT INVASIVE SPECIES IN ALABAMA

#13—DO PLANT NATIVE AND WELL-BEHAVED NON-NATIVES IN ALABAMA

#25—REPORT ILLEGAL DUMPING TO YOUR COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENT- Don’t poison the soil.

#45—PLANT AN ALABAMA BICENTENNIAL VEGETABLE GARDEN- Plant heirloom seeds for unique flavors from the past.

#74—DON’T USE LAWN AND GARDEN CHEMICALS NEAR PONDS- Alabama lawn-mowing uses more poisons than farming.

#90—TREASURE ALABAMA WETLANDS FOUND IN ALL 67 COUNTIES- Swampy wetland vegetation purifies our water.

#115—EVERY ALABAMA COMMUNITY NEEDS A “DYING CHRISTMAS TREE COMPOST CHIPPER”- Create mulch from the cut trees many still use as holiday decoration.

#176—WATER OUTDOOR PLANTS AT SUNDOWN- Half less will evaporate; also, don’t water if rain is forecasted.

Join with future-thinking Auburn University students and Lee County environmentalists who believe we each can make a positive difference today for Alabama’s next 200 years. (NOTE: The Cullman Tribune first published the entire list of “200 WAYS TO SAVE ALABAMA FOR THE NEXT 200 YEARS;” click here to read them all.)

Here are other positive and pleasurable PLANTS + PEOPLE things to explore in Lee County on your 67-County, Alabama Garden Party tour, including our original recipe perfect for brainstorming Auburn University brainiacs: The Orange and Blue Brain Food Bowl with ingredients thought to aid brain health like whole grains, turmeric, fish oil, orange beets and antioxidant berries:

–AUBURN CITY FARMERS’ MARKET- 1150 South Gay St., Auburn, AL 36830; Saturdays 7 a.m.-noon in October

–LOACHAPOKA FARMERS’ MARKET- 6405 Stage Road, Loachapoka, AL 36865; Saturdays 9 a.m.-noon, May-September

–OPELIKA GROWS FARMERS’ MARKET- 1103 Glenn St., Opelika, AL 36801; Tuesdays 3-6 p.m.; May 14-Aug. 16

–THE MARKET AT AG HERITAGE PARK- 650 South Donahue Dr., Auburn University, AL 36849

–LEE COUNTY FARMSTANDS- 2-J Pic-n-Pay Vegetable Farm, 1296 Lee Road 47, Opelika, AL 36804, Wednesdays-Saturdays during daylight, mid-May to October; Jimmy Dikes, 2703 Lee Road 375, Valley, AL 36854

–LEE COUNTY U-PICK FARMS- 2-J Pic-n-Pay (Opelika), Aem Veggies & Plants (Opelika), Billy Allen (Opelika), Monica Miller (Salem), Peggie Dunn (Salem), Randle Farms (Auburn), Robert E. Weed (Opelika)

–LEE COUNTY PLANT ADVICE/EDUCATION- Alabama Cooperative Extension System office for Lee County, 600 S. Seventh St., Suite #4, Opelika, AL 36801, 334-749-3353

–TOOMER’S CORNER TREES- Two of the most iconic plants in Alabama, the huge live oaks at the intersection of Magnolia Avenue and College Street in downtown Auburn for decades were wrapped in toilet paper by jubilant Auburn Tiger fans after every game victory. The original trees were poisoned by a Bama fan during AU’s 2010 national championship season. The treasured Toomer’s trees were replaced by two 35-foot-tall, non-native live oaks from MeadWestvaco Nursery in Ehrhardt, South Carolina; the wild, tree-wrapping tradition lives on.

–THE OLD CROP ROTATION- is a soil fertility experiment that has been ongoing at Auburn University since 1896. It is the oldest continuous cotton crop study in the world.

–GRAND NATIONAL GOLF COURSE- Beautifully landscaped on the shores of 600-acre Lake Saugahatchee, this golfers’ dream is listed in “America’s Top 50, Affordable Courses” by Golf Digest Magazine; 3000 Robert Trent Jones Trail, Opelika, AL 36801, 334-749-9042.

–PLANTING AN IDEA- From the need for pollinator gardens to hydroponic gardening and planting for a warming globe, people in Lee County are thinking ahead. This would be a great place to convene plant professionals and gardening enthusiasts to develop a state-of-the-state strategic plan for plant-related issues and opportunities for the next five years, 10 years, 200 years.

Y’ALL COME to Lee County on your 67-County, Alabama Garden Party tour. Wear your thinking cap and eat some brain food in this part of the state. The progressive farmers and plant people are planning for the state’s next 200 years.

Lee County Orange and Blue Brain Food Bowl (~ 4 servings) (Submitted by Laurie S. Johnson)

A “bowl” means different things to different folks.  To an academician, it’s a scholars’ contest.  To a sports fan, it’s a big football game.  But to a foodie, it is a full meal in a bowl, typically well-portioned and balanced with healthy, complimentary ingredients. Lee County’s Auburn University prides itself on agricultural innovation, and surging research shows that certain foods help protect our brains and support memory function. To honor Auburn’s research programs, this delicious bowl almost exclusively features “brain foods” that happen to be orange and blue- whole grains, legumes, fruits, healthy protein, vegetables, seeds and spices. Enjoy a colorful, brainy bowl buffet at your next gathering! Don’t we all already feel smarter?

“Neutral Site” Ingredients: Pantry items that you may have, need to acquire or substitute before starting: salt, black pepper, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), turmeric, smoked paprika, red pepper flakes, grated or dried ginger, minced garlic, local honey, chicken bone broth

“Blue” Ingredients:

  • 4 cups cooked black rice- Cook as directed, but in bone broth instead of water (keep warm)
  • 2 cups warmed black beans – either cooked from dried or canned – rinsed and well drained
  • 1 cup spiced blueberries – In a hot skillet, toss berries for about 30 seconds in a little EVOO, sprinkled with smoked paprika – don’t really cook and don’t allow them to pop.

“Orange” Ingredients (and toppings):

  • 12 oz. grilled salmon bites – with orange, ginger and garlic
    • Marinate wild caught salmon (cut into 2-inch chunks) for ~ 30 minutes in a mixture of juice from 2 oranges, 2 tbsp. EVOO, grated (or dried) ginger, minced garlic and red pepper flakes (to taste).  Salt and pepper and sauté quickly in a non-stick skillet until rare/done.
  • Spiralized butternut squash – can buy frozen, in the produce section or spiralize your own from fresh. Sauté or microwave until fork tender.
  • 1 cup diced, sautéed orange beets – if no orange beets available, substitute butternut squash (but DON’T jinx the day by using crimson-colored beets).
    • Season diced beets with turmeric, salt and pepper.  Sauté or roast in EVOO until fork tender.
  • 1 cup peeled fresh orange slices, halved and grilled
    • Grill or sauté on a non-stick grill pan until slices are lightly marked but keep their shape. Drizzle with local honey if desired.
  • 4 tbsp. toasted pumpkin seeds
    • Preheat oven to 350F. Toss raw pumpkin seeds with a little EVOO, salt and turmeric.  Place on a parchment-lined baking pan and roast for ~ 3 minutes – shake the pan or stir – and roast again in 1-2-minute increments until toasted but not burned.
  • Warmed sriracha aioli – Mix mayonnaise with sriracha sauce (5:1 ratio) or to your “hot” taste

Assemble Bowls:  Gather ingredients, buffet-style, for your guests to create their bowls. Tip: Place the salmon bites in the center and then alternate the orange and blue toppings around the bowl.  Finish with a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds and a drizzle of the aioli.

 

Also, check out Alabama Bicentennial: 200 ways to save Alabama for the next 200 years.

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