- Agronomic: cotton, grass (turfgrass, sod)
- Animals: bovine
- Education and Training: display, focus group, networking, participatory research
- Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, feasibility study, value added
- Sustainable Communities: infrastructure analysis, new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, urban/rural integration, social capital, social networks, sustainability measures, community development
The project SAFE (Sustainable Agriculture for Future Economies) was proposed due to the extreme growth pressures drivng up the loss of farmland and the impact that was having on the environment in the coastal region of Alabama. The goal was to bring the farming community to the table with municipal, county, and business interests to discuss the issue of farm preservation and sustainable farming practices. The key objective was to link the two segments of the community together to enhance agriculture for the future as an important quality of life component.
Prior to any activity, the current status of agriculture in the region needed to be assesed and any indigenous knowledge of sustainable farming needed to be identified. A fact sheet was created for the South Alabama region called “Priceless but Perishing”. It not only gave census facts about agriculture in Mobile and Baldwin Conty but it shows what the pressures are on farmland and how the community is trying to address the issues.
Then information was gathered from the farm and non-farm communities to assess the general state of agriculture in the region. When asked about sustainable practices, the farmers in the region said that rotational grazing, soil conservation, and nutrient management were the top three used.
The Mobile Farmers also used water quality practices regularly. The top three crops identified were Nursery/sod, cotton, and cattle and calves. When asked about preserving farmland, 97% of the respondents said they would support a preservation program. 92% of the non-farm community felt that the region needs some kind of agriculture preservation program. Some of the other 8% didn’t want to impose anything on the farm community without their imput.
Two thirds (66%) of the growers feel agriculture has a postitive future in the region while the non-farm respondents(72%) seem more optimistic.
Both groups feel that agriculture plays an important role in the quality of life in the region.
There were interviews done of intergenerational farmers who saw things a little different. These farmers see a real disconnect with the larger community due to the decline in the number of farms and the display of little or no interest in understanding farming needs. The interviewees indicated that with so few people today dependent on agriculture in the community as compared to earlier times, the community no longer thinks about it (farming).
In order to bring the results of this study to the larger community, two focus group sessions were held. The survey and the interviews were shared with the groups made up of farm and non-farm folks. A dialogue was begun between the groups to talk about what can be done to preserve farmland and enhance the future economies of the existing farms insuring the future quality of life.
There were 15 attendants at Mobile focus group and 20 at the Baldwin County focus group. The sessions were opened with an exercise to establish ground rules for discussing the issues raised at the meeting. This allowed both farm and non farm participants to give permission to say what they thought without being challenged. Each focus group had a representative of the business community so there were issues raised about value added possibilities to enhance the economic future of agriculture. It was suggested that a future meeting with the restaurant and grocery chain representatives take place to try and encourage the use and promotion of local produce. The main suggestion that came out of the focus groups was to hold a workshop on Farmland Preservation.
On September 20th, a workshop was held in Baldwin County. The speakers included two attorneys and a developer. The workshop included 20 farmers who were interested in farm preservation issues in Alabama. Ray Vaughn of Wildlaw, a non-profit environmental law firm, presented how preservation has been implemented in Alabama. He offered to meet with each farmer individually to see if their individual situation would be appropiate for an attempt to use preservation. The farmers discussed with Ray the Farm Bill in Alabama that they have been told would protect the farmers. After hearing about several unexpected consequences of the bill, the group decided that they would like to have another meeting with Ray and the local legislators to explore how the Bill might be adjusted to provide better protection for the farmers. Another issue covered by Greg Leatherbury, an attorney with Hand Arendall, was inheritance issues which affects the ability of farmers to pass their property on to their children. Greg talked to the participants about different options to utilize customized programs to help pass their land on to future generations. The developer, Frank Leatherbury, talked to the farmers about preservation from a developers perspective. He suggested that they consider conservation subdivisions which Baldwin County has approved for use in the unincorporated areas. He also suggested that there should be a push to establish farm districts within the county that would let people know that if they move into those areas to understand the different farm practices that will be occuring in their neighborhood.
The impacts of the workshop and the focus groups discussions is a strong interest in preserving the future of agriculture in the coastal region of Alabama. Many groups of diverse backgrounds have partnered with the agricultural groups to begin the dialogue about what the region wants to do to make that happen. Of course there are more opportunities to gather and dialogue but there are also things that can be done right away to start preserving farmland and connecting the two segments together more closely. That will be the challenge for future planning.
SAFE (Sustainable Agriculture for Future Economies) originated from the need to develop and encourage linkages between the environmnetal and civic communities of the Gulf Coast region of Alabama to enhance sustainable agriculture and economic development. Historically traditional and environmental groups do find themselves sharing similar goals and interests. Yet, as the fastest growing region in the United States with dramatic and rapid changes occurring throughout the Southeast from the increasing array of problems associated with a decline in the agriculture economy, urban sprawl, and other land use issues, these groups are sharing the pressures of survival.
SAFE brought together these groups and began a process of working toward a common interest of land preservation.
The Primary Objective for SAFE is to establish linkages between agriculture and non-agriculture entities in Mobile and Baldwin Counties that will encourage the public and private policy of sustainable development.
There has been an initial linkage made at a
Smart Growth Workshop which has sparked a request for a meeting between local chambers and the farmers. The continued linking of these segments of the community will encourage dialogue heretofore missing from local growth discussion. These linkages will further enhance any regional planning that will result in a policy of sustainable development.
The key objectives are the continued connection of the farm and non-farm segments of the region through focus groups and workshops given to enhance the stability of the agricultural community which is an important quality of life component. These were started and now the effort will turn toward formulating a plan to formalize the preservation of farmland and the value added opportunities that could increase the community connections needed to allow farming to continue in this region of fast growth and development.