Going to market

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 15, 2006

Black Belt farmers need a place to sell produce

By Deborah Goodwin

The Selma Times-Journal

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EVERDALE &045;Imagine this: You have worked a 40-plus hour week, up before the sun and the chickens, and have profited nothing.

For most of us, that’s unthinkable, but for many area farmers the drought and the absence of a market place have taken a bite out of their profits. But, a coming Family Farm Fruit and Vegetable Marketing Center hopes to

change the face of farming in the Black Belt.

Led by Tuskegee University and with the support of

farmer groups, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and Alabama land grant universities (AALGA), the wheels are in motion to construct a $2M facility in Marion Junction where farmers can take their produce to be cleaned, cooled, graded, packaged, marketed and sold.

According to Elliot, the efforts have yielded half of the

finances needed for the processing facility, but funding is still being sought to come up with the other half.

Elliott gave credit to Sen. Hank Sanders for working with the State Legislature to acquire the first $500,000 which &8220;put us in line for matching funding from USDA.&8221;

Elliott also said some private industries, such as Alabama Power have also invested in the project.

Coming from generations of farmers, the Polnitz brothers &045; Walter, James and Joe &045; continue the family tradition. Though their 35 acres is dusty soil as far as the eye can see, they have produced fairly well during the drought.

According to Walter, the drought

has caused the price of hay to go up and as a result, they have &8220;had to buy hay all through the summer, but since the corn has produced as well as it did, they will harvest it, grind it and use it for livestock feed. None of it will be sold.

However, the brothers said the squash, okra and butterbeans have done well.

Not knowing much about farming, one would probably assume these crops are easily sold to a grocery store, but according to Walter, all of their produce is

sold by them on the side of the road directly to the public.

Because the grocery stores have their own warehouses, the local farmers have to sell their produce directly to the public.

According to Elliot, the market for the produce is there, but the farmers need a central location to distribute. And with an established market, the hope is that a younger generation of farmers will see farming as a viable business.

Elliott claims that a generation of farmers has been lost due to the low economic yield.

He said most of the farmers he works with are in their late 60s.

Farming is a business and like any other profession one has to make a profit to stay afloat.

Elliott says, &8220;Tuskegee’s mission is that no farmer be left behind.&8221;

Being the county’s extension agent, Elliot works closely with the farmers and sees their needs.

For more information on the marketing project, Elliot can be reached at (334) 875-3202 or at .