SOUTHWEST, AL (Sept. 24-26) – A group of Alabama culinary educators and a food blogger became students this week as they joined the Alabama Peanut Producers Association (APPA) for the 2023 Alabama Farm to Table Peanut Harvest Tour on Sept. 24-26, 2023. The goal of the harvest tour is to educate the participants so that they can use their platform to share their newfound knowledge and gain a new perspective. The 3-day immersive experience included building personal relationships with peanut farmers, learning about technology and research, and hearing from industry professionals.
The tour began in Baldwin County with a welcome dinner at The Hope Farm where the group had an opportunity to network and socialize. Executive Chef Adam Stephens prepared the meal, complete with personal-sized peanut butter pies. Following dinner, participants were able to see different foods grown hydroponically at The Hope Farm, highlighting new and exciting innovation in farming.
The first leg of the tour began at the Gulf Coast Research and Extension Center in Fairhope, Alabama. Researchers shared their insight into ongoing peanut variety trials, issues that peanut farmers face, and how to tell if a peanut is ready to harvest. “I was really impressed with how much preparation goes into farming before it ever hits the ground,” said Kimberly Cruz, Culinary Arts Teacher at McAdory High School. Many were also shocked that peanut variety trials can take up to 10 years before the farmer is able to sow the seeds of a new variety.
After the visit to the Extension Center, the group traveled to Sirmon Farms in Daphne, Alabama. Joel Sirmon, an APPA board member, led the tour on his five-generation family farm, showing the beginning stages of peanut harvest with peanut inverters in the field. Sirmon Farms also grows sweet potatoes, and attendees toured their sweet potato packing house. Crop diversity is a key component in successful farming. “This was a great group, and I really appreciated them being receptive and asking questions,” remarked Joel Sirmon.
During lunch on Monday, Markita Lewis, a registered dietician with the National Peanut Board, gave a presentation on peanut nutrition, allergies, and health benefits. Attendees were able to ask questions regarding issues around the early introduction of peanuts and the banning of peanuts in schools. Lewis reiterated the importance of peanuts as a healthy source of protein, fiber, and over 30 essential vitamins and minerals.
The tour picked back up in Mobile County, Alabama, at Reeves West Bay Peanut Buying Point. The group was led through the facility, demonstrating how peanuts are processed once they leave the farm. Afterward, they joined Darrin Driskell, an APPA board member, at his family’s farm in Grand Bay, Alabama. Driskell Farms grows a wide variety of commodities, including peanuts, sod, cattle, and cotton. While visiting, the group watched peanut combines gather peanuts and get loaded for transport to the buying point. Tabor Edgecomb-Echols, Culinary Instructor at Limestone County Career Tech Center, enjoyed her time with the Driskells. “The Driskell family was just so welcoming, and that made it a great experience. It really gives you a new perspective on farming,” she said.
The trip ended with a tour of Coastal Growers, LLC, in Atmore, Alabama, on Tuesday morning. The group observed the peanut shelling process at the plant owned by local farm families. The tour stop highlighted the technology and innovation required in the peanut industry. Darrell Echols, Culinary Arts Educator at Decatur City Schools Career Academy, was also surprised by the measures it takes to turn farm fresh peanuts into peanut butter on your table. “There is a greater appreciation for peanuts now that we know the process and how much work goes into it,” added Echols.
Brooke Burks, a food blogger from Grady, Alabama, said it best, “I had no idea the time and dedication it takes to make sure that the crop is sustainable, not just next year but for my kids and my grandkids.” The Alabama Peanut Producers Association works to provide information in a new and fun way and looks forward to offering more harvest tours in the future.