Tuesday, November 12, 2013

AGL Session VI: South West Georgia

We haven’t met for AGL since we returned from our DC/NY national trip. I have missed these folks! We met in Lakeland on Sunday, November 3 at Georgia Olive Farms to learn about the emerging olive industry in Georgia. What?!? You didn’t know there are olives in Georgia? I had the pleasure of working with Jason, Sam, and Kevin Shaw about four years ago to promote their farm and the new industry. At the time, the U.S. imported about 99% of the olive oil it consumed, with the other 1% produced in California. At last count, 3% of consumption is currently being produced in the U.S. now.
The Shaws are great guys and they have beautiful olive farm. Their olive oil cannot be beat and I almost just want to drink it straight up in a shot glass!
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That evening, we had an overview of Georgia’s timber and forestry industries by classmates Tim Bland and Jesse Johnson. I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know about forestry. It is a huge industry for Georgia.
The next morning, we traveled to Langdale Forest Products saw mill and got a tour of the facility. Saw mills are very automated and use the latest technologies to maximize efficiency. The Langdales make use of every last bit of material they get from the trees. Even saw dust is swept up and burned to help offset the mill’s energy consumption. I must say that we were told to wear close-toed shoes but it never crossed my mind that we’d be walking on expanding metal. Heels were probably not the best choice for that day!
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We had lunch with Wesley Langdale, president of the company, Andy Stone from Superior Pine Products, and State Representative Chad Nimmer. We always hear about the importance of educating and talking to our local elected officials about the agriculture and forestry industries, and this time was no exception. We take for granted that everyone understands the issues the industry faces, but many legislators don’t come from an agricultural background or are several generations removed from the farm.
After our lunch panel, we traveled to Stripling Irrigation Park in Camilla. It is an irrigation research facility that is part of the University of Georgia. There we learned about the tri-state water wars and the effect it has on Georgia agriculture. Already, water withdrawal permits have been suspended in the southwestern portion of the state. With restricted water availability and the desire to conserve resources, researchers are working to maximize water use efficiency. We learned about variable rate irrigation and other technologies that farmers can utilize to cut their water use.
That night, we stayed at Wynfield Plantation in Albany. It was a beautiful setting. We learned about the importance of the cotton industry from Richey Seaton, director of the Georgia Cotton Commission.
Tuesday morning, we traveled back to Camilla to visit JL Adams Farms and Glass Enterprises. Mark Glass and his wife came back to Camilla in the early 1990s after living in Atlanta for some time. He put in some chicken houses and found that he wanted to make use of the small portion of birds that died before processing. He took the risky move and got 10,000 alligators to farm. Over the following 20 years, he developed his alligator farm into one of the top 10 facilities in the world with over 100,000 alligators on the farm at any one time. He optimizes conditions to ensure that the alligators don’t become aggressive and scratch their hides, grow at a set rate, and produce some of the best hides in the world. He sells his hides for the ultra high end fashion industry for watch straps, purses, clothing, and other accessories for some of the most well-known fashion houses in the world. He also sells his alligator meat to grocery stores.
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These hides are grade 1, best of the best quality. To make one Hermes Birkin bag, three hides are tanned, dyed, and hand cut and sewn. On average, these bags start out at $30,000 and have a waiting list that is several years long. Mark still has his chicken houses and continues to expand in that area as well. He is a great example of how innovative thinking can turn a waste product into another whole industry.
After our visit to the alligator farm, we travelled to the Albany Civil Rights Institute. We learned about Albany’s influence in the national civil rights movement. I am ashamed to say that I have lived within an hour’s drive of Albany for more than 20 years and had no idea of the history that was there. It is important to recognize the terrible times our country has gone through and how far we have come as a nation.
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Our final stop was White Oak Pastures. AGL classmate Jenni Harris is the fifth generation to farm White Oak Pastures. They raise pastured beef, poultry (chickens, ducks, guineas, geese, turkeys), rabbits, egg production, and now pork. They have a great operation where they try to have a zero waste facility. They utilize the offal for compost for their organic garden, which feeds their CSA (community-supported agriculture) produce program, and also have an on-farm dining pavilion where we gobbled up (HA! HA!) turkey cacciatore. They employ 85 people and are a great asset to the area.
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I was glad to get home to Wyatt and Justin and share the gifts I picked up for them along the way. Wyatt got a cute White Oak Pastures tee shirt and coloring activity book. I got Justin a rabbit from there that he made into rabbit stew and Jeb got some smoked cow bones. I had a great time and learned a ton. I look forward to getting the gang all back together for our interpersonal communication session in Perry in December!

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