For a number of years, the Alabama Dept. of Agriculture and Industries has sponsored the Tomato Sandwich Lunch. What started as a way to show-case one of Alabama’s most prized food crops, and it still does, has evolved into a much anticipated local event. People from all walks of life are invited to enjoy one of our summertime favorite snacks, the tomato sandwich. Also, the lunch has become a sort of Town Hall meeting where people share their views, popular or not, and make new friends. This year’s lunch was held at the Teague Arena, and featured tomatoes from Slocomb, Alabama. The Department estimated that nearly 600 people attended, making the June 30th lunch probably the largest ever.

Commissioner Rick Pate was on hand, saying that “American agriculture is one of the greatest technological, humanitarian, and productivity success stories in human history. The improvements in productivity of agriculture are nothing short of miraculous.” Pate says that the United States has transitioned from a nation that was concerned with food scarcity to one that must confront challenges that come with food abundance. “Alabama currently ranks second in catfish and poultry production, fourth in peanuts, and sixth in cotton. Our department serves as a catalyst and supporter of Alabama’s farms and rural communities,” Pate says.

At the Department, there are several people who are charged with “Serving Farmers and Consumers Every Day!” Director Don Wambles is in charge of Ag. Promotions/Farmers Market Authority. State Veterinarian Dr. Tony Frazier is in charge of Animal Industries. Director Andy Tipton handles Food Safety/Ag. Compliance. Director Jeff Jeffers performs inspections and keeps a close eye on good agricultural practice audits at the Shipping Point. Director Tony Cofer is in charge of Pesticide Management, Plant Industries, and Professional Services. Director Stacy Boshell handles Weights and Measures, making sure stockyard scales and other measuring devices are accurate. We’d be in bad shape without these people.

The Department also runs several testing laboratories, including the State Veterinary Diagnostic Lab in Auburn. The Boaz Veterinary Diagnostic Lab. The Elba Veterinary Diagnostic Lab. The Hanceville Veterinary Diagnostic Lab. The State Seed Lab in Montgomery. The State Food and Drug Lab in Montgomery. Weights and Measures Lab in Montgomery. The Pesticide Residue Lab in Auburn, and the State Chemical Lab in Auburn. Sweet Grown Alabama was also on hand at the lunch, and several farmers and retailers had set-up booths outside Teague Arena. Director Ellie Watson of Sweet Grown Alabama says that “Sweet Grown Alabama is a non-profit foundation that enhances marketing opportunities for Alabama farmers by connecting retailers and consumers to Alabama-grown foods and other agricultural products.” So as you can see, there’s a lot of work and effort going-on behind the scenes. And what part do you play in the big scheme of things? That’s easy. All you have to do is Buy Alabama!