September 27, 2023

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — Alabama’s Department of Agriculture and Industries celebrated its 20th annual tomato sandwich lunch Wednesday.

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Hundreds gathered at the Ed Teague Arena in Montgomery to sink their teeth into some fresh tomato sandwiches and to support local farmers.

Agriculture Commissioner Rick Pate says the event is a showcase for the state’s home-grown products, with almost everything — from the bread to the corn to the tomatoes to the sweet tea — made in Alabama.

“It’s just a celebration of everything Alabama,” Pate said.

While you might have to look a little harder to buy local this year because of a cold snap that devastated some crops, including early planted peaches, Pate says it’s worth it.

“People want to buy local. We just have to convince them they can. It’s a little bit of trouble that first time to figure out who to buy from. But it tastes so much better local, better for you, keeps the money in Alabama, so it’s just a win-win by five,” Pate said.

It’s also a win for Mike Ellison. He runs Windmill Farm in Robertsdale, growing 42 different vegetables with a focus on whatever’s seasonal.

“Right now it’ll be sweet corn, pink-eyed peas, squash, okra, tomatoes,” Ellison said.

Ellison says while some of his crops were affected this year by weather, he was able to replant in time to bring plenty of produce to market.

He says buying local is not only good for farmers but for consumers.

“I eat out of the same field that I sell out of so I’m not going to over poison or use too much herbicide. That’s one reason. Another reason is we pick at the peak ripeness, so you get the flavors, the textures. It’s not on a truck for a week or two, so you get a lot better flavor and a lot better product,” Ellison said.

To find local farmer markets near you, check out the Sweet Grown Alabama website, which includes a map of all the locations in the state.

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