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CONTRIBUTED (From left) Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries’ board member Jimmy Parnell, Sweet Grown Alabama director Ellie Watson and Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Rick Pate share updates about Sweet Grown Alabama at the Alabama Farmers Market in Birmingham.

Sweet Grown Alabama opens to applications for membership

Sweet Grown Alabama, the state’s new agricultural branding program, has officially opened membership applications.

“Gaining members is the first step in a cycle to bring fresh, local, high-quality products to Alabama consumers,” said Rick Pate, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, who also serves as Sweet Grown Alabama board president. “We need farmers to brand their products so we can promote them to consumers.”

Board members traveled the state Oct. 21 to promote memberships. The board consists of Pate; Jimmy Parnell, president of the Alabama Farmers Federation and Alfa Insurance; and Horace Horn, vice president of economic development for PowerSouth Energy Cooperative.

At stops near Huntsville, Birmingham and Mobile, board members shared plans for the program and encouraged potential members to participate. Membership incentives include licensing rights to use the Sweet Grown Alabama logo, statewide branding through traditional and social media advertising campaigns and consumer advocacy encouraging local eating and purchasing.

“In addition to branding their products with the logo, members will be included in an online searchable database coming spring 2020,” said Ellie Watson, Sweet Grown Alabama director. “This will be a tool for consumers to locate high-quality Sweet Grown Alabama products near them and will drive traffic to farms, markets, stores and restaurants sourcing local products.”

Membership is not exclusive to Alabama farmers and is open to value-added product makers who use at least 50 percent Alabama-grown ingredients. There is an associate category for restaurants, retailers, farmers markets, agritourism operations and businesses with a vested interest in Sweet Grown Alabama.

Annual dues are determined on a sliding scale based on farm or company annual sales. Dues range from $100 for a business making less than $50,000 a year to $4,800 for a business making more than $10 million.

“We’re proud to be part of this effort to provide additional marketing opportunities for Alabama farmers,” Parnell said. “Our goal is to increase demand for Alabama-grown products and improve sales and profitability for farm families.

“Alabama is among America’s most agriculturally diverse states,” Parnell added, “and Sweet Grown Alabama gives us a chance to showcase the quality and variety of our products.”

Membership applications for farmers, value-added product makers and associates are available online at www.sweetgrownalabama.org.