“When you get as sick as I got, you just gotta wake up,” Evans said.
After visiting doctors, taking medications and trying various diets, Evans decided to make a lifestyle change in August 2012. Almost one year and 55 pounds later, she now eats a diet that is mostly organic and vegan, and relies heavily on locally grown fruits and vegetables.
“The farmers markets have been wonderful because I needed organic foods,” Evans said. “With the farmers markets, you’re forced to eat seasonally.”
Prior to changing her eating habits, Evans said she would eat out on a regular basis and drink two and a half liters of Diet Coke a day.
Now she visits the Oxford and Jacksonville farmers markets on a regular basis. Each day, Evans eats raw fruits and vegetables or juices them. She hopes to grow her own garden one day.
“When you go to the doctor at the size and weight I was, they look at you and say ‘let’s treat the symptoms,’” Evans said. “I don’t think they believe you can make a change. They tell them to take this pill and not to eat too many biscuits.”
Evans developed her new lifestyle by researching nutrition. She watches an Edible Education seminar video every day.
“Eating local will play a tremendous role in sustaining this lifestyle,” Evans said. “You need the cleanest source of food.”
Losing weight is wonderful, she said, but it’s more about being healthy. Evans’ blood pressure and sugar levels are normal, and her joint pain is gone. She does not take any medication and says she plans to bury her sleep apnea machine in the backyard soon.
Trust your farmer
Eating healthy starts before the food ever makes it into the kitchen. Pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), MSG and sodium nitrate can be found in produce, dairy and meat products, which can have harmful effects like cancer, according to the World Cancer Research Fund. Alabama farmers, residents and experts say eating local, organic food is not only healthier, but also boosts the local economy.
Debra Goodwin, assistant professor of nutrition and head of the family and consumer sciences department at Jacksonville State University, said locally grown produce has more nutritional benefits than that found in grocery stores. Food that is grown in the same environment as the consumer has enzymes that can prevent health issues and help allergies, she said.
“In addition, fresher may mean less nutrient loss — especially of the water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin C — during storage and/or transportation,” Goodwin wrote in an e-mail.
And there is generally less chance of microbial contamination because locally grown fruits and vegetables are typically handled by few individuals and not transported long distances.
“If locally grown products are produced by organic methods, there is less chance of pesticide residue and therefore less chance of potential health issues,” she said.
Some local grocery stores carry produce grown in Alabama — tomatoes at Walmart and peaches and tomatoes at Winn-Dixie — but the majority of their produce travels from other states and countries. David West, Calhoun County coordinator for the state’s agricultural extension service, said people need to be aware of what is in season for their community.
“Grocery stores have all vegetables year around,” West said. “That’s not how crops work. Your advantage of buying locally is trusting your farmer to deliver a product at its peak because it has only traveled 20 miles rather than 2,000 miles.”
Three years ago, Dave Clark and Roxanna Simms, owners of Forever Sunrise Organics in Piedmont, invested in a biointensive mini farm on a quarter of an acre of their yard. The couple are firm believers in the benefits of eating local and organic food. Simms said farmers markets offer trust and freshness.
“You will find that the vegetables at the farmers market last longer because they are harvested two to three days before market,” Simms said. “Grocery store produce are picked weeks in advance.”
She added that when people shop in a grocery store they do not have the opportunity to ask how the food was produced.
“Just like you trust your doctor, you find a farmer that you trust,” Simms said. “Ask how your food is produced.”
‘You are what you eat’
Food freshness is not limited to just produce. David Wright, owner of Wright’s Dairy in Alexandria, said freshness has been a part of his company since its inception in 1977.
“We don’t deliver anywhere. It stays on the farm,” Wright said recently, sitting outside of the storefront facing his 60-acre cow pasture.
The dairy has a couple of distributors in the Gadsden area, but Wright said the farm’s close proximity to the Anniston community allows the products to stay on the farm.
“I would hope in our situation that people like the way our product tastes better,” Wright said. “I think we put a little more love in it.”
Wright’s dairy products start from the ground up because the cows’ major source of food are the pastures that are free of pesticides and herbicides.
“We use predator wasps from California ... to control fly larva,” Wright said. “They do a better job because flies get immune to pesticides, but not a predator.”
Bob and Lani Steele, owners of Native American Natural Grass-fed Beef in Delta, have been dedicated to preserving the land in its natural balance for 20 years.
The Steele’s free-range farm is nestled on 65 acres of clover-filled pasture — enough clover that Bob Steele said there is no need for nitrogen fertilizer as clover provides the same nitrogen needed for plant growth found in manufactured nitrogen-based fertilizers. The farmers do not use pesticides or chemicals on the grass, and the cattle aren’t given any feed mixture, artificial steroids, hormones or antibiotics.
“You are what you eat. So, if cows eat junk then you’ll eat junk,” Steele said.
Close to home
Vaughan Bryant’s daddy wasn’t afraid to work. Even when David Bryant was 89 and in an electric scooter chair, Bryant said his father still clambered up into his tractor to take care of Red Hill Farms in Cropwell — the place where he spent his life raising cotton and cattle.
Now that retirement is on the his mind, Bryant is revisiting his roots by raising chickens and beef to keep him active and generate income. He bought a piece of property next to his dad’s 150-acre farm and settled down.
It’s important to support local farmers, Bryant says — one reason being that most children don’t know how to raise a chicken, or grow an ear of corn or a watermelon.
“They see a picture on a wrapper and that’s basically their education on where their food comes from — the grocery store,” he said. “Supporting local farmers in any way that you can is a good thing whether you’re buying vegetables, beef, pork, chicken. It’s a good thing to support the local economy and keep the money close to home.”
Last year, Bryant’s farm processed and sold to the public nearly 300 chickens, with many customers picking up their chicken on processing day. Bryant added that he does not use antibiotics or hormones — Red Hill Farms chickens thrive off of feed, water, fresh air and sunshine.
“We do it all by hand,” Bryant said. “Basically the same way Grandmother and Granddaddy did it years ago.”