MONTGOMERY — An effort to connect consumers with homegrown Alabama products has taken off in the last year and, in the age of COVID-19, could serve an essential purpose as families care more about where their food is sourced.

Sweet Grown Alabama is a non-profit foundation that seeks to market farm products grown and made in Alabama to retailers and consumers through a branding program and online database.

Since launching last September, the online membership database at SweetGrownAlabama.org has grown to include more than 150 Alabama farmers and businesses that sell directly to consumers.

At an event Wednesday at the State Capitol, Gov. Kay Ivey declared July 22 "Sweet Grown Alabama Day" and joined state agricultural leaders to promote buying local.

"Folks, having grown up on my dad's farm in rural Wilcox County, I know firsthand what farmers go through season after season to ensure we have fresh and healthy products to feed our families," Ivey said.

"Sweet Grown Alabama focuses on helping consumers identify and purchase locally grown products that are not only better from a nutritional standpoint, but also benefit our hardworking farmers."

Ivey was joined by Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, Commissioner of Agriculture Rick Pate, and Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell, all of whom toured a special farmers market set up at the foot of the Capitol along Dexter Avenue and Bainbridge Street with dozens of vendors selling their local wares.

As masked shoppers walked booth to booth, socially distanced in the summer heat, Parnell remarked on how the coronavirus pandemic has made people even more aware about the sources for their food and other household products.

"There are a lot more people these days paying attention to where their food comes from, and I believe that's why you see the long lines at farmers markets throughout the state," Parnell said. "What is more simple than a locally grown product that you know only a few people have touched before it reaches your basket?

"This has the potential to be much bigger than any of us ever imagined."

Pate said there has been a "missing link" for years between Alabama's agriculture industry and the people it feeds.

“Consumers now have a tool to search for local farms in their area through the online database at SweetGrownAlabama.org, and we guarantee you’ll love the high-quality, local products you buy from Alabama farms," Pate said.

"Buying locally grown is better for the environment, better for Alabama’s economy and just plain better quality.”

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