Keith and I came to Decatur, Alabama for art and agritourism! The city has a brand new agri-tourism trail! It is called Step Out Agriventure Trail! This trail includes both agricultural, and outdoor adventures.
We had a chance to check out at a few stops during our hosted visit to Decatur, Alabama. The Decatur Morgan County CVB invited us to come and share information about this new trail!
Touring Manna House Hydroponic Gardens. First stop on the Agriventure Trail!
At the Manna House Hydroponic Gardens Danielle Gibson, President/CEO of the Decatur Morgan County Tourism met up with us. She brought along Caleb Dunway and Jeff Johnson who are part of the Agriventure Trail team. Caroline Blanchard, Manna House’s garden manager offered us a tour. They were growing green beans, lettuce, basil and cilantro! The plants are grown indoors in cool columns made of Styrofoam.
The Indoor Garden
We suited up with shoe coverings, aprons, and hair nets. This was to ensure we didn’t bring any foreign material into the pristine environment. Plants are watered 4-6 times a day through a pipe system. At night, LED lights create a growing environment. “At full production we produce 1500 heads of lettuce a week,” Caroline said.
The Fields of Greens is housed in a 15,000 square foot indoor site. Plants go from seed to harvest in 30 days! Harvest is done by hand pulling the entire plant. The plant, is washed then delivered within 24 hours of harvest. Ten percent of the harvest goes to charity. On their website is a wonderful line, “When you serve our produce, you help us serve our community.”
Piper & Leaf Tea, a tea blending Company on the Agriventure Trail.
If like me you like tea, you would love the tour of Piper and Leaf Tea! This is family business is part of the Agriventure Trail. Conner Knapp, Mary Claire Thomas and Brigette Christopher are brother and sisters. Brigette is married to Caleb Christopher. They, along with a handful of trusted employees make a mean brew of tea! Conner, who has a doctorate in physical therapy told us how this all came about. The business started eight years ago. “It was a family project selling compost with tea on the side. But, everyone kept buying the tea.”
With Caleb’s knack for mixing drinks including tea, business took off. “We developed our business in a 600 square foot kitchen in Low Mill Arts,” Conner said.
As the business outgrew the kitchen the opportunity to move to Dixie Highway came up. Here the family has developed a place to blend tea, ship out product, and host events. “We are invested in the community, God just blessed us. We have put relationships over profits and come back richer in the end.”
The Farm Tour!
During a tour we saw Brigette hydrating herbs in the hydrating room. Herbs and fruits are either grown, bought locally, or foraged for the teas they blend. Blending takes place in a mixer and takes hours. Teas have to set to let the taste permeate. “Our most popular tea was made in retaliation to a request for sweet tea. It ended up being our best seller,” Conner said. “It just goes to show the customer is always right.”
This talented group does their own advertising, website design and uses friends and family for models. The website looks so professional that they have lost business because others have thought they are not a small business but Conner emphasizes, “We are!”
Piper & Leaf Tea want folks to, “connect to the natural taste of the south” . They want people to realize that tea is not just for fancy, but a drink to sip and savor!
BJR Summerfield Beef, yum!
Our last stop of the day on the Agriventure Trail was Robert Summerford’s BJR Summerford Custom Freezer Beef in Falkville. The Summerford’s moved into their new building in January. Here we met Robert and his sons Alan and Ryan. Set up at long tables we got ready to sample some of the best steak and biscuits I have ever tried! The steak was so tender you didn’t need a fork or knife!
Alan said he is the 4th generation raising beef. “If my son Reid (who is six) goes into the business, he will be the 5th.”.
The Summerfords raise Charolais, Angus, Hereford and Gelbvieh cattle. Gelbvieh is the Austrian word meaning gold cow. The Summerfords have two different operations, they sell beef for food and herd bulls for breeding as well. “Raising herd bulls is our main focus,” Alan said. “Selling beef is new. We had been selling to a nursing home, but selling to customers just started last February.”
Robert said that they use H & P Meats to process their beef. “We are selling ¼ or ½ cows. Customers buy them and we take them to the processor. We have been taking three a month,”Robert said.
Customers then pick up the beef at the Falkville location.
The Summerfords use genetics to select for tenderness and marbling in their breeding business. They run about 700 herd and raise hay for feed. Robert said they are thinking of adding sausage to the mix. “My dad had a grocery store in 1951 or 1952. He processed sausage at the store.”
With our love of antique tractors we were thrilled to get a chance to see some family tractors connected to the Summerford family at Robert’s cousin Tom’s farm!
Sunwise Farms a Hartselle Farmer’s Market favorite!
Although not technically on the agri-tourims trail, we got a chance to see this up and coming farm couple that set up at the Hartselle Farmer’s Market. Sunwise Farms is located at the historic Burleson farm. Forrest and Erin Burleson grow flowers and vegetables at the historic farm settled in 1816 by Jon A. Burleson. David Burleson and his wife Anne live in the home that Forrest grew up in.
The historic home West View
David gave us a tour of the Antebellum home called Westview. He recounted the amazing FAMILY history in a book Burleson’s Heaven that he authored and shared with us.
Built on Burleson Mountain, the home offers an astounding view of the Tennessee Valley and Decatur in the distance. Built by Johnathon Burleson, the house survived the Civil War. Five generations have lived in the renovated home that is filled with family treasures. While David’s father was an educator and farmer, Forrest and Erin are the first generation to farm in quite sometime.
Sunwise Farm venture!
“We started growing for ourselves,” Erin said when they were living in Montana with Forrest’s brother Aaron. Deciding they wanted to pursue farming they decided why grow in this short season, when everything grows so much easier in Alabama! So, for the last four years, they have been growing flowers and vegetables on the Burleson’s home place. Besides selling flowers and vegetables they also sell bread (using Erin’s grandma’s sour dough bread recipe) at the farmer’s market. Erin is also the Manager of the Hartzelle Farmer’s Market.
“We are growing tomatoes, peppers, squash, okra, musk melons and watermelon they do well here in the sandy soil,” Forrest said. The vegetables are started in the hoop building that Forrest built. Next they are moved to raised beds the young couple have created. They also planted an orchard that is a bit of an experiment. Forrest’s mom Anne, a horticulture major has been great help.
The flower beds are filled with tulips and anemones and they grow zinnias, False Queen Anne’s lace and more. Soon they hope to offer classes and tours on the farm. Until then they can be found at the Farmer’s Market!
Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge offers outdoor fun.
David Young, the ranger at the Visitor’s Center at the Refuge met us. He provided us a tour of the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is part of the Agriventure Trail. With over 34,000 acres and hosts 115 species of fish, 74 species of reptiles and amphibians, 47 species of mammals, and 285 different species of songbirds. With the Visitors Center closed during COVID and plans for renovations coming up, David said they have been focusing on trails, fishing and other outdoor activities. He shared a video that visitors may want to view prior to visiting to learn a bit about this wonderful place.
While we were there the first week in March, water fowl season was just ending. “November – February is the biggest waterfowl season,” David said. He added that sandhill cranes and even the endangered Whooping Crane come to this area. There is the Festival of Cranes the 2nd weekend in January that sounds marvelous. We were able to spy a few herons during our visit.
What is there to do?
The refuge offers nature photography, biking, fishing, hiking and kayaking opportunities along with birdwatching. Note that you need to bring your own sports equipment. They also have an accessible fishing pier as well. There is no camping at the refuge and limited small game and deer hunting is allowed. “Our main focus is habitat management,” David Young stated.
The refuge was established in 1938 for migratory birds providing nesting in the summer and refuge in the winter. David said that visitors may be interested in seeing the Gray bats at dusk at Cave Springs. “They emerge at dusk to feed in June, July and August. Make sure you use bug spray and bring an umbrella because you will get sprayed. This is a great family activity.”
Other Stops on the Agriventure Trail!
These are just a few of stops on the Step Out Agriventure Trail there are Peach farms, a grocery store, a bakery and more! Many of them make you think of food. There is no shortage of fun places to eat in Decatur and we had a chance to stop at several!
Fun dining options in Decatur, Alabama!
The Railyard was the first restaurant we stopped at. We enjoyed the fun southern cuisine and railroad décor. There is a Historic Depot & Railroad Museum that we later visited and learned the rail history in Decatur. We had great food, but our favorite was the caramelized Brussel sprouts!
Simp McGhee’s a story and fine dining!
While lunch was fun, dinner at Simp McGhee‘s was elegant. Christy Wheat the owner shared the story of Simp McGhee, a river boat captain that stole a jewelry store’s wife Kate. “Tales are told of Simp’s pet pig that drank beer with him at his bar on Bank Street; of pranks he played on fishermen and hog drovers to acquire free food for feasts aboard his boat, and how every Thursday as he steamed into town he would blow the steam whistle as a signal to Miss Kate that he had arrived.”
Eventually his river boat license was pulled when he shot the river rapids. He died in Miss Kate’s house, June 16, 1917, at the age of 58. As far as the food, it is awesome. We split a filet with baby red potatoes. Thank you to a man at one of the antique stores for the recommendation!
Funnel Cake Please
Royalty Funnel Cakes offers funnel cakes and you don’t even have to wait for the fair. Yum!
Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ
Perhaps the most famous restaurant of all is Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ. The website says the story behind the restaurant is, “Widely recognized as one of the oldest and most prestigious barbecue restaurants in the world, Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q was founded in Decatur, AL in 1925. Bob Gibson was an L & N railroad worker who honed his cooking skills on the weekends, in a hand dug barbecue pit.”
Keith is a connoisseur and loved the ribs. I am more a chicken girl and enjoyed the chicken with the famous white sauce!
Morgan Price Candy
It is hard not to smile when walking into a Candy and gift store! The brightly colored décor of Morgan Price Candy is lovely and smelled divine. Here they make small batch Candy by hand. They were wrapping up Valentine’s Day and getting ready for Easter. Famous for their English toffee, owner Nancy Curl told us that in 1987 the store was opened by two sisters, Mary Morgan and Margaret Price. Margaret didn’t stay in the business long because of an allergy to nuts. Mary using her father’s recipe for praline candy began working out of her home and local kitchens. “After she retired Miss Annie took over making the toffee,” Nancy said.
Nancy, a former banker took over the business in 2010 moving to a new location on Sixth Avenue. This family run business offers amazing toffee, gifts and more! Staff also ship all over. “We ship to Europe, England , Asia, Korea and Japan. We ship everywhere,” Nancy said.
With our hands full of English toffee and peanut brittle we said a reluctant goodbye.
The Brick Deli and Tavern
The Brick Deli and Tavern was where we ate our last night in Decatur. This spot was lively and fun. We split a hot Hoagie sandwich and shared chips and salsa. We had to share the banana pudding too, tradition you know!
Agri-tourism at its best
Head to Decatur and check out these agritourism stops, then dine in local restaurants to get a real flavor of the town. Hit a few of the colorful murals, see some museums and immerse yourself in Decatur’s history for a day or two. Then you will get the effect of this Southern town that was settled by both southerners and northerners!