Limestone Farmer’s Cooperative: “Mum’s The Word,” But Not The Last One Fall in Northern Alabama is a favorite season for many Athenians.
It’s football season, the weather is starting to cool, and being outdoors is finally actually enjoyable. One of the beautiful proofs that fall is in full swing is the arrival of the chrysanthemums, and the ‘mums for sale at the Limestone Farmer’s Coop on Hwy 31 S are especially lovely.
Will Ring, the store manager at the Co-op, says that by far “yellow is the most popular color,” and is the first choice for porches where people want bright color that can be easily seen from the street.” I asked him why, (when there are ‘mums for sale all over the place,) should I buy mine at the Co-op? “Our prices are fair, and the mums are well maintained. We get several new shipments in throughout the season, and have all the colors to choose from.” In the true spirit of the Coop, the mums are local, being brought in from Tennessee and Alabama. “They start arriving in September and go through November,” he added. Procuring and caring for the mums is overseen by Amy Wright, who works in the garden department.
What sets the Co-op apart, though, whether you are after ‘mums or manure to fertilize your garden, is the service. “We try not to just tell you that the thing you want is on aisle 5. We walk with you to the location of the item, and see if it’s going to meet your needs.” Will has a degree in Agricultural business, and knows that especially in the ag business, outstanding customer service is critical to survival. “We try to get to know our customers, help them out, find out exactly what they need, and get it for them.”
I know from firsthand experience that he’s speaking the truth. We were dealing with a ferocious bug problem in our garden last summer, and the crew at the Co-op was most helpful. Whenever I deliver Athens Now to the checkout counter, I am always greeted warmly. On one occasion I was scooting in right after closing time, the staff was in the parking lot getting into their trucks to go home, and they unlocked the store so I could get them their papers. Now, I call that service!
The Limestone Farmer’s Cooperative has an interesting history, and “No, you don’t have to be a farmer or a member to shop here,” said General Manager John Curtis. “It was started by a handful of farmers back in 1932 for the purpose of having a central location for local farmers to get their supplies,” he told me. The original site was on Pryor Street, right near the railroad tracks, and all of the feed and other supplies were offloaded by hand. Back in the day their phone number was simply, “100,” and as is illustrated by the black and white photo, they would then go on to receive visits from the newly formed Tennessee Valley Authority beginning in 1933. I also learned from John that in order to be an actual co-op, if there are any profits, (which these days is getting tougher and tougher, I might add,) at least 20% has to be given back to the cooperative.
John echoed Will when it comes to the need for customer service, and that’s what sets the co-op apart. When I asked him what he was especially proud of in the customer service realm, he told me that it was “helping with fertilizer.” Then he proceeded to teach me about the role of GPS technology in assisting farmers. These days, a GPS device can take an aerial picture of let’s say, two acres of land, and by additionally taking a soil sample, then feeding all the data into their computer system, the farmer can find out where are the most( and least) productive parts of his field. He can then get customized fertilizer solutions to improve productivity. “We try to stay on the cutting edge of technology,” John said, and the smile on his face told me he is still wonderfully dazzled by it. “That is totally cool,” I said as I told him of the days 50 years ago when my uncle would mix calf formula in an old round top loading washing machine. “It is,” he agreed. So, if you are in the need of the best of all worlds in the agriculture world, and by that I mean the blend of modern technology and someone knowing your name as well as your needs, the Limestone Farmer’s Cooperative is the place to land.
Limestone Farmer’s Cooperative
1910 US Hwy 31 SE
Athens, AL 35611
Hours: Mon- Fri 7am-5pm, Sat 7am-12 noon< br>By: Ali Turner