Tag Archives: Community

JACK-O-LANTERN FARM + COMMUNITY-SUPPORTED AGRICULTURE

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As most of you know, Alabama Chanin strives to support local farmers whenever possible—especially now that we’ve opened The Factory Café and are sourcing local and organic ingredients for all of our dishes. Our kitchen manager, Arron, has built a strong relationship with our friends Steve and Connie Carpenter, who operate nearby Jack-O-Lantern Farm. Each week, Steve delivers the freshest local produce to our kitchen, which Arron incorporates into our seasonal menus. Steve also picks up bags our Factory Blend Coffee and house made granola that he then sells at his farm, just across the river. Watching Arron and Steve collaborate these past few months has been a wonderful (and educational) experience.

Jack-O-Lantern Farm is getting ready to launch their 2014 Community-Supported Agriculture box program—and The Factory will be a pick-up location beginning Friday, May 16.

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INTRODUCING THE FACTORY CAFÉ CHEF SERIES: JOSEPH LENN + BLACKBERRY FARM

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Beginning today, Alabama Chanin is launching a Chef Series for The Factory Café. Each month, we will feature seasonal dishes on our menu from chefs (or restaurants) that share our values of celebrating place, artisanal craftsmanship of all kinds, and, simply said, good food.

Our focus through these collaborations will be on regional chefs and regionally-inspired cuisine—dishes that we can recreate in our café by locally sourcing ingredients. In the upcoming year, The Factory will host brunches, dinners, book signings, and even cooking and cocktail workshops with an array of chefs.

A few years ago, I made an extraordinary trip to Blackberry Farm, located in beautiful Walland, Tennessee, on the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Ever since that first journey (thanks to friends at the Southern Foodways Alliance), I’ve had a deep appreciation and respect for the artisans and chefs working at the Farm—and have loved using their cookbooks in my own kitchen.

From making biscuits to hosting an upcoming Weekend Away Workshop, my relationship with Blackberry Farm has grown over the years. So, I was thrilled when Chef Joseph Lenn and Blackberry Farm agreed to launch our Chef Series in the month of April.

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THE SOUTHERN BAKERY + SUGARBAKERS’ WEDDING CAKE

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My love for cake, from traditional layer cakes to simple pound cakes, has been well documented over the years. While I delight in the homemade sweets of the South, one of my favorite cakes comes from a local bakery here in the Shoals called Sugarbakers.

The family owned-and-operated bakery opened over twenty years ago in nearby St. Florian. A few years ago, the main location, which focused on baked goods, closed and the bakery operation moved to a restaurant called “The Drink Box,” which serves up delicious milkshakes (Maggie’s drink of choice) and chicken salad, as well as old Sugarbakers favorites and layer cakes.

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20 YEARS @ RURAL STUDIO + SCOTT PEACOCK

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I have a deep respect and admiration for the work happening at Rural Studio, located in Hale County, Alabama. Founded in 1993 by the late Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee and D.K. Ruth, the studio is now celebrating its 20th anniversary.

After having the chance to visit the stunning Yancey Chapel in 2008, I noted on the Journal that “the work and life of Samuel Mockbee is a yardstick for us to hold up to our lives each and every day to take measure of the road that we walk on this planet.”

I will be heading to Hale County this weekend, for a special dinner and pig roast as part of their yearlong 20th anniversary celebration. My friend (and acclaimed chef) Scott Peacock is preparing the menu and family-style meal. The evening will be a celebration of Rural Studio and an acknowledgement of their ongoing community project at Rural Studio Farm—where students are working to construct a greenhouse, irrigation system, planter beds, and more. In fact, a few of the vegetables that will be served over the weekend were grown by students at the farm. The Hale County community is contributing to the dinner, providing fresh hen eggs for deviled eggs and the local pig that was raised to be roasted just for this occasion. Friends of Rural Studio are also making contributions—Alabama Chanin donated 170 organic cotton jersey napkins for the event, which students of the studio will manipulate and design for the dinner. It will be an evening filled with laughter, community, delicious food, and storytelling.

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THE HEART: CARRA-ELLEN RUSSELL

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If you have purchased an Alabama Chanin garment or DIY kit in the last year or so, there is a chance that the fabric in your hands was also touched by Carra-Ellen Russell. Carra-Ellen is our Production Manager and is present at the beginning of most of the things that we make; she starts each garment and kit on its journey by cutting them and passing them along to the next phase. Pieces come back to her once they have been painted, where she helps package them with the proper notions and supplies to be given to one of our stitchers or to be shipped as a DIY kit.

Carra-Ellen came to us about a year-and-a-half ago, through the suggestion of our Director of Design and Special Services, Olivia. As we were growing and looking for well-organized team members, Olivia reached out to her friend, asking her to apply to be part of our production staff. Her transition into our staff happened quite naturally after that; she says that working at The Factory was meant to be.

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MULETOWN ROASTED COFFEE + THE FACTORY BLEND

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My mornings always start with coffee. Like many of you, the act of drinking coffee has long been a part of my daily routine. So, I was excited when approached with the idea of crafting my own organically-sourced blend. If you’ve visited The Factory lately, you’ve probably enjoyed a cup of our house coffee, which is roasted by Muletown Roasted Coffee, based in nearby Columbia, Tennessee. I drink it at home, in the car, at work (and I’ve noticed most of our staff does as well. If you happen to drop by when we are having a meeting, you’ll find most of us taking sips between taking notes). We have several former baristas and coffee aficionados on our team and we all agree: our Factory blend is borderline addictive. The flavor is smooth, yet dark, with a buttery feel and a slight dark chocolate finish. Delicious.

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CO-WORKERS

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Each morning, when the rising sun (or my daughter) wakes me and I open my eyes, I begin to go over my plan for the day. This is a treasured time. Some days, I can’t wait to get going and the day’s tasks are joyous and fruitful; other days, work just feels like…work. Last summer, as I was writing a vision plan for Alabama Chanin, it became evident that having a solid team in place – a team that had the talent and the desire to carry out that vision – would be essential. Now, when I look around, I see that our team members are creating strong relationships that are enhancing our work environment and also enriching their personal lives.

History shows that workplace teams spark one another’s creativity and create long-lasting work. Colleagues Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the sisters behind the fashion label Rodarte, create some of the most original pieces each season. The New Yorker wrote that, though they have their differences, the sisters “act like a single organism,” which speaks to their specific communication skills. The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, known by music lovers as “The Swampers”, created such a successful working relationship that they became business partners and founded a storied recording studio, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Charles and Ray Eames are among the most important American designers of the last century. He studied architecture; she studied painting and sculpting; together they not only influenced the rise of modernism, but developed innovative ways of using materials and were champions of computer technology in design.

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CHICKEN STEW

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As a Southerner and a cook, I often find myself included in lively debates about regional cuisine, long-winded discussions of the dozens of types of barbecue preparations, cornbread recipe swaps, or conversations on the perfect biscuit dough. Those of us who love food treasure the dishes we were raised eating and love to swap recipes and tips.

In my travels, I have done my fair share of boasting about my hometown’s specialties. One dish that I speak of frequently, that is such a big component of The Shoals’ local food culture, is chicken stew. And almost every time I mention it (outside of my home region), no one else in the room seems to know quite what I’m describing.

“Is it like a vegetable soup?” Not exactly. “A Brunswick stew?” Hmm. Not really.

So, I gradually came to understand that this dish—that was as ubiquitous to every neighborhood kitchen as cornbread or tea—wasn’t a staple meal for the rest of the world. In fact, it really doesn’t exist much outside of our small region of the Tennessee Valley.

Truthfully, the origins of chicken stew cannot be traced. And, no one can explain exactly why it is so specific to this region. I remember being told by an aunt that, once upon a time, chickens were kept for the eggs they produced. By the time a family killed a chicken for its meat, it was a “tough old bird,” only suitable for stews and other slow-cooked dishes. As with many rural households, you made the most of what you had and, logically, a stew fed more mouths than one fried chicken. Most likely, as with most regional foods, the recipe was created when poverty crossed paths with farmers, native people, and West African-style dishes. The result, in this case, is a dish that’s similar to existing recipes but that remains explicitly exclusive to one place.
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THE HEART: JENNIFER RAUSCH

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Shortly after my move from New York to Alabama, I was sitting alone at our local Italian restaurant, reading magazines. After a while, a couple who’d been sitting across the room approached and introduced themselves to me. That couple, Jennifer and Robert Rausch, quickly became fixtures in my life; they’ve remained integral members of my Alabama family since that day.

These days, you can find Jennifer overseeing the day-to-day operations of the new flagship store and café at The Factory. She agreed to work with us at just the right time. The company was growing and I needed someone I could trust to help me make decisions that were thoughtful and confident. Growing a company can make one feel vulnerable; having an old friend there for support (especially one with an incredible work ethic) put me a bit more at ease.

She moves effortlessly between tasks and has a real desire to connect with everyone who walks through our door. This genuine approach, coupled with her wicked, infectious laugh, drew me to her initially and continues to make me smile, calm me, and draw me out of my shell when I become too introspective. She is practical and doesn’t hesitate to offer her opinion, even to play devil’s advocate in tough situations.

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