Being the first editorial intern for Southeast Farm Press was like riding a green broke colt in the open pasture for the first time. I didn't know what to expect, but I was ready to mount up.
I will admit I was a bit nervous at first. Well, that didn't last long. Just as soon as I learned how much cream and sugar my editor, Paul Hollis, likes in his coffee, things went a lot smoother. Actually, he only required me to appreciate the music of Jackson Browne and the humor of Jerry Seinfeld. Boy, did we have some good times. I know that the answer to all of life's problems lies on the long stretches of highway between Auburn and remote Georgia towns. What we couldn't figure out, we just left for the next trip. Bless Paul for listening to my mindless ranting.
One thing is for sure — I learned more about peanuts than I will ever remember this summer. From twin rows to tomato spotted wilt, I tried sometimes unsuccessfully to sound like I knew what I was talking about. Most farmers just nodded politely and proceeded with a clearer explanation of whatever I was messing up.
Everyone I came into contact with was more than willing to talk, although I think I just got lucky and came at the right time. Ample rain and the promise of a good peanut crop were in my favor.
I have fallen in love with the Wiregrass Region of Alabama. Every trip I made was like entering the Promised Land. Still, as inviting as the verdant scenery was, it took a lot of grit to waltz up into the Newville Cafe, searching for talkative peanut farmers. Wearing pink from head to toe, I definitely stood out as an out-of-towner. Thanks to a certain Myron Johnson and his cohorts, I felt more than welcome.
Speaking of feeling welcome, after one trip to the Wiregrass Extension in Headland, I just want to say God bless Dallas Hartzog, Kris Balkcom, and the Florida crew — David Wright and Jim Marois. They gave me an open invitation to join their exciting world of bahiagrass rotation, and I enjoyed every minute. Dallas must be doing something illegal because he sure grows some good-looking peanuts and good-looking bahiagrass, and he feeds pretty well, too.
Then you've got your good old south Georgia folks. They're a quiet reflection of the land they work. Sometimes, they're a little too quiet. But give them a little space, know their crops, and they will talk, eventually.
The trek Paul and I made to the Sunbelt Ag Expo Field Day was definitely a learning experience. I'll never forget Paul's face when he saw my reaction to finding out I had my very own hotel room. After seeing the room, I couldn't figure out how I was going to sleep in two beds.
Oh, and I didn't know they made so many different straw hats in Georgia. They also should erect a monument to the gnats in Moultrie. There's a certain gnat-blowing technique the natives are just born with. After returning to Auburn without one important set of keys, I also learned to check my purse before leaving the local Mexican restaurant. I'm still crawling through the apartment window.
Peanuts and the growers thereof weren't the only uncharted territory on which I set foot. I also broke ground with greenhouse-grown tomatoes. At the Slay farm in Chambers County, Mrs. Lillian saw to it that I was able to get the full tomato experience via a mouth-watering, home-cooked meal. Don't bite the hand that feeds you.
I guess free lunches are just my curse. At the Hay and Forage Field Day outside Beauregard, Ala., Chuck Browne forced me to eat a big, juicy steak. I'm pretty sure the crew I sat with at lunch just came to eat, or maybe the speakers were just that funny. I also went kicking and screaming when Andrew Gettys offered to let me bale hay. It was a pretty good-looking bale, if I do say so myself, and I usually do. Ask Paul.
I have seen parts of the South that could only be called God's country. I've met people growing such fine crops you would swear they sold their souls to the devil. All in all, this internship has given me the chance to live as I've never lived before — always en route to meet people who not only help feed the masses but also help restore your faith in humanity. Thank you, everyone, who welcomed me to your sacred world. I hope we will meet again soon.
Rebecca Bearden is a senior at Auburn University majoring in agricultural communications. She is completing her internship with Southeast Farm Press.