"Remember this-- A farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don't give reluctantly to pressure."
2 Corinthians 9: 6-7
Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Home of the University of Alabama. A very prestigious school with the current number one football team in the country. This is what most people associate my hometown with. Despite all the money and fame, forty years ago 'TTown' was more focused on a different matter; farming.
With the vast Black Warrior river nourishing the surrounding soil, men of the silent generation took advantage of this and began to work the land. Something that generations before them instilled into their minds. My grandfather was one of these men.
Having been born in 1935, growing crops and livestock was essential to survival. With a good heart, determined spirit, and a mile-long list of credentials from other occupations throughout his life, Mr. Harold Appling set off to become one of Tuscaloosa's most well-known farmers of his day.
While providing for his family, Mr. Appling, or Pa as my family calls him, started farming cotton and soybeans in 1968. He also grew sargum, a small grain that can be used as a substitute for corn. This wasn't his first rodeo. He has always had his hand in growing things years before, whether it be a garden at the family home or livestock.
He started commercially with just 33 acres of cotton. 25 other men in the community also aided in the rise of the cotton industry in Tuscaloosa County. They fought hard for prime real-estate. The men rented the fields they farmed and traded the property throughout the years.
My grandfather specifically had land in the Binion Creek area on Lake Tuscaloosa and also fields south of town near the interstate. Men from this generation are very straightforward and by the book, so he had an intricate system for his planting.
Mr. Appling was very fortunate in finding the best farmland. Once he reached the peak of his farming career, he acquired 500 acres of cotton and 1,000 acres of soybeans. With the help of my mother, aunt, uncle, and other hired employees, he had one of the highest yields in the county. 1,200 pounds of cotton per acre, and 45 bushels of soybeans for acre.
These products won him many awards. On the cotton end of the spectrum, Mr. Appling won the High Yield Award from 1971 to 1974, and also in 1987. His product was the cleanest crop throughout the Marketing Goods Association and The Cotton Club of Tuscaloosa County. The MGA had associations throughout Alabama and Mississippi, with the biggest membership in Tuscaloosa. He also won the King Cotton award and the award for best producer. These awards had different criteria and specific categories for each crop.
These men were a tight knit group. They strived on helping each other and the community, along with making a living for their families. Mr. Appling, along with 14 other members of the farming community, joined together to form the Gin Company of Tuscaloosa. This provided easier access to newer technology of the time and a better networking agent for the farmers to sell their product.
As the world began to modernize, so did the then small town of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Mr. Appling sold his lease rights to different people, including some contractors that now have built neighborhoods on some of his fields. The farming associations I spoke of above are now nonexistent, and the cotton and soybean production has drastically declined. My granddad retired from the farming business not long before some of the technology that farmers use today was developed. Big equipment such as 6 row pickers and also the NO TILL method.
In Tuscaloosa today, there are only four well known cotton producers, compared to the twenty-five in his day. These men individually market their own cotton now, which is much harder to do without gins and such clubs.
While rising through the ranks of the farming community, Mr. Appling was also a fireman for 35 years. He would put in a 24 hour shift at the station, then farm for his 48 hours off. To this day he is still helping politicians in the Northport and Tuscaloosa area at the ripe age of 83.
I am so proud to say that my granddad shaped the farming community of Tuscaloosa County. All the while doing this, he raised a wonderful family with my grandmother Carolyn right beside him for support. He is one of the most hardworking men I will ever know.
I would not be where I am today if it wasn't for my Pa. He lit the fuse on my passion for agriculture, and I will owe every future success in this industry to him. If you have a family member that has a story like this one, I encourage you to share it any way you can. The hardworking people of this generation deserve recognition.