Birmingham-Southern College Meets Inspiring Alabama Farmers

Executive Chef Robert Lynn, REV Operations Coordinator Leigh Hooten, and Sous Chef Jacqueline Bishop tasting lettuce

On a crisp spring morning, the Bon Appétit team at Birmingham-Southern College joined members of REV Urban Food Project, a local aggregator, on a trip to Neal Pope’s Farm in Salem, AL.

All the hoop houses are cooled by a spring-fed water source

Neal Pope is one of 20 local producers whose products are delivered through REV. The group went to meet Bon Appétit’s newly enrolled Farm to Fork vendor and learn about sustainable farming from Neal. They left even more inspired than they had anticipated!

The farm itself is a model of sustainability. A massive solar array supplies the power and winter heat for the crops. A spring-fed water source provides geothermal climate control year-round, maintaining a perpetually comfortable 67 degrees and cooling the hoop houses during the scorching Alabama summers. Neal’s produce is certified organic, and he even builds his own topsoil in those hoop houses, in this area dominated by bright orange clay hills.

Alabama Blue collards

Neal looks nothing like the Norman Rockwell overalls-and-strawhat version of a prototypical farmer. Rather, he is a practicing attorney in a suit, one whose field of specialty has carried him all over the world. When asked what made him want to create a fully sustainable organic farm, he answered that he’d suffered a heart attack 25 years prior and was given only six weeks to live unless he got a new heart. He decided to take a good, hard look at his lifestyle — and do something else once he recovered from the transplant operation.

His storytelling style is captivating, mixing both the refined and the colloquial. He also doesn’t mince words. “All over the world, people in various places care about what they’re eating but some people here don’t give a fig…. If they ever really tasted real food prepared by people who know what they’re doing or could teach them how to do it themselves, that would be a great thing,” he said. “Bite into that Speckled Bibb in the spring when nobody else has got it, and it just explodes.”

He’s happy to have found customers who do give a fig. Bon Appétit’s partnership with REV Urban Food Project ensures that Neal Pope Farm’s Speckled Bibb lettuce, Alabama Blue collards, and other crops are handled with care and presented in menu items that showcase their freshness and flavor.

Submitted by Robert Lynn, Executive Chef

The Neal Pope tour group and hosts, left to right: Sous Chef Jacqueline Bishop, Director of REV Taylor Clark, Sous Chef Nakia Fowler, Leigh, Robert, Chef/Manager Jason Mullenix, Chef/Manager Matthew Jones, and Farm Marketing Manager Zachary Carothers