Local growers offer ‘U-Pick’ experiences during COVID

Rev. John Grayson and wife CeCe picked muscadines at Bowman Farms in Tyler on Labor Day.

Agriculture is a big part of Dallas County’s economy and even the little farms have gotten a boost in interest from families looking to get out of the house and into nature during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The growing interest in picking fruits and vegetables yourself at farms for strawberries, blueberries, peaches and more has helped William Bowman and his family’s farm in Tyler. 

This year, he has seen an uptick in interest to pick from his nine varieties of muscadines and fig trees that are on about an acre of land in Dallas County. 

He and his late father first planted the muscadines in 1989 and have hosted “You Pick” days in September for years. He had a good crowd on Labor Day at Bowman Farms and plans another picking day on Sunday from 2-5 p.m. 

One of Bowman’s biggest challenges has been the ability to get the word out about his “You Pick” opportunities. His main avenue has been social media, but he is now getting more help through websites set up to help shoppers find small farms, such as pickyourown.org and the nonprofit SweetGrownAlabama.org searchable database site that went live in May. 

Sweet Grown Alabama was formed in 2019 through the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries and the Alabama Farmers Federation with the goal of spotlighting Alabama’s farm products for sale to the public. It has 120 farmer members already, but the state has 40,000 farms that could participate as members. 

“Started in 2019, Sweet Grown Alabama is a public relations and advertising program that touches every aspect of the supply chain and creates a unified brand for the state’s agriculture and forestry industries,” said Ellie Watson, Sweet Grown Alabama director.  

To be eligible to join, one either has to produce Alabama-grown products or value-added products, like jellies, sauces and candy, that use at least 50% of ingredients grown in Alabama or be an associate, like a retailer, restaurant or business that supports the mission and economic benefit of the branding program. 

Agriculture contributes $70 billion to Alabama’s economy and accounts for more than 500,000 jobs, said Horace Horn, PowerSouth Energy Cooperative’s vice president of External Affairs“Sweet Grown Alabama will enhance economic development in rural communities by giving farmers and associated businesses additional resources for marketing.” 

Bowman has lucked out with many repeat customers and supporters of local growers, like the Rev. John Grayson of Gospel Tabernacle and his wife, CeCe Grayson. They picked muscadines during the You Pick day on Labor Day just to eat at home. 

The Graysons said they are trying to eat healthier and “eat from the land.” CeCe planted a garden during COVID so they have been able to eat zucchini, squash, okra and more. 

“We do a lot of natural foods now,” John Grayson said. “We like foods that are grown locally and support our local farmers. 

CeCe Grayson said muscadines are filled with vitamins, one reason to get a basketful for only $10.   

This year’s rainy season made the muscadines “bigger, better, sweeter and juicier” this year, Bowman said. He sells some to grocery stores and picks for people by appointment only. To make an appointment, call Bowman at 334-354-6283. 


Alabama NewsCenter contributed to this report. 

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