October 2017
Farm & Field

Bringing Scotland to Alabama

An Unconventional Breed at Katie Farms

 

Jon Fleenor checks in on one of his Scottish Highland cows.

When real estate developer Jon Fleenor was looking to purchase a 640-acre farm close enough to Bryant-Denny Stadium to hear the roar of the crowd, the seller had just one request – that he continue to farm the land.

Fleenor and his wife Dr. Margaret Purcell, a professor at the University of Alabama, kept their promise to the elderly woman they purchased the farm from, naming it in her honor as Katie Farms. Today, Katie Farms sells fruits and vegetables to five local restaurants in Tuscaloosa and is home to chickens, turkeys, honeybees and Scottish Highland cattle.

In the beginning, Fleenor and Purcell planned to grow only enough food on their farm to feed themselves, but the first year they ended up giving away excess produce to friends, neighbors and anyone in need.

"It got to the point that our neighbors were telling us not to bring them anymore because we’d already given them so much," Purcell said.

The couple started attending a few local farmers markets to sell their excess produce before demand from local restaurants rose. In addition to supplying restaurants with fresh produce, Katie Farms also sells jars of jams, jellies and pickled preserves.

Fleenor coined the phrase "from our field to your table" as the slogan for Katie Farms products.

"The chefs all tell us products from the other sources don’t beat the taste of our vegetables," he said. "I tell them it’s because we picked it that morning. Most people don’t realize how far their food travels before it reaches their plate."

Purcell agreed with him and said she requires her students at Alabama to track the shipping mileage on their food for a week as a class assignment.

Jon Fleenor and Dr. Margaret Purcell in their garden at Katie Farms.

 

 

 

"They’re always shocked to see how many total miles their food is shipped before it reaches them," Purcell said.

University of Alabama students come out to Katie Farms for educational tours.

"We show them how the farm is a system of all the animals and plants working together," she said. "For example, the growth of vegetable and fruit crops depends on the work of our honeybees."

The couple are also working with their local Tuscaloosa Farmers Co-op to host how-to sessions on growing vegetables such as tomatoes or okra for anyone interested.

Though Fleenor and Purcell stay relatively conventional with the varieties of vegetables they produce, they chose a very unconventional breed of cattle to raise when they decided to expand their farm beyond fruits and vegetables.

Katie Farms is currently one of six farms in Alabama producing Scottish Highland cattle and licensed with the American Highland Cattle Association.

"You don’t see too many Scottish Highlands around here," Fleenor said. "But they’re a docile, hardy breed."

According to Fleenor, Scottish Highlands are foragers that can survive on small shrubs and plants that most cattle would turn their noses up at.

The breed is known for their long hair and being native to Scotland; however, Fleenor said the breed adapts well to the hot and humid Alabama climate. Katie Farms has sold Scottish Highlands as far south as Miami.

Fleenor and Purcell purchased an irrigation system for their fields to ensure the cattle always have an abundance of grass and some sprinklers to help them stay cool on hot summer days.

Fleenor said Scottish Highlands produce extremely lean meat comparable to buffalo.

According to Fleenor, producers are beginning to favor Scottish Highlands over buffalo for their gentle nature. The Scottish Highlands at Katie Farms are all named and can all be petted in their pastures.

 

Katie Farms sells produce to five local restaurants in Tuscaloosa.

The breed’s meat is in high demand with restaurants for its lean quality and being low in cholesterol.

Katie Farms is looking to be a pioneer in the cattle business by crossing the Scottish Highland with Red Angus. Fleenor and Purcell have trademarked the new breed.

"The Red Angus will add some marbling to the Scottish Highland’s meat," Fleenor said. "We hope it will turn out to be an ideal cross."

If the Scottish Highland and Red Angus cross is a success, Katie Farms hopes to start a new breed association for other farmers wishing to produce the cross and be able to register it.

To learn more about Katie Farms, visit their website at www.visitkatiefarms.com.

Rebecca Oliver is a freelance writer from Auburn.