Brian & Elizabeth Simpson — Alumni

Southern Foothills Farms, Oneonta, AL

Photo of Mike Kensler, Director of Sustainability, presenting the award for Southern Foothill Farms to Rita Grub, who is accepting on behalf of Brian and Liz Simpson.

Mike Kensler, Director of Sustainability, presenting the award for Southern Foothill Farms to Rita Grub, who is accepting on behalf of Brian and Liz Simpson.

Brian and Liz Simpson are both Auburn graduates with strong commitment to sustainable agriculture, waste reduction, and the use of science to innovate and produce sustainable food.  Brian graduated with a B.S. in Environmental Science and after graduation he worked at Environmental Resource Analysts in Auburn testing drinking water and groundwater for organic contaminants. He later worked at Sparta Imperial Mushrooms farm in Georgia.  Liz majored in Horticulture where she studied fruit and vegetable production and was known to students and faculty as the “organic hippie.” After graduating she apprenticed at Randle Farms, Jenny Jack Sun Farm, a certified naturally-grown farm in Georgia, and Elm Street Gardens, an organic vegetable farm in Georgia.

Their backgrounds and extensive work in organic production and environmental sciences led them to create Southern Foothills Farm, their own sustainable mushroom farm in Oneonta, Alabama. At Southern Foothills Farm, Liz and Brian blend their interests in organic agriculture, mycology, environmental sciences, and sustainability. The farm is both Organic and GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certified.

After producing a first crop just a year ago, their farm has progressed very quickly and has become a burgeoning hub for local, organic mushrooms and other products. The farm now supplies mushrooms to six grocery stores in three states and about 12 restaurants. They sell to distributors in Chattanooga and Atlanta who supply restaurants in those areas. They also have a stand at the Pepper Place Farmer’s Market in Birmingham. With just two employees – Liz and Brian – the farm grows 250 pounds of shiitake each week and 100 pounds of other mushrooms. They recently added a greenhouse and plan on expanding to vegetables, herbs, and cut flowers by spring to go along with eggs they currently produce.

To produce mushrooms, Liz and Brian convert a low value by-product, Alabama-milled oak sawdust from a family-owned sawmill, into a nutritious, protein-rich crop of a variety of mushrooms. They add organic certified wheat bran and whole grains in the growing medium.  A top priority is further development of energy-efficient growing methods and infrastructure. They use a variety of recyclable, re-purposed, and re-used materials throughout the farm. LED lights are used to reduce energy consumption, and cardboard boxes are used for storing mushrooms because cardboard can be recycled.  Spent substrate will be composted at the end of its useful life to improve the soil for vegetables.

Liz and Brian are an innovative and entrepreneurial duo, melding their talents and interests to create and operate a sustainable business in Southern Foothills Farm. They are an inspiration to other young farmers, and they contribute environmental, economic, and health benefits in their community, while demonstrating what a sustainable food business can accomplish.