- Cullman, Alabama

July 29, 2013

Raydonna Sims Farm Family

Loretta Gillespie, correspondent

CULLMAN — Larry and Raydonna Sims both grew up on family farms. It’s ironic that although she lived in the Willingham community near West Point, and Larry lived in nearby Spring Hill, they never met until they were grown.

Larry’s dad had a dairy and grew row crops.

Raydonna’s father grew cotton and row crops. At one time his claim to fame was that he had the biggest Farmall tractor in the vicinity. “He also had a truck that he named First National,” laughed Raydonna. “When we would ask why he called it that he would say, ‘’Cause they own it’.”

She and Larry married in 1968. She worked at Pizitz in Birmingham and Larry worked for the power company. “We lived in Cullman, but we couldn’t wait to get back out in the country,” she recalls.

When they did move back to the farm, Larry bought a saw mill. “It started out as a hobby, but people wanted him to cut lumber for them, and it turned into a full-time business.”

In 1975, the couple built a house on the family farm with lumber Larry milled himself. They raised five children there, on land that has been in the family for what is now the fourth generation. “We like to say that we have two homemade kids and three store-bought ones,” laughed Raydonna.

The farm, which encompasses 170 acres, is partly taken up in timber, and partially in farm and. These days they rent the farmland out to a soybean farmer.

Larry loved being back where he belonged, and never looked back on his public job. For years he ran the sawmill, lumberyard, cabinet shop and pallet operation as Sims Lumber in Spring Hill.

He’s retired now, but still farms enough to call himself a farmer, raising pigs, chickens and raised beds of beets, tomatoes, corn, kale, pole beans, bush beans, cucumbers, squash, lettuces, blueberries, blackberries, muscadines, and cole crops like cabbage and grains, that he sometimes takes to the Festhalle Market Platz, but mostly gives away his produce to people in the community.

He builds the raised beds for the public. In addition to all this “retirement” activity, he builds chicken coops for people. “I really like the design for the chicken coops. They are predator proof and you can gather the eggs from the outside,” Raydonna pointed out.

 Raydonna is an agent assistant with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. It is her job, which she loves, to work with the fourth- and fifth-graders of Cullman County in the 4-H Program. In this capacity she teaches science, tech and engineering, and math to kids, using hands-on techniques to give them experience in things like building toothpick towers. “They are given no instructions and must make the tower strong enough to stand up. The tallest one standing wins,” explained Raydonna.

She also teaches classes in fun and useful skills like home food preservation, backyard poultry, growing vegetables in raised beds, quilting and rug making.

The Sims love their life, their farm and their family, and the way it all connects. “I really married my best friend,” she said. “And he is still my best friend. We work alongside each other, and each night when we get ready for bed, Larry says, ‘Here we are, again!’” smiled Raydonna. That pretty much says it all.

The Sims  will be one of six farm families taking part in presenting their way of life to people at the Farm Y’all “Farm to Fork” dinner at the Rotunda on Friday, Aug. 23, 2013.

The event is designed to help people learn where their food comes from and to understand the process of how it got to their table. “People want to know who grows their food.” said Raydonna. “At this event they will get to shake the hand that feeds them.”

The dinner will be catered by Chef Chris Villa of Wallace State Community College Culinary Arts Academy.

The following day, there will be an all-day Farm Y’all event at the Festhalle Market Platz, which will include the Cullman County Museum and the parking lot between the two.

Raydonna will give food demonstrations in the museum basement. There will also be everyone’s favorite — fried pies.

Kids will have plenty to do and see, even a stationary bicycle that will freeze a five-gallon container of ice cream in no time flat. “When my son, Nichalus, used it, he thought something was wrong with it because it froze so fast,” laughed Raydonna.

This is the first annual Farm Y’all event, but the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service hopes to make it an annual event and grow it bigger each year.

This year’s entertainer and storyteller, Delores Hydock, will have the dinner crowd at the Rotunda holding their sides with laughter as she regales folk and family tales. Hydock, who is based in Birmingham, has made a name for herself amongst storytellers all over the Southeast.