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April 25, 2014

A.J. Watson 

Top photo: Gene Renfroe talks to guests about various tree species on his farm in rural Pike County.Center: More than 40 members attended the event. Bottom: Gene Renfroe discusses the diversity of plants and wildlife on his farm.

TROY, Ala. – The sun was shining Thursday as a mud-caked trailer rolled through a canopy of giant trees on Gene and Jana Renfroe’s farm in rural Pike County. About 40 members of the Alabama Farmers Federation and the county chapter of the Alabama TREASURE Forest Association (ATFA) gazed with wonder at the 3,000-acre sprawl featuring two-story shooting blinds, an eclectic mix of wildlife and trees and several ponds. Overlooking it all is the Renfroes’ home.

"We're blessed with a lot of diversity and wildlife here," Gene said. "We have plenty of turkey and deer, and we've been managing our wildlife actively for 15 to 20 years."

Originally a 1,600-acre tract on the east side of the Conecuh River, the Renfroes bought the family land from Gene’s mother, later adding land on the west side of the river.

Sanctuary Whitetail, a wildlife management firm out of Opelika, helps manage their deer and fishpond.

"We have two full-time gentlemen down here who do the maintenance for us," Gene said. "We also contract out our roadwork and heavier work that we need done."

After the two-hour tour, members sat down to barbecue and discussed the relevance of the day. Part of that program included an update about the recent merger of ATFA and the Alabama Farmers Federation. State board members and ATFA Director Rick Oates were on hand to inform chapter members about why the merger occurred and how it will benefit all ATFA members. 

"The purpose of the tour is to educate our members on forestry techniques," Malon Murphy, board member for the county chapter, said. "People might see something Gene has done, and think 'I have a piece of property, I might be able to do that, too.'"

John Kennedy, an Alabama native who lives in Tampa, attended the meeting for exactly that reason.

"We want a legacy farm," Kennedy said. "We want something that will stand the test of time to pass down to generations that will have a place to call home. Belonging to an organization like this gives us a wealth of knowledge from people who have active farms, have thrived and really know what they're doing."

The Renfroes have a diverse mix of trees, ranging from pines, hardwoods, cypress, persimmons, mayhaws, pawpaws, oaks, tupelo gums and poplar. They’re also planting fruit and nut trees to make the land more sustainable.
"We're trying to go back with indigenous trees on the property," Gene said. "We think that's what helps it maintain the natural beauty and the forest."

While all who attended seemed to enjoy their time on the property, Kennedy's sentiments resonated the most with visitors.

"This is at good as it gets," he said as several people nodded in agreement. "The big thing for an outdoorsman is diversity of land. You have pines, hardwoods, openings, plots of land, water structure, then it's made all-encompassing.”

The Renfroes said that's been their goal from the start.

"It's really all about the younger generation," Gene said. "We get value out of having older groups come, too. Classroom in the Forest is a great way to get a couple of hundred kids down here, get them in the mud, catch minnows, identify trees and get them exposed to things they might not get a chance to see every day."

Classroom in the Forest is an educational youth program that teaches the role private land owners play in environmentally and economically benefiting Alabama. It teaches students and their teachers about multiple use management of forest resources and demonstrates how important private landowners are in the management of these valuable resources.

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