EatSouth and Kudzu-like Unease

Alsomitra macrocarpa is a tropical climbing gourd native to Southeast Asia. Its seeds are the ultimate gliders, drying up and circling the forest floor on “wings” that can grow up to 5 inches long. They drift on wind currents, seeking to propagate the species (also known to us as the “Javan cucumber”).

And so it is with Montgomery’s EatSouth, which is losing has lost executive director Edwin Marty for the hipster-rich soils of Austin. He’s off to work for the City of Austin, which is ironic because a lot of people have been curious for years about EatSouth’s relationship to the municipal government of Montgomery. Like the javan cucumber seed, he is floating away on the wind to spread the brand of Earth-friendly sustainability and civic-corporate well-being.

Marty was only at EatSouth for a handful of years, but even before his arrival in 2011, a lot of observers were curious about the Hampstead Institute, of which EatSouth is ostensibly some sort of non-profit subsidiary side-project. The Hampstead Institute is a non-profit too, but seems to neither be an “institute,” nor much else that is readily identifiable.

We do know that the name of said “institute” comes from a housing development called Hampstead, which is a sort of master-planned community to the southeast of Montgomery. If you haven’t been out there, think Seaside in a cow pasture. It’s less Truman Show than wannabe-Aspen, but it also has a farm. And a windmill. And a lake. And all the other trappings of rural living without the inconvenience of actually having to labor on their three acre plot or put up with the visual clutter of people living in mobile homes. It’s just like rural living except there’s a Tipping Point instead of a Dollar Tree.

And that’s all fine and good. Rich people have every right to buy cow pastures and build Fantasy Land in them. We like wine bars too. You want to circle the SUVs around a fake 20-acre lake? Go nuts. Fill your house will all the Italian imports (or Panama City Beach imports) that you can afford. Deforesting and colonization is Manifest Destiny, so build away.

Where it gets interesting is when you start asking who’s selling these escapist slices of cow pasture. On the “contact us” page for Hampstead (the real estate thing, not the “institute”) you’re directed to contact Jim Farrior, Director of Hampstead Commercial Leasing & Sales at Colonial Commercial Realty, Inc. He’s also featured over at Colonial Commercial Realty’s website, where he is listed just above a guy named Josh Lowder, who is the vice-president of CCR, in addition to being on the Board of Directors of the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Redevelopment Authority. You can learn more about this young corporate exec in this cheerful RSVP Montgomery profile.

What does all this have to do with EatSouth? We’re getting back to it. Josh isn’t the only Lowder in this tapestry. There’s also his dad, Jimmy, who was described in 2008 this way:

Mr. Lowder has served as chairman of the board of The Colonial Company and its subsidiaries since 1995. He is a current member of the Home Builders Association of Alabama and the Greater Montgomery Home Builders Association, and he serves on the board of directors of Alabama Power Company. Mr. Lowder is the current chairman of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, a past board member of Leadership Montgomery, past president of the board of the Montgomery YMCA and past chairman of the Montgomery Area United Way Champaign. The Montgomery Area Business Committee for the Arts presented The Colonial Company with the 1997 Business in the Arts Award and in 2000 with the coveted Frank Plummer Memorial Arts Award for lifetime achievement. Mr. Lowder was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Greater Montgomery Home Builders Association in 2004. He graduated with the highest honors from Auburn University with a Bachelor of Science Degree. Mr. Lowder is a member of the investment committee of the board of trustees.

High roller, eh? He is also featured in this amazing photo, which tells you his lineage and connections to a gigantic 2009 bank failure — the sixth largest bank failure in American history, to be specific. More on that here.

There is a lot to enjoy about this ad. The pic of the three grinning brothers, looking like they just got away with something; the ad copy, calling the bank a muscular child; the assurance that "dad" lurks in the background. From the May 1982 issue of Alabama Magazine.

So we’ve got young Josh Lowder living in the Colonial real estate subdivision, trying to get you to buy a house out there at Hampstead where they have an urban farm. Colonial also has the A&P Lofts, which is home to True, that restaurant that is featured in nearly every issue of Made. Made is run by another local Lowder (Anna) and her husband Harvi Sahota.

Oh, and according to the documents filed with the IRS, the Hampstead Institute (doing business as EatSouth) was founded by three folks, two of whom are married to each other. That’s right — Harvi Sahota and Anna Lowder. Sahota runs a “design and communications” company based in the aforementioned A&P Lofts. His company, called Matter, seems to design and produce Made, as well as do design and PR work for nearly every above listed entity, including Eat South, True, Tipping Point, and the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce.

There’s one other interesting connection that implicates you, a concerned tax-paying Montgomery resident. As of last summer, we have a new civil servant in town. Mac McLeod became our city’s “director of retail and commercial development.” His previous job? President and CEO of Colonial Group. From whom did the city government use $1.95 million of your tax dollars to purchase the land upon which to build the new east Montgomery high school? Correct.

Did you know that EatSouth is actually EAT South because EAT is an acronym standing for Educate, Act and Transform? And certainly it’s a good thing to give presentations to local kids about healthy eating. It’s good to show people how food is grown and to talk to them about food waste and organic farming and sustainable agriculture. It’s better to have a downtown urban farm than a toxic Superfund site.

But it would also be better to have a local food awareness group that was promoting vegetarian potlucks and environmentalism that didn’t feel like a greenwashing campaign for a gigantic corporate real estate holdings with fingers in nearly every pot of money for miles.

Speaking of good eating, who doesn’t love biscuits? According to the March 2014 issue of River Region Living magazine, the Poarch Creek Indian casino (Wind Creek) will give $5,000 to EatSouth for every Montgomery Biscuits home run hit in 2013. I’m no minor league baseball historian, but the Biscuits hit 72 homers in 2013. That’s 72 homers x $5,000 = $360,000. That’s a sweet pile of syrup for Edwin Marty (who is by accounts a pretty nice guy) to be walking away from.

EatSouth’s website says that such numbers only reflect a small portion of their operating budget. Their funding website says that 20 percent of their income comes from produce sales (we understand they run a legitimately great CSA), 20 percent grants, 25 percent corporate support, 20 percent individual donations, 10 percent events, and 5 percent program service fees. The only event of theirs we’ve ever been to out at Hampstead  was some kind of beer tasting. It was pretty good.

We live in a world where image is everything, and a lot of good people think that having a food-centered non-profit is a good rebuttal to the existing stereotype of Montgomery as a crime-ridden blight factory. But if it’s important to look beyond the superficial image of Montgomery as dumpy, it’s also important to look beyond the image projected by alternative narratives. It’s crucial to be clear-eyed about tangible results being created and what money is creating them. And in that sense, EatSouth is leaving us hungry for more.

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28 responses to “EatSouth and Kudzu-like Unease

  1. The website for MADE is grayish type on a white background. Very, very hard to read. I gave up on that website.

    Good review of the new India Palace there, though.

  2. Our daughter goes to the Montessori school out at Hampstead. The school has been an amazing experience for her. Farmer Edwin has been an integral part of her educational experience at that school. EATSouth has been a strong supporter of the school and the farm-based learning opportunities at the school. That said, I’m fascinated by this piece of investigation into the interconnections between my home in Cloverdale and my daughter’s school community. Thanks for this!

    • Glad you liked it. Certainly I don’t disagree — contrary to what some of the other commenters seem to believe — that the Hampstead people do some good, and that there’s real value there. I think I was clear in the post that I agree with you that there are some good things coming out of there. My questions are simply “at what cost” and “in service of what agenda?” Heck, there can be multiple agendas at the same time, some great, other’s profit-driven (which isn’t in itself a bad thing). I accept that the world is complicated, but I just like having all the facts. Thanks for commenting!

  3. I am very unclear as to what your beef is here. Families with money tend to have their hand in many pies in small cities like Montgomery; wow, what a revelation! The substance of your “research” does not deliver on it’s own conspiratorial anticipation. Sounds like sour grapes to me. I’m sure that at one point in time animals pooped where you now live, also.

    • I feel like my “beef,” insomuch as there even is one, is fairly well explained in what I wrote. Maybe you should read again, paying special attention to the part about greenwashing, secrecy and the hunger for specifics. Also, raising questions doesn’t mean there is any “beef,” but simply a desire to point some things out. If you tingled with “conspiratorial anticipation,” that may have been a medical ailment that has nothing to do with my writing. I used the word “unease” in the post title, not “expose.” My grapes are neither sour, nor pretentiously advertised as organic. Animals do poop in my yard though, so great point there by you.

  4. IIRC, Jimmy Lowder was only a shareholder in Colonial Bank. He was not on the board of directors, was not an employee, and had no other bank connection to his evil brother, Bobby.
    In fact, Bobby is not on the board of The Colonial Company or even the board of Tommy Lowder’s Colonial Properties Trust.
    I wonder why…

    • Maybe you should take a look at the ad that I posted. The text in the ad says Jimmy was president and Tommy was secretary/treasurer. That may not have been the case for the life of the bank of course, but the initial connection is there.

  5. That ad is quite old, probably over 30 years.
    The Colonial Company started in 1956. In the early ’70s the three brothers bought the company from their dad.
    Eventually, they split.
    Bobby got the banking business. As we all know, he left downtown Montgomery in ’06. CNB failed in ’09.
    Tommy got Colonial Properties Trust. Last year it merged with MAA out of Memphis.
    Jimmy got Lowder New Homes and Colonial Insurance.
    Jimmy & Tommy were on the boards of each other’s companies. Bobby was on his own, so to speak.

    I wonder what Jimmy’s new “48 Midtown Apartments” project — soon to be under construction in Cloverdale — will look like. I also would love to know if the local (Colonial) folks will eventually sell those apartments to out-of-town investors.

  6. Poop E. Skeleton

    Disclosure (perspective?): I visit this site often and love much of what you post. I count many Lowder’s as my friends and enjoy their company. I unapologetically and unconditionally love The Tipping Point (and I suppose Hampstead by association) – It’s close to where I live, I love beer, and I love returning home safely after filling my belly with it. I also like comics and writing/saying poop.

    I truly doubt your grapes are sour or pretentiously advertised, but your writing often feels that way. That’s a shame, as you convey a desperately needed dose of perspective and self-awareness that is consistently illuminating, entertaining and in short supply throughout Montgomery. Leave the bucket of cliched coarseness to the Pitchforks and Yellowhammers of the world. Hipsters and hipster-conservatives rely on the overdose of coarsnark to drive clicks. Both of those turdsites and their clones deliver that poop (see what I did there?) in spades and yours just doesn’t need it to stand out. Further, The M.Blechnavel’s of Montgomery can truly benefit from all of the perspective and self-awareness you can deliver, but they need the coarseness delivered by the teaspoon rather than the bucket or they tune out. It truly can mean the difference between a reader asking “what your beef is” and and storming off or “what your take is” and engaging in dialogue.

    Tell me another story soon Dad.

    • Bobby? Is that you? Back channel for child support.

      Sorry I raised some simple questions about your friends. I didn’t mean it as sour, but accept that you read it that way. I’m obviously not trying to “drive clicks.” I raised some simple facts grounded in an authentic set of questions I had about entities in the city I love very much. I don’t think I said anything that is wrong, but you are welcome to question my motives, especially if you have any actual facts to bring to bear to drive the dialogue you are looking for. I agree with you that Yellowhammer sucks.

  7. Like the mayor and his plasma plant, the Cloverdale apartments seem to exist mostly in someone’s imagination. The property is more or less part of the Huntingdon campus.

  8. Thanks for the update, Anony. (I doubt that’s your real name.)

    Community opposition will be the key. It would be as long as the football field on the other side of that block.

  9. If you are going to impugn people’s character by name, then you should at least have the confidence to use your real name. This type of anonymous mud-slinging is really the sign of an amazingly insecure person. Use your name if you are going to use others.

    I’ve personally known the people that started EAT South and know that it was not some type of real estate sales scheme.

    After all, who builds a community farm and barn instead of a subdivision pool if their main goal is to simply sell real estate. That’s about as unlikely as you get–unless your goal was more noble such as educating kids and non-kids on the process and benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

    EAT South is one of the few things that competing cities outside of Montgomery are really envious of. If you think it’s a nefarious thing, then we’ll gladly work to relocate it to Huntsville. We’ll take SouthernMakers with it too.

    Then we’d have two of the best things you have to offer.

    p.s. the original suburb of Montgomery was…wait…Cloverdale. It was exactly what you am Hampstead for being. Move to Cottage Hill or Capitol Heights and you might raise above ironic hypocrisy…

    • A summary of Chad’s comment: Nuh-uh. Not true. These people are my friends. We are cool. We might take our ball and go home.

      My reply: What did I say that was incorrect? Also, didn’t you quit on this city and move somewhere else? Do you have a case of the sads that someone is raising questions on the Internet about one of your investments? Also, are you serious that if I think Eat South is nefarious that you’ll move it to another city? Along with some thing I’ve never heard of? I had no idea it was up to me. Awesome.

  10. 1. Use your real name and it becomes a real conversation. You want to impugn others by name but don’t use your real name. Why not?

    2. You imply EAT South is part of a real estate scheme. Again, how is building a community farm and holding educational classes for kids really point toward a real estate scheme? We get it. You think Hampstead is suburban sprawl and don’t like it. Gotcha. That’s cool. But, to start suggesting that Anna, Harvi, Jimmy, and others are conspiring for some nefarious result by helping fund a non-profit whose mission includes holding hundreds of educational classes each year for disenfranchised children living in food deserts is pretty wacky.

    3. Incorrect? a) EAT South is not a subsidiary of the Hampstead Institute b) Hampstead is rural living? It’s has similar density metrics to original Montgomery suburban sprawl like Cloverdale (with a more urban street grid). c) The Poarch Creek Indians gave EAT South $360,000? I was on the board and guarantee that isn’t true. Not even a 1/100th of that if not less. Even so, you seem to spend time researching IRS records…find the 2013 EAT South return and point out the 360k contribution. Heck, if that had been the case, Edwin might still be here.

    Anyhow, these are just the clear factual errors. The errors in logic are more extensive as previously noted.

    4. And you’ve never heard of SouthernMakers? Really? Dude, that’s downright strange. It’s one of the best things that the MGM has going for it. One of the best of its kind in the entire Southeast. In fact, I’m so confident that you’d enjoy it that I’ll leave you two free tickets at Will Call.

    They’ll be under Stetson23, party of two.

    • I only want to reply to the part of Chad’s comment where he uses words like “scheme,” “conspiring,” and “nefarious.” It appears that some basic education is in order to understand that corporations can do things to increase market share and control their image. These things can be PR, genuine virtue or (almost always) somewhere in between. I won’t belabor the point to someone that appears to be willfully oblivious to the concept, but further reading can be engaged here about a concept that is nearly 30 years old: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenwashing.

  11. Hi Chad, thanks for reading. I’ll ignore the “real name” bit, since it’s the Internet and all, and that’s not relevant to the substance of the discussion. The point of the original post seems to be that there are multiple agendas in play, and it’s interesting to try and sort them out. I think everyone in this conversation is genuinely trying to make Montgomery better, and also to make a living. There’s some confusion on the facts here – the Hampstead Institute is clearly doing business as EATSouth, according to their tax records (https://bulk.resource.org/irs.gov/eo/2014_01_EO/26-3698633_990_201212.pdf). And the projected $360k figure is forward-looking based on home run counts from last year’s Biscuits – obviously nobody is saying that was a gift from last year. We hope for lots of home runs this year both because we’re Biscuits fans and because we genuinely support the work of EATSouth, as clearly indicated in the post. Maybe there’s a little snark at play in the remark about Southern Makers. We do hope the event goes well, and appreciate the offer of tickets, but we will be visiting family that weekend.

    • Real names always matter. That’s why investigative reporters use them. It creates accountability for the commentators.

      Anyone can make implications and accusations anonymously. That’s easy and risk free.

      Good rule of thumb: don’t put out snarky and classist innuendo unless you are willing to claim it by name.

      Regardless, the tickets will remain for Team Stetson if plans change…

      • Delightful that here we have Chad Emerson (he listed his email) saying it’s important to use your real name, here writing under another name. There’s a name for this kind of thing – it’s “performative contradiction,” where you do the very thing you criticize. Nice one, Chad. Hope your consistency and attention to detail benefits the Rocket City accordingly.

        And then the long knives are drawn. Readers will notice the debate about facts is abandoned here in favor of some more vague accusations. IRS records? Asked and answered. Funding sources? Asked and answered. What’s left? “Snark” – asked and answered on the matter of whether one has heard of Southern Makers. I was just reading Southern Living and saw it in the margins. Glad to see local crafters getting a showcase. One moment of snark, duly noticed, does not constitute a rebuttal.

        The accusation of classism, casually dropped here, is a more serious charge that deserves a more serious response. The “class war” dog whistle has a mellifluous affect. Folks respond to that ready to defend the meritocracy, their ready-built 3-2, their neighborhood security team, their local wine bar. If they don’t hear nightly gun shots, that’s not a matter of class but a matter of their own smart choices. Surely there’s nothing classist about claiming that apartments renting more than $1000/month in the middle of Montgomery are urban renewal. And the New Urbanism out on Taylor Road for rich, white people? Nothing classist about that, I’m sure. Neither out at Mt. Laurel up in Shelby County or out at The Waters. Clearly, it’s a coincidence that the folks who can afford these price points happen to be well above Montgomery’s median income. What a joke. If we’re making classist arguments, they’re of the Woody Guthrie kind, and we’re proud to do so. Anyone who thinks there’s not a class war in Montgomery is wearing blinders, or worse.

        This is precisely the argument we made in this space a few months ago in our criticism of the effete nature of the Made/True axis (though Made, to its credit, has much improved its writing and content of late). If we drill down on Southern Makers, which we have not in this space to be kind, we see the epitome of classism. Alabama Chanin sells skirts for more than $3,000. Billy Reid’s shirts are around $375. We love Naturally Rad’s soaps and such, but they are very expensive relative to the stuff regular people get at the grocery store. If we’re going to hassle “hipsters,” why not note that Southern Maker G.E.A.R. (whose stuff looks great) offers a bag called “The Hipster” well out of reach of the average Montgomery resident? The Makers list for 2014 is exceptional, but I defy anyone to argue that their stuff is, in general, accessible to the average city resident. Hell, just the tickets are $20 a person, a luxury for someone working at the average city wage. Which you pay to go and buy stuff.

        It’s an absolute outrage that you’d toss that ad-hominem at us, Chad. All we’ve done is try to shed some light, as we can, on the forces shaping our city. After this exchange, we’re especially glad you’re gone. Please don’t come back. If you do, stay out in that real-fake city Hampstead has created out east (pace Eco) and don’t join us here.

      • Chad Emerson

        Yeah, the above post was posted accidently from my phone so I followed up from the computer. Admitted poor attention to technology.

        On the substance though, the classism label fits perfectly–with a little racial stereotyping added into the equation in your last post. You keep referring to Hampstead as being for “rich, white people”. That’s wrong and ignorant. Wrong because its factually inaccurate. Ignorant because it appears you just assumed only rich and white people live there.

        The most insidious part is the focus on skin color (do intelligent people really still talk in these terms?).

        Our family includes our three naturally born sons and two adopted daughters from Ethiopia. There are also other African Americans and other minorities that live in the neighborhood. There are people of wildly diverging politics, religion, backgrounds, lifestyles, and opinions of all types. Yet, it is an incredibly neighborly place where people help and support each other in many different ways.

        Yet, you seem intent on using loaded labels like rich and white. It’s clear what you are doing–when called on the carpet about bad logic and bad facts (asked and answered? huh?) you reverted to divisive ad hominems.

        What started out as a mis-informed and paranoid anonymous blog post amazingly evolved into one founded on racism by implication. I’m sure you’ll come back with an exasperated, self-righteous response but your true agenda and apparent prejudice have been defined by the phrases you have used.

        In the end, the proclaimed effort to shed light on non-existent schemes only served to reveal the inquisitors true nature.

      • Chad’s vision of a post-racial status quo is a delight. I’m reassured that interracial adoption is a solution to white flight. Students at Montgomery’s all-black non-magnet schools need only find a warm and willing set of new parents zoned for the forthcoming east side high school nestled amid the “wildly diverse” climates of Hampstead and maybe even Pike Road.

        Sidebar: The original conversation about whether IRS filings show Hampstead Institute doing business as EatSouth has fallen by the wayside. Here’s a hint: They do.

      • Chad Emerson

        Also, not that Natalie Chanin or Kellie Guthrie need defending but the reason their items cost more is because they pay a living wage to their workers and use ethically sourced materials and processes.

        Those virtues are unfortunately lost in most retail settings.

        They should be applauded this rather than demeaned for doing so.

  12. Using your real name always matters. It’s what people who are willing to be held accountable do. Just because someone types on a blog rather than a newspaper byline shouldn’t absolve them from standing behind their implications and accusations by name.

    Credibility arises from a willingness to stand behind and be identified with your statements. That allows those statements to be evaluated for whether they may be biased themselves.

    Who knows, maybe you got fired or they accidently killed your cat or made fun of your skinny jeans at a party. And the get-back is to anonymously scream “greenwashing” under the code name of a randomly, numbered cowboy hat.

    Whatever the case may be, snarky, insinuating comments that seek to impugn frankly anyone who lives in a certain place with classist comments is ALL about someone’s real name.

    Anyhow, the offer remains. Two tix for Team Stetson in case the plans change and you can stop by after dinner at Sahara.

  13. Pass the popcorn.

    And didn’t Chad live in the Town of Pike Road at The Waters when he was working for the City of Montgomery?

  14. Interedasting

    I ran into this article because I’m new to town and Googled Anna Lowder since some of the neighbours in Hampstead have mentioned that she’s not a very nice person. I don’t know her so I don’t have anything to say on that regard. We live in Hampstead and absolutely love it. That being said we recently discovered that when you sell your house a mandatory .5% of your sell price goes to the “Hampstead Institute” as a “donation”. First of all, I would love more detail and transparency as to how the money is being used. If it’s being used correctly, that’s great. Also, why am I being forced to donate. It should be something voluntary. What if I don’t agree with the purpose of the organisation? It just makes the whole non profit seem sketchy…

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