Ala Trade

John Pittard

John Pittard, the new president of AP&EA, is a man with a lot on his mind. He is also president of AlaTrade Foods, with two plants and more than 1,500 employees. He and his wife, Denise, are in the process of building a new home on their new farm, all the while living out of a small rental house. And they are the adoptive parents of a 5-year-old ball of fire named Phoebe.

AlaTrade Foods, founded 10 years ago by Davis Lee, a further processing company, debones approximately 4 million chickens a week in its Albertville and Phenix City plants, under contract to Tyson Foods and Pilgrim’s Pride, for distribution to the food service industry. They have a third plant in Boaz that is currently shut down due to the economic downturn. That downturn has cost AlaTrade a 40 percent drop in revenue and forced them to layoff a good portion of their workforce. John is hopeful that the worst of the recession is in the past.

John grew up on a poultry farm in Monticello, Ga., where he worked with his father. He must have liked the work, because, after high school, he enrolled at the University of Georgia to pursue a poultry science degree. He worked second shift in a local poultry processing plant to pay his way through school.

In 1979, upon graduation, he took a job with Spring Valley Foods in Gadsden. Spring Valley Foods was a division of Lane Poultry which would be purchased by Tyson Foods. It was while at Spring Valley Foods that he first met Davis Lee. Over the years, they became good friends. When Tyson purchased Lane Poultry in 1986, John was plant manager and Davis was complex manager. The next year, Davis was put in over all charge of Tyson’s Alabama operation, and John transfered from Heflin to Gadsden as plant manager.

In 2000, Davis Lee started AlaTrade Foods and started talking to John about coming to work with him in the future. In 2006, Davis offered John the position of president of AlaTrade Foods and John accepted. John and Denise met in 1990 while he was the plant manager in Gadsden. Denise had been transfered from Tyson Foods in Arkansas as personnel manager. She had been raised on her parents’farm where they had laying houses in Lickskillet outside Waldron. She started working on the line at the Tyson plant in Waldren and worked her way up. She says that she even hung live chickens on the shackles. She worked for a time as a trainer, working with new employees. Eventually, she wound up in the front office.

When she was transfered to Alabama, she brought her three children. Two years after meeting John, they were married. He had two children. The blending seems to have worked out well. All of the children still live nearby with families of their own. John and Denise have six grandchildren.  The afternoon that I met with John in his Boaz office, he invited me out  to see the farm. Denise and Phoebe met us there. They were excited and a little apprehensive because the next day would be Phoebe’s first day in kindergarten.

Observing Phoebe first hand, I see a bright well-adjusted little girl, certainly spoiled by love. Shy, in the wonderful way of little girls, looking up through her long eyelashes at a stranger. But also precocious, chattering like a magpie, telling stories to the minutest detail: about a favorite barn cat named De-con or a calf named Nosey Rosie. Then there is “the look,” so characteristic of little girls who have spent a lot of time with adults, a combination of charming and smug coyness, that says, “Yes, I’ve known that for some time already, thank you very much.”

Denise, as many in the Association know, is a quilter, a skill that she says was inspired by her great grandmother, Addie. Denise remembers sleeping under her quilting frame. Denise also remembers how her great grandmother made butter in a gallon jar. Those are obviously special memories for her.  Though Denise used to hand make all of her quilts, for her birthday last year, John gave her a new quilting machine. Still, she cuts the pieces out by  hand. She is excited because a whole room of the new house will be dedicated to her quilting, with a special closet just for fabric.

For the last two years, she has used her talents to create beautiful Auburn and Alabama quilts that she has contributed for auction at the Association’s annual meeting. They are always popular.

Their favorite pastime together is golf, though with the new farm, new house, and Phoebe they have had little time to play. John claims that his game has really slipped because of all the fence building that he has had to do on the new place. They are also active at Beulah Baptist Church in Boaz.

The property is on the flyway for eagles heading to Lake Guntersville. Denise says they observed one, fishing in their stock pond, just a few weeks ago. She points to a tree nearby, where, she says, the eagle went to rest and eat his catch. From that spot, he returned to the pond for second and third helpings until satisfied, and then flew away.

It is a place that they have been working on for the last three years, even selling their old home and moving into a rental house, just to be closer to the farm. They are not sure when they will be able to move in, but they are growing more exited.

John is excited about the Alabama Poultry & Egg Association. He has been active in the Association since 1985, having served on numerous committees. He has served on the board of directors since 1995. He believes that the Association is strong because it encourages the active participation of all elements of the industry. “In no other state poultry association, do you  have participation by growers, processors and allied industries,” he says.

John’s goals for this year include increased communications between growers and industry and increasing membership. “New members mean fresh ideas,” John says, “and new energy.” We welcome John Pittard as our Association president