Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

Why the LGBT community should support Shirey Ice Cream in Florence, Alabama

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Edwin Markham, American poet,

Edwin Markham, American poet


He drew a circle that shut me out–

Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.

But Love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle that took him in!

by Edwin Markham, April 23, 1852 – March 7, 1940

That brief poem, or epigram, by Edwin Markham summarizes succinctly the idea upon which I will expound in this entry.

In the past several days, it came to light that a Shoals area Alabama entrepreneur, Garrett Shirey – who, with his brothers Reese & Austin, are founders and co-owners of Shirey Ice Cream in the northwest Alabama town of Florence, population 39,447 – had Tweeted at least two uncharacteristic and very unbecoming messages. The specific dates and times they were made, and the content can be seen in the screen shot images of the Tweets, both which appear later in this entry.

First, some background.

Florence is home to the University of North Alabama, which is the oldest coeducational institution of higher education in the state, having been established in 1830 as LaGrange College (one year before the University of Alabama was established), and which has the nation’s only live African Lion mascots on campus – Leo III & Una. The area is comprised of four separate municipalities in two counties, Lauderdale in the North, and Colbert to the South, which are bordered by the Tennessee River, and is collectively referred to as “the Shoals.” The Shoals area has an illustrious history, particularly and especially in the modern era with the genre of popular, or commercial music. Artists such as Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, Percy Sledge, Rod Stewart, Linda Ronstadt, Allman Brothers, Bob Seger, and many more too numerous to mention have all recorded some of their seminal and greatest hits in nearby Muscle Shoals, one of the four cities comprising the Shoals. The 2013 motion picture “Muscle Shoals,” directed by Greg ‘Freddy’ Camalier, tells some of the highlights of the illustrious story, much of which – to this point – had been largely known only to locals, or music insiders.

Suffice it to say, creative type people –  which includes entrepreneurs – flourish in the area.

Shirey Ice Cream was the brainchild of residents Garret, Austin & Reese Shirey, brothers whom are recent UNA graduates. Reese’s creative genius was in experimenting with crafting & developing ice cream while in high school, and later while enrolled in undergraduate studies at UNA, while Austin’s expertise was demonstrated in marketing, and Garrett’s finesse was in distribution and community connections through social media such as FaceBook, Instagram & Twitter, which Reese described as “guerilla-style business.”

Reese describes each batch of their ice cream as being created through “a craft, artisan process,” and added that they support and encourage local farmers and small businesses by locally sourcing all ingredients with the ideal objective being “Alabama when possible; Southern at all costs.”

The first batch of ice cream they ever created – which was sold at cost only to college friends – was “Fat Elvis,” a concoction of banana malt ice cream with peanut butter ribbons, fudge ribbons, honey swirl, and candied bacon.

In a very short time, their efforts produced phenomenally successful results, and their product was being distributed and sold through other area vendors & entrepreneurial interests. Their success was so rapid that they designed to collaborate with another Florence area business interest – Lyons Coffee, which was the first since the 1940’s to re-establish coffee roasting in the area – using Lyon’s coffee’s ingredients, and proceeded with them in efforts to create a downtown area shoppe which would prominently feature each others’ products.

Sunday, 26 January 2014, 10:20PM

Sunday, 26 January 2014, 10:20PM

Then, the proverbial fecal waste hit the fan.

Reddit happened.


Tuesday, 28 January 2013, 8:13PM


Tuesday, 28 January 2014, 10:57PM

More accurately, screenshots of Tweets which appear to be from Garrett Shirey’s Twitter account were published to Reddit by Florence resident Cameron Kelly-Johnson.

Once news of Garrett’s Tweets began to circulate through the Internet, it was in very short order that at least two Shoals area businesses – Jack-O-Lantern Farms, in Muscle Shoals, and Lyon’s Coffee, in Florence – responded publicly, and announced through Social Media venues (SoMe), that they would cease to carry the Shirey brand.

In fact, Lyon’s Coffee announced through SoMe that they were completely ceasing operations, i.e., going out of business, in large part because of Garrett’s Tweets.

Naturally, their proposed joint venture with Shirey Ice Cream – which enjoyed the support of the Florence City Council – was canceled.


Tuesday, 25 February 2014, 2:22PM


Wednesday, 26 February 2014, 7:34PM

Now, for some additional, supportive background.

The Shoals area, in general, suffers from an economic miasma which began in large part with the 1983 closure and subsequent departure of Ford Motor Company’s Sheffield Aluminum Casting Plant – which had been in operation since 1957, was the world’s largest aluminum casting plant, and employed very nearly 2000 area residents.

Then, Reynolds Aluminum, which had located to the area in 1941 to assist efforts in World War II by producing aluminum for war planes, afterward transitioned to peacetime manufacturing, ceased operations and sold their two area facilities around 1997. At their peak, in the mid 1960’s they employed 4700. In the interim, their facilities were sold to Wise Alloys, which now employs approximately 1200.

Most recently (2013), Hillshire Farms (meat processing facility, subsidiary of Sara Lee, present since mid-1940’s) announced they would cease their Florence operations (1100 jobs), HON manufacturing announced they would close their Florence business furniture factory (200 jobs), and International Paper announced the impending closure of their Courtland paper mill plant 30 miles away (1100 jobs). The Tennessee Valley Authority will also be closing their coal-fired steam production facilities in the area, taking with it nearly 150 jobs. There are other area businesses which have ceased operations, as well.

In the time since the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) was passed in 1988, according to public records maintained by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Development (ADECA), since mid-1998, the Shoals area has experienced the loss of at least 4000 jobs.

Now, the area’s five largest employers are North American Lighting (automotive lighting assemblies), Wise Alloys (aluminum can sheeting), Coffee Health Group (hospital), Lauderdale County Schools, Helen Keller Hospital, Tennessee Valley Authority, and the University of North Alabama.

So it’s easy to understand that when small business start-ups announce they’re shuttering their doors, or otherwise ceasing operations, it’s a significant blow not just to the area economy, but to the well-being and morale of area residents as well.

And that’s where we segue to the matter at hand.

Amidst the turmoil and fracas associated with the commentary, there have been very real damages – unintended collateral damages, if you will. Losing a job – from the carpenters and building contractors who would renovate the site, loss of suppliers, sales, future tax revenue, etc. – has a ripple effect. It doesn’t just affect the one person who loses it.

No human being is perfect, and strive though we may, everyone of us will eventually, in an impassioned heat of the moment, say or do something stupid and hurt someone’s feelings. Fact of the matter is, we’ll probably say foolish and hurtful things numerous times throughout our life. Hopefully, however, as we mature, such instances will occur with decreasing frequency. And unless one has a consistent track record of deliberate assaultive speech, writing or behavior, it would probably be wise to acknowledge an unseemly human frailty and move forward. People can, and do change – some for worse, while others for better.

In any close friendship, intimate relationship or partnership – including business relationship – the character values of honesty and trust must exist, as must frequent, open and forthright communication, loyalty, forgiveness in abundance, and confidence in the supportive, nurturing nature of the relationship. It is a collaborative effort of at least two human beings for the betterment of each other.

Breakdowns occur when distrust, resentment, anger, fear, and selfishness establish an unmitigated foothold in one, or both partner’s heart. The consequences of such deterioration in relationship are evident, highly visible by others outside the relationship, and are characterized by lack of communication, disrespectful tenor of behavior, thoughtlessly careless actions, up to, and sometimes even including deliberate sabotage of the relationship.

Frequently, unforgiveness is the caustic poison which sets in motion the sequence of events which eventually deteriorate the relationship, often even claiming the heart of both, whom are now, not merely victims of circumstance, but of their own devices. It is a peculiar type of suicide.

Again, the venom of one, or both, and the resulting infected ooze from their wounded souls will follow them, and hover over them like a noxiously putrid and stinking gas, and pollute every other relationship.

All because of unforgiveness – and yet, it need not be so.

As we have been reminded in various ways by numerous religious authorities, popular musical artists and more, “all you need is love, love is all you need.”

One need not return evil for evil, for it accomplishes nothing good.

“An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” does nothing more than increase eyeless, toothless people. It multiplies injury, and eventually claims everyone.

On the other hand, in stark contrast, love covers a multitude of sins.

Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Do good to those who hate you. Let the light of your good deeds shine so brightly so that many others can see it, who will then give praise to your Heavenly Father because of them.

Those ideas are truly revolutionary values.

And yet, they are often practiced so little, precisely because they are so difficult. It’s much easier to put self on the front lines, taking offense at every word or minor cue, always ready at an instant to do battle with every person and perceived trespass. Eventually, however, one becomes battle weary and worn, is often an unwitting victim in the process, and makes more enemies than friends.

Whereas fighting is often gut-level instinctive and reactive, it requires conscious effort to practice love. Love exists on a higher plane.

There is little evidence to support the idea that Garrett Shirey is a hate-monger. Similarly, one can’t help but wonder if such an out-of-character episode was merely passing, and nothing more than an unguarded response to inflammatory rhetoric known to exist on talk radio, and other broadcast or published venues – and sadly, including some houses of worship. Garrett’s wife Katie Leigh is the daughter of Jeff Noblitt, Pastor of Grace Life Church, formerly known as First Baptist Muscle Shoals – sometimes also colloquially known in earlier days as “Warehouse Baptist” because it was a large metal building. Statement of their relationship is not to indict anyone, but simply an acknowledgment of fact.

Perhaps even, it could have been a drunk Tweeting episode. Data sampling on the hashtag #DrunkTweets indicates significant activity beginning 6PM, peaking at 9PM and returning to baseline (zero) around 11PM or 12Midnight, and most of the Tweets in question were made during those times.

Regardless, there’s little, or no disagreement that instead of delicious, tasty, locally-sourced, artisanal ice cream, the stupid flowed from his fingers, through his computer, and to the Internet. Even those closest to Garrett – including his brother Reese – have publicly acknowledged as much, specifically writing “about the verbiage Garrett used.”

And then in response, fanned by the flames of fear via the Internet, the matter received the attention of Equality Alabama, a LGBT civil rights organization headquartered in Birmingham, whose chairman Ben Cooper issued public comment on the matter.

So very much, so soon, so out of control… again, I can’t help but wonder if much – if not most – is overblown, and mischaracterized in the most unflattering way possible, specifically to arouse thoughtless behavior, and foster hatred – in essence, an eye for an eye.

Nothing herein is meant to be a defense of Shirey, neither is it meant to praise his detractors. Rather, it is meant to engender harmony, to encourage reconciliation, and seek unity for all parties. It is possible to demonstrate respect, show honor, and dignify all human beings, without regard for their opinions, or actions. Such example was demonstrated when Jesus the Christ spent time and ate with those most reviled by society. Should we do any less?

• Love covers a multitude of sins;
• None of us are without sin, and;
• We all need more love.

Do The Right Thing


One Response to “Why the LGBT community should support Shirey Ice Cream in Florence, Alabama”

  1. […] few weeks back, I had written a thoughtful Op-Ed about the matter entitled “Why the LGBT community should support Shirey Ice Cream in Florence, Alabama,” and encouraged peaceful […]


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