May 26, 2017
By Marlee Moore
From top; the Hornsby family, of Lee County, the Johnson family, of DeKalb County and the Lovvorn family, of Cleburne County.
Three Outstanding Young Farm Family (OYFF) finalists were chosen earlier this year in a statewide contest open to farmers 18-35 years old who stand out as agricultural leaders on their farms and in their communities.
Finalists are featured in this edition of Neighbors. Judges will tour their farms this summer and select the overall winner. Each family will be honored at the Alabama Farmers Federation’s 45th annual Commodity Producers Conference in Birmingham Aug. 5, when the winner will be announced.
The OYFF receives a prize package worth more than $60,000, including $35,000 from Alfa Insurance toward purchasing a new pickup truck; an 825i John Deere Gator from Alabama Ag Credit and Alabama Farm Credit; and a year's use of a John Deere tractor by local John Deere dealers and John Deere.
The remaining finalists each receive $500 courtesy of Alabama Ag Credit and Alabama Farm Credit. All three finalists received Yeti coolers courtesy of the Federation.
The winning family will represent Alabama in the American Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers and Ranchers Achievement Award contest in January in Nashville, Tennessee.
The Hornsby Family, Lee County
If spreading agriculture’s story and serving her community was an Olympic sport, Lee County’s Beth Hornsby would routinely bring home gold.
Each week, Hornsby Farms delivers 10-plus farm-fresh food baskets to families needing nutritional assistance as part of Nourish, the nonprofit she started last fall with a local pediatrician. That’s in addition to community-supported agriculture deliveries, five market events and supplying produce to three Auburn eateries — Acre, the Depot and The Hound.
“Being the biggest doesn’t always mean you’re the best” said Beth, 35, who owns the farm with husband Josh, 36. “We’ve learned what we can grow better and have cut back on volume, but continue to concentrate on quality.”
The Hornsbys, who grew up gardening, eased into farming before digging into full-time production in late 2013. Today, they grow over 100 varieties of produce.
Beth also concocts homemade jams, jellies and pickles in their commercial kitchen. Those added-value products, including Beth’s favorite sweet-heat pepper jelly, sell like crazy at markets, craft shows and other events where they meet the public.
“We talk to consumers about why agriculture is important, and they can ask questions,” Beth said. “We share our story and discuss other aspects of agriculture.”
The Hornsbys partner with other farms to vary goods in their weekly deliveries, adding items like strawberries, homemade breads and other foods. Weekly deliveries range from 20-30 baskets, but over 300 families subscribe to their service.
Hornsby Farms also welcomes groups for field trips and operates on-farm and online stores.
Beth and Josh have three children, 7-year-old Sully, 4-year-old Levi and 15-month-old Stella, whose adventures Beth chronicles on Instagram with hashtags like #raisingveggiesandbabies and #FarmerStella.
Beth is the Lee County Young Farmers secretary, serves on the Alabama Farmers Federation State Horticulture Committee and is in the Agricultural Leaders For Alabama Class IV.
The Hornsbys attend Union Christian Church.
The Johnson Family, DeKalb County
Multitasking is in Ben Johnson’s blood. The farmer, Geraldine High School agriscience teacher, FFA adviser, deacon, father and husband knows the value of hard work, dedication and time management.
“There’s no doubt it’s my purpose in life to be a farmer,” said 28-year-old Ben, who grows over 400 acres of soybeans, corn and black oats on his family’s Mel-O-Da Farms near Fyffe in DeKalb County.
Ben and wife Jessica, 28, met in high school and have been married seven years. Jessica works off the farm at North Alabama Trophies and cares for 6-month-old Jase, who they’re raising to appreciate farm life, just as Ben’s family did.
“I remember riding in the tractor late at night as a child,” said Ben, whose father raised hogs and row crops before transitioning to poultry. “Dad did the same thing I do now— working off the farm until 5 p.m. and coming home and working on the farm.”
During the day, the 2010 Auburn University agriscience education graduate advises 130-plus FFA members and teaches almost 100 students. Ben utilizes Geraldine’s 96-foot greenhouse, where students raise plants to sell as fundraisers, in addition to teaching students mechanics and basic agriscience.
“The kids love to learn,” said Ben, who employs some students on the farm. “When you have that coupled with seeing them win a career development event or receive a proficiency award, it feels like I’ve done my job well."
When Ben gets home each afternoon, he hops in the tractor, hits the fields and gets to work on job No. 2.
While Ben said he eventually hopes to farm full time, he’s happy to juggle jobs these days.
“When farming is in your blood, you can’t get it out,” said Ben, the DeKalb County Young Farmers chairman. “But you have to start small and grow into it.”
The Johnsons attend Antioch Baptist Church.
The Lovvorn Family, Cleburne County
When Eric Lovvorn was 3, his parents flocked to poultry farming. By age 12, Eric was adamant chicken houses weren’t in his future.
But as fate — and a love for farming — would have it, age 20 rolled around, and the Georgia native went to the farm to roost. He bought his first poultry farm in Cleburne County just over the Alabama line and transferred to the University of West Georgia to be closer to his new home.
“You realize the things that make you happy, and farming is it for us,” said 32-year-old Eric, who owns SLC Farms in Heflin with wife Carrly. “It was bred into me at a young age to do what I needed to own my own business. That’s what farming has allowed me to do.”
The Lovvorns met at a University of Georgia football game in 2008 and married in 2011. Today, they own a four-house poultry farm and are raising 2-year-old Chloe and newborn Landon to appreciate family, hard work and an insider’s information about food production.
“I want the kids to know how important farming is growing up,” said Carrly, who works at Georgia Power Co. and helps manage the farm’s books.
They also raise cattle and hay; own rental properties; and co-own LHT Trucking, a commercial poultry house clean-out business, which annually hauls 800 tractor-trailer loads of litter.
“I’ve learned you have to diversify, but also to be efficient in what you do,” said Eric, who ran nine chicken houses before downsizing and diversifying in 2007.
The Lovvorns regularly volunteer with an outreach organization at Carrly’s work. Eric is the Cleburne County Young Farmers chairman and participated in the Agricultural Leaders For Alabama program.
“I enjoy what I do every day, and I enjoy telling our story,” Eric said.