Three Outstanding Young Farm Families (OYFF) were chosen as finalists 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 43rd annual Commodity Producers Conference in August, when the winner will be announced.
The OYFF will receive a prize package worth more than $60,000, including a new General Motors pickup truck from Alfa Insurance, an 825i John Deere Gator from Alabama Ag Credit and Alabama Farm Credit and use of a John Deere tractor by local John Deere dealers and John Deere.
The first and second runners-up will each receive $500 courtesy of Alabama Ag Credit and Alabama Farm Credit. All three finalists will receive a YETI cooler from the Federation.
The winning family will represent Alabama in the American Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers and Ranchers Achievement Award contest next January in Orlando, Florida.
Maybe it was an innocent kiss in kindergarten that first brought Garrett and Emily Henry together, but a love for farming and each other has kept the couple close for nearly three decades.
Affection for farming, family and the Federation earned them a finalist spot for the Alabama Farmers Federation Outstanding Young Farm Family.
“I kissed her when we were in kindergarten and asked her to marry me when we were in the second grade,” Garrett said smiling. “We really started dating in the 11th grade. We finished high school together, both went to Auburn University, graduated and got married.”
Together, the Montgomery County couple carved a niche in the family farm.
“We’re a beef cattle family,” Garrett said. “I was around cattle and farming all of my life, but until I was making my own decisions and taking my own risks, I didn’t realize what a challenge farming could be. But it’s also rewarding.”
The Henrys, both 34, live in Hope Hull, a few miles south of the Capital City.
They have about 300 brood cows; a bull-lease business; a heifer development program; and a calf-preconditioning program where they raise calves from weaning until they’re ready for the feedlot. They also raise silage corn and haylage.
Last year, Emily swapped her career as a nurse for that of a full-time mother for their children, Paige, 8, and Mason, 4.
“I’m more involved on the farm now, and I enjoy being here to help,” Emily said. “I’ve still got a lot to learn, and when Mason starts to school I can help even more.”
Both active in the Young Farmers Program since they were 18, Garrett is State Young Farmers chairman, former county chairman, a graduate of the Agricultural Leaders For Alabama class, a Montgomery County Farmers Federation board member and a former Federation State Beef Committee member.
Emily enjoys volunteering for church, school and community activities.
Balancing family life and a busy farm can be challenging, Garrett said, but he’s committed to it.
“A great thing about raising our children on the farm is they see what we do everyday, and we spend a lot of time together,” he said. “It’s important they understand what work is, but I want them to know family always comes first.”
Stewart and Kasey McGill of Madison County described a typical day on their farm as controlled chaos.
While Stewart manages daily farm operations and the agritourism business at Tate Farms, owned by Kasey’s family, she works as a licensed crop insurance agent. The couple also started a row crop farm in 2011.
“My mom inherited 11 acres from my grandfather,” said Stewart, who is also a licensed crop insurance agent. “The land was fallow for almost 20 years when we decided to plant our first soybean crop. It made 32 bushels an acre, and I thought we had hit a grand slam.”
In five planting seasons, the McGills have grown their farm to almost 500 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat and, this year, were selected as a finalist for the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Outstanding Young Farm Family.
“One day, we hope to be shareholders in Kasey’s family farm, but we’re not there yet,” Stewart said. “I want to do things the right way. Right now, I’m training myself with our farm so that one day I could move up, and we’ll also have our own land to bring to the table.”
Balance is key for Stewart and Kasey, who are raising daughters Allie, 3, and Reece, 1, on the farm.
“Our kids love coming to work,” Kasey said. “They’re learning about harvest and where their food comes from. They understand we have to work to put clothes on their backs. We’re grateful they can grow up in this lifestyle.”
Life gets particularly busy in October when Tate Farms opens its gates to school tours and families seeking the perfect pumpkin.
“We don’t go to football games,” Stewart said. “We don’t do anything that month, other than work here at the farm.”
Along with Tate Farms Cotton Pickin’ Pumpkins, Stewart has grown the agritourism business to include 20-25 weddings a year and numerous corporate events with NASA, Boeing and Target Distribution, among others. On average, more than 80,000 people from across the country visit the farm annually.
“We’re bringing Fortune 500 companies and billion-dollar companies to a farm in Meridianville, Alabama, to show them about agriculture — that’s amazing,” Stewart said.
The driving force for the McGills is to make sure they can pass on the farming way of life to the next generation, Stewart said.
Growing up in the Alabama Farmers Federation, Kasey said she’s excited her family is now getting more involved in the organization.
“Our oldest is extremely shy, but when we went to the Federation annual meeting last year, she ran around hugging people she didn’t even know,” Kasey said. “I think she can feel the difference in the people of the Federation — she can feel the pureness of the people.”
The vantage point from the rich, loamy soil on Sand Mountain combined with the outspoken nature of Lance and Stephanie Miller breathes life into the phrase, “Go tell it on the mountain.”
Miller Farms originated in 1851 in Blount County (as a reward for military service) and has since grown into a 1,100-acre row crop operation with four broiler poultry houses.
This history, plus a love for agriculture, motivated the Millers to become agriculture advocates.
“If we don’t speak up, somebody else is going to do the talking,” Lance said. “Not everybody shares the same perspective we do. We Do this every day for a living, and when something comes up that affects us and what we do for a living, I take that on a personal level.”
The Millers’ passion helped earn them recognition this year as a finalist for the Alabama Farmers Federation Outstanding Young Farm Family.
Lance farms with his uncle, Jimmy Miller. When Lance came back to the farm in 2006, they needed to grow larger to support two families. So in 2007, they built the chicken houses and, in 2009, began planting peanuts to complement their cotton acreage.
Stephanie, who thought she would never marry a farmer, contributes to the farm in the chicken houses and in the blogosphere.
“I have a blog where I write about life on the farm,” she said. “Due to people discovering us online, we’ve had visitors from as far as Washington and Illinois. I try to explain what we do, why we do it and that we are a family farm.”
The Millers both graduated from Jacksonville State University and have one son, Reed, 3. Stephanie is pregnant with a girl, due in August.
The Millers are active in the Federation, with Lance serving on multiple county commodity committees and as the State Young Farmers vice chairman. Stephanie serves as a county poultry committee member and in multiple capacities on the county Women’s Leadership and Young Farmers committees.
“What I like about being in the Federation are the connections you make,” Lance said. “You get to know one another, and you learn about who grows what and how they grow it. Not only am I getting my voice out to a larger audience with the Federation, but I’m also getting feedback from my friends in farming.”