By Tanner Hood
A steady income, insurance and the opportunity to share the good news about agriculture — that’s why nursery owner Scott Poague, 40, is also a full-time agriscience teacher at Elmore County High School.
“I’m passionate about agriculture,” Poague said. “I want to share everything I can with people and show students how our food and fiber are produced.”
Set atop rolling terraces created decades ago, Poague Tree Farm and Nursery has become a staple in Elmore County’s Fleahop community. From roses and hydrangeas to oaks and magnolias, Poague considers his operation a hobby that will eventually grow into a full-time business.
“My plan when I retire from teaching is to have this farm and be able to transition to operating it full time,” Poague said.
During the school year, Poague heads to the farm after the final bell. He then slips on work boots and begins pruning to provide the best possible products for his customers.
“I’m usually not on the farm till 3:30 p.m. because I have to take care of my kids as a teacher first,” he said.
Poague is a member of a growing movement of people who work full-time jobs while operating farms on the side. These farms play an important role in agriculture, an industry at the whim of weather and ever-changing markets. Small farms are an increasingly popular way for young people starting their careers to pursue dreams of working in agriculture.
Take Whitney Blackmon, the Tallapoosa County Young Farmers Committee chairman and manager of Auburn University’s (AU) Beef Teaching Unit.
“It’s what Steven and I truly love to do,” Whitney said of working on the farm alongside her husband. “Agriculture is something we’re passionate about and blessed to do. I’m thankful we get to share that.”
Whitney’s love of agriculture developed while playing on family land as a child. That passion grew while studying animal sciences production management and agribusiness at AU. Today, Whitney and Steven, the Alabama Farmers Federation Area 4 Organization director, operate a commercial beef cattle herd in Camp Hill.
Despite their affinity for agriculture, full-time farming isn’t yet feasible for the Blackmons.
“We don’t have enough land to justify me farming full-time,” Whitney said. “With the cost of land and other materials, you have to take what you can afford, and we’re grateful for what God has blessed us with so far.”
For now, Whitney is content getting a double dose of cattle at home and work. After working with students and a herd raised for research, she comes home, jumps in the farm truck and drives five minutes down the road to feed more cows.
“It’s great being able to interact with the students and help them learn, grow and discover things about themselves and where they want to go in life,” she said. “We try to let our students know what other work options are available for them in agriculture.”
Federation Young Farmers Division Director Hunter McBrayer said small farms aren’t just for young agriculture professionals like Whitney and Poague. Many farmers are medical professionals, lawyers, firefighters, bankers and others. They also range from new-to-farming teens to pros with decades of experience.
“More and more, young farmers hold down two jobs — on and off the farm,” McBrayer said. “With the increased cost of entering the agricultural industry, this model is one of the best ways to start a farm, minimize risks and hopefully move into a full-time position one day. Whether they are full- or part-time, young or old, we are excited to see farmers working to provide food, fiber and shelter to our growing world.”