It’s midafternoon on a blustery winter day, and Jon Hegeman is striding through the bright, humid greenhouses of his Greenway Plants Inc., making plans to visit 17 Alabama counties.
As the Alabama Farmers Federation’s new Central Area vice president, Calhoun County’s Hegeman will communicate interests and ideals from those 17 counties to the board of the state’s largest farm organization.
“Grassroots make this organization strong,” said Hegeman, 37, a first-generation farmer elected during the Federation’s annual meeting in December. “I’m not here to represent Jon Hegeman. I’m representing constituents in these counties.”
The Central Area includes Autauga, Bibb, Calhoun, Chilton, Clay, Cleburne, Fayette, Greene, Jefferson, Lamar, Pickens, Randolph, Shelby, St. Clair, Talladega, Tuscaloosa and Walker counties.
Federation President Jimmy Parnell said he looks forward to serving Alabama farmers with Hegeman.
“Jon is a great example of how the Federation develops homegrown leaders,” Parnell said. “He distinguished himself through Young Farmers programs, becoming a leader at state and national levels. In addition, Jon isn’t afraid to ask in-depth questions and take a stand for what he believes in. He is a proven leader, and we look forward to working with him on the board.”
Hegeman was State Young Farmers Committee chairman in 2013 and American Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee chairman in 2015. He and wife Amy, who have been married nine years, were Alabama’s Outstanding Young Farm Family (OYFF) in 2012. Hegeman is the Federation State Greenhouse, Nursery & Sod Committee chairman, while Amy leads the organization’s State Equine Committee.
Hegeman also graduated from the Federation’s A.L.F.A. Leaders program, where he learned fundamentals of the organization and the value of membership.
“Understanding what the Federation does for farmers changed my perspective. We have to stay ahead of the curve and be at the forefront of defending issues important to our members,” he said. “We have an opportunity to be forward-thinking, and I want to help Mr. Parnell execute that.”
To more thoroughly serve members, Hegeman is surveying county leadership during local board meetings to note expectations of his service and issues that need representation in Montgomery.
Back home in Calhoun County, the Hegemans are raising 8-year-old Ella and 8-month-old Jon Henry. The family attends Grace Fellowship Church.
Greenway Plants, based in the White Plains community near Anniston, has 11 acres indoor and 10 acres of outdoor growing space, which produce 5 million container plants annually. Since Hegeman took over in 2004 with just 4 acres of greenhouses, the company has contracted to grow plants like dracaena, English ivy and ferns for Home Depot, Lowe’s and Walmart.
Recently, he began growing groundcover perennials in Centre in Cherokee County and is transitioning some acreage to industrial hemp. Hegeman employs over 40 workers during peak season for his labor-intensive business.
The child of missionaries, Hegeman grew up riding horses with vaqueros in the Dominican Republic before moving to Canada at age 11. There he gained experience working with livestock, baling hay and growing corn on dairy, poultry and hog farms. Hegeman’s also fluent in Spanish, allowing him to easily converse with H2A laborers. Stints in large-scale vegetable production in Florida and North Carolina, coupled with a series of hurricanes, which damaged his own snap bean and tomato crop in 2004, led Hegeman to Alabama.
Hegeman said his diverse farm background — and penchant for asking questions — will help serve members, who represent a variety of commodities.
“Learning never ends,” said Hegeman, who studied business at Jacksonville State University as an adult and recently earned his pilot’s license. “For example, I wasn’t raised around cotton but have learned a lot about the crop since moving to Alabama. Agriculture is more than just the farmer. It takes the banker, the guy selling seed, researchers and analysts to make agriculture work. At the end of the day, we’re all working to make Alabama better.”