Six Outstanding Young Farm Families were chosen as finalists in a statewide contest open to farmers between 18-35 years old who stand out as agricultural leaders on their farm and in their community.
This month’s Neighbors magazine features three of those finalists. The remaining finalists will be featured in the November issue.
Judges toured the finalists’ farms and will select the overall winner. The six finalists will be honored at the Alabama Farmers Federation’s 93rd annual meeting in December when the winner is announced.
The Outstanding Young Farm Family will receive a prize package valued at more than $60,000, including $35,000 toward the purchase of a new GM vehicle, sponsored by Alfa Insurance; an 825i John Deere Gator, courtesy of Alabama Ag Credit and Alabama Farm Credit; and a lease on a John Deere tractor, provided by local John Deere dealers and John Deere. The winners will represent Alabama in San Antonio at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Achievement Award competition during the organization’s 2015 annual meeting.
For more information about the Young Farmers program, visit AlfaYoungFarmers.org.
The Edwards of Russell County
The beaches of South Florida seem a world away from the farm landscape of south Russell County, but Miami-native-turned-farmer Greg Edwards knows both well.
When he bought an abandoned 15-house poultry farm in Pittsview eight years ago, Greg was chasing a childhood dream. That dream of becoming a farmer turned into a reality and a blessing.
“It drives me every day to think about how many people I’m feeding,” Greg said. “It makes me happy in the morning when I wake up and don’t dread going to work. The farm is my second home.”
Greg, his wife, Michele, and children, Grayson and Lily, are finalists in the 2014 Outstanding Young Farm Family contest. With little farming knowledge when he moved to Alabama, Greg got his feet wet in the poultry industry working with a company that installed poultry house equipment. Flying E Farms took off from there.
“We got seven houses running and had our first flock in August 2006,” Greg said. “By the end of 2006, the other eight houses were in operation. Since then, it’s been steady rolling. We also cut about 75 acres of hay each year.”
Michele, a nurse in Eufaula, grew up in the city. She said she’s grown to love country life.
“It was hard to get used to,” said the North Carolina native. “I honestly didn’t know what to expect. When he told me he had 15 chicken houses, I pictured little hen houses. I was shocked when he showed me his farm at first, but over time, I’ve become amazed at the entire process.”
The couple’s three- and four-year-old children enjoy being Dad’s farmhands.
“They have fun playing on the farm, and they’re learning from it,” said Greg.
The Edwards say they hope to expand their farm into other commodities and want to share their passion for rural living and farming.
“Young people can begin farming on their own if they have the drive,” she said. “A lot of people think they can’t get into it unless they already have the resources, and that’s not true. Look at us.”
The Henrys of Montgomery County
Fourth-generation farmer Garrett Henry is constantly looking for ways to beef up his farm, and he’s not afraid to try new things.
“My family grew up in the dairy business and transitioned to beef cattle in the late 90s,” said Garrett, a Montgomery County native. “As the beef cattle business expanded, my interest in staying on the farm began to grow.”
Garrett, his wife Emily, and their children Paige, 7, and Mason, 3, are finalists in the 2014 Outstanding Young Farm Family competition. He has a four-pronged approach to his beef cattle farm that includes a cow-calf operation, registered Angus cattle and a herd sire lease program. Most of his time, however, involves pre-conditioning beef cattle, which includes weaning, vaccinations and introducing young calves to feed on their Pintlala farm.
“Right now is a great time to be in the beef cattle business because beef prices are at an all-time high and corn and grain prices are down,” Garrett said. “Profit margins are strong, and it looks like this trend is going to continue for a few years.”
Aside from running an 1,100-acre cattle farm, Garrett recently partnered with Justin Barrett of Elmore County to form River Region Beef. The two young farmers met through the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Agricultural Leaders For Alabama program.
River Region Beef is a farm-to-fork-style retail meat business that markets and sells beef from cattle raised on their farms. Their slogan is “From our gate, to your plate.”
“We both have been doing this on our farms for several years,” Garrett said. “We wanted to take our businesses to the next level, and that’s when River Region Beef came about. It’s allowed us to connect to the public and educate others about what we are doing on the farm.”
Garrett and Emily say plans for future expansion are focused on the meat business.
“I’m home full-time now,” Emily said. “I plan to help with marketing, sales and deliveries with River Region Beef. It’s taken off quickly, and we are excited about where this business is going to go.”
With a new homestead on the farm, the couple say they’re happy with where life is taking them.
“I love what I do,” Garrett said. “Feeding the world is something I look forward to every day.”
The Walkers of Lauderdale County
The nearly 200-year-old Walker family farm has seen a lot of changes in recent years, but James Walker credits that change to past generations.
“Our family settled here in 1824,” James said. “Me and my brother, Robert ‘Bud’ Walker, are the sixth generation. We’ve grown up here in the bend of the river where every generation has built upon our past. We try to be good stewards of what God has have given us.”
James, his wife, Rosa, and their four children, Reed, 10, Andrew, 9, Sara, 4, and Lucas, 21 months, live north of Florence in Lauderdale County. They are finalists in the Outstanding Young Farm Family contest. Their farm has 3,000 acres of row crops, 200 head of cattle and 20 horses.
“We have a big family,” James said. “We have a good time, and our kids love being on the farm. Reed is 10 and is already starting to ask questions about where he can go to school to continue farming. This past week the older children helped me at the grain bins and rode in the combines. Rosie will bring them out for a picnic in the field. They’re definitely coming along and will hopefully be the next generation of farmers.”
Rosa, from Laredo, Texas, said she never thought she’d end up on a farm, but her father moved to Florence after serving as a translator for Alabamians going to Mexico on mission trips.
“My parents ended up moving here, and shortly after that I moved here,” she said. “I met James through some friends at church.”
Rosa said growing up in the city is different, but she loves the peaceful farm life.
“I remember coming home one night late after church, and I turned on the road—there was a cow in the middle of the street,” she laughed. “And I thought ‘Wow, I never would have imagined that.’”
James said the farm focused on cotton for nearly 150 years. He said his father, who is now semi-retired, saw the benefits of crop rotation and implemented the practice.
Now, James said, they haven’t planted cotton for three years.
“I’m very proud of the fact my grandfather and father were progressive thinkers,” James said. “My dad is the youngest of seven, and when he was six they moved to town because granddaddy saw how important education was. My dad wanted to make sure his kids could get the best possible education.”
James said that decision eventually led him to get a degree in business management after seeing the importance of being able to market his crops.
“As a child I was taught how to operate our farm on a daily basis, and that allowed me to be more efficient at marketing our products, too,” he said.
James said adding new technology to the farm might be the innovation his children can build upon.
“I laugh, because if I’ve got questions about my iPhone, I ask my 3-year-old,” he said. “Sara shows me how to do things with it.”