Coastal breezes whisk across acres of diverse farmland in Elberta, the homestead of third-generation Baldwin County farmer John Bitto. It’s a regional characteristic he loves and a daily reminder, he said, to make the best use of the land he’s been blessed to tend.
“Water is essential to our livelihood in this part of the state,” said Bitto who, alongside wife Jennifer, is the Alabama Farmers Federation Outstanding Young Farm Family in the Peanut Division. “We use the best management practices we can to protect the land and water. We’re members of this community and know everything we have here is borrowed. When we pass it on to the next generation, we want things to be in great shape.”
The former State Young Farmers Committee chairman has been involved in some role on the farm his entire life, and it wasn’t until recently that he’s taken over the management role from his dad, Federation District Director David Bitto.
Today, John, 31, manages around 2,500 acres of row crops and pasture land. The diverse operation includes 650 acres of peanuts, 400 acres of soybeans, 350 acres of oats, 200 acres of grain sorghum, 200 acres of cotton, 550 acres of corn and 500 acres of browntop millet, along with 160 Angus-Simmental cows. He also planted 30-acres of fruits and vegetables to sell at local farmers markets and area restaurants.
“People are really embracing the ‘Buy Local’ campaign, especially those in my generation. They want to know where their food comes from and that it’s safe to eat,” said Bitto. “The number of people connected to farms has been in a steady decline over the years, but we’re seeing a change in that trend. We’re in a rural community, but we’ve talked with people who are establishing urban and niche farms. It’s great to see people with a growing respect for agriculture again. We can all work together to make the most of the land.”
Along with stewardship, the Bittos are advocates for agriculture and share their message with others whenever possible – including Baptist Hospital in Pensacola, where Jennifer is an orthopedic trauma physician’s assistant. Her job introduces her to new people… and even a few farmersâ€¦ each shift.
“Coworkers ask me questions about our farm and things they’ve seen in the news relating to agriculture. They’re curious about how it all works,” she said. “But I really enjoy helping farmers who’ve had a mishap. I’m a city girl who fell in love with a farmer and the rural lifestyle, and it helps me relate to them in some aspect. In different ways, John and I are both doing our part for agriculture.”
While the Bittos continue to look for ways to make the most of the land, they agree complacency isn’t an option.
“There’s always something new to learn, to try,” he said. “I’d love to sell produce directly on the farm one day, and I’d love to expand our acreage. It’s all about timing. In the meantime, we just do the best we can for our farm and our community.”