On Monday, the Alabama Farmers Federation declared White Plains couple Jon and Amy Hegeman winners of the 2012 Outstanding Young Farm Family Award. The annual prize goes to farmers between the ages of 18 and 35 who work to promote agriculture within their communities and raise awareness for farming concerns in urban areas.
The Hegemans operate eight acres of greenhouses off Alabama 9, an operation that Jon began managing in 2008. His wife, Amy, trains, raises and sells horses on the farm, as well as offers riding lessons.
Melissa Martin, a communications director with the Alabama Farmers Federation, said the criteria for winning the award varies, but strong leadership and community outreach are key components.
“We’re looking for community support and people who can really promote the agriculture to those communities,” Martin said.
Jon, already a chairman for the Federation’s Young Farmer program, said farming has always been part of his life, but a growing number of people his age don’t often realize the importance of supporting farms in their community.
“People in my generation don’t know enough about agriculture,” Hegeman said. “If I wasn’t doing it, I wouldn’t know either.”
That’s why outreach is such a large part of the award, Jon said. Most of the farm’s horse-riding customers come from more urban areas, Jon said, and provide the couple a chance to talk about economic and political concerns farmers face. The biggest problems, Jon said, are an ever-shrinking number of the population becoming farmers and the ever-increasing age of current farmers in the country.
“I was just thinking the other day, when’s the last time somebody thanked a farmer,” Jon said. “Those clothes you’re wearing, that’s because of a farmer. The food you eat, all that stuff. Most kids these days think it just comes from Walmart.”
But besides his age, Jon, who turned 30 this year, said he’s something of a unique story for the agricultural world because of his background. Born in the Dominican Republic to parents working in ministry, Hegeman said unlike many farmers he wasn’t born into the agricultural world, but gained an appreciation experiencing firsthand the work farmers in the rural parts of the country provided.
“It’s my passion,” Jon said. “I don’t know what else to do. I can’t go get a job in town.”
All of the plants grown in the Hegemans’ greenhouses are contracted to companies throughout the East Coast, as far north as Connecticut, meaning everything grown has already been sold. Most of the ferns are shipped to other, larger greenhouses without room of their own for the plants.
“We took something that was inefficient for large greenhouses to do and made an efficient way for us to do it,” Jon said.
The Alabama Farmers Federation has awarded the Outstanding Young Farm Family Award since 1957. Applications for the award are selected in February and narrowed down to finalists in June and July. As this year’s recipients, the Hegemans received a 2013 Chevrolet pickup.
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.