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63rd Annual Farm-City Banquet Honors Agricultural Excellence Across Watauga County

C&J Tree Farms was chosen as the Conservation Farm Family of the Year Award winners presented by Denny Norris of the Watauga Soul and Water Conservation Board.

By Nathan Ham

A sellout crowd gathered at Boone United Methodist Church on Thursday for the 63rd Annual Farm-City Banquet.

The theme for this year’s banquet was “High Country Grown” that included even the catering and the gift baskets with all items from somewhere in the High Country.

The Farm-City movement started in 1955 when a train conversation between Charles Dana Bennett, a Vermont businessman and Merle H. Tucker, the Chairman of the Kiwanis International Agriculture and Conservation Committee, discussed the troubles that agricultural business were facing, the strong urban influence on agricultural policies and the decline in family farming. Both men felt that the relationships between “the farm and the city” needed to be better, thus the creation of the National Farm-City Committee created by Kiwanis International. The Kiwanis Club continued to lead the committee until 1988 when the American Farm Bureau Federation took over coordination of the committee.

“This banquet and this tradition here in Watauga has a history behind it that we’re proud to continue, and we’re proud of the many organizations and businesses in the community that support this banquet and what it represents,” said David Jackson, who was the emcee for the event.

Jim Hamilton, the Watauga County Cooperative Extension Director, has been part of the Farm-City Banquet for 16 years when he first started as the Christmas Tree Extension Agent for Watauga County.

“Farm-City Banquet provides an opportunity for us to recognize individuals that are working tirelessly to improve our local agricultural economy and members of the community that support them. These include men, women, youth, organizations and others who don’t get their name in the spotlight, per se, but who are the unsung heroes in our community,” said Hamilton. “That’s the beauty of Farm-City, despite political or demographic differences, it brings the community together, they share a meal, and it reminds everyone that we are one community despite our differences.”

Country music singer and songwriter Radney Foster was the special guest for the evening. Foster has been performing since 1986, both as a solo artist and alongside duo partner Bill Lloyd.

Following a dinner catered by Lost Province Brewing Company, awards winners were announced. Awards included Christmas Tree Grower of the Year, Cattleman of the Year, Beekeeper of the Year, L.E. Tuckwiller Award, Woman in Agriculture Award, Youth in Agriculture Award, Friend of Agriculture Award, Healthy Food System Award, Agriculture in Arts Award and Farm Family of the Year Award.

The first award was a special recognition for Paige Patterson, the Cooperative Extension’s Horticulture Agent.

“Each year the Watauga County Christmas Tree Association recognizes one of their fellow growers who has implemented an innovative new practice or business model, or a choose-and-cut grower who deserves recognition for their service to the board and the mission of the association. Every now and then, though, the growers recognize someone who may not be a tree farmer, but who has gone above and beyond to assist the industry here in the county to prosper and continue the long tradition of tree-farming here in Watauga County,” Hamilton said.

Patterson was not at the event due to her sister giving birth in Georgia.

“Paige came to Watauga four years ago as a part-time, temporary Extension Agent to help rebuild the county’s Master Gardener program. Today, Watauga now has the strongest corps of incredible Master Gardeners that we’ve ever had,” said Hamilton. “Along with her devotion to the Master Gardeners, in a very short period of time she has created a strong network of growers in the county’s Christmas tree Association who consider Paige a resource for their production questions and as a friend. She has helped two producers receive grant funding to improve their choose and cut farms, she has coordinated the Western Youth Network’s Festival of Trees program with the Association, and is always the first person to volunteer to help a grower figure out what’s wrong with their trees.”

The Watauga Cattlemen Association recognized Perry Isaacs as the Cattleman of the Year. Rusty Henson was on hand to present the award.

“Perry has been involved in farming all of his life. He has been in farming for three generations and that’s what farming is all about,” Henson said.

The Watauga Beekeeper’s Association recognized James Wilkes as the Beekeeper of the Year and Mary Williams, a former president of the association, was pleased to give Wilkes his award.

“James has a large family and all of his family have beekeeping chores, passing along the tradition that he learned from his father,” said Williams.

The next award was the L.E. Tuckwiller Award, presented to the Digital Watauga Project. Bettie Bond was on hand to accept the award for the project.

“The L.E. Tuckwiller Award is sponsored and presented by the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce in recognition of outstanding efforts in community development. L.E. Tuckwiller was one of the county’s first Extension Agents who served Watauga for over 30 years in agriculture,” said Jackson, who in addition to his emcee duties for the evening, is also the President of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce. “The Digital Watauga Project is a collaborative effort between the Watauga County Historical Society and the Watauga County Public Library to preserve and display the High Country’s archival memory. Currently, there are over 5,000 historic photos that have been scanned and are available at digitalwatauga.org.”

Jessica Lawrence Miller was given the Woman in Agriculture Award for her work at the Tester Dairy Farm in Zionville.

“You’ll find Jessica milking and feeding cows twice daily, moving cows to and from pasture, feeding and caring for calves, cleaning stalls and daily tractor work. Then it’s off to the Mast Store in Valle Crucis where she works a full-time job,” said Courtney Baines, who presented the award to Miller.

This year’s Youth in Agriculture Award had a special twist to it. Normally, the award is given to a young man or woman who made significant contributions to local agriculture. This year, the award was given to triplet sisters: Sydney, Elizabeth and Laramie Ward.

Olivia Haigler is a teacher and FFA advisor at Watauga High School and she presented the sisters with their award.

“They are very different individuals, they have similarities, but I would say the one thing that they do share in common is their love for agriculture and their love for animals,” said Haigler. “All three girls have been actively involved in FFA since they were freshman and have attended many leadership conferences, the national convention and competed in different competitions.”

Next up, the Friend of Agriculture Award went to the High Country Food Hub’s Shannon Carroll. David Jackson presented her with the award.

“Most days, you can find Shannon Carroll at the High Country Food Hub, a storage facility and online farmers’ market that features over 500 locally raised and produced products, helping farmers unload and inventory their products, talking with customers about why local food matters and asking how their families are doing, leading a group of young interns and teaching them how to work with local food, or sitting alone in the space on her computer to make sure the online marketplace runs on time and products are updated,” Jackson said. “Without Shannon, our community wouldn’t have an innovative online marketplace. She goes above and beyond to help make the Food Hub successful. She was a key player in the creation of the online marketplace and is committed to helping farmers increase their income by providing affordable freezer, cold and dry storage space and connecting with new customers through the online sales platform.”

Carroll moved to Boone in 1983 after she spent a year teaching biology on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. She retired from Watauga County Schools in 2013 with over 30 years of experience providing support for instructional technology in the school system.

Carroll also volunteers her time outside of the Food Hub. She has volunteered with the Lettuce Learn garden program at Parkway School and cooks a monthly meal at the Hospitality House. She lends a helping hand to her husband’s business, SunCatcher Passive Solar Greenhouse and recently earned her Master Gardener certification.

The next presentation was for the Healthy Food System Award, given to Elena Dalton of the F.A.R.M. Café.

Shari Smith of Working Title Farm was presented with the Agriculture in Arts Award.

“The recipient of this years’ Agriculture in Arts award comes from a farming background and is a Farmer in every metaphorical sense of the word. And she’s a lot more than that to the folks that have been lucky enough to share some time and creative space with her,” said Hamilton. “While these days, she’s busy supporting writers, musicians, and artists all across the Southeast as part of her Trio Project, and nurturing the creativity of her fellow farmers at the Southern Literary Church Camp gatherings she hosts at the farm just over the mountain, she is also the author of stuff published all over the place as well her own collection of stories ‘I am a Town’”.

The final award of the night was given to Jeff and Cecilia Brown of C&J Tree Farms as the Conservation Farm Family of the Year Award.

“They have been farming in the county for decades. Over the last five years Jeff and his family have been really active in implementing the best practices for soil and water conservation on their farm,” Hamilton said. “They reestablished clover as a ground cover on their farm and have improved the infrastructure and parking for their choose and cut farm. They were also 2018 recipients of the WNC AgOptions Grant for their choose and cut operations.”

Hamilton said that C&J Tree Farms is one of the busiest choose and cut farms in the county. 

This event would not be possible each year without the sponsorship support and the generous donations for door prizes.

The sponsor list is below

Gold sponsors: New River Building Supply/Perry Yates, Southern Ag/Mike Presnell, Mast General Store/John and Faye Cooper.

Silver sponsors: Hollar and Greene Produce/Keith Honeycutt and Tim Greene, Carolina Farm Credit/Vickie Young, BREMCO/Susan Jones, Watauga Christmas Tree Association.

Bronze sponsors: Todd Combs, Inc., Watauga Cattlemen’s Association, Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, PHARMN/Laura Graham and Bill Moretz.

Door prizes provided by: Apple Hill Farm, Bettie Bond, Critcher Brothers Produce, Four Prongs Ginseng, Goodnight Brothers, High Country Food Hub, Moretz Mountain Orchard, Richard Tumbleston, Stick Boy Bread Co., Watauga County Beekeeper’s Association, Working Title Farm.

Music provided by: Radney Foster, Ian and Kelly Sheets Snider.

The 63rd Annual Farm-City Banquet at Boone United Methodist Church was a sellout.
Catering was provided by Lost Province Brewing Company.
Door prizes were handed out thanks to several sponsors. David Jackson (left), Jim Hamilton (center) and members of the FFA helped draw out door prize winners. 
Perry Isaacs was named the Cattleman of the Year. Rusty Henson presented him the award.
James Wilkes was named Beekeeper of the Year. Mary Williams presented James with the award.
Bettie Bond accepts the award for the Digital Watauga Project which was chosen for the L.E. Tuckwiller Award. David Jackson presented the award.
Jessica Lawrence Miller was awarded the Woman in Agriculture Award. Courtney Baines presented the award.
Triplet sisters Sydney, Elizabeth and Laramie Ward were presented with their Youth in Agriculture Award. Olivia Haigler presented the students with the award.
Shannon Carroll receives her Friend of Agriculture Award. David Jackson presented the award.
Elena Dalton received the Healthy Food System Award.
Shari Smith was awarded the Agriculture in Arts Award. Jim Hamilton presented the award.
Shari Smith introduces Radney Foster.

Special guest Radney Foster played some tunes for the audience. Shari Smith joined Radney for a song.
C&J Tree Farms was chosen as the Conservation Farm Family of the Year Award winners presented by Denny Norris of the Watauga Soul and Water Conservation Board.