Sponsored each year by the Alabama Farmers Federation, the Outstanding Young Farm Family Awards Program recognizes young farmers between the ages of 18 and 35 who do an outstanding job on the farm and in the community.
Division winners representing 10 commodities were selected in February. Of those, six finalists will compete for the title of overall Outstanding Young Farm Family for 2012. The winner will be named at the Federation’s 91st annual meeting in December.
The overall winner will receive thousands of dollars in cash and prizes including: a nicely equipped 2013 Chevrolet or GMC pickup truck, courtesy of Alfa Insurance and Alabama Farmers Federation; a John Deere Gator XUV, courtesy of Alabama Farm Credit and Alabama Ag Credit; lease of a John Deere tractor, courtesy of SunSouth, TriGreen Equipment and Snead Ag dealers; and a personal computer system from Valcom/CTS Wireless. Alabama’s top young farm family will represent the state in the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Achievement Award competition at its January 2013 annual meeting in Nashville.
Three remaining division finalists are featured in this issue.
To say a rural lifestyle in Alabama was an unpredictable future for Jon Hegeman would be an understatement.
The son of missionaries, Jon’s childhood wasn’t spent like that of typical young Southern farmers, working alongside parents and grandparents in dusty fields.
His rural journey went from a small town in the Dominican Republic to working at a dairy farm in Canada and row crop farming in Florida. Getting a start working in agriculture on his own wasn’t an easy trek, but he never gave up.
“I knew I wanted to do this, but it didn’t take me long to realize just how difficult breaking into this world would be,” said Jon, whose determination helped him earn his place as the overall finalist in the Greenhouse, Nursery and Sod Division of the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Outstanding Young Farm Family contest alongside his wife, Amy, and nine-month-old daughter Ella Kate.
“Banks are hesitant to take risks on the young, so I had to seek out alternative methods that would still allow me to own my own business and put food on the table,” he said. “When an opportunity presented itself managing four acres of greenhouses in Calhoun County eight years ago, I took it.”
Over the course of a few years, those four acres grew to eight, which Jon manages in partnership with Greenway Plants. To ensure the operation remains strong and reduce financial risk, the nearly 350,000-square feet of ornamental accent plants and Boston ferns are pre-sold each year to larger nurseries and retail centers.
“Everything we grow here has already been contracted out,” explains Jon. “It helps us plan our year, make smarter decisions and make sure we have a sufficient team. With quality labor being such an uncertainty, it is a hard-to-find factor today.”
Though Amy helps Jon in the greenhouses when needed, she is primarily the face behind Hegeman Farms, a fairly new venture for the young couple. With four generations of West Texas ranching in her family, Amy says horses have always been an important part of her life. A few states now separate her from her equine roots, but Amy said she knew working with horses is something she wanted to continue.
“Jon and I both love horses, and this seemed like a natural progression,” explained Amy, who trains the horses and also offers riding lessons through Hegeman Farms. “We fluctuate in the number of horses we have, mostly because we want to spend as much time as we can with our daughter, but we always have plenty to keep us busy.”
Away from the greenhouses and stables, the Hegemans are members of Grace Fellowship Church. They are also active in the Calhoun County Young Farmers Committee and a slew of industry organizations. Jon, a graduate of the Federation’s second A.L.F.A. Leaders class, is a contestant in this year’s Discussion Meet competition.