Arkansas Farm Family of the Year Program
The Arkansas Farm Family of the Year program was started in 1947 to recognize the importance of the farm family and agriculture in the continuing development of the state. It is the longest-running farm family recognition program in the country.
The primary emphasis of the program is recognizing county farm families and the importance of agriculture in the county. The specific objectives of the program are, first, to recognize and encourage farm families who are doing an outstanding job in farming, homemaking, and community leadership; second, to highlight the importance of agriculture to the economy of the community and the state; and third, to disseminate information on improved farm practices and effective farm and home management. The selection of district families and a state family is incidental to the county recognition. County families, district families, and the state family are not referred to as “winners,” as this is not supposed to be a competition but a recognition program.
Any farm family may be considered by county committees to represent their county in the annual program. Committees usually are made up of the county extension agent, the publisher of the county newspapers (or publishers, if there are more than one), and other people working in or otherwise interested in agriculture. Committees select families in June and July to represent their counties. Each family fills out a comprehensive report book, covering their history of farming experience, farm production (crops, livestock, pastures, marketing), farm and family financial management (record keeping system, managing expenses, financial management), environmental and conservation efforts (energy management), family life (foods, home improvements, home furnishings, energy management, clothing, landscaping), and leadership and community service.
Three-person judging teams visit every county farm family within eight districts (eight to ten counties) over three days in August to select District Farm Families of the Year. Then, in September, another three-person team visits each of the eight District Farm Families over four days and selects one of them as the State Farm Family of the Year. The announcement is usually made the first or second Friday in December, Arkansas Farm Family Day.
Ross Mauney, who joined Arkansas Power and Light (AP&L—now known as Entergy) from the County Extension Service, is given credit for starting the agriculture program that led to today’s Arkansas Farm Family of the Year program. His idea was to promote agriculture in the state as a natural outgrowth of AP&L’s building power lines in rural Arkansas. Most other states had some sort of agriculture program, but Arkansas did not. The Arkansas Press Association (APA) joined AP&L as an original co-sponsor. Other co-sponsors were various divisions of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Services (UACES), and the Arkansas Department of Workforce Education. In 2003, the Arkansas Farm Bureau was added as a co-sponsor, and in 2005, it became one of the lead sponsors, with APA and Entergy. Late in 2006, the three farm credit services in Arkansas joined the program as sponsors.
The original program was called the Arkansas Balanced Farm Program. There were three divisions: Tenant and Sharecropper, Landowner, and Plantation. In addition, tenants and sharecroppers had a Home Improvement Division. The first-place in the Landowner Division was considered the Arkansas State Farm Family of the Year. In 1960, this multi-division format was abandoned as too complicated, and the several divisions were combined into one, the present format. There was a separate Negro Division of the original program, but it was discontinued in the mid-1960s.
The annual Farm Family Day has been officially proclaimed by each governor, from year to year. The day usually consists of slides shown of each county farm family in the morning, an awards luncheon honoring the eight district farm families and announcing the state family, and a reception with the governor in the afternoon. The day’s activities were held for many years at a Little Rock (Pulaski County) hotel. In 1980, when the 4-H Educational Center was completed near Ferndale (Pulaski County), west of Little Rock, the day’s activities were moved there and have been held there ever since.
In late 2006, the Arkansas Farm Family of the Year program joined the Southeastern Farmer of the Year program. That program, established in 1990, now has ten participating states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia). The Arkansas State Farm Family will be eligible for the regional program, which awards cash prizes to state finalists and to the regional farmer of the year. The regional family is announced each October at the annual Sunbelt Agricultural Exposition in Moultrie, Georgia.
For additional information:
“Farm Family of the Year.” Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation. http://www.arfb.com/pages/get-involved/farm-family/ (accessed May 30, 2018).
C. Dennis Schick
North Little Rock, Arkansas
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