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Milk matters

Luncheon kicks off a month of promoting dairy and American dairymen
Story and photos by Hannah Nave 6/28/2018


Project winner Abigail Ferguson and others enjoyed Hatcher Family Dairy chocolate milk during the June Dairy Month Kickoff luncheon hosted by the Hatcher family at their event center on Battle Mountain Farm.
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June is Dairy Month in Tennessee! On May 30, more than 100 farmers, 4-Hers, and agriculture leaders gathered together at the 2018 Tennessee June Dairy Month Kickoff at Battle Mountain Farm in College Grove to celebrate Tennessee’s dairies and the importance of milk. Agriculture and milk lovers joined to recognize dairy supporters and contest winners, promote the June Dairy Month chairman of each county, hear the inspiring words of former Tennessee Titan George Wilson, and honor Jimmy Hopper, retired assistant commissioner for Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA)’s Consumer and Industry Services, with the Outstanding Dairy Promoter Award.

Celeste Blackburn, president of American Dairy Association of Tennessee, opened the luncheon with spirited remarks and high praise for the many young faces on hand showing their interest in dairy promotion. Blackburn reflected on her time in 4-H and stressed the positive impact the organization has on Tennessee and thousands of students across the world. She congratulated Tennessee 4-H and its 4-Hers for their promotion and involvement in the dairy industry.

“The future for dairy will be bright because of this generation,” said Blackburn. “Agriculture and America will all be okay because of our youth.”

Jeff Aiken, president of Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation, introduced guest speaker Wilson, who played for the Titans in 2013 and 2014 after spending eight seasons with the Buffalo Bills. Originally from Paducah, Ky., Wilson has received the Special Teams Captain Award, was a nominee for the Sportsmanship Award, and earned the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2009 and 2011. Wilson is currently beginning an agritourism operation in southwest Kentucky.

“Farm work is a grueling, tough, unrelenting job,” said Wilson. “Anybody who has ever labored in a field knows what that entails. Thank you for sharing your time and resources for these programs. Thank you, dairy farmers.”

Wilson’s inspirational speech encouraged audience members to find their passion, pursue it, and work hard to see it to


“What is your ‘why’?’” asked Wilson. “What encourages you to do what you do?”

In spite of setbacks and disappointments, Wilson made it to the National Football League through persistence and hard work. He was not recruited to a Southeastern Conference school as he had hoped but worked hard enough to earn a spot as a walk-on at the University of Arkansas. He explained how he was always the first one in the gym and last to leave the field every day. After graduating, he was not drafted but signed with the Detroit Lions as a free agent before moving on to the Bills. At the beginning he was not even allowed to dress out but eventually earned a starting position.

His first game as a starter was against the Dallas Cowboys, playing a position he had not played since high school.

“I not only got an interception, I got a touchdown,” he said. “It felt like a little piece of heaven because those 15 or 16 seconds are what I had waited on for a lifetime. It made those years of labor and practice and hard work all worth it.”

Prior to Wilson’s speech, Jeff Mitchell, University of Tennessee Extension animal science specialist and statewide dairy youth coordinator, recognized the Dairy Bowl participants and winning teams. Dairy Bowl is a contest to test junior high and senior high 4-Hers’ knowledge of dairy production. The State Champion Junior High team was from Williamson County and coached by Wendy Lamb. Team members were Will Poynor, Sam Lamb, Hannah Osborne, and Presley Noland. The State Champion Senior High team was from Marshall County and coached by Julie Giles. Team members were Jacob Gillespie, Jacob Johns, Jayme Ozburn, and Ella Strasser. The Senior High team will represent Tennessee at the National Dairy Quiz Bowl in November at the North American Livestock Exposition in Louisville, Ky.

Following the awards, Justin Crowe, Tennessee 4-H Extension specialist, provided an overview of National 4-H Congress and introduced the three winners of dairy and nutrition related projects:

Ashley Bell, Weakley County’s Dairy Project state winner, is a senior at Dresden High School. Bell is involved in dairy through generations of her family raising cattle, showing dairy cattle, and selling through the American Jersey Club.

“Through showing dairy cattle,” she said, “I have learned leadership and responsibility, as well as other important life skills.”

Abigail Ferguson, Claiborne County’s Nutrition, Health, and Fitness Project state winner, has been involved with dairy promotion through nutrition and encourages young people to have a balanced plate that includes milk, cheese, yogurt, or other dairy products. During her speech, Ferguson encouraged the new June Dairy Month chairs to utilize all forms of media — television, radio, newspaper, and social media —to share the importance of real milk.

Kathryn Fellhoelter, Loudon County’s Nutrition, Health, and Fitness Project state winner, shared her experiences as her county’s June Dairy Month chair person.

“June Dairy Month gave me the chance to be more involved in this vital industry,” she said. “I learned so much.”

State Poster Contest winners were recognized. They are Caitlin Dunn, Williamson County, first place; Aiden Crider, Dickson County, second place; and Raegan Davis, Montgomery County, third place.

Others honored were the 43 June Dairy Month chairs across the state. As they promote milk and dairy products throughout the month, the chairs can draw inspiration from Wilson’s words to find their “why” for promoting the necessary industry of agriculture and dairy production.

To conclude the luncheon, Blackburn presented the prestigious Outstanding Dairy Promoter Award to retired TDA Assistant Commissioner Jimmy Hopper.

“He served the citizens of Tennessee for 32 years at the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.” said Blackburn. “Without him, I don’t know what kind of shape we’d be in, but because of him we are in much better shape. He is an unsung hero of Tennessee agriculture.”

After receiving the award, Hopper shared brief remarks with the audience.

“If you’re looking for a role-model occupation or profession, you want to know a dairy farmer.” Hopper said. “There is no other profession that is as dedicated, has higher work ethic, or cares more about their animals, their plants, and their products.”

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