By Marlana Ward
Johnson County’s roots in agriculture go back for several generations. This deep connection to the past makes it especially exciting that this year’s FFA American Star in Agribusiness is Taylor Long, a Shady Valley native whose family has been farming the fertile land of Johnson County for many years.
The award is a highly sought after honor that is desired by many but awarded to few. The award’s purpose and merit is listed on the FFA website with the following description: “Each year one member with the best non-production entrepreneurial agri-business SAE and proven leadership skills is selected to be the American Star in Agribusiness. Four national finalists compete for this prestigious award, the highest achievement for a person pursuing a career in agribusiness.”
Taylor’s love and special aptitude for agriculture started at a very young age.
“I began working on the farm at a very young age,” Taylor shared of her beginnings in the farm life. “I loved checking cows and riding horses with my dad along with milking the cows with my uncle and feeding calves with my papaw.”
The valuable experience Taylor gained from her family’s involvement in agriculture throughout her childhood made her desire to pursue work within the field a natural fit.
“As I have grown, my dad and nana have been agriculture technicians at the Aquacenter so I have visited there many times as a kid and since then I have always known I wanted to join the agriculture program and join the FFA,” explained Taylor. “When I became a freshman FFA member, I had to decide on an SAE which is a Supervised Agriculture Experience and is basically
what kind of agriculture I’m involved in at home. My SAE was in fruit production so I partnered with my nana in her jam and jelly business, ‘Aunt Charlene’s Homemade Jams and Jellies.’”
It has been Taylor’s involvement with her grandmother’s fruit jam and jelly business that has set her apart from other young agriculturalists in East Tennessee.
The work begins with the care of the vines, trees, and plants that provide the sweet fruits to be preserved and enjoyed later.
Taylor’s responsibilities with the plants include pruning, pest control, and replacing plants when the time comes. It is this careful care that has made the family’s preservation efforts successful for generations. The recipe which Taylor and her grandmother use for their delicious jams and jellies is also a part of their agricultural heritage handed down through the years.
Taylor’s work also includes the designing and production of labels for the fruit spreads in preparation for sale. The family’s tasty offerings can be found at area shops and farmers markets. Taylor expressed her favorite part of interacting with the public at the markets: “I love attending farmers markets and festivals throughout East Tennessee sharing my knowledge and advocating for agriculture.”
In addition to her enthusiasm for the family business, Taylor has a passion for teaching the public about what it truly meansto be involved with the FFA.
“FFA is more than just a ‘farming club’,” Taylor stated. “It has been my goal as an FFA officer to get rid of that slogan. FFA is about educating students to become future leaders of this world. FFA provides students with premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.”
Taylor has been involved with the FFA program for all four years she has been eligible. She took on the added responsibility as club reporter and later chapter president to be a positive influence in the club she holds so dear.
“FFA has helped me grow as a leader, speaker and a person,” she said. “I have loved every second I’ve been involved in FFA.”
As she has grown through the experiences of her youth, Taylor is extremely thankful for those who surround her and support her.
“I would like to thank my advisers, mentors, and technicians for everything they have taught and instilled in me these past four years,” she expressed. “Also to my big, wonderful family for all their continued support in every aspect of my FFA career!”