by Danielle Beard
Parsons, Kansas —
For the past 65 years Benton County, Arkansas has been recognizing outstanding farm families in the community. This years winners Keith and Georgia Harper, of Gentry, Ark., are no exception when it comes to the list of hard-working families that have been selected for this award in year’s past.
Benton County Extension Agent Staff Chair, Robert Seay said in counties like Benton and Washington where there are in excess of 2,000 farm families, the Farm Family Selection Committee looks for a family that is aggressive in the farming industry, but also community orientated and involved in activities away from the farm.
Seay adds, throughout the years he’s never known a family that didn’t approach being selected for Benton Co. Farm Family of the year with full modesty.
“That’s the kind of response you want,“ he explains. “Families that do what they do and are humble about it and believe there is a better choice out there. That always makes us feel good about our choice, because modesty is a good attribute.”
The farm family program shows what farm families do to highlight the community by looking at the involvement of not only the husband and wife but also the involvement of their children on the farm. The children’s activities outside of the farm in organizations such as 4-H or FFA are something the committee looks at as well.
Seay said with as many farm families as the county has it is hard to recognize some outstanding families before their children are grown, the Harper family being one.
Although their three girls are grown and gone, Keith and Georgia are still prominent figures in the community. Georgia serves as one of the main 4-H leaders in Gentry.
She said when their daughters were in the 4-H program there were only around 15 others kids, but throughout the time she has been there the club has grown to 50-60 kids.
Humbly she credits the involvement of the parents for the clubs growth.
“I’ll have as many parents in a meeting as kids, sometimes more,” Harper said. “It’s just really helped the club grow, because there are more people who are involved to say ‘I know how to do this, or I have this experience so I can help the kids in this project area.’ We have a diverse group of parents and leaders that do a lot of different things, so it’s been a neat experience.”
The Harper’s agreed they have stayed involved with the 4-H program because it had the most impact on their own daughters.
“We felt like if we could continue to contribute to other families it would be a way to pay back,” Harper said.
Along with their involvement in 4-H and the community, the Harper family operates their own broiler chicken farm on 10 acres.
According to Seay, this size of operation is fairly typical for the Ozark area.
“When you look at the size of the operation it doesn’t raise eyebrows,” Seay said. “But a lot of farms in northwest Arkansas are small scale operations.”
He adds that it just goes to show a family can survive on a small operation in this area.
Seay said what he and other committee members noticed about the Harper family was their level of involvement.
“Bottom line, you can find a chicken farm on every corner in northwest Arkansas,” he said. “It was the level of activity this family has in the community that stood out.”
He continued to say that they are the type to operate at a low level.
“Georgia and Keith have never wanted the lime light but have done a massive amount of work,” Seay said. “You know you’ve made a great selection when people will say ‘that’s just a great family,’ and also a lot of strong 4-H youth have come out of the Gentry program.”
Part of receiving Benton Co. Farm Family of the year is participating in Media Day. This event gives members of the press along with friends and family a chance to come out to the winning family’s farm, look around the operation, interview and mingle with the family, as well as watch the family receive proclamations and documents of appreciation.
Seay said the committee started Media Day 15 years ago in order to open up farms to the public and center the spotlight on the family.
“Benton Co. Farm Family Media Day is the one day a year when agriculture is brought to the front of media,” he said. “It gives us a chance to remind folks that we are family farms not large corporate farms.”
The Harper family said for them, Media Day was busy and exciting. Both Keith and Georgia have been to past winners Media Day’s and said for them to get to experience it from the other side was a whole new world.
They said they have so much gratitude and feel blessed to live in such a supportive community.
In the future they feel Farm Family recipients should have a guest book at Media Day.
“It was so busy that day and with all the interviews there were people who came to Media Day that we didn’t have the opportunity to talk to,” Georgia said. “It would’ve been nice to have had a guest book so we could thank everyone who came out to show support.”
Looking back, Keith said he wouldn’t do anything different.
“We always wanted to raise our family on a farm, and I’m glad we had that opportunity,” he said. “I was told once, when my daughters were little, to not ever forget that your children are your first crop, and it’s something that stuck with me.”£