John Keller has been working the land for 50 years

 

John Keller, TN Farmer of the Year for 2014

​Blount County's John Keller has been named Tennessee Farmer of the Year for 2014 by University of Tennessee Extension. Keller is a third generation farmer and operates Kelmont Farms with his wife Susan and their son Sam. Photo by J. Wilson, courtesy UT Institute of Agriculture. Download image

 


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – He’s raised cattle; harvested corn, soybeans, hay and wheat; and even sold beef directly to consumers. Now, after 50 years on the farm, and counting, Blount County’s John Keller has been named the Tennessee Farmer of the Year by University of Tennessee Extension.

A third-generation farmer, Keller is owner and operator of Kelmont Farms near Maryville. With the help of his wife Susan and son Sam, he oversees some 780 acres and 70+ cattle.

Keller was nominated by John Wilson, director of Blount County UT-TSU Extension. Farmers from all across the state were nominated for the honor by their county extension agents. Keller was introduced as the Tennessee Farmer of the Year on March 20 at the Tennessee Executive Residence as part of an omelet cook-off sponsored by the Farm and Forest Families of Tennessee. The cookoff “kicked off” the state’s celebration of Tennessee agriculture, which culminated at Ag Day on the Hill, an event at the Tennessee General Assembly on National Ag Day, March 25. Keller will also be recognized at the Tennessee Farm Bureau Presidents’ Conference in August and at the UT Institute of Agriculture Ag Day in Knoxville in October. 

Jason Fewell, assistant professor of agricultural and resource economics, was among the UT Extension faculty who set the standards for the award. “The Tennessee Farmer of the Year represents the best of our state practitioners who not only run a profitable farming business but are also excellent stewards of their resources and the environment and leaders in their communities. The Farmer of the Year must also be an ambassador for a business and way of life that is absolutely essential to our national standard of living but which is no longer understood by the majority of Americans,” Fewell said.  “John Keller certainly meets those criteria.”

B
lount County extension director John Wilson has this to say about Keller: “John is a conscientious and innovative farmer with a mind for the business, a ready hand for the farm task and a passion for the land and livestock.”

Keller says he was born into farming life. “My father was both a teacher and farmer and my two grandfathers were farmers. With this legacy and a fresh college degree in agriculture engineering from the University of Tennessee, I returned home in 1964 to take over the day to day management of Kelmont Farms,” he says proudly.  “I started with 210 owned acres and 78 rented acres, producing row-crops and beef cattle and forages.”  Keller was able to expand the farm over the years through purchases and inheritance and some rented acres.

Kelmont Farms is in every sense of the word a family farm. Keller’s wife Susan is an integral part of the operation. “My father was a huge help in getting me started and when I married in 1966 my father-in-law also mentored me,” Keller said. “After teaching school the first five years of our marriage, Susan came home to the farm to help and, as she states it, ‘To raise kids and run John Deere’s.’  We were pleased when our son Sam returned to the farm after college.”

The Keller's son Sam (John Samuel Keller, Jr.) is now vice president of the family-owned corporation and lives and works on the farm with his own family. Their daughter, Margaret, is a food research scientist with Nestle in Solon, Ohio.

In addition to their traditional row crops and livestock, the Kellers also produce miniature bales of straw and the specialty crop stalk-corn bundles, both of which find their way to retails outlets and local fairs and festivals in the late summer and fall. 

Perhaps the crop that has the most potential for the future has been Kelmont Farms’ agricultural outreach. Wilson says, “John has demonstrated a desire to promote the advancement of and appreciation for family farms in Tennessee. He and his family are ready at a moment’s notice to share the story of agriculture with the public.” 

Keller adds that he is always eager to tell his business’ story. “Agricultural education has been an activity through which we have reaped an enormous return in community outreach and increased understanding of agriculture,” he said. “Although not an enterprise we engage in for profit, we have been fortunate to host many school groups and adult community groups for the past 20 years. From kindergarten to senior adults, our patrons have expressed their wonder and amazement at what really takes place on the farm,” he said. Kelmont Farms has hosted as many as 1,400 school children in a single day for field trips and educational activities. “Our hope and desire is for these to carry this experience with them throughout their life with a sense of appreciation for the American farm family,” Keller said. 

Keller is a long-time member of the Blount County Farm Bureau, Foothills Farmers Cooperative, Smoky Mountain Feeder Calf Association, Blount County Mutual Fire and Blount County Livestock Association. He is presently a member of the Farm Credit Advisory Board. He is also a Blount County 4-H Volunteer Leader. On the state and national level, Keller participates with numerous professional agricultural groups.

As Tennessee Farmer of the Year, Keller will also compete in the Southeastern Farmer of the Year competition at the Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie, Georgia. That competition chooses from among the top farmers from 10 southeastern states and is sponsored by Swisher International, Inc. The award recognizes excellence in agricultural production and farm management, along with leadership in farm and community organizations. The award also honors family contributions in producing safe and abundant supplies of food, fiber and shelter products for U.S. consumers. The overall winner will be announced in October.

UT Extension provides a gateway to the University of Tennessee as the outreach unit of the Institute of Agriculture. With an office in every Tennessee county, UT Extension delivers educational programs and research-based information to citizens throughout the state. In cooperation with Tennessee State University, UT Extension works with farmers, families, youth and communities to improve lives by addressing problems and issues at the local, state and national levels.

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Contact:

John Wilson, Blount County Director, UT-TSU Extension, 865-982-6430, jawilson@utk.edu