Sowing the Seeds of Prosperity
Statesboro/Bulloch Chamber of Commerce Agribusiness Committee Promotes Area’s Largest Industry
It was at least a decade ago when the chair of the Statesboro Bulloch Chamber of Commerce’s Agribusiness Committee, Andrea Whitfield, began volunteering to promote Bulloch County’s largest industry. Whitfield, along with co-chairs Todd Faircloth and Brannen Smith, has seen the committee grow over time with the number of outreach opportunities that have been created to highlight area farmers and farming businesses.
“I joined the committee after coming to work at AgSouth,” said Whitfield. “I worked with Dewey Newton when I first started and I could see the importance of being involved with the farming community, our customers. I took a little break when I started selling crop insurance three years ago. Now, I work with farmers all the time, not just in Bulloch County, but in Jenkins, Emanuel, Screven, Evans, Bryan, Effingham, Chatham and parts of Tattnall.”
Bulloch is home to Whitfield. She was born and reared here and worked her way through college as a drive-thru teller at area banks. “I took classes during my lunch break and after work. At the bank I learned about dealing with the public and providing good customer service,” she said.
Whitfield’s parents, Steve and Maria Tanner, weren’t farmers, but her first cousins, Allen and Stacy Spence, (Bulloch County Farm Family of the Year in 2008), have spent their lives in agriculture.
“I’ve been around farming my entire life,” she said. “We would plant seeds just to be involved.”
Whitfield’s love for life on the farm led she and her husband, Jason, to purchase her childhood home in the Middleground area in which to raise their children.
“It’s really a blessing to be able to live and work in a community where Agriculture is such an important aspect of the overall economy,” she said. “Serving on the Agribusiness Committee gives me the opportunity to give back.
Co-chairs Brannen Smith and Todd Faircloth, also long-timers of the committee, feel the same.
“As a lifelong Statesboro and Bulloch County native, and now a local banker, I have been able to see firsthand how important our local Ag community and industry are to the Statesboro/Bulloch County community,”” said Smith. “The Ag industry makes up our largest economic driver and has a direct impact on the lives all of our residences, whether they realize it or not.”
Having long-serving members is one of the distinctive attributes of the Agribusiness Committee. This extended involvement allows the members to accomplish and build upon a yearly action plan of organizing and presenting programs that recognize the significance of Agribusiness in our area and in the state of Georgia.
“One of our newer programs is The Blessing of the Harvest Prayer Breakfast,” said Whitfield. “Area farm families and Agribusiness partners are invited to attend in August to pray for a good fall harvest and a good year. It is very moving to see the Ag community joined together in a circle, with each member taking turns praying for each other and the community as a whole. We try to involve all Ag people including chemical reps. Bill Tyson at the Cooperative Extension office helps us reach out to the extended farming community by promoting the event to his contacts.” According to Whitfield attendance has tripled since the Prayer Breakfast began.
This fall, the work of the Agribusiness Committee will be very visible to Bulloch County citizens with the production of a series of events aimed at promoting Agriculture and educating the public on its importance.
“The Agribusiness Committee has the unique task and ability through our members to bring farming to life to many of our local residences who may not otherwise have that opportunity,” said Smith. “As Statesboro and Bulloch County have grown, many of our residences are moving here from other parts of the country and may not have ever grown up in the Ag community, so we believe it is our job to help them understand, not only the area implications our local Ag community has, but also the national implications.”
In partnership with the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority, each year the Agribusiness Committee hosts the October F1rst Friday event. This year on October 6th from 5:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m., the committee will hold Ag Night Out with vendors converging on the courthouse square to highlight Bulloch’s farming community in the center of town.
“We invite vendors and encourage them to have an educational component to their booths or displays,” said Whitfield. “They shut off East Main Street and we have tractors line up to bring awareness to how huge Ag is in Bulloch County. It also gives our vendors a voice – a way to share how they support the overall industry.”
The committee is currently accepting vendor applications through Roxanne Kibler, the committee’s chamber liaison or Elena McLendon at the Main Street office.
Last year Georgia Southern’s Athletic office reached out to the committee to garner support for partnering with area Agribusinesses on an Ag themed football game.
“Our committee agreed to promote and attend the game, but it was Georgia Southern’s idea to host the event in support of Georgia’s largest industry,” said Whitfield.
At last year’s event there were tractors in the parking lot of the stadium prior to the game, halftime videos of farmers, peanuts provided by the Georgia Peanut Commission and beef hotdogs provided by the Georgia Beef Commission.
Highlighting Agribusiness at the sporting event in front of 20,000+ fans provided a new audience in which to build appreciation.
“It really made me proud of my community and of Ag,” said Whitfield.
One of the most popular events hosted by the Chamber and the Agribusiness Committee is the annual Farm City Week Luncheon. Each year the committee hosts the farming community and supporters alternating presenting awards for the Farmer/Farm Family of the Year or the Ag Partner of the Year.
Nominations are currently being held for the 2017 Farmer/Farm Family of the Year. You may nominate a farmer by contacting Roxanne Kibler at the Chamber. This year’s banquet will be held at Ogeechee Technical College’s Oak Room in the Natural Resources Building on Friday, November 17th from 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. The committee has invited Georgia’s Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black to be the featured speaker at this year’s luncheon.
Also at the luncheon, the committee will award the M.L. Miller Scholarship to one or more area high school seniors who plan to pursue a post-secondary degree in agribusiness, paid for by funds raised by the committee through the various events held throughout the year. This spring two seniors from Statesboro High School were honored: David Rizo received a $1,000 scholarship and Colby Deal, a $500 scholarship to apply toward their college expenses. The scholarship recipients are also selected through a nomination process conducted by the committee through a push on social media and through area guidance counselors.
“This is an important way to insure the future of Agribusiness in our area,” said Whitfield. “And it’s a great way to end the year on a high note. But, we couldn’t do any of it without the support of Chamber Director Phyllis Thompson, Roxanne and our many great sponsors. They make it possible for us to carry out all the promotional and educational outreach we are able to accomplish each year.”
“We appreciate all our hard-working members, our sponsors and the Chamber staff,” said Smith. “Through the various events we host, we are able to bridge the gap between City and Farm and plant the seeds to educate the public on the importance of our local Ag Community.”