Long time farmers honored, youth encouraged to continue
By Judith Brown, The Laurens County Advertiser
All of Dot and Billy Garrett’s family members were excited about their selection as Farm Family of the Year at last week’s Spotlight on Agriculture dinner, but 3-year-old Sydney was the only one clapping and cheering from atop the shoulders of her dad, the Garrettt’s oldest son, Pat.
"She has no fear of the cows and we really have to watch her when she’s in the fields with us," said Billy. "She wants to go right up to them."
The Garrett family was among the many from Laurens County who attended the annual Spotlight on Agriculture. More than 350 people attended the annual event at First Presbyterian Church of Clinton’s Christian Life Center.
Located in Mountville, the Garrett farm still includes some of the acreage farmed by Billy’s father, William, and his grandfather before him. "My boys are fourth generation farmers but we’re really more than that because everybody farmed back then," Garrett said. The family owns about 130 acres and cuts and bales close to 600 acres of hay each year. In previous years they raised and sold produce at the family farm as well. They are currently growing their herd of about 70 Angus crossed cattle. His poultry houses are also successful, and led Garrett to be the top broiler producer in the county last year.
"Everybody helps," Garrett said. "The boys and their wives help with fencing, and my granddaughter, Micah, likes to help bale hay." he said, "It’s totally a family operation."
Agriculturalist of the Year
Like the Garretts, all farm families will agree on the proverb that a farmer’s work is never done, and it’s one reason the final award presented at Spotlight on Agriculture is such an important one, said Bryan Smith, Clemson Extension agent for Laurens County.
"The Agriculturalist of the Year award is given each year to the person who serves the larger agricultural community," Smith said, explaining it can include not just farmers, but service people, equipment dealers and veterinarians.
This year’s Agriculturalist of the Year went to Don Willis, who, with his sons Brad and Shannon, farm in the Greenpond community, and Willis also continues to run a small feed store which saves many miles of travel for other farmers in the area. The Willis family has been an important resource to farmers throughout Greenpond, said Todd Mahon, who presented the award. "I told him yesterday I was not going to mention his age but he’s been involved in Laurens County Agriculture for almost 70 years, and he started showing cows for 4-H at the age of 10," said Mahon, who grew up on a farm in the same Greenpond community with Willis.
Willis wasn’t able to be at the Spotlight on Agriculture. He spent years as a chairman or board member for a variety of agencies which helped further the cause of agriculture in the region. He spent 17 years as chair of the Farm Service Administration, 12 years on the Rabon Creek Watershed Board and many years on the local and state level of dairy organizations.
"He bought the local dairy in Greenpond in 1978 and operated it until 2005," Mahon said. Though the family no longer has the dairy, Willis still has about 300 heifers on some of the 2,000 acres, which are also used for hay. "He’s always been the go-to person for anyone with questions about their cows. His career in agriculture put two sons through Clemson, and both are heavily involved today" Mahon said, adding that they were formerly awarded the Farm Family of the Year.
In addition to honoring the the long-time farmers, the Spotlight on Agriculture highlighted the next generation of farmers, including the Future Farmers of America outstanding members from Clinton High, Hannah Martin, and from Laurens District High, Caitlin Bowie.
Laurens Academy student Julia Kerber won the $1,000 Laurens County Clemson Extension Advisory Council Scholarship and plans to attend Clemson in the fall.