In the Usery household, an heirloom tomato is called “Mr. Stripey Tomato,” Chocolate Milk and Cheesecake are prospective baby names and high-tech poultry monitors get tagged as “middle-of-the-night chicken alarms.”
These are only a few of the observations shared by Jessa, the 7-year-old gregarious daughter of Stan and Kayla Usery, during a recent Sunday afternoon on the family farm in Elkmont.
The Usery spread includes a renovated ranch-style home featuring a front porch and a cozy interior with gleaming hardwood floors installed by Stan and his brother-in-law, a fenced-in pool nestled between the house and Stan’s farm laboratory, multiple equipment sheds and five poultry houses.
The property is also home to the state’s reigning Outstanding Young Farm Family. The Userys, who finished as a top finalist in 2011, received the honor on Dec. 6 during the Alabama Farm Federation’s annual meeting in Montgomery.
The family received more than $60,000 in prizes, including $35,000 toward a new pickup truck, a John Deere Gator cart and an all-expenses paid trip to American Farm Bureau Federation’s 95th meeting in San Antonio to compete in the national contest.
The OYFF program recognizes farm families and farmers ages 18 to 35 who do an outstanding job on the farm and in the community, according to Alabama Farmers Federation spokeswoman Mary Johnson.
Jennifer Himburg, director of the federation’s Young Farmers Division, said the Userys’ dedication to agriculture and the state’s largest farm organization helped them win the 56th OYFF award.
“Stan and Kayla represent the very best of the young farmers in this state,” Himburg said. “Their compassion and commitment to being stewards of the land and raising a family with roots in agriculture represents the very heart of the Alabama Farmers Federation.
“They are both well respected among their peers for their achievements in production agriculture and their dedication to giving back as leaders in the industry.”
Reid farmer Paul Looney grows corn, wheat, soybeans, canola and some cotton and has a son, Ben, who finished in the top six of the OYFF program twice. Looney said the award means the Userys will have more networking opportunities.
“It’s not all about winning, and they will make friends all across Alabama,” he said. “It’s pretty impressive to win because it’s an intense program, and Stan is a good, young farmer.”
The Userys grow about 700 acres of row crops — soybeans, wheat, corn and cotton — and maintain nine poultry houses in Limestone County in a partnership with Stan’s father and the aid of one full-time employee.
“The chickens are an all-year thing and row crops are very seasonal but it’s sunup to sundown,” Stan said. “We utilize all the chicken litter on the row crop ground. It’s probably a little better than commercial fertilizer and saves a lot of money.
“The chicken houses are computer-controlled, with monitoring for everything from temperature to water meters. This also gets patched in to our phones when we are away from the farm. Technology has really done a lot for farming, with GPS guidance that shuts sprayers on and off and provides spatial data.”
Stan said the family’s farming philosophy prioritizes land conservatism and responsible cultivation.
“I think the U.S. has the safest, cheapest and most reliable food supply in the world, so we try to be very conservative-minded in soil health,” he said. “With pesticides, we try to be responsible and try to leave the land better than we found it.”
During the day, Stan, 32, tends to farm duties until Jessa comes home from first grade at Elkmont High School. Her father said she often joins him on a tractor, cotton-picker or combine as he finishes his chores.
“We’re a family farm and we’re a growing farm,” said Stan, who is president of the Young Farmers chapter in Limestone County. “I love what I do. Even though it requires a lot of hours, my family can be involved in it and Jessa has a connection to the food in the grocery store.”
Kayla, 31, who is in her second year as a full-time math teacher at Clements High School, helps Stan with the farm’s business decisions and grows a garden each year with her daughter. Both of the Userys finished college but grew up working on their family farms.
“I think growing up on a farm where my daddy worked long hours, too, has helped because that’s the only life I know,” Kayla said.
“Even though Kayla works off the farm, she is an integral part of the family businesses,” Stan said. “We have to make major purchasing plans and planning decisions, and it takes a special person to deal with everything.”
The Usery household — which includes Rooster, a 15-year-old Australian shepherd dog, and Rosie the farm cat — will expand in May, with Kayla expecting their second daughter.
Stan, who has undergraduate and graduate degrees from Auburn University, said the past several months have been a blessing. Along with his thriving farm and family, the No. 2 Auburn football team is playing for a BCS national championship on Jan. 6, and the Userys will journey together to San Antonio for the national competition early next month.
“Fall is my favorite time of the year because you pour your heart and soul into all year and then get to see the results,” Stan said. “This year we had a great crop, and it’s hard to describe the feeling when that happens. It’s like that one shot in golf that makes you come back and keep playing.
“Farming is my job and my hobby. It’s something that gets in your blood and becomes a lifestyle. It’s a lot of hard work but you’re working for yourself. Every day is different and that’s what’s fun about it — I look forward to getting up each morning.”