Q&A: Margie Hunter, Food Safety Expert

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David and Margie Hunter, farm, Sparta, TN

The daily chores on David and Margie Hunter’s nearly 400-acre farm seem daunting. The couple raises beef cattle, grows hay, and operates two chicken barns that hold some 13,000 hens and 1,000 roosters.

It’s a good thing, then, that they each have agricultural experience and passion tracing back to their upbringings. David grew up on his family’s White County farm – just south of Cookeville – and is the third generation to run the operation. Margie, who also works for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, has rural roots, and, as she puts it, “Farming is what I have always wanted to do.” What’s more, both are heavily involved with agricultural organizations: Margie is the White County Women’s Committee chair, and David serves as county Farm Bureau president.

Q: Margie, how does your “off-the-farm” job relate to your “on-the-farm” job?

A: My job as Food and Dairy Inspector is to ensure that food the public purchases is safe. I inspect retail food stores and dairy farms over six counties. For retail stores, I check prepared foods for proper temperature, coolers storing food, cleanliness of the store and that regulations are being followed. At dairy farms, I make sure the farm is clean and the milk is kept cold and protected from contamination.

As a farmer, my job is to do the same – ensure safety. We must take all possible steps to ensure that the animals are well cared for – seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. We provide a safe and wholesome food supply, and we sell grass- or grain-fed beef directly to consumers, which makes our focus on safety a top priority. We also eat our own beef and feed it to our family.

Q: Why is Tennessee a good place to raise beef cattle?

A: With Middle Tennessee’s rolling hills, the potential for soil erosion makes it unfeasible to grow grains on a large scale. Permanent sod pasture is the most feasible crop to grow on these rolling hills, and that pasture provides forage and hay for beef cattle. The moderate climate and suitable rainfall (in most years) makes for good forage growing conditions.

Q: What is something many people don’t realize about the poultry industry?

A: Visitors are not allowed in our poultry operation, and many people do not understand that this is due to bio-security, which means disease prevention, for our birds. An alarm system in the facilities notifies us of any major temperature changes or ventilation problems. The birds roam freely throughout the barns in a climate-controlled environment, which makes it a pleasant place for them to grow and for us to work.

Q: Why should farmers get involved with agricultural organizations?

A: Being involved with agricultural organizations gives you the opportunity to learn new technology, meet other farmers, exchange ideas and make new friends. A favorite experience of ours is our involvement with Farm City Day. First and third graders from across the county come to learn about farm life. Many of these students have never seen or been close to a farm animal. We both grew up on farms and have always lived the farm life, so seeing the excitement on the children’s faces makes us realize just how fortunate we are to enjoy such a wonderful lifestyle.

Learn more about the well-being and care of animals.

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