President Jeff Aiken is the Future of Tennessee Farm Bureau
Watching the sun set on his beloved mountains of East Tennessee is something the eighth president of Tennessee Farm Bureau will have to forgo for a while. Voted in unanimously by the delegate body at their 94th annual meeting of in December 2015, Washington County farmer Jeff Aiken will be moving to Columbia, headquarters of the more than 644,000-member organization.
“It’s an honor – I love agriculture, I love Tennessee, I love rural communities, and the opportunity to promote and protect things for those folks is important for me,” Aiken says. “I think Farm Bureau is the voice of Tennessee agriculture, but maybe more importantly than the voice, I think Farm Bureau is the ear that listens to problems, concerns and issues, and tries to find solutions for farm folks within the state.”
Aiken and Carol, his wife of 25 years, farm 900 acres with his brothers and nephew near Telford in upper East Tennessee, where they produce corn, hay, straw, tobacco and beef cattle.
“I love what I do with a passion,” Aiken says. “The smell of freshly mown hay in the summer; planting a crop and watching it grow, mature and turn into something of value; seeing a baby calf born and knowing with your help it will grow and mature.”
Carol is a registered nurse and has worked in management in the healthcare industry for twenty years. She says it will be a big change, but looks forward to their new role. “I can’t wait to see where this will take us and agriculture – to see how Jeff is going to be a part of that. I am very proud of him, but we both know God holds our future and we want to be in the center of His plans. The bottom line is, no matter where we go or what we do, I just want to be where Jeff is; so as long as I am with him, I am good,” Carol says.
The Aikens are no strangers to Farm Bureau. In fact, Jeff’s parents were among the first members to join the Washington County Farm Bureau. Aiken himself grew up in the organization, serving as state chair for the Young Farmer & Ranchers (YF&R) program, as well as being named the 1992 Tennessee Young Farmer of the Year. He has served as vice president since 2012 and a director-at-large on the state board of directors since 1998.
“Young Farmers gave me the platform to grow in the organization, learn some leadership and be involved in something I believe in with all my heart,” Aiken says. “If not for YF&R, I don’t know where the opportunity would have come from for me to continue to be active in something that is a passion for me.”
As president of the nation’s largest Farm Bureau, Aiken becomes the leader and spokesperson for farmers all across the state. He will guide the board of directors and staff in the upcoming years to a future of reaching an increasingly urban population about the importance of agriculture.
“We have a greater challenge every day with the general population in that they have very little or no understanding of production agriculture,” he says. “I think an educational effort is going to be key to maintaining profitability and a future for our industry.”
Aiken replaces Cumberland County farmer Lacy Upchurch as president. He says Mr. Upchurch will never be forgotten and stresses you can’t forget the past when looking toward the future.
“I think it’s important we always look back at our history to see things that have made us successful, but at the same time look to the future and be willing to adapt in ways that will keep us successful as we move forward,” Aiken says. “I want to make sure we are listening to the concerns of farm folks across the state so we know what they need and can work to provide help and assistance in any way possible.”
With homegrown leadership, a vision for the future and a passion for agriculture, President Jeff Aiken looks forward to growing as an organization and a voice for agriculture in Tennessee and beyond.