BY LEANN DILBECK –
Luke and Deedee Alston have been selected as Polk County’s 70th annual Polk County Farm Family of the Year.
The Arkansas Farm Family of the Year program is one of the oldest of its kind in the nation. The success and longevity of this program has only been possible because of our sponsors and partners,” said Mollie Dykes, coordinator, Arkansas Farm Family of the Year Program. “We’re honored to recognize these hard working passionate, and resilient families who work tirelessly to provide our growing world with food, fiber, and shelter.”
The county winners will be visited by a set of judges to determine the eight district winners, to be announced June 19. They will be visited again by a different set of judges in July to determine a state winner, which will be announced December 7 at the Farm Family of the Year luncheon in North Little Rock. All winners are judged on their farm production, efficiency, management, family life and rural/community leadership.
“Each year, the Farm Family of the Year program identifies and recognizes great farmers and ranchers across our state,” said Randy Veach, president, Arkansas Farm Bureau. “These families literally power our state’s largest economic engine, agriculture.” Since 1947, the Arkansas Farm Family of the Year Program has served as a vehicle to recognize outstanding farm families throughout the state. Recent Polk County families honored include: Bryan and Sonja Maye, Bob and Sarah Gorden, as well as Rodney and Kay Bowen. The Alstons feel honored to be in such good company.
Luke commented on behalf of the family, “We are more than honored to have been chosen as Polk County Farm Family of the year and grateful God has allowed us to farm for a living.”
Both Luke and Deedee once worked in the corporate world and said leaving it behind wasn’t an easy decision, but after a couple of years getting their hands dirty on their farm, they are sure thankful that they did. It is a family business that has brought them together both in work and at the dinner table. “Some companies reorganize, our family reprioritized,” said Deedee.
Luke, with a degree in agriculture from UA, worked as an insurance adjuster for Farm Bureau for a decade, while Deedee, with an MBA from UALR, worked as the Chief of Operations Officer for Healthy Connections, Inc., for thirteen years. The pair has two sons, Ryan Ozanich, who will graduate from Mena High School this Sunday, and Drey Ozanich, who will be an 8th grader at Mena Middle School this fall.
Life was quite hectic for the family preceding the transition. Between their jobs and the boys’ activities, the family ate on the run, had little time together, and as they assessed their lives, felt a change needed to come. They decided to take a risk and leave their jobs to become full-time farmers. “So much of life’s skills get lost when you’re so busy,” Deedee said. “It was a huge leap of faith for sure,” said Luke.
Managing 300 acres, they have cattle and chicken houses and haul hay like many farmers. They grow their own vegetables, canning them at harvest, giving extras to neighbors and friends, and returned to their roots, as they say. Both Luke and Deedee grew up on a farm. In fact, the land they manage connects both of their roots including Luke’s great-great grandfather’s land, creating a ‘century farm,’ and the very land his father was born on.
They incorporated three years ago, and Deedee explained that out of their abundance of fresh veggies, an idea came last summer and the family reserved 20 acres to create Holly Springs Homestead.
The Farm Family of the Year program begins each year with the selection of top farm families in each county and culminates in December with the selection of the state Farm Family of the Year, who will then go on to represent Arkansas at the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year event.
The Pulse will feature a closer and more in-depth look at the Alston Farm in an upcoming special issue.