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Community agriculture leaders receive awards

POSTED: March 26, 2013 11:59 p.m.

When Tommy Blackstock’s great-great grandfather came home from fighting in the Civil War, he bought the land the family is still farming.

Blackstock said farming is just in his blood.

“I grew up with my papa and daddy and it’s just what I knew I needed to do,” Blackstock said. “I didn’t think they needed to be out in a field or fixing a fence without me, that’s from the time I was a little bitty fella.”

Blackstock Farm off Fuller Road in Talmo grows hay and raises broiler chickens and beef cattle. 

Blackstock was named Farmer of the Year at the 18th Annual Hall County Agribusiness Awards Breakfast on Tuesday morning at the East Hall Community Center.

The award was presented by the Hall County Cooperative Extension and the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.

The event was sponsored by Jackson EMC.

Blackstock said he was surprised by the honor.

“There are a lot of people who have gotten (this award) over the years who should be looked up to,” Blackstock said. “Most of my heroes are farmers.”

The groups gave out several other awards.

Gov. Nathan Deal was honored with the friend of agriculture award for his years of support to the industry. His son, Judge Jason Deal, accepted the award on his behalf.

Philip Wilheit, president and CEO of Wilheit Packaging, was presented with the outstanding agribusiness award. 

When the company first began in 1953, it sold giblet paper, a product that was used to package chicken organs. Though the company no longer offers the paper, Wilheit said about 40 percent of its business comes from the poultry and food industries.

The company employs 75 people. 

“It was humble beginnings, and the poultry industry is what launched Wilheit Packaging,” Wilheit said.

Another local man was honored and entered into the Agriculture Hall of Fame for his work with young people and agriculture.

Billy Skaggs, chief operating officer of the Georgia Department of Agriculture, presented the award to Johnny Sutton, a longtime teacher and Future Farmers of America sponsor at North Hall High School.

“This is a man who has spent his entire life working with farmers before they were farmers,” Skaggs said. “This is an individual who worked with young people day in and day out to learn not only about agriculture and livestock, poultry and agribusiness, science and math, all those things that go into being a farmer. He helped them learn about life.”

Sutton said his career choice was inspired by his own high school agriculture teacher. Sutton said his work with students has “truly been a blessing.” 

“It’s been a great experience for me with the young folks I get to work with,” Sutton said.

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins presented the recipients with a certificate of special congressional recognition. 

Before presenting Sutton with the certificate, he told the audience of about 65 about his own personal experiences with Sutton. 

Collins’ 20-year-old daughter, Jordon Collins, has spina bifida. The condition can make travel challenging. 

After his daughter joined FFA, Collins assumed he’d drive her separately to the club’s out-of-town events. But Sutton insisted that Collins show him how to load her wheelchair onto the school bus so she could ride with her friends. 

Collins said Sutton inspired his daughter and encouraged her. Collins’ eyes watered as he thanked Sutton for taking an interest in his daughter. 

“I don’t know why you went into teaching and why you did what you did. But if it was for just one person, you exceeded all expectations with Jordon Collins,” Collins said. “For that you have my love and my respect.”


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