Wythe County Ag Educators Win Excellence in Agriculture Award

Jonathan and Kelsey Grimes of Wythe County have been named this year’s Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers Excellence in Agriculture Award winners. The Grimeses were recognized Oct. 14 in a live announcement on the VFBF Young Farmers Facebook page.

The Excellence in Agriculture Award recognizes individuals and couples for involvement in agriculture, leadership ability and involvement and participation in Farm Bureau and other organizations. The Grimeses were runners-up for the 2019 award.

Jonathan Grimes is an agricultural education teacher and FFA advisor at Fort Chiswell High School in Wythe County. He has taught agricultural concepts and mechanics, and horticulture to 2,600 middle and high school youth in his career. Kelsey Grimes is a Virginia Cooperative Extension 4-H agent in Wythe County and has served 9,600 youth through 4-H since 2012—creating, implementing and evaluating all county 4-H programming. The couple has raised a cumulative $339,000 through grants and fundraising to promote agriculture and education.

Both grew up in agricultural communities. Jonathan was raised on a fourth-generation beef farm that instilled a love of the land. The Grimeses established a square-bale hay operation in 2020, focusing on orchard grass and timothy hay while transitioning to alfalfa.

“We are putting an emphasis on purchasing and refurbishing older equipment to maximize profits and reduce our environmental waste,” Jonathan said. “We have established a networking system through our efforts with our local Farm Bureau Young Farmers committee, and have been able to borrow and find equipment that has created this opportunity to work toward our dream of having a large-scale hay operation.”

The Grimeses represent the New River Valley region on the VFBF Young Farmers Committee, and have been Excellence in Agriculture Award finalists since 2017. Jonathan has served as Young Farmers Safety Subcommittee chair, and Kelsey as Youth Outreach chair since 2019. Kelsey received a grant to establish Youth Discussion Meet as a recognized Virginia 4-H competition, and both Jonathan and Kelsey have promoted and led Youth Discussion Meets for 4-H and FFA. Kelsey has served on the Wythe County Women’s Leadership Committee since 2013. 

Jonathan holds a bachelor’s degree in agricultural sciences from Virginia Tech, and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Radford University. Kelsey has a bachelor’s degree in wildlife sciences, a master’s in natural resources and a master’s in career and technical education with a focus in agricultural education––all from Virginia Tech.

The Grimeses are focused on promoting agricultural safety through education, statewide partnerships and special programs.

“The (VFBF) Farm Safety Advisory Committee set strategic goals to establish a volunteer safety coordinator for each county, and train agents and member service specialists in mental health awareness,” Jonathan said. “The Young Farmers Safety Subcommittee aims to create a database of locations and types of specialized safety and rescue equipment across the state. We are also in the process of marketing and pushing for road safety of agricultural equipment.”

As Excellence in Agriculture Award winners, the Grimeses will receive a Kubota utility vehicle valued at $8,500, courtesy of Virginia Farm Bureau Insurance Services. They will compete for the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmers & Ranchers Excellence in Agriculture Award during the 2021 AFBF Annual Convention in January.

Kerr family

Jack and Christy Kerr of Augusta County were runners-up for the Excellence in Agriculture Award.

“We both come from farming family backgrounds. However, both family farms had been sold off before we grew up,” Jack said. “Therefore, we are building our own farm from the ground up with the animals and crops we would like to raise.”

The Kerrs, who also work in broadband communications and agricultural education, are lifelong county residents. As members of Augusta County Young Farmers and having served on the VFBF Young Farmers Committee for four years, they have a track record of positively promoting the agriculture industry. They are closely involved with their local FFA chapters and have spearheaded a partnership between them and the Augusta County Young Farmers to build Agriculture in the Classroom Learning Barns for four local elementary schools, to expose youth to agriculture.

Other finalists were Rachel Henley of Powhatan County; Hunter Johnson of Pittsylvania County; Ed and Katie McCann of Appomattox County; Charlie and Sarah Rudolph of Wythe County; and Kari Sponaugle of Highland County.

The runners-up will be awarded $1,500, and other individual or couple finalists will receive $750, courtesy of the VFBF Young Farmers Committee.

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