Agriculture advocates

Published 10:18 pm Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Chris and Jennie Simms of Sedley, Va., were awarded recently for their staunch advocacy on behalf of farmers and agribusinesses through the American Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers’ and Ranchers’ program, despite the fact that they do not operate a farm themselves.

By Merle Monahan

Non-farming couple fights for farmers

Chris and Jennie Simms of rural Sedley, Va., may not actually be farmers, but they come as close as anyone who tends the land or raises livestock.

Both have degrees in agriculture business management from North Carolina State University, and their work to promote agribusiness around the nation earned them the 2011 American Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers and Ranchers Excellence in Agriculture Award.

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The award recognizes young adults who do not derive the majority of their income from an agricultural operation, but actively contribute to it through their involvement in agriculture and participation in Farm Bureau and other organizations.

“We were honored and pleased,” Chris said. “It is really great to be honored for something you’re so passionate about.”

Included in the award were a new Dodge pickup and free registration in the Young Farmers’ and Ranchers’ Leadership Conference.

Chris and Jennie live in a farmhouse they renovated on the family farm. Married for nearly 11 years, they have settled into rural living nicely, despite the fact that Jennie was a city girl.

Jennie proudly shows off her canned vegetables and pickles, displayed in an antique corner cupboard. “I’ve been told I should take some of my canned goods to the county fair,” she said. “But I haven’t made up my mind yet.”

Chris’ father, Richard Simms, handles the daily operations on the 500-acre farm that his own father, John Simms, purchased.

Chris had intended to earn his college degree in agribusiness, and then come back home and work the farm. However, in 1996, when he took over farming for his dad, who was recuperating from a heart attack, Chris had a change of heart.

“It was a lot more difficult being a full-time farmer than I thought. During that summer, I saw a side of farming that I had never seen before. I decided farming was not what I really wanted to do.”

His love for the farm never waned, though, and he continued to pursue his degree. During this time he met and fell in love with Jennie, who was attending NCSU as well. She became as passionate about agriculture as he was, so much that she changed her major to agriculture business management.

“Until I met Chris, my knowledge of agriculture was limited to my family’s flower and vegetable gardens,” she said. “But as I became more involved, the more I began to love it.”

The young wife grew up in subdivisions of Georgia and North Carolina, where she spent little time thinking about the land and farming.

“But living on the farm where Chris was raised has given me an even greater appreciation for the farmers who produce the foods we eat, the fibers for the clothes we wear and the materials for the homes in which we live,” she said.

She is also in awe of the wide-open spaces, where homes are sometimes miles apart, yet families are always in communication with each other.

Jennie remembers the first time Chris brought her home to meet his parents. “It was at night and when I stepped out of the car, I looked at the sky. I was dumbfounded,” she said. “I had never seen so much of the sky before. I never realized there were so many stars out here.”

Both soon took jobs that would keep them involved in agriculture. He went into the lending industry at Colonial Farm Credit. She works in administration at Gwaltney’s. She is also a licensed Realtor working with buyers and sellers of rural properties.

Together they have served as representatives of the Southeast District on the Virginia Farm Bureau Young Farmers committee for the last four years, and Chris has served as vice-chairman of the Virginia Farm Bureau Young Farmers for the last two years.

The Simms also developed AgCache, a form of geocaching, to help promote agriculture.

Geocaching is a high-tech treasure-hunting game played worldwide by adventurers equipped with GPS devices.

The idea is to locate hidden containers called geocaches outdoors and share the experience online. Chris and Jennie’s AgCache includes locations in Virginia.