Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture Charlie Hatcher, D.V.M. met with members of the Unicoi County High School FFA during his tour of Jones & Church Farms. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture Charlie Hatcher, D.V.M. toured Jones & Church Farms of Unicoi, on Sept. 25.

“We have always had a working relationship with the commissioner and where we are one of the largest tomato producers in the state is what prompted the visit,” Jones & Church Farms CFO Renea Jones Rogers said. “Dr. Hatcher was joined by Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely, Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley, and Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch had a prior engagement, but Mountain Harvest Kitchen Director Lee Manning came in his place.”

According to Jones Rogers, Representative John Holsclaw also came and visited with Jones & Church Farms last month.

Dr. Hatcher said he was “truly impressed” by the operations at Jones & Church.

“I was truly impressed by Jones & Church Farms, which is a family operation that employs more than 200 people and has been in business since 1975. They provide top-quality, wholesome produce to customers all along the east coast,” Hatcher said. “I was able to see and learn about the steps they’ve taken to automate and mechanize sections of their line to improve operations and increase efficiency.”

According to Hatcher, Unicoi County benefits from having such a great operation in the county. “The facility is absolutely immaculate, as it’s supposed to be, but that is no small task for a company handling produce,” Hatcher said. “I enjoyed meeting with the company leaders and staff and gaining an understanding of their operations and impact. The tomato hors d’oeuvres that Renea prepared were also a delicious highlight, and a great reminder of how much flavor can come from a simple tomato.”

The tomato market, just like the rest of the agriculture industry, can fluctuate significantly.

“The longevity and success of Jones & Church is a testament to their ability to adapt to the changes,” Hatcher said. “In Tennessee, agriculture is our number one industry, and Jones & Church Farms contributes to that success, and when our local businesses thrive, the economy grows and everyone benefits.”

According to Hatcher, agriculture is important to our region, state and world.

“Every single person on this planet needs to eat and we all also need shelter, clothing, and fuel and agriculture is the foundation that fulfills every one of those needs,” Hatcher said. “Our farmers and foresters are the backbone of our nation and we, as a department, are proud to serve the men and women who dedicate their lives to agriculture in Tennessee.”

Hatcher acknowledged that seeing the youth of Unicoi County get involved in programs like FFA is a beacon of hope for the future.

“It is critical that young people have an understanding of and respect for where our food comes from and I really appreciated the opportunity to meet with the Unicoi High School FFA members while visiting Jones & Church,” Hatcher said. “A team of Unicoi students won the Bull Pen Ag Innovation competition last year, which is sponsored by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, and it’s always a pleasure to speak with youth who are developing ideas to advance and innovate the agriculture industry. I encourage students to take the initiative to learn more about the critical role of agriculture on all of our lives.”

For Jones Rogers, having the envoy come and learn more about what Jones & Church does was exciting and appreciated.

“We were so excited to host Dr. Hatcher and all the representatives who came out to see what we do and we are so thankful for their support,” she said.

According to Hatcher, the visit was a great way to see agriculture in action in Tennessee.

“I want to thank the team at Jones & Church Farms and the Unicoi High School FFA members for taking the time to meet with me and representatives from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture,” Hatcher said. “Every day they are contributing to the advancement of agriculture in our state, our nation, and our world and we are all grateful for their work.”