Leadership Blount Class of 2012 kicks off year with whirlwind tours

The Keller family, John Susan, Shanda and Sam, welcomed the Leadership Blount Class of 2012 to their family farm on Thursday for a session on agriculture.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

The Keller family, John Susan, Shanda and Sam, welcomed the Leadership Blount Class of 2012 to their family farm on Thursday for a session on agriculture.

Members of the Leadership Blount Class of 2012 got a taste of the history of Blount County by touring a factory, a farm and then going on a scavenger hunt in a museum.

And that was just their first regular session of the year.

On Thursday, Sept. 8, Katherine Caputo, Leadership Blount executive director, took the class to Alcoa, Inc., where they toured the plant and saw the recycling process. The next stop was at the Sam Houston Schoolhouse, and they visited the Hitch Farm run by the Keller family. After lunch, the class went to the Blount County Historical Museum and the Cades Cove Preservation Society at the Thompson-Brown House. They then visited The Palace Theater and wrapped up their day at Maryville College.

Caputo said each year the LB class members take time early in their year to learn more about the history of Blount County. In addition to tours, the class members also had to read reports on a variety of subjects connected to Blount County history.

County Mayor Ed Mitchell was on hand to greet the Leadership Blount class members and eat lunch with them on the farm. “People need to understand how much work goes in it everyday to making a farm profitable,” the mayor said. “Having grown up on the farm next to the Kellers, I know there’s probably not a harder working family in Blount County.”

John Wilson with the University of Tennessee Extension Service joined Susan Keller in presenting a program about agriculture in Blount County at lunch.

“I may be biased, but I definitely think this is a top-tier subject - agriculture and natural resources are of vital importance,” Wilson said. “Farmers produce food and fiber, and there are a significant number of jobs that are ag-related.”

The Keller family owns the Hitch Farm, and Susan Keller spoke with the Leadership Blount members as they sat on the wraparound porch of the renovated farmhouse built in 1914.

“This is known as the Hitch Family Farm, and I grew up in this house,” she told them. “Sam (her son) is the fifth generation to farm it.”

Keller said corn, wheat and soy beans are grown on the farm, and they also have a cow/calf operation. “We feed out about 20 (cows) a year,” she said.

Keller they also cut and bundle corn stalks for Wal-Mart and other stores.

“Farm work, for the most part, is hot, dusty, dirty and not a lot of people want to do it. That’s why we’ve mechanized it as we have,” she said. “We like to think that we, as farmers, contribute a great deal to the economy of Blount County. Roots of farmers go deep. If you don’t remember anything else, remember there’s not anything you eat or any kind of clothes you wear that isn’t at some point touched by a farmer.”

Two percent of the population is involved in farming and they feed the other 98 percent, Wilson said. “Two percent of the population is easy to forget, but it behooves us as citizens to pay respect to farmers. Never complain about farmers with your mouth full.”

Wilson said there are still more than 1,100 farms and more than 100,000 acres of farm land in Blount County. Considering that a third of the land in Blount County is part of the National Park, Wilson said this is significant.

Louisville Mayor Tom Bickers said he was fascinated by what he saw at the Alcoa, Inc., plant. “It gives you a greater appreciation for what they do,” he said.

Even those who have been in Blount County for years found the first class had something to offer. “I’ve lived in Blount County 45 years and today was my first time to enter the gates of Alcoa, Inc.,” said Scott Blevins.

Mandy Sitzlar is also a native who said she learned quite a bit Thursday morning about Alcoa, Inc. “I was born and raised here and never thought about how Alcoa was run,” she said. “I had no idea about their recycling program and how they give back to the community.”

Maryville College president Tom Bogart said touring Alcoa was interesting, as was the Sam Houston Schoolhouse.

“For someone who is new to the community, every experience is an education,” he said.

Bogart wasn’t alone in seeing new things. He mentioned several classmates who were Blount County natives who learned new things. “It’s nice to see people who have been here their whole lives experience something new.”

Donna Tallent said visiting Alcoa, Inc., was special to her because several of her relatives worked at the plant for years. “I’m amazed,” she said. “My granddad worked for Alcoa, but I’ve never experienced what goes on there. I was surprised how automated it is. The impact they have on our community, you take it for granted. Where would we be today if the plant never existed?”

Melinda Headrick was impressed by what she learned about the people of Blount County. “The resourcefulness of the people of this area is fascinating,” she said. They were really strong and dedicated to making better lives for their families.”

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