CJ: Good morning, Julianna, how long has this land been in the family?
Julianna: “A long time. My husband’s great, great - how many ‘greats’ should I add here? - grandfather started farming here in the 1830s. We live in the house he built in 1838.”
Doing some quick math, members of the Jepson family have farmed in south-central Kentucky for about 180 years. Figuring 25 years per generation, she could have said ‘great’ at least five or six times. Each use of that word, of course, expands on the term ‘family farm’ and makes it even more meaningful. Amazingly, during a time when it seems like more and more young people are opting out of farming, this long-time family tradition sounds like it will continue for at least another generation or two.
Julianna’s son, Josh, lives in a house built on the property by his great grandparents in 1910 and works on the farm. She also has a 14-year-old granddaughter, Taylor, who is showing some interest in agriculture, spurred on by her FFA experiences in school. Seth, her 6-year-old grandson, might be a little too young to milk a cow. Maybe a few years from now he’ll share his big sister’s interest, too.
“Josh is the youngest,” she said. “I’ve got two daughters; Jama, who is a Senior Environmentalist with a local health department, and Jessica, who’s a registered nurse.”
The dairy operation isn’t large, just 300 cows on 315 acres, but the work load on a small family farm can still be daunting. They keep around 120 replacement heifers, too, which adds to the workload. “We milk three times a day, every day,” she says, “and we used to share those duties. More importantly, we work to make sure we have a good, safe place for our animals and they get the best care we can give them.”
Josh’s helping hand gives Julianna enough free time to work with the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association, the Kentucky American Dairy Association, the Midsouth Dairy Herd Improvement Association and the Simpson County Extension Council. It was her working relationship with Dairy Farmers of America, a major dairy industry co-op, that got her nominated to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board late last year.
“We sell our milk to Dairy Farmers of America and they asked me late last year if I would be interested in joining CBB,” she said. “I said sure and I got notified in December that I should attend the winter meeting in Denver. I was impressed with the people there. I wanted to learn more about how CBB operates and how the checkoff works. It’s a lot different than the dairy checkoff.”
CJ: Were you raised on a farm?
Julianna: “No, I was raised in the city and my grandparents owned a farm in south central Kentucky. Every time school let out I wanted to spend my summers there. That’s where I met my husband, Ben. We were high school sweethearts. I went to Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green where I got a degree in elementary education. Ben went to work on the family farm right after he graduated from high school.”
Julianna taught in a private school for a while but the farm drew her away from that vocation. It was probably her teaching background that led to what she’s doing now – sitting in a position where she can teach people about farming.
“Not that long ago, I thought everybody knew about farming. No, they don’t! We need to let everyone know what we do and how we care for the land and our animals. I want to tell people how hard we work to raise safe food and are concerned about animal welfare.”
Julianna asked to be on the human nutrition research committee. “I picked that group because I’ve always been interested in nutrition, maybe because my mother was a home economics teacher. I am also interested in nutrition because, as a mother and grandmother, it is important to me that my children grew up and my grandchildren are growing up with strong minds and healthy bodies.”
It’s the long-term view that comes with being both a mother and a grandmother that drives her interest in nutrition and her teaching background that led her to concluding our talk this way: “I want consumers to realize that we need safe healthy foods so we not only get a good start in life, but that we also are able to maintain good health as we reach our golden years. I think it is through research and development that we will be able to showcase products that promote healthy lifestyles for all generations.”
Chuck Jolley is a free lance writer, based in Kansas City, who covers a wide range of ag industry topics for Vance Publishing.