Kemmer a ‘Pioneer’ in agriculture | Existence


Jim Kemmer has spent his 86 years on his family farm Crab Orchard, growing a variety of crops, operating a custom harvest operation and hosting a community garden.

Kemmer was recognized with the Cumberland County Livestock Producers Pioneer award Feb. 11 during the organization’s annual meeting. 

The Pioneer Award is meant to recognize the individuals who laid a path for future agricultural producers in the community.

“They’ve been doing this a long time,” explained Gregg Upchurch as he introduced the award and Kemmer during the dinner.

“They were here when agriculture really came into its own, the heyday,” he continued. “This award carries a lot of honor.”

Kemmer recognized his passion for agriculture at an early age. Active in Cumberland County 4-H, he showed the Grand Champion Heifer at the Cumberland County, Sweetwater, Knoxville and Nashville fairs.

“Back in those days, that’s a pretty big deal not only to win it, but just to get there,” Upchurch said.

Kemmer left his formal education after completing the eighth grade. His father, TJ Kemmer, said he had to choose school or work.

“I think to measure his fortitude if he was ready to go to work, his father bought him a chainsaw and a mattock and put him to clearing two acres of ground,” Upchurch said.

“After two weeks, his father came to the conclusion he was ready to go to work.”

Kemmer’s dad took him to buy essential farming equipment: a tractor and a bulldozer.

“So began the lifetime of Mr. Jim Kemmer farming with his father until he passed away in 1988,” Upchurch said.

“Jim’s seen a lot of changes in agriculture over the years,” Upchurch said. “You can imagine, if you started farming with a pair of mules, a steal-wheel tractor, a dozer.”

The farming operation included hay, wheat, tobacco, corn, green beans and some livestock as part of a diverse farming operation.

Kemmer drove a bean picker, the first in operation in Cumberland County owned by Cotton Hill and Vernon Houston. That lead to a custom-harvest bean-picking operation that worked in Florida, Missouri and Georgia.

“For two weeks at a time, he’d be out on the road picking beans,” Upchurch said.

Today, Jim and his wife, Libby, have a home garden for themselves and a second they call the community garden.

“His late father used to be somebody who really took care of the community and did similar things in terms of providing for families that needed it — and the apple didn’t fall far from the tree,” Upchurch said.

The Kemmers have been married 65 years. They have four children, nine grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren — and another on the way.

Kemmer accepted the awarded humbly, thanking the association for the award. He was joined by numerous members of his family following the presentation.


Bob Cole Award

Brody Lowe, a sophomore at Stone Memorial High School, was named the Bob Cole Award Winner.

The award, named for local agriculture educator Keith Cole’s father, recognizes a youth involved in livestock programs.

“He is an exceptional young man who is really engaged in livestock,” Upchurch said.

Lowe is active in all facets of livestock — raising and showing sheep, goats, pigs and cattle.

“He shows all species of livestock. He has been beyond successful,” Upchurch said.

Lowe has also been active in other youth livestock programs, such as judging teams, which kept him from attending the awards dinner, and the sales talk competition at the state 4-H beef show.

“He decided to go down and participate in the sales talk at the state beef show, and won second place,” Upchurch said. “He’s an extremely competitive young man.”

Upchurch encouraged everyone to get children, grandchildren and other youth involved in livestock projects, available through Cumberland County 4-H and FFA programs.


Top Hand

The newest award presented by the Livestock Producers Association recognizes those working behind the scenes.

It was first presented to Ted Swafford, who passed away in 2016.

“He was a hardworking and kind gentleman. He didn’t want any recognition, but he was someone you could call on at any time to provide assistance,” Upchurch said of Swafford.

Upchurch introduced Keith Cole as the 2023 Top Hand, who will receive an embroidered Carhartt vest.

“He’s always willing to do whatever you ask, always unassuming, never asking for recognition or credit about anything,” Upchurch said. “He has spent most of his life as just that — a Top Hand.”

Cole’s father, Bob, was a founding member of the Cumberland County Livestock Producers Association and active in agriculture.

“I know firsthand when we were kids, he was a hard-working person and someone my dad used to brag about on a regular basis,” Upchurch said.

Upchurch’s father, Lacey Upchurch, was a former UT Extension Agent serving Cumberland County before taking on livestock full time raising hogs and cattle. He was active in youth agriculture programs and served as president of Tennessee Farm Bureau.

“Keith Cole knew how to work,” Upchurch said during the presentation. “I saw his dad and the responsibility he put on Keith when we were in Creston in the hay fields and how hard Keith would work, taking care of the cattle.

“The biggest thing that always stood out to me was not only how Mr. Cole embraced all those responsibilities his dad put on him, but he was always willing to go a little above.”

Cole teaches agriculture at Stone Memorial High School, mentoring and working with youth in the community.

“I’d really like to have a count of all the lives he’s touched over these many years and all the lives he’s changed and had a positive influence in terms of growing and benefiting our county,” Upchurch said.


Branham Award

Pepe Perron, director of Camp Nakanawa in Mayland, was named the 2023 Branham Award Winner.

The award, established by Ellen and the late Mark Branham, recognizes volunteerism and helping provide opportunities for youth in the community.

“[Perron] spends every summer working with young people trying to ensure that they have a memory that will last a lifetime,” Upchurch said. “He is no stranger to helping others.”

Perron became active with the livestock producers through poultry and later cattle and horse and youth wrangler.

“Pepe Perron is one of a kind,” Upchurch said.

The summer camp, in operation for 100 years, draws campers from across the country to the Cumberland Plateau. 

“It’s what they do. They help people,” Upchurch said.

Perron would often visit the Cumberland County Extension Office for help analyzing soil samples, to discuss the local cattle industry or to share something he’d read with Upchurch.

Perron is active in the community.

“I don’t know how many associations or clubs he’s involved with,” Upchurch said.

Perron helped launch a character recognition program for student athletes in the community, has supported and promoted scholarship opportunities to 4-H clubs and other organizations, and supported Ag in the Classroom.

“The Branham Award winner is that person that goes out and tries to make a difference in the lives of others,” Upchurch said. “It’s that person who is unselfish in the time, the energy and the financial support they put into the community. Without question, Pepe mirrors those quotes.”

Perron was unable to attend the award dinner.

The Cumberland County Livestock Producers Association meets monthly at the Cumberland County Complex Country Store with an education session followed by a board meeting. Contact the Cumberland County Extension Office for more information at 931-484-6743.


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