Greetings from where Virginia begins! Where the fog hangs over the Cumberland Mountains! Where the Cumberland Gap ushers a welcome to all those who pass through! Where the great Powell River flows onto Tennessee! Where family farms dot the valleys! Where a lonesome pine sit high on Powell Mountain! Where Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia all meet as neighbors! Greetings from Lee County, Virginia!
My name is Amy Gail Fannon and I am from Hickory Flats in Lee County! I am blessed to have grown up and live on the family farm. My father, William Fannon, worked for Farm Credit as a loan officer and my mother, Donna Fannon, worked as an elementary school teacher. I have one sister, Beth, who is an agriculture teacher. I grew up with a desire to understand why! My parents always said as a child that I asked a million and one questions and they always started with why. This theme continues throughout my life as I am a lover of knowledge!
Growing up on a burley tobacco farm, I was blessed with learning early what hard work is and knowing the satisfaction of a hard day of work! I have so many memories working in tobacco. At five years old, I started hoeing tobacco with my mother coming behind me getting what I missed. My grandfather was blind and I would be his eyes and place his hands on the sticks of tobacco to hand up. My sister would make me set tobacco left handed hoping she would not have to. I remember cold days in the barn grading tobacco with my sister and father. I got my first bank account at nine from helping my sister with her acre of tobacco. No matter what your opinion of tobacco and the industry, burley tobacco was good to my family! It was Christmas money every year and money for college! Lee County once had over 2,500 acres of burley tobacco. Now, there is barely 300 acres with less grown every year. I was a senior in high school when the government buy-out took place and the farming landscape of Lee County was changed forever!
I am a proud alumni of 4-H and FFA. I started in 4-H at nine years old by joining the Lee County Beef Program and showed my first heifer. I continue to show beef cattle and eventually showed sheep. I became a 4-H All-Star at sixteen. I attended 4-H Camp every year and eventually served on the staff of the Southwest Virginia 4-H Center as Ranger Danger. I served as my chapter FFA President my senior year. I obtain my American Degree becoming the first in my family. I competed in Forestry Judging for 4-H and FFA and competed in both national competitions. I don’t know where I would be with my FFA Advisor! Did I mention that my FFA Advisor was my sister and that she entered me into every possible contest!
My love for agriculture took me to Virginia Tech just like my father and sister! However, I did decide to be radical and not major in Agriculture Education like them. My path took me to the Department of Crop & Soil-Environmental Science and Department of Forestry where I continued to ask the why questions. In college, I was a member of the Virginia Tech Soil Judging teaming competing at two National Championships. I was also active in the Agronomy Club, Forestry Club, and the College of Agriculture and Life Science Ambassadors. I also participated in undergraduate research projects related reclaimed mined lands and competed in contests. I graduated in December of 2008 with a major in Crop & Soil-Environment Science emphasis in Soil Science and minors in Environmental Science and Forestry. I was fortunate to be able to continue my college education at Virginia Tech as a graduate students. I taught Basic Soils Laboratory and researched hair sheep production in silvopasture systems. While in graduate school, a position opened up with Virginia Cooperative Extension in Wise County (adjoins Lee County). The position was 50% Agriculture and Natural Resource Extension Agent and 50% Powell River Project. The Powell River Project is a reclaimed mined site that Virginia Tech had been conducting research plots for over 30 years. Upon hearing about the position, I decided to apply mainly to get the opportunity to interview. As luck would have it, I was selected for the position and started June of 2009. I was able to continue my graduate school work and completed my research project. However, my degree was not finished until August 2012.
I served in the Wise County/Powell River Project position for three and half year. I was able in December of 2012 to transfer to Lee County as the Agriculture and Natural Resource (ANR) Extension Agent. Being an ANR Extension Agent allows me to help farmers and improve the agriculture industry every day. I am constantly engaged with farmer’s problems, learning the latest developments, and striving to connect research and the real world together. People often think about the perfect farm and “what you are supposed to do.” Working with farmers dealing with real world problems, I assist them in finding practical solutions to imperfect situations. Working as an Extension Agent, I work with many agriculture groups such the Lee County Livestock Association, Daniel Boone Soil and Water Conservation District, and Farm Bureau. I serve as the coach for many 4-H and FFA teams including cattle working, stockmen’s, and forestry. My job presents new challenges every day and I love it!
Upon moving back home, I was able to rent a farm and expand my small herd of cattle. In addition, I started growing 3 acres of tobacco and 2-3 acres of pumpkins in partnership for three years. Due to illness and personal issues, I dispersed my cattle herd and ended my farm leases. Through this experience I learned several valuable lessons including the difficulties of leasing land and how valuable good health is. Four years ago, I was able to start pumpkin production with my father, sister, and brother-in-law. We raise 10 acres of pumpkins and coordinate the work among ourselves. On the farm, I primarily take care of spraying, scouting, and marketing. I also help my father with his crop production and have expanded in hair sheep production. Being on the farm working is one of my greatest joys in life.
In recent years, I have been blessed to have many amazing experiences through Extension and Farm Bureau. In 2012, I was selected to serve on the State Young Farmer Committee. In 2017, I won the Young Farmers Discussion Meet and competed at the national contest making Sweet Sixteen. This year, I was selected as the Excellence in Agriculture winner and will compete in January at the national contest. In 2016, Virginia Cooperative Extension selected me to participate in an International Exchange to Ireland. The exchange opened my eyes to different ways of thinking and pushed me out of my comfort zone. These experiences have been invaluable to me!
The other joys in my life are my niece and nephew who keep me on my toes! Also, my boyfriend, Chris, who is my enabler and tells me to go for it when I say I want to do something! I am passionate about my community and region! One of the main driving forces for me participating in VALOR is the desire to improve my community and region. I look forward to the challenge and being pushed outside my comfort zone!