Suzanne Cecil White: KFB's 2021 Farm Woman of the YearPosted on Mar 14, 2022
The Daviess County native recognized for this first annual honor
It doesn’t take long in a conversation with Suzanne Cecil White to hear the excitement in her voice when it comes to talking about the family farm.
That excitement for the farm is only paralleled by her inherent desire to be a strong advocate for a business that has been a sustaining force for her family for the last four decades.
Cecil Farms, which has its roots in traditional crops, has been producing fruits and vegetables commercially since 1981 sending their goods across the country. But it wasn’t until 2011, Suzanne came back to the farm after teaching for 10 years in Bowling Green.
“I came back to Owensboro with the same intention, that I was going to apply for a job to continue my teaching,” she said. “Instead, I think I was home about a week and my dad (Gary Cecil) showed me an article in a magazine about community supported agriculture (CSA). He said to me, ‘Hey, we've been growing fruits and vegetables for decades, but you should try this.’ So, I started a CSA that summer.”
Although Suzanne said she was unsure of what she was doing when it came to the creation and operation of a CSA, she knew about the production side, having grown up on the farm. Another advantage was that Owensboro had never had a CSA in the community before Suzanne began her new venture
“I just learned as I went and the community really took to it and got excited about it, which then, in turn, excited me,” she said.
From that start, Suzanne now oversees the whole Cecil Farms Produce business along with a farm stand. The operation also includes greenhouses with flowers and plants, and they service schools and restaurants with their fruits and vegetables.
“Initially, I did all the running doing the home deliveries with the CSA and delivering watermelons, cantaloupes, tomatoes, squash, and zucchini to all the local schools in Daviess County,” she said. Then I'd go to the Hancock County and I'd go on over to Henderson County. It was running me pretty ragged, to be honest.”
But after getting connected to a local distributor, some of the running subsided and the reach from the produce side of the farm to its customers has grown bigger.
My dad and my brother, (Ryan) worked for decades to establish the commercial side of the produce business, but bringing it to retail and making Cecil Farms Produce a household name around this region, we had never had before,” Suzanne said.
While her hard work on the farm has paid dividends from a sustainability standpoint, her passion as an advocate for agriculture has brought her down a path that led to her being named the Kentucky Farm Bureau Farm Women of the Year during last year's KFB Annual Meeting.
“I was really surprised to find out I had won the award because I know there were so many other great people to choose from. I am so honored,” she said. “And I look forward to meeting so many other great women in our agriculture industry.”
The role of the woman on the farm has been one of great importance throughout the history of agriculture, but often that has gone unnoticed. Suzanne sees women becoming more and more the face of the farm.
“Women have always been present on the farm, it's just now a lot of women have become the actual face of the operations that you see," she said. "I still have a lot of people say to me when I tell them what I do, 'Oh, so your husband is a farmer.’ And I’m glad to reply, “No, I’m the farmer.’ I’m not offended by it in any way because I know it was my father and brother who laid the groundwork for what we have today. They gave me a three-decade head start. I just want to be an example of overcoming; of dreaming and believing big and bigger. And knowing this down in my heart I want to help plant that seed in other women's hearts.”
Suzanne also has a sister, who left the farm to work in marketing for a number of years. She too has come back bringing those skills and making it a true family venture. And a big part of the family has been their involvement in Farm Bureau. Suzanne said she has grown up with the organization.
“My dad was president of the Daviess County Farm Bureau, at one time and I grew up going to various events and meetings, as well as to Washington, D.C.,” she said. “Then, as I've grown up and as I've been back here, I've been involved in the women's programs locally, and the young farmers and other programs like that. Farm Bureau has always been a part of my life, and I want it to stay that way.”
Suzanne said she is looking forward to her role as KFB Farm Woman of the Year and feels the honor will give her an opportunity to share her story and encourage other women to follow their dreams on the farm.
“In getting this award, I feel it is a recognition of me chasing after the impossible over and over again, sometimes falling down, and having hard times,” she said. “We cry and fail, and there are a lot of hard days or hard seasons, but you just have to keep pushing. I think I'm an example of getting there and I just want to serve as an example of what we can achieve when we put our minds and hearts to it. I put up a sign on our farm last spring that says, ‘Imagine the Possible,’ because that's always who I've been.”