“Surprised” and “honored” describe John R. Hamilton’s reaction to his family being named the East Central District Farm Family of the Year for 2015.
“That’s pretty much what I felt when we were named the White County Farm Family of the Year,” he said with a laugh. “We certainly did not expect it. We certainly appreciate it.”
Hamilton and his wife, Mikki, live in Searcy and farm approximately 880 acres in the West Point community. They raise rice, soybeans, wheat and corn, although they have no corn this year. They rent approximately half of the acres from surrounding landowners.
The Hamiltons have two young sons: John David, 6, and Jim, 4.
The family will be judged against seven other district winners across the state for the Arkansas Farm Family of the Year award. The winner will be named Dec. 10 at the Farm Family of the Year luncheon at the Wyndham Riverfront Hotel in North Little Rock.
John Hamilton, 40, grew up on the farm, the only child of the late Jimmy and Brenda Hamilton.
“I was raised on this place. My father farmed as far back as I can remember. I wanted to be on the farm riding on tractors,” Hamilton said.
“As I got older, my dad began taking me with him most days after school was out for the summer to help him on the farm with simple tasks like shoveling in rice fields, moving trucks from one field to the other and being the farm gopher,” he said.
“I made decent grades in school and knew I would go off to college,” said Hamilton, who graduated from the last class of Kensett High School in 1993. “I knew what was expected of me.
“I headed off to the University of Arkansas in the fall of 1993, and for two years, I was undecided about my major. I finally decided on ag/business.”
Hamilton graduated from the U of A in 1997 with a degree in ag/business and a minor in agronomy. Following graduation, he returned home and began to farm, first with his dad, then on his own.
“I was able to get a young-farmer loan to purchase two new tractors that would be my contribution toward adding to the equipment that we would need to farm a combined 1,000 acres,” Hamilton said. “I was able to rent some ground between West Point and Georgetown from my uncle and farm that for myself while working with my dad on his farm.
“That first five years was tough,” Hamilton said. “Prices were bad, the ground was tough to farm, and things just didn’t go very well,” he said. “I had a lot to learn — some if it the hard way. By August of 1998, I could tell that the crop I was going to harvest might cover my tractor payment, but I wouldn’t have much to live on. So I went and got a part-time job loading trucks at UPS in the early-morning hours. It was what kept me in farming, along with lots of help from my dad, my uncle Nicky [Hamilton] and my aunt Lou (the late Lou Hubach), who gave me a place to live without charging me rent for nearly six years. Without all of their help and generosity, I never would have lasted that first five years, if that long.”
John and Mikki were married in 2004.
Mikki, 34, graduated from Searcy High School in 1999. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in dental hygiene in 2004 from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock.
She is the daughter of Doug and Amy Rutledge of Beebe. Mikki has two sisters — Belinda Walker of Benton and Lisa Goff of Searcy — and one brother, Dale Rutledge of Little Rock. Her father often helps John on the farm.
Mikki works four days a week as a dental hygienist for Angela Gray Family Dentistry in Jacksonville.
Mikki did not grow up on a farm.
“It was a whole new world for me,” she said. “I now have a greater respect of where my food comes from, … the time and labor it takes to get the crop out. It’s been a big education for me.”
John said Mikki is “without a doubt, the hardest worker” he has ever been around, probably to a fault.
“During the spring and summer months, when I try to get out the door as early as possible in the morning and then often don’t come in until after dark, she’s the workhorse that keeps our home going,” he said. “Besides seeing to almost every need of our family and home and working four days a week, … she will always try and help with school or church activities when she can. She will often visit local schools or day cares to make presentations to young people about the importance of good dental hygiene and the proper methods to take care of their teeth. Not on my best day will I ever accomplish as much as she does in a typical day.”
The Hamiltons’ older son, John David, attends Westside Elementary School in Searcy. Their younger son, Jim, attends preschool at First United Methodist Church in Searcy. Both boys are active in sports and church activities.
The Hamiltons have added something different to their farming operation this year — a large vegetable garden. They have planted potatoes, sweet corn, bush beans, squash, cucumbers, eggplant, peas, okra, watermelons and pumpkins.
“Our plan is to keep from it what we will eat ourselves or give to family and then sell all the rest at the Searcy Farmers Market,” John said. “If we have success in our limited endeavor this year, we will plant more next year in hopes of the vegetable production becoming an additional revenue for the farm.”
Since 2013, the Hamiltons have cooperated with Operation Wounded Warrior Support to help manage and prepare the Swamp Fox property they purchased on nearby Raft Creek for wounded warriors to come and hunt ducks during the fall and winter months.
“We will disk food plots, help to capture and manage duck water on the property and any other tasks related to property management that they ask us to perform, if possible,” John said.
John said this is not necessarily a business enterprise “because we aren’t seeking to profit from this project, but we are reimbursed by OWWS for labor and equipment hours and fuel that we expend in performing the tasks they ask of us.
“I am truly thrilled to be involved in this operation and wish that I could donate all goods and services that we provide, … but for now, we are trying to do what they need at the least cost possible. … I hope to be involved in some capacity with this project as long as I
can be of assistance to them.”
John said it is especially meaningful to him to help with these veterans because his father was a veteran.
“He was in the Army,” John said. “He was a guard at Spandau Prison in West Berlin, where they kept the World War II criminals. (According to the website western-allies-berlin.com, the prison was torn down in 1987.)
“That’s why I give back,” he said. “I’m just like any red-blooded American; I’m partial to veterans.”
In 2014, the Hamilton farm was designated an Arkansas Century Farm by the Arkansas Agriculture Department. The farm was established in 1901 by H.M. Hamilton.
“He homesteaded 80 acres,” John said. “We have a document signed by President William McKinley.”
John said his Hamilton ancestors came to White County after the Civil War.
“I am the fifth generation to farm here,” he said. “My farm is nothing special. What’s special is the family history. That’s the great part of this story.”
John’s father, Jimmy, was one of 12 children born to the late Jim and Eunice Hamilton. John said all of his aunts and uncles are, or have been, supportive of his farming efforts. In addition to his uncle Nicky and aunt Lou, his other aunts and uncles include Ernestine McGiboney, Alice Barker, Martha Crigger, Jackie Lee Bordelon, Jane Manasco and Gary Hamilton, all of whom live in and around Searcy; and the late David Hamilton, the late Macky Hamilton and the late Ann Rogers.
John was mayor of West Point from 2008-13. He is a member of the White County Farm Bureau Board of Directors, the Little Red River Irrigation District Board of Directors, the White County Cooperative Extension Service Row Crop Advisory Board, the White County 4-H Foundation and the White County Razorback Club.
He is a former member of the White County Intergovernmental Council, the West Point Cemetery Board of Directors, the Advancing White County Committee, the West Point City Council and the White County Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers program. He was a charter member and member of the board of directors of the Fayetteville Shale Citizens Association.
On the state level, John received the Arkansas Farm Bureau Excellence in Agriculture Award in 2009 and was a member of the inaugural class of the Arkansas Farm Bureau President’s Leadership Council. He is a lifetime member of the U of A Alumni Association and a member of the Riceland Foods Cooperative
and the AgHeritage Farm Credit Services Association.
Mikki is a member of the White County 4-H Foundation, the White County Farm Bureau and the White County Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers program.
She was a Westside Elementary Kindergarten Class Center helper; an assistant Sunday School teacher for preschool and primary classes and an assistant for vacation Bible school at Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church, north of Griffithville; and a member of the Arkansas State Dental Hygiene Association.
The Hamiltons participated in the 2010 American Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Excellence in Agriculture competition.