Teen teaches First Lady all about cattle herd

Friday, July 30, 2010
During a Tennessee agriculture day at the state Executive Residence's Conservation Hall, Andie Strasser of Marshall County tells First Lady Andrea Conte about her family's livestock.

NASHVILLE -- It's not every day that a Marshall County schools student becomes an instructor for a member of the Tennessee governor's family, but that's just about what happened last week at Conservation Hall at the Tennessee Residence.

Andie Strasser, 13-year-old daughter of Jenny and Toby Strasser, works on the family farm with her sister, Dustie, 15. Andie took a display of their farm life to an open house at Conservation Hall on Thursday afternoon last week when First Lady Andrea Conte stopped to learn about Duzan Farm.

Toby Strasser selected the first two letters of the girls' first names and separated them with a Z to name the farm that's about two miles north of Chapel Hill off US31A. The girls own five different dairy breeds. Duzan also has hay fields and wooded acres.

In Nashville, Andie told Andrea about the bull named Munchkin

"This bull is in-bred," she said.

The bull is quite small and young.

"He might" grow to full size, she said, hopefully.

Later, Conte told the assembled media: "We have a strong agriculture program" in Tennessee, and said, "We want to build on it."

Tennessee Agriculture Commissioner Ken Givens smiled.

It was a promotional day, so there were mutually complimentary comments as Conte observed, "Ken has done a wonderful job as commissioner of agriculture."

Agriculture comprises 18.5 percent of Tennessee's economy, nearly a fifth, and Givens noted that Buford Ellington, one of the state's former governors, was from Marshall County.

Andie's mother, Jenny, later explained how important farming is to her family.

"We don't have a dairy op of our own. Our daughters, Andie and Dustie, 15, own all the dairy cattle.

"My husband and I grew up on dairy farms and Toby's point to the girls is: "You own them, you're going to work them, and that's kind of how we've been."

Sometimes children get a great deal of help from their parents when delivering on academic projects. Not in the Strasser family.

"If you're going to do the fun part, you're going to do the work," Jenny says. "It will mean more to them and the will it will make them better employees and responsible adults.

Duzan Farm doesn't milk cows.

"We have all the dry cows, the calves, the heifers and the girls get up in the morning and feed them before they go to school and they take care of them after school as well, and they break them to lead and provide general health care," Jenny says.

"Andie also has chickens and they also just got a beef heifer," Jenny said of the two large animals. "One for Andie and one for Dustie."

"Andie has done most of the summer work since Dustie went to the Farm Bureau Youth Leadership Camp and she has been a team leader at 4-H camp. She's also been to 4-H round up, and she spent two weeks with some of our friends who are veterinarians in Kentucky. Dustie wants to be a veterinarian for cows and horses."

While her sister went out of state, Andie got to go to the Governor's mansion's big meeting hall and meet more state leaders.

Jenny's brother-in-law, Dan Stasser, is director of market development and viticulture marketing with Pick Tennessee Products, the state's program to encourage people to buy agricultural produce raised in Tennessee.

Conte was pleased to report a "huge interest" among consumers for "locally-grown food" as evidenced by Americans' continued interest in shopping at farmers markets.

"Anything that's made and/or grown within one hour's drive ... has got to be better," she said.

Andie Strasser may have had one of the more important displays about big animal farming, but other issues related to Marshall County were discussed with state leaders.

As for an on-going issue of the Jersey milk cow herd at the University of Tennessee's Dairy Research and Education Center near Lewisburg, Givins said, "Obviously, UT is a leader in this and very involved with agriculture and Tennessee business."

It's been clear since discussions among state and local leaders that partnerships must be found for the Jersey herd program to thrive.

The state used federal stimulus money to avoid implementation of a plan to move the Jersey herd to Spring Hill where UT has another herd of cows.

When the state officials were asked what's to happen next year after stimulus money is exhausted, Agriculture Department spokesman Tom Womack pointed out that there are "a number of things in the budget addressed with non-recurring money."

Givins continued: Gov. Phil Bredesen has done a "good job of growing the economy..." and "it will come back...

"I think there is a commitment for the Jersey herd," the commissioner said.

Tennessee's current budget year started the first of this month, so "There's time before the next budget... I'm not really worried about it."

From cows to horses, the other large animal of concern to Marshall County's agriculture community -- Givens was asked about the upcoming Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in Shelbyville and the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association headquartered in Lewisburg.

"We certainly support that industry," the commissioner said. "It is vital to business."

He acknowledged difficulties for the industry with regard to its communications, but Givins expressed confidence that new leadership has "added integrity," and that a traditional ceremony at the Ellington Agricultural Center in Nashville will continue as it has always.

Givens said, "I always go down" to the Celebration in Shelbyville. "Gov. Bredesen has...

"We expect to continue to do that..."

The Celebration has become an event with shows, competition and related events for nearly two weeks preceding Labor Day.

There are now five full months before the Bredesen Administration turns the reins of power over to another governor and his cabinet, and so Givens was asked what advice he has for his successor.

"Do no harm," Givens said turning to comments at another event, and his acknowledgement of being a "short-timer" in office. The department's long-time personnel maintain a reliable service to state residents.

As for Andie, she's returning to school in Chapel Hill this fall.