When Suzanne Cecil White decided to leave teaching a decade ago and return to the family farm, she never anticipated that she would now be regarded as among the state’s top women in agriculture.
But on Friday, she received the 2021 Kentucky Farm Bureau Farm Woman of the Year Award during a ceremony held at the Galt House in Louisville.
“Ten years ago, I would not have imagined that this is what I’d be doing, what I’d be loving or that Cecil Farms would look like it does today,” White said.
White, 41, grew up on the Daviess County farm her father, Gary, started in the mid 70s. The farm is situated between West Louisville and Maple Mount.
White, however, said her parents allowed her to pursue her own path that eventually led her back home. And now she’s taking the same approach with her two children.
“My parents never pushed me to be anything that I didn’t want to be or to be part of the farm,” she said. “They let all three of us — my brother (Ryan), my sister (Katie) and I — come in on our own choosing and our own timing. That’s the goal for my kids; I want them to always feel that they can dream their own dream. And if our dream becomes their dream, that would be amazing. But I’m not going to force it or plan on it.”
Until White returned to the farm, Cecil Farms sold its crops and produce wholesale.
But White credited her father with the idea to develop farm-share subscriptions, which were becoming popular in other communities.
“…Dad introduced an idea to me,” White said. “That (first) summer light bulbs went off. …We already grew fruits and vegetables and he’d been selling that wholesale since the early 1980s. So he was like, ‘We have what it takes for that. You want to try this?’ So I just took it and ran with it.”
White expanded the operation into the region’s first farm-fresh produce delivery service where orders can be made online. She now manages employees, handles bookkeeping and payroll, and directs the marketing and public relations for the family business.
And in 2019, she opened the 4,000 square-foot White Chateau at Cecil Farms, a multi-purpose venue that hosts social events such as the annual farm-to-table dinner, along with ag-related educational programs.
“We went from a wholesale operation to retail and people now know our name,” said White about how far the operation has come in the past 10 years.
Along with her role with Cecil Farms, she is active in the Daviess County Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Women’s Committees. She is also an alum of the Kentucky Agricultural Leadership Program, serves on the board of the Kentucky Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (KCARD), the Kentucky Agriculture Development Fund Board (KADF), and the Daviess County District Conservation Board.
According to the KFB, the Woman of the Year Award “honors the outstanding achievement of a woman actively engaged in production agriculture. Recipients personify the highest level of professional excellence in agriculture.”
White, who was one of 18 women considered for the award, said she is seeing more women making an impact in what used to be a male-dominated field.
“For me, I’ve always seen women involved; I guess the leadership had predominantly been men,” she said. “But when I came back 10 years ago, there was zero hesitation from my dad and my brother to let me lead. …So I’ve been pretty fortunate in the atmosphere I’ve grown up in.”
Don Wilkins, email@example.com, 270-691-7299