If you want to catch Mr. Tony Kennedy with some free time, you’ll have to wait until it’s pouring down rain because it seems he never stops working. That caveat to interviewing him came as no surprise though, considering he was nominated by the late Kennon Tatum who called Tony Kennedy “the hardest working man in Tattnall County” who somehow managed to “impress him, do everything on his farm the right way, every time.” Reminding Tony of that brought one of the biggest smiles you have ever seen as you listen to him explain that it was Mr. Kennon, a distant kin, who offered Tony so many pointers over the years.
In fact, growing up, it was Mr. Kennon’s tobacco farm where Tony spent a good number of his days. He was one of five – two girls and three boys – and they worked for cousins, uncles, and anyone else their daddy told them to. Tony is quick to acknowledge that as a kid, it was sometimes frustrating, but even then, he appreciated why they were doing it – even if it was mostly for free.
In Tony’s eyes, he wasn’t always afforded the blessing and opportunity to farm full-time. After graduating high school and attending Swainsboro Tech, he went to work at Fort Stewart as a contractor and even spent a year at the Georgia Department of Administrative Services.
But farming was never lost on him. Beginning in 1986, afternoons, evenings, and weekends when he could, Tony was out tending the fields of corn, soybeans, and wheat. He was a sharecropper on his granddaddy’s land and started buying his own land at the ripe age of 21.
It wasn’t until 1997 when he partnered up with Claxton Poultry that he was able to quit his full-time job. Two chicken houses in 1997, two in 1998, and two in 2003 established Tony as quite the chicken farmer. When the chicken houses are full, he’s responsible for a whopping 150,000 birds. There is quite a bit on the line with the threat of avian flu, but Tony said there isn’t much he can do other than follow the necessary precautions – including keeping us a safe distance from the chicken houses during the interview- and say his prayers.
His dad, Wayne Kennedy – married to Betty – was one of the first to ever run six chicken houses in Tattnall County, and even had eight at one point. Tony’s dad got chicken houses through Glennville Hatchery in 1975, so when Tony started on his own with chickens, he was no novice. But the thing his daddy didn’t share with him? The cost of farming.
Chicken farming, he says, is a lot more stable income. You don’t have to rely on the weather, the soil, and so many conditions you can’t control. If you keep the chickens alive and well, you will be able to follow through with your contract. Crops aren’t the same. Aside from the earthly conditions, you’re also pressed with the market controls and who will buy your product. He says in today’s world and when even back when he made his switch, farming was not stable enough to justify giving up a full-time job for row cropping because of the high risk.
Even still, Tony stresses, “If you’re not close to the good Lord as a farmer, it won’t be long before you are.”
He still row crops cotton, peanuts, soybeans and corn on about 275 acres. Tony shrugs it off and says it isn’t a big farm, but Mr. Kennon remarked during his nomination more than once that Tony’s rows were as perfect as they come. His peanuts and cotton go to Southwestern Gin in Surrency and soybeans and corn to a local Glennville facility.
A new venture he’s working on is Premium Peanut down in Douglas, Georgia. He bought into the new operation in hopes of some return on his investment while working with fellow growers. His fellow row crop farmers, he says, aren’t really competition. The healthy, friendly competitiveness will always be there, but he is confident in saying most everyone is willing to help the next one when they can. Produce, however, may be another story.
Ask Tony the three most important qualities of a farmer, and he’ll list:
- willpower to keep at it when times get tough
- some money put to the side because one good year doesn’t mean the next one will be
- a good faith in The Lord
So why farming? There’s more than one reason for Tony. You can’t escape something in your blood, he’ll tell you. Born and raised with it, he just loves it. Simple as that. Another is that he can spend more time with his children. He has been able to meet his kids at the bus stop every day. His farm life has evolved with the growth of his family and Tony noted, with a serious laugh, that if you’re doing marriage the right way, you’ll cut back on your hours just a little. He also contends that if what you want can’t be made in six days versus seven, “it ain’t worth having.”
On the day Tony was interviewed, he was somewhat relaxed as his six Claxton Poultry chicken houses had just been ‘restocked’ the day before. The overcast day and the saturated ground offered him a window to share his story with All On Georgia. We’re grateful for his willingness during an extremely busy season.
Tony Kennedy is married to Tammy Sapp of Claxton, and they have two sons, Trent and Trey. Tony is the son of Wayne and Betty (Tatum) Kennedy. His maternal grandparents were Dwight and Vera Tatum (Dwight’s brother, Dewitt, was Kennon Tatum’s father) and his paternal grandparents were Carl and Eula Mae Kennedy.
Tony Kennedy nominated Vernon Dasher for All On Georgia – Tattnall’s November ‘Farm of the Month.’