Teresa Chambers didn’t know anything about farming when she married into her husband’s family dairy business.
Just a few days after the honeymoon, she was helping her husband milk cows in freezing weather during the blizzard of 1993.
“I was thinking, ‘What am I doing here? Can I go back home?’ Because it was rough,” Chambers said.
She was definitely not a farm girl, being raised near downtown Gray.
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Her husband, Judd Chambers, learned to count as he watched his parents lead the cows into the milking parlor when he was just 3, she said.
Although they attended Jones County High School together, they weren’t really acquainted until after graduation when mutual friends took her to a party at the Chambers’ 500-acre dairy farm.
Those rolling hills off Ga. 18 are where she’s been raising three boys and about 1,800 calves over her 18-year marriage.
But it’s her volunteer work educating children and the community about agriculture that helped her earn the distinction of Monsanto’s 2011 Farm Mom of the Year for the Southeast.
Chambers dons a cow costume for World School Milk Day at Gray Elementary School. (To be more discreet, the udders have been removed in favor of an apron decorated with pictures of milk, cheese and yogurt.)
“It’s adorable for her to do it,” said Barbara Bridgers, office manager of the Jones County branch of the Georgia Farm Bureau, who nominated Chambers for the $5,000 award.
Bridgers learned about the contest online on the last working day to enter.
She hastily typed a 300-word essay without even mentioning the entry to Chambers, who likely would have objected.
“I like the attention agriculture gets, but I don’t like the attention I get,” Chambers said. “I’m not any more special than anyone else, but I do like to bring attention to agriculture.”
The family loans calves to the Future Farmers of America program, and she tries to visit the schools once a month.
Armed with dry goods, she helps kids make bread in a bag. The children knead the ingredients and bake small loaves.
They churn butter or make their own peanut butter, and she encourages the youngsters to pose with milk mustaches.
“We want to raise people’s awareness because agriculture is not something people think about on a daily basis because they can go into the supermarket and get their milk,” Chambers said. “But it’s the state’s No. 1 industry, and it impacts a lot of people’s lives.”
It has certainly changed hers.
She can never sleep late. Even on weekends she is up before the sun as the cows have to be fed and milked.
Over the years, the 40-year-old has learned all aspects of farming.
She and her husband sell bull calves and regularly keep about 360 grown cows.
Teresa has named many of them.
“I give all the mothers and daughters the same name, like Big Sara and Little Sara,” she said. “I know their families. That’s fun for me.”
Tater begat Mom Tate, who begat Tate.
There’s Big Bertha and Little Bertha.
Through a computer program, Chambers tracks the cow’s parents, pregnancies and milk production.
She knows which cows like to be petted and that Ginger is a licker, she said, as the Holstein wrapped its pink tongue around Chambers’ forearm.
“That one right there is Pepsi Cola,” Chambers said as she walked through the freestyle barn where dozens of black and white and two red and white cows were munching on a mixture of corn, citrus pulp and dried distilled grain.
Even when her boys feed the calves in the field, Chambers has to personally check on the young ones daily to make sure they’re healthy.
“They can get sick in a hurry,” she said.
But it’s her love and family dedication for her three sons, Maine, 17, Bailey, 14, and Justin, 13, that Bridgers thought made Chambers a perfect choice for Farm Mom of the Year.
The flexibility of her farm life has allowed her to actively participate in the boys’ school activities, but she saves the cow costume for the younger kids.
“The boys would probably be embarrassed if I went to their school,” she said.
Chambers is an avid photographer whose snapshot of Tate won the cover spot on the 2011 Young Farmer Calendar.
Judd and Teresa were also chosen as Georgia Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer of the Year in 2003.
In addition, she plays piano for Pitts Chapel United Methodist Church in Gray.
Bridgers wonders how Chambers does it all, but she’s thankful Teresa is helping keep farming alive for the next generation of Jones County.
“We don’t have the farming community that we used to have,” Bridgers said. “So we just want the kids to be conscious of what they wear and what they eat and where it comes from and all the people involved in agriculture.”
If you know of a person going above and beyond to help the community -- someone whose work might otherwise go unrecognized -- please let us know. Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Watch Above and Beyond features Thursdays on NewsCentral. To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.