It’s a great idea that developed from a desire to serve. That’s the basic history of the Tennessee Ag Tag, a specialty license plate that celebrates the state’s agriculture and raises funds for agricultural youth programs, such as 4-H, and forestry awareness, education and marketing programs.
More than two decades ago, two members of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) marketing team, Cynthia Kent and Keith Harrison, started a conversation about Tennessee leaders they admired, people like state Sen. Tommy Burks and Agriculture Commissioners
A.C. Clark, Terry Oliver and Cotton Ivy. Talking about these agriculture heroes led to a discussion of how they could contribute more to the ag community in the state.
Jerry Blankenship, who at the time was working with TDA as the new fruit and vegetable specialist and now owns Blankenship Farms and Nursery, suggested a license plate. With the license plate, Blankenship reasoned, the state could raise money the department could use to support ag groups.
“From there, the planning began,” says Kent, TDA Market Development creative resources coordinator, who was part of that initial conversation.
Then-TDA employee Harrison, who now directs marketing and promotions at the Tennessee Farmers Cooperative, suggested the plate feature a barn because the image represents all of agriculture.
“Keith had the idea that the Ag Tag would be the unifying voice of agriculture in Tennessee,” Kent says. “The tag would literally put agriculture on the road. People would see the barn and associate all things agriculture with it.”
Legislation was drafted and passed by the state General Assembly, thanks to the work of then-counsel and current Consumer and Industry Services administrative manager David Waddell, and the Ag Tag became available to Tennessee residents. That’s when the red barn started taking over in Tennessee. It could be seen everywhere – fair associations, ag organizations and ag events.
The iconic red barn is a depiction of one located on Kent’s grandfather’s property in Pickett County. It’s the familiar mule barn that Tennesseans grew up seeing on fields and farms. Kent worked on the design to ensure it was both attractive and practical – easily read by law enforcement. In addition to the barn, it features the green of 4-H and the sunrise image of FFA.
The tag serves as a traveling billboard for Pick Tennessee Products and promotes agriculture with a positive image. More important, it raises thousands of dollars annually to support ag programs and projects.