Going the Extra Mile

by Latasha Ford

Posted on Apr 11, 2022

John Levell Miles smiles as he poses with his wife, Raven, and daughter, River. They also have a son, Jett.

John Levell Miles smiles as he poses with his wife, Raven, and daughter, River. They also have a son, Jett.

The path to Austin, Texas, for Fort Valley State University alumnus John Levell Miles began on a family farm in Valdosta, Georgia, where the 33-year-old learned firsthand the impact of farming and land ownership.

His grandfather acquired about 250 acres in 1930 with a down payment of $1 and some change. “He used that land and his farming abilities to give all 10 of his children the opportunity to go to college,” Miles said. “Some went to Fort Valley State, the University of Georgia, Valdosta State and Savannah State. Some also went into the military or stayed home to work at the local papermill.”

Miles said his grandfather’s property taught his children a life lesson on what it means to take care of family.

“It taught them to work hard, do what’s right and allow the Lord to bless them,” he said. “Getting to Fort Valley, I understood that agriculture is either in you or it’s not and to embrace it because it will guide you. It did for me.”

After one semester as a business major, someone encouraged him to major in agricultural economics.

“I was born and raised on a farm, so they told me to look into agricultural economics and to meet Dr. (Erika) Styles,” Miles said. “She forever changed my life. To specialize in agriculture with the ability to be so diverse in the workforce was a no brainer.”

Miles minored in horticulture at Fort Valley State University and worked on the campus farm.

Miles minored in horticulture at Fort Valley State University and worked on the campus farm.

Minoring in horticulture, Miles stepped into leadership roles on campus as the president of the AgriDemic Forum and Toastmasters, as well as a member of the Equestrian Club. He also helped on the campus farm. His experiences at the Historically Black University further involved interning at Growing Power, an urban agriculture organization headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Owner Will Allen, a retired NBA player and retired KFC franchisee, created the organic farm in the late 1990s for his community to learn about growing and eating healthy foods.

Miles connected with Allen through a fellow horticulture student who is a founding member of the organization. As a guest speaker for the AgriDemic Forum Banquet, Allen inquired about Miles interning one summer on the urban farm.

“My experience was amazing,” Miles beamed. “Internships help you develop a network and teach you to step outside your comfort zone.”

His duties at Growing Power included working with plants and animals. He recalls installing 50 garden beds at daycare centers.

Miles admires Allen for investing in his community to help save them from an unhealthy lifestyle.

“To be able to identify a problem and come up with a solution, that is what Will did,” Miles said. “He took a small area and maximized the growth of it with vegetables. Buying into that gives you the ability to take that same mentality with you when you leave. That’s why when I returned to Fort Valley after my summer internship, we started growing vegetables on campus for the community.”

The 2013 graduate said his experiences at the Valley are immeasurable. Some of his influences included Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim, chair of the Department of Agricultural Sciences; Dr. James Brown, horticulture professor; and Jared Fluellen, farm manager.

“To be in a place where your administration and professors genuinely care, there is no such thing as giving up,” Miles said. “I accredit everything that I have acquired and every position that I’ve had to Fort Valley. They groomed me to harness the leadership that was already within me.”

As a result, Miles is a maintenance manager for Cushman & Wakefield Services in Austin, Texas. He oversees the base building and facility maintenance for two Amazon sites and manages 20 employees. The best part of his job is networking and developing people into management.

“My job is to support them and develop them into whatever they want to be in their careers,” he said.

Miles also worked for Amazon before receiving a management promotion. Previous positions involved working as a tier one associate and then quickly receiving a promotion as area manager. In addition, he managed a communications construction company. One of his favorite careers was serving as a county Extension agent for Prairie View A&M University in Nacogdoches, Texas.

“It was the best job I ever had because I had the opportunity to do what I love,” Miles said. “I worked with limited resource and beginning farmers and helped with land loss prevention. It is so self-fulfilling to help people and see immediate results.”

Miles is married to Raven, and they have a daughter, 2-year-old River, and a son, Jett. They also have a dog, Chip. Miles desires to own acreage and possibly return to his hometown to revive the family farm.

“I want to continue to do what’s right and understand the direction of what the Lord has me to do and walk in that path,” he said.

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