For the Maples family of Limestone County, heritage is spelled “F-A-R-M-I-N-G.”
The family has put stock in Alabama farm life since 1818, and for three generations, Maples men have formed a tradition serving the Alabama Farmers Federation.
“I always enjoyed going to the Youth Leadership Conference and other Federation events with my parents,” said Ben Maples, the 2018 State Young Farmers Committee chairman. “It means a lot being able to raise our family the same way I was, around Alfa and the ag industry.”
Maples was elected at the December annual meeting, following in the footsteps of father Tommy and grandfather Billy, who served as chairmen in 1995 and from 1965-66, respectively.
Maples and wife Heather said they’re excited to instill a love of farm life in daughters Jane, 4, and Lydia, 20 months. It’s how they were raised, too — him on Maples Stock Farm in Elkmont and her on a small Angus farm in Kentucky.
The Maples met through mutual friends at Western Kentucky University (another family tradition) while studying ag education and ag business, respectively. Even before they married in 2011, Heather was encouraged to pay Federation dues and learn about Alabama agriculture.
“I got the rural upbringing in Kentucky. I grew up loving that, and then I came here and saw a whole different aspect,” said Heather, who was unfamiliar with the Farmers Federation before meeting her husband. “Now I love farming as a business as well as a lifestyle. I wouldn’t want anything else.”
As state chairman, Maples serves a one-year, ex-officio term on the Federation’s board of directors and helms a 10-member state committee. He also represents the State Young Farmers North At-Large district.
While Heather operates Black Cow Art Studio from home and pursues a degree in nursing, Ben splits his time between Maples Stock Farm and teaching at Elkmont High School.
Maples has spent two years at his alma mater teaching metal fabrication and animal science to 200 students and dramatically increasing FFA participation from 35 members to 120. Federation involvement for Ben’s students has skyrocketed, too.
“When they’re students, we get them coming to our Limestone County Young Farmers meetings,” Maples said. “Instead of giving graduation presents to these kids, we pay their Federation dues for a year, so they can be involved and apply for scholarships, too.”
Maples said small measures like that make a big difference on the State Young Farmers stage.
“I hope to continue growing involvement not just at the county level, but at the state level,” he said. “You can see that growth with the amount of competition we had during state committee elections this year. I’d like to see people continue to realize the importance of the Federation.”
Another goal of the Federation is connecting Alabamians to young farmers nationwide with different backgrounds and ag experiences. It’s an opportunity he and Heather had as Alabama’s 2016 Excellence In Agriculture representative.
“We’re also working to increase participation in our competitive events,” said Maples, referencing the Outstanding Young Farm Family, Excellence In Agriculture and Discussion Meet contests. “We do a good job having quality competitions in Alabama, but I want to see us be competitive nationally, too.”
Maples said improving quality on Maples Stock Farm is also crucial. The farm raises over 200 head of registered Angus cattle, sells seed stock to breeders and has adopted genomic testing to breed better characteristics in cattle. They’re also advancing forage and hay conditions.
The Maples’ mindset encourages quality family time, too, whether checking cows, riding the tractor with Jane in the buddy seat, playing Uno or attending Elkmont Church of Christ. These down-home tendencies make Maples a perfect fit as state chairman, said Federation Young Farmers Division Director Jennifer Himburg.
“Because Ben’s parents were highly involved in Young Farmers and the Federation, he understands the goals of our organization,” Himburg said. “Through the next year, he’ll learn even more about what makes the Federation tick and how to be a better leader. His passion for agriculture and learning is catching, and I’m excited to see how he helps grow our program.”
As for Heather, she describes her husband as genuine. No fluff. Tenderhearted. Dependable.
“Whatever he’s going to do, he’ll do it 110 percent,” Heather said. “It’ll be done the right way the first time. That’s a rare quality in people.”