Faith, Family And Farming Span Generations
By Debra Davis and Marlee Moore
For many farm families across the state, their roots run deep in the Alabama Farmers Federation.
The organization was founded in 1921 as Alabama Farm Bureau. Although the name changed, farmers’ belief in its mission remained. It’s a belief many farmers have passed to the next generation.
When flipping through old county directories or issues of Neighbors magazine, names rise from the pages across the years: Corcoran, Ellison and Maples are among a bevy of others.
Once a family sees the impact the Federation has on faith, family and farming, the next generation is all in. Leadership rises from the organization’s grassroots, and many leaders get their start in the Young Farmers Program before progressing to county, commodity, state and national roles.
Three families whose involvement spans generations are featured below. Remember: These are just a fraction of the farm families in the Alabama Farmers Federation. And it’s never too late to be the first generation.
Sonny Corcoran of Barbour County is a legend in Alabama’s rich farming history and was a leader in the Alabama Farmers Federation. He chaired and founded the Alabama Boll Weevil Eradication Program and served in state and national leadership roles in the cotton and peanut industries. His wife Ann, who lives on their farm, served four terms as State Women’s Committee chairman.
The Corcorans’ love for the Federation transcends generations. Their children grew up attending Federation events, as have their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Walt and wife Kim have two daughters, Allie Corcoran Logan and Cassie Corcoran Young, who have held positions in the county Young Farmers. Walt served on the State Young Farmers Committee, and Allie is a former state committee chairman. Both help lead state commodity committees. Cassie’s husband, Cody, also farms and is on the Federation’s State Cotton Committee and county Young Farmers committee.
Tom and Denise’s family is part of the farm, too. Their son, Joe, is on the county Young Farmers committee, while their son, Liston, is a student at Auburn University. Tom is a board member for the county Federation and Alabama Peanut Producers.
Walt and Tom’s nephew, Liston Clark, also works on the farm, is a county board member and serves on the State Beef Committee.
The Alabama Farmers Federation is an important ingredient to successful farming for the Ellison family in Baldwin County. Being part of an organization that represents their political interests, offers educational opportunities and provides social networking is what kept them involved for three generations.
Patriarch F.B. Ellison is a former Federation state board member and county president. His son, Burie, serves on the Baldwin County board. Burie’s son, Brady, is a member of the county Young Farmers.
“When I was in high school, I can remember my dad leaving home to attend Federation meetings in Montgomery or going on other Federation trips,” Burie said. “His friends would sometimes tease him about leaving the farm, but he knew the importance of being part of what was going on. Being a part of the Farmers Federation helps us get to know people from all over the state. We learn things from each other that make us better farmers, and we have people to help us when we need it.”
The kind of help the Federation can bring was evident in November 2020 when Baldwin County voters overwhelmingly passed two local amendments to protect rural areas against unwanted annexation.
Three generations of Maples men have carried the mantle of State Young Farmers Committee chair — Billy from 1965-66, Tommy in 1995 and Ben in 2018 — a unique feat within the Alabama Farmers Federation.
When Billy was a child, he helped his father recruit Limestone County Farm Bureau members. Later, Billy hit the road enlisting county Young Farmers, attending board meetings and traveling to national events, including a leadership conference in California.
Generations of Maples children grew up around the Federation, routinely playing in the back of meeting rooms. When Tommy and Ben were chairmen, the family adapted — caring for poultry and Maples Stock Farm Angus in their absence.
“Since Dad went through the program, he understood its importance and was very supportive when I had a meeting,” said Tommy, who won the Outstanding Young Farm Family contest in 1997 with wife Melanie.
The Mapleses called the Young Farmers Program a worthwhile investment – personally and for the Federation. It laid the groundwork for greater involvement. Billy served on the state board; Tommy was State Beef Committee chair; and Ben and wife Heather won the Excellence in Agriculture contest in 2016.
“Young Farmers broadens your outlook on life,” Billy said.