Service to Ag Recipent Jan Cook Stands By Alabama Farmers
In her mind’s eye, Jan Cook can see it as if it were yesterday, not 35 years ago.There she stood on stage at the Mobile Civic Center, a fresh-faced Dozier High School senior addressing her largest gathering ever — the 52nd Annual Meeting of the Alabama Farm Bureau Federation.In the audience were her parents and grandparents. In the wings was a wheelchair-bound Gov. George Wallace.”I was a wreck,” recalls Cook, who was there as state president of the Alabama Future Homemakers Association. “It was a big deal for me. I’d have to say that was what inspired me to go into politics.”Ironically, it was Cook’s political role as Place 1 Commissioner with the Public Service Commission that drew her back to Mobile and the Alabama Farmers Federation’s 87th Annual Meeting last month to accept its highest award, the 2008 Service to Agriculture Award.”This award means more to me than you could ever know because my heart is so strong for the farmers, that I can maybe help them in some way,” said Cook prior to the ceremony. “For the Alabama Farmers Federation — the organization that stands for farmers — to recognize me, it means more than you’ll ever know.”While the recognition may have taken Cook by surprise, farmers have long known that the ag teacher’s daughter from the small town of Dozier is a friend to agriculture.Since her first election to the PSC 18 years ago, Cook has risen more than once to defend the state’s farmers from unjust energy rates and regulations. First, there was the PSC’s adoption of an off-peak rate structure to help farmers keep down irrigation costs.Then, there was that business with the new federal highway regulations last year that Cook described as “the silliest thing in the world.” That’s why she signed an open letter exempting agriculture from burdensome regulations that could’ve seen farmers ticketed simply for moving equipment around the farm.Another showdown came last September when Alabama Power Company sought a historic rate increase even as the state’s farmers were reeling from soaring fertilizer, fuel and feed costs.There have been other, lesser-known battles along the way of course. Through them all, Cook has remained a steadfast supporter of agriculture.
Some would say it’s been that way since November 1990, when she won her first election to the PSC. Others, however, know it actually began long before that.”I was always a daddy’s girl,” she’ll tell you. “Dad was an ag teacher for 40 years at Dozier High School before he retired. Dad and I would go around and visit farms in the area because, back then, the ag teacher was sort of an unofficial veterinarian. That’s where I really learned to appreciate what farmers have to go through. Of course, my family always favored the farmers because that’s who we were.”She says the Crenshaw County town where she was raised has only one caution light and all the same problems any other small town has. “We did have a drink machine downtown, but we don’t have that anymore,” she deadpans. “Doggone it! Commerce has passed us by, but we’re going to try to get another one!”By watching out for the farmer, she says, she is looking out for all of Alabama.”When the farmers are down, we’re all down,” Cook explained. “It helps everybody in the state when our farmers do well. It helps the economy, helps the household, more than anything else I can think of — for our farmers to be able to produce in a manner that they can stay in farming to provide what we need at home. What are we going to do when it gets to where we have so few that can farm that we’re not producing what we should produce? That’s when we’re really going to know how important our farmers are.”Loving farmers, caring for farmers, wanting to help farmers, it was just a part of me,” she added. “I never had to learn that.”