By Marlee Moore
Four decades ago, Ann Whatley helped author Alabama Ag in the Classroom’s (AITC) inaugural teaching manual and led workshops on ag-centric curriculum inclusion.
Whatley still leads the charge for ag education as the 2023 Alabama Farmers Federation State Women’s Leadership Committee (WLC) chair, a role fellow members elected her to during the organization’s annual meeting in December.
“This is a wonderful group of people to count as friends,” said Whatley, who lives with her husband, Charles, in Lee County. “They’re salt of the earth. I got into leadership on the committee because I wanted to lead the devotional at state meetings. I didn’t realize how close we would all become, but I am so grateful for it.”
Whatley is a former educator who’s been involved in Federation activities since marrying Charles in 1968. She began helping with the Miss Alabama Agriculture pageant and talent contests before her service morphed into county and state WLC activities, including AITC.
“When I first started out, we did lots of activities, and today, teachers actually get to go out and see farms during AITC Summer Institute,” Whatley said. “It’s important for us to educate our children. I may not be the person driving the tractor on our operation, but I have a background in early childhood education and know that if we teach the children, we teach the people.”
Federation Women’s Leadership Division Director Kim Earwood praised Whatley’s support of WLC members and contest competitors.
“Mrs. Ann is certainly one of the Women’s Leadership Division’s biggest cheerleaders,” Earwood said. “Her enthusiasm to promote all things agriculture is endless. The encouragement she shares with Women’s Leadership Committee members across Alabama is most sincere and speaks volumes about her character.”
Whatley brings a wealth of agricultural knowledge to the WLC. She and Charles raised their three children — Tom, Andrew and Virginia — on family land near Beauregard. Over the years, the Whatleys milked dairy cows; had a U-pick fruit and vegetable operation; built a horse arena for rodeos; and planted Christmas trees. They’ve found their niche in pine plantations.
Today, the Whatleys welcome community members, and their three grandchildren, to their property for what they call “mini-agritourism.” Visitors experience old-school agriculture, including barbecue cookouts, cane syrup making and blueberry picking.
As the State WLC chair, Whatley represented the Federation during American Farm Bureau Federation Convention in January and will speak at other county, state and national events. She’ll also serve a one-year, ex-officio term on the Federation and Alfa Insurance’s state board.
“There are so many different things behind the scenes that I’m excited to learn about,” Whatley said. “It’s an honor to get an inside look at what goes on and continue making friends with people across the state. I said this when I ran for my term on the state committee, ‘If I had car trouble in any county in Alabama, I know someone who could come help me.’