Highland County Generational Farmers: Carly Thomas

Written By: Carly Thomas

** This is the first post of a four-part series on Highland County Generational Farmers. Throughout this series, you’re going to meet some of Highland County’s generational farmers and get a glimpse into the blood, sweat, and tears that went into establishing Highland County and keeping our tenacious agricultural spirit alive. Enjoy! **

In 1733, four brothers with the last name of Bratton traveled across the Atlantic Ocean holding a land grant from their king and a promise of a better life. Once landing on American soil, these Scots-Irish immigrants traveled southwest along the rugged mountain passes. While two of the brothers decided to stay in an area that would later be called Bratton’s Run, the remaining three pushed west to settle on what would eventually become the Highland-Bath county line.  

The details get hazy in the following generations, but the story I know well picks back up with my great-grandfather. Leonard ‘Buck’ Bratton was adopted by the Bratton family as a very young boy, after his biological family was killed in a wagon accident. He was a harty and fiery man, known for his sharp-shooting abilities and cheeky wit. He later married my great-grandmother Sally. She was a fabulous, fashionable woman, who always kept her nails painted red and hair dyed jet black. Rebellious, fiery, and fun, she would lay in the yard and sunbath in her polka-dotted bikinis after working in her gardens. (Needless to say, bikinis were very controversial at that time!) 

My great-grand father Buck with my grandfather Bill.

She raised a son named Bill, my grandfather, who inherited her love of people and her husband’s love of storytelling. A stocky and ambitious businessman who still refuses to slow down, he later married his childhood sweetheart, Sandy Hammer Bratton. God-fearing, wholesome, and lover of all things nature, she and her groom raised a family of their own with two daughters, Shawna and Shelley. The youngest of the two by 13 months, Shelley, would later become a mother of two—my brother Will and I. 

This is the story of me. These are the roots from which I sprouted—a story about a group of rugged, determined immigrants who carved out a family farm that has stood for seven generations. 

A story of head-strong, funny, and charismatic characters who lived to the beat of their own drums. 

And a story of faith, family, and love. 

I am a generational farmer, and this is my story as well as the story of several others, a few of which you’ll meet in the following posts of this series.


What is Generational Farming? 

My grandfather and great-grandfather several years later

While most “normal” families have special family heirlooms, such as a china cabinet or Meemaw’s favorite tea cup collection, generational farming families have the family farm. However, you are not only receiving a wonderful gift, you’re also receiving the tricky industry dynamics, traditionalist values, startup costs, and exponential debt load that is bound to accompany it. Farming is hard for everyone, but the generational farmer deals with their own, specific problems.

You see, generational farming is a tricky old bird. While it is beautiful and humbling, it can also be hard and downright maddening. Heirs often deal with feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, and insignificance. Oftentimes, the younger generations feel as though their needs, wants, or dreams are met with a scoff and brushed off by the elders of their family. However, the older generations feel as though the ideas presented by the “young folks” are simply too radical and outlandish to work.  

Another pit that many multi-generational farms fall into comes when it is time to transfer power to the younger generation. When preparing to make this transition, conflict often follows.  


In the end, families can overcome any challenges through quality and successful communication and understanding. Only when this happens will they be able to work cohesively together towards their common goals of continuing their agricultural legacy, stewardship of the land, and protection of their way of life. 

Here on the Bratton farm, we hold weekly meetings over Sunday dinner to plan our week’s work around everyone’s schedules. We also work to understand everyone’s perspective, which often correlates with what generation they happen to belong to. While I might not always see eye to eye with some of the older generations, I know that one day, because of them, I will be able to run the farm with my brother. 

I am thankful for the time he and I have to work with and learn from the generations that came before us. Because they have been farming for much longer than we have, they offer a whole wealth of experience, expertise, and practical knowledge that we do not. This allows us to learn from them while working hand and hand with each other. I am also thankful for the example my ancestors have laid out for me; one of perseverance, grit, strength, and love of the land and each other. 

I hope you enjoy this four-part series on Highland County Generational Farmers. And if you’re a generational farmer yourself, we’d love to hear from you in the comment section below. Who knows? We may be calling you to hear your story!

Oh, and one last thing: Eat Beef!


About the Author

Carly Thomas
Writer | More Posts by This Author

Carly Thomas, a 2022 graduate of Highland High School, resides in the southern portion of Highland County. Growing up as the seventh generation to live on her family’s cattle ranch, Carly learned the importance of family, faith, and devotion to the land. She is passionate about FFA, agriculture, and supporting Highland County farmers. Carly enjoys being challenged and works in a variety of jobs from writing sports articles for her local newspaper to cooking at a local sandwich shop. She can often be found working on the ranch, riding horses with her father, or working on the next FFA activity.  



Related Articles

Fall 2022 Leaf Report – Round 2

Fall 2022 Leaf Report – Round 2

We've already seen a few snowflakes dancing around in the air. Is this a sign we're going to have a Highland County winter of old? Maybe... But for right now, our mountains are still popping, even on snow-cloud-overcast days! If you haven't made it to Highland to take...

Fall 2022 Leaf Report – Round 1

Fall 2022 Leaf Report – Round 1

Our Highland County mountains are putting on another show for us this year! Here are a few pictures from local photographers showing our county's current colors! I believe the mountains still have a lot of changing to do throughout the county, so stay tuned for next...

Highland County Generational Farmers – Dorothy Stephenson

Highland County Generational Farmers – Dorothy Stephenson

*I recently sat down with Dorothy Stephenson to discuss being a young generational agriculturalist. This is the fourth installment of a four-part series on the subject: Generational Farming in Highland County.*  Dorothy Stephenson is among the sixth generation to...