Folks who accept an appointment to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) do it because they love the cattle business. It’s their first thought when they wake up in the morning and it’s the last thought that flitters through their minds when they go to sleep at night. And the time between those two events can often be 18 hours or more, most of it spent tending the herd.
Case in point: Jim LeFils and what he said the Friday before Thanksgiving last year. It was the traditional date of the Volusia County Farm Tour, a 30-year annual tradition that provides a free ‘behind-the-scenes’ look at that Florida County's farms and ranches.
The first stop of the tour drew more than 100 people to Deep Creek Preserve, a 4,800-acre property that was purchased by Volusia County in 2010 for nearly $29 million. It was funded by Volusia Forever, a county-wide program created in 2000 to protect natural biodiversity within the area.
CBB member Jim LeFils, who operates a cow/calf business called Deep Creek Cattle, LLC, on 10,000 acres of family-owned and leased land including 600 acres of the Preserve, spoke about his family history. His family has been in the cattle business in Florida since 1830.
"My family has a lot of history here," he told the crowd. "Every day I get to wake up and love what I do."
LeFils said recent developments in American agriculture and food development make his business not nearly as financially lucrative as it was when his ancestors were in charge, but he can’t imagine doing anything else with his time.
That drew applause from several members of the crowd, including Kristy Sutton, who was there with her eight-year-old son Dylan. "I want Dylan to learn that there are more things he can do with his life besides what is on the news," said the 31-year-old single mother. "I always tell him to follow his heart but before he does that he has to open his mind. That's why we're here."
The Volusia County Farm Tour is transparency and ‘agvocacy’ at its best with LeFils acting as a spokesman for the many multi-generational family farming operations in Florida and the U.S.
He’s a fifth-generation cattleman, working the place with his wife, Jody. There might be a sixth and seventh generation standing behind him. “My sons are in it and I’ve got six grandchildren who might come along, too.
“My oldest son, Jim, grows some peanuts and corn near Ocala. He and his wife Sara, have two kids. Jeff and Jodie, my youngest son and his wife, have two kids. He works construction and helps out here. My daughter, Jill, and her husband, Tim, also have two children.”
LeFils isn’t big on unbridled growth - he’d rather take it slow and do it right. “I don’t want the most, I want the best,” he said with a nod toward the 1,000 momma cows that graze his land. “The best” paid off, this year, too. In spite of a drought-stricken year that hurt so many cattlemen across the country, “We were a little dry in the spring but with a good breeding program and heavy calves, it was a phenomenal year.”
LeFils was nominated to the Beef Board by the Florida CattleWomen, the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, Southeast Milk, and the Florida Cattlemen's Association. He serves as a state director for the Cattlemen's Association and as a county director for the Farm Bureau.
“I started with the CBB a year and a half ago,” he said, “and it’s an experience that’s gotten better all the time. I joined because I believe in the checkoff. . .always have. Without a doubt, it’s made our business more profitable. I’ve really enjoyed being a part of the process.”
Lefils serves on the New Product and Culinary Initiative Committee. “We help bring new products to the marketplace,” he said. “We do taste tests, look at new cuts and new preparation methods. We look at packaging and research things like frozen meat. We’re always looking for new and better ways to present beef to the public. Our goal is to make the business more profitable for the cattlemen and I think we’ve been very successful.”
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Chuck Jolley, a veteran food industry journalist and commentator.