The 2001 Winner: Barbara Carlton
Barbara Carlton has spent her entire life involved in agriculture. Born in 1936 in Willard, North Carolina, she was the fourth of five children. Her family was in the farming business, and her father also served as county judge. She learned hard work and the love of the land from her early days working in the tobacco fields with her grandfather.
She moved to Florida in 1955 and began work with the Crews family banking empire and rose to the position of head bookkeeper -- one of the highest positions ever held by a female at that time. She met and married Mabry Carlton in 1961 and moved to Sidell, a small community in the eastern part of Sarasota County. From 1961 until 1980, the two were partners in running the family business and raising two daughters. The business encompasses 17,000 acres of mostly native Palmetto flatwoods, and supports a cow-calf operation and 200 acres of citrus.
During these years Barbara and her husband remained very involved in community activities serving on various advisory boards and being active 4-H Foundation members. Barbara served on the original Historic Spanish Point Board. This board was responsible for preserving a 30-acre historic, archaeological and environmental site tucked away behind U.S. Highway 41 in Sarasota County. Barbara was very active in numerous political organizations. The couple were also active members of their church.
Mabry and Barbara and their two girls were very involved with the county 4-H program. Weekends at the Carlton household included 4-H events as well as traveling the quarter horse circuit. They were a fixture at 4-H Club and Foundation events. The two never missed fair week or a steer sale night -- they were even known to show up on sale night in formal attire coming directly from a political function. They were always there to quietly assist a 4-H member whose steer did not quite make the grade or a young student wanting to attend college who could not quite make a tuition payment. Some of the young 4-H members who Barbara and Mabry helped never forgot that assistance and generosity, and continue to be in touch with Barbara even today. Through Barbara’s involvement with 4-H children over the last 30 years she has truly adhered to the 4-H motto of making the best better.
In 1980, Mabry decided to take community involvement a step further and won a seat on the Sarasota County Commission. Barbara and Mabry believed it was imperative that those in the agriculture business become involved in the political arena.
It was during Mabry’s year as a county commissioner that Barbara took a more active role in the family business. She experienced tremendous growth as an agribusiness woman and took on full responsibility for managing the ranch. Her nine-year training period ended in 1989 with Mabry’s tragic death. Often when one partner in a marital relationship dies, the remaining spouse buckles under. Not so with Barbara Carlton. For 28 years she and Mabry shared common goals, interests and commitments. His unexpected death in 1989 was a terrific blow to her and to their daughters. This foursome spent years as a healthy, productive ranching family dedicated to preserving their land and serving their community. After Mabry’s death some people quizzed her about what she was going to do. There wasn’t any question but that she intended to continue to run the ranching operations.
Since Mabry’s death in 1989, Barbara has continued to run the family business. She diversified ranching operations and brought the ranch into the computer technology age. She has battled excessive governmental regulations and increased global competition. Under the leadership of Barbara, the Mabry Carlton Ranch has proven to be an environmental steward of the land. Barbara was awarded "Farmer of the Year" by the Sarasota County Soil and Water District for outstanding accomplishments in resource conservation. In 1993, she was awarded the "Outstanding Cooperator" award by the Florida Association of Conservation Districts.
Barbara has also encountered the biggest challenge agribusiness faces in today’s society -- the increasing demand for agricultural land to be used by the urban community. Barbara was the first private landowner in Sarasota County to successfully negotiate a conservation easement. The completion of a deal with the Southwest Florida Water Management District calls for preserving 4,800 acres of Mabry Carlton Ranch. Barbara’s leadership in the environmental area is a testament of her commitment to the future of agriculture.
Barbara’s two daughters are actively involved in the family business. Both are graduates of Stetson University, the alma matter of their father and grandfather. Kimberly Carlton Bonner serves as county judge for the 12th Judicial Circuit, and her husband, Tom, is a firefighter and paramedic with Sarasota County. They have a daughter Katie who is 2 years old. Lisa Carlton is an attorney and has served in the Florida House of Representatives and currently serves as a Florida State Senator representing the 24th District. Her husband, Rob Robinson, is an attorney practicing in Sarasota County. They have a 6-year-old daughter, Carlton Elaine, a 4-year-old son, Mabry Robert, and a 2-year-old daughter, Savell Louise. Both daughters and their families live on the ranch beside their mother.
Barbara’s days are filled with the business of the ranch and the business of grandchildren. She has taken on the job of full-time care giver to the grandchildren. With a ranch to run and four grandchildren in the office every day, things can get rather hectic. There is not a business partner, or agriculture salesman that has ever come to the office and not experienced talking business with the grandchildren present. However, those that know her know that she wouldn’t have it any other way. For the most important task she has ever undertaken is ensuring that the next generation will grow up with an appreciation and love for the land. This will be her legacy.