Title: 2011 Woman Of The Year In Agriculture: Sarah Childs
Type: Woman of the Year in Agriculture Award
Each January, the city of Ocala hosts the oldest graded bull sale in the nation – and cattlemen from across the Southeastern U.S. come here to buy and sell. The day before the sale, a group of cattle producers evaluates each bull on its weight, body condition and fertility. Afterward, a grade is assigned to the bull to help less-experienced buyers with their choices. It’s a male-dominated operation, but Sarah Childs isn’t intimidated. Her 40 years of experience in the cattle business has earned her a place on the team.
She is a woman that has made her way in a man’s way of living ...and she can deal with them on their terms, and they understand her and respect her and admire her for the job that she does.
Today, Sarah is well known in the Florida cattle industry, but it wasn’t always that way. Raised in the Midwest, Sarah had been around farms but it wasn’t until she moved further west to attend college that she saw just how great the scope of agriculture truly was.
I did not have exposure to large ranches, vast acreages, until I went to Alamosa, Colorado, where I was attending Adams State College. And there I met the Childs family. They were in business with Mr. McArthur, and they had Sky Valley Ranch, which was 125,000 acres. And I could not conceive of anything being 125,000 acres in comparison to small farms of 150 to 300 acres in Illinois. And I was intrigued.
In 1970, Sarah’s father-in-law, Dan Childs was hired to manage a ranch that John D. McArthur owned in Florida. Sarah and her husband Tom, moved the family to Lake Placid, Florida to work for her father-in-law at Buck Island Ranch.
When I moved to Florida and was then at Buck Island Ranch, just being outdoors every day, seeing sunrises, sunsets... just being around the animals ... I knew that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
While a woman’s traditional role in ranching and farming was cooking and feeding the crew meals, Sarah wanted something else.
My interest was the hard work, working in the cow pens, the horseback riding, the gathering of cattle in pasture. And when I first started in the industry, it was very difficult to work my way into anything other than standing and being quiet and observing. It was literally a speak-when-you’re-spoken-to. And, I did. ... And I think over time, they just figured that they weren’t going to get rid of me, so they just gave in and said, okay, she’s here to stay.
What I most admire in my mother are tenacity and dedication to everything that she does, no matter what the task is.
Those traits earned Sarah the position of assistant ranch manager at Buck Island Ranch in 1988.
She was hands-on, not only in the office, but you would see her in the cow pens. You might find her running to the parts house or doing the bookwork or maintaining ranch records or in the scale house shipping calves. She wore all hats and did it well and was well respected by all folks involved and engaged with that, with that ranch and our industry.
After establishing herself as a capable hand she found herself wanting to do more outside the ranch. In 1976, her father-in-law introduced her to the Florida CowBelles -- now known as the Florida CattleWomen -- and with her enthusiasm she was immediately appointed to the board.
We were CowBelles then, now we’re Cattlewomen.
The group has a long tradition of educating the public about the beef industry through outreach and promotion -- doing everything from addressing students and civic groups to meeting with legislators -- and Sarah’s done her share. In 1980 she was elected president of the association and made a quick and lasting impact.
She was instrumental in creating the first Know Your Beef short course, which hundreds of cattlewomen have benefited from. It’s spanned over 30 years, and it’s still in existence today.
In 2008, Sarah was serving as president of the Florida CattleWomen for an unprecedented second time. Believing the association needed to raise money in ways other than soliciting donations, she had the idea of hosting a Sporting Clay Fun Shoot. The event has grown every year, as have the proceeds for education and Ag scholarships.
She’s very dependable, she’s responsible. But she makes it fun just the same. Everybody wants to be on her committees and do what she’s doing. Just the fact that she’s been CattleWomen president 25 years apart, you know that everyone knows that she does a good job.
We’ll probably have anywhere between a hundred and a hundred twenty here today to shoot the course.
She’s just got a great style about her. She’s enthusiastic. And what happens is that this is engaging to other people. And so when she’s working on programs, because she exudes this enthusiasm, it makes people want to join her and work beside her. And all of a sudden, work becomes fun.
The things that make Sarah a good leader is she can lead a group of people, keep them on track and on task. When there is a big issue, she’s willing to step up and make sure that it gets taken care of properly. And when a hard decision needs to be made, she will be there to make those. And she has her good reasons on why she does it. And, yes, she involves everyone else in the committee, and things get done with Sarah. She’s always involved. She keeps a committee moving. When she’s chairman, or in charge of something, actions get taken care of.
Everything that she’s ever been involved in, whether it’s volunteering or family or work, she gives her whole heart and soul to, I think those of some of the greatest things about my mom.
Lykes Bros, Inc., in Lake Placid has been an agricultural institution in Florida since 1910. Today Charles Lykes carries on the family tradition of running a successful business with sound environmental practices. In 1994 Sarah left Buck Island Ranch to become the environmental coordinator at Lykes Bros., a position she still holds today. She often meets with Ranch Manager Flint Johns to ensure the ranch is in compliance with environmental and workplace regulations. She also works with outside agencies dealing with the annual inspections the fuel tanks, operates the company’s water plant and serves as the ranch’s safety official.
Sarah’s knowledge of environmental matters learned from her years at Lykes makes her particularly valuable as a board member of the Highlands County Natural Resource Advisory Commission. Sarah is an asset when the group deals with rules and regulations.
She’s the kind of person that you want to have as an adviser, on a committee or representing you whenever issues or perceptions of agriculture come up, because she’s always willing to defend those issues and perceptions.
From working with the Florida CattleWomen to serving on the board of the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame, Sarah has found a lot of different ways to gives back to the industry she loves.
Volunteering, to me, is extremely important when an industry gives so much to you as far as your pleasure, and it is the way that you’re earning your living. I think you need to give back to that industry and make sure that it is able to survive.
I feel it’s necessary to convey a lot of the truths and the pleasures and the love of the industry that we have and convey it to those who aren’t as lucky to have been exposed to a lifestyle that I just can’t conceive not ever having.
I’m not sure that everything has been written down that she’s been involved in. I know she’s been involved in the youth leadership groups here
The Cattlemen’s Association, locally...
Florida Beef Council...
Ag Advisory Board...
Extension Advisory Committee...
The youth livestock...
Volunteer work through the 4H...
She’s volunteered at the hospital...
The school system...
And she was involved for many years with the local fair...
Now she serves on our Florida Cattlemen’s Foundation Board ...
And there’s so many other things that she does that a lot of us don’t know about. And she doesn’t ask for anything in return.
Of all of Sarah’s organizational accomplishments, a true highlight is her recent appointment by the Secretary of USDA to serve on the national Cattlemen’s Beef Board. Selected as one of only two delegates from the Sunshine State, Sarah was unanimously nominated by a caucus of four of Florida’s top agricultural organizations -- a fitting testament to her abilities.
Sarah will study and do the homework and won’t be just a figurehead on the board. She will certainly speak her mind, offer her opinion, and I think will be an asset to the board. The sky’s the limit as far as what role she can play at the national level on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board.
Agriculture has been a huge influence in my mom’s life and in our whole family’s life. I am so happy and so glad that she has had that as part of her life, because it has made her become -- blossom -- into the person that she is today.
And her family certainly has her whole heart. Despite her busy schedule, Sarah’s always available to pick up her grandsons, Blaze and Todd, and take them to her house for some after-school fun. Sarah sees a day down the road when she’ll be able to spend even more time with the boys and her volunteering efforts for agriculture.
I got involved, and I have stayed involved since 1976. And unless something happens, I hope I’m involved until the day I am not to be here anymore. I just absolutely love the industry. You don’t stay in the ag industry because you want to get rich. You stay because you absolutely love what you’re doing.