With a long list of ancestors before him and a line of generations sure to follow, Cary Lightsey knows about the strength of family.
The co-owner of the Lightsey Cattle Company in Lake Wales can sense it in the stories that have been passed down, as well as, see it in his children and grandchildren. From the time the first Lightsey came from Germany to America and began a ranching operation in 1712, the Lightseys have been a family of proud ranchers.
“My granddad used to talk about how strong it was in our bloodline to be a rancher,” says Lightsey, who co-owns Lightsey Cattle Company with his brother, Layne Lightsey. “He said you could take a Lightsey away at birth and have them be adopted by another family somewhere else in the country, and in 30 years they’d still be in the cattle business.”
Strong family ties have not only kept the Lightseys in the ranching business for all these years, but they have also infused the generations with a keen appreciation for the land on which they make a living – and a life.
“Our families have always had a love for land,” Lightsey says. “It’s very important to own some land. It was never important to sell the land; it was just important to take care of it, and hopefully the family will continue on with it.”
To preserve the land they own – which is comprised of four ranches in three counties, including the 3,300-acre Brahma Island in Lake Kissimmee that features a working ranch as well as 28 endangered animals and plants – the Lightseys agreed back in the early 1990s to establish conservation easements on their land.
Lightsey says 85 percent of his family’s land is under easement, a legally binding contract that protects the land from development for generations to come.
“What our family taught us, and we’re now teaching our kids and grandkids, is that you’ve got to leave enough for the wildlife, the environment and the ecosystem like God intended it to be,” Lightsey says.
It’s a trend that other ranchers and farmers are beginning to adopt. The movement has especially had legs since the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program was created in 2001 to help protect important lands through the acquisition of permanent land conservation easements.
“It’s primarily keeping those lands in agriculture,” says John Browne, administrator of the Lands Program. “One of the big differences between our easement programs and some of the more conservation-minded programs is that we view agriculture first. We want the landowner to be able to change land uses, to be able to rotate from, say, timber to pastures and row crops whatever their needs are.”
Beyond its easement programs, Lightsey Cattle Company has also pursued other ways to conserve its lands. The owners leave at least 40 percent of the land native, encouraging wildlife habitat. They also have restored the natural flow of water on their property, which sits at the headwaters of the Florida Everglades.
Other Florida farms and ranches that are known for combining the aspects of a working operation and an appreciation for land preservation include Lykes Ranch in Okeechobee, Babcock Ranch Preserve in Charlotte and Lee counties, Farmton Tree Farm in Brevard and Volusia counties, Deseret Ranch in St. Cloud, and Adena Springs Ranch in Fort McCoy.
Just as the Lightsey Cattle Company and these other well-known Florida ranches have done, the Adams Ranch in Fort Pierce has also taken great care in preserving its land and protecting it for future generations.
With some 50,000 acres spread over four counties, Mike Adams and his brothers operate a ranch that is known for developing the Braford breed of cattle. The brothers also preserve the natural vegetation and wildlife through environmental stewardship.
It was started in 1937 by their grandfather, Alto Adams Sr., who even then was practicing conservation efforts.
“He had a real sense of the value of working the land from that standpoint,” Mike Adams says of his grandfather. “That was something he had passed on to my dad, and then to us and the next generation. It’s something that has been ingrained for a long time.”