A brief history of the reorganization of the County Cattlemen’s Association began with a letter written by S. L. Crochet on March 22, 1957. In this letter to all Hendry County cattlemen, Mr. Crochet informed these gentlemen that "a few of the officers of the old County Cattlemen’s Association, which had been disbanded over a year ago, held a meeting for the purpose of trying to organize a ‘Hendry County Cattlemen’s Association (HCCA)’." Crochet and several of the former officers all felt that it was important for every cattleman in Hendry County to be organized into one group. In his proposal, Mr. Crochet attached a draft of proposed Cattlemen’s Association By-Laws, Rules and Regulations. It also included membership fees and assessments.Later, on April 27, 1957, an organizational meeting was called to order in the County Court Room at the Hendry County Courthouse in LaBelle, Florida. At this time, S. L. Crochet was elected temporary chairman and E. R. Felton as the temporary secretary of the organization. Once the proposed By-Laws, Rules and Regulations were accepted, the next step was to elect the officers. This group of cowmen recognized the need for countywide unification of a cattle organization for the common good of all.
Written ballots cast by those present determined the election of the officers. S. L. Crochet would serve as president with W. B. Barron as vice-president. W. T. Stitt was elected to be the secretary. Serving as treasurer would be E. R. Felton. Gene Mills, Asa Townsend and Paul O’Bannon were elected as the Directors. S. L. Crochet would serve as the state director in addition to his post as president. It is through the endeavors of Mr. Crochet and his fellow cattlemen friends that the modern day Hendry County Cattlemen’s Association was born.
Over the next six decades, the Hendry County Cattlemen’s Association has worked to increase its membership. Today, the HCCA has 79 active members. The current Board of Directors include Ray Hull, President; Lindsey Wiggins, Vice President; Gene McAvoy, Secretary; Jack Willis, Treasurer; Raymond Crawford, State Director; Trip Whidden, Buck Lee, Donnie Crawford, Tim Mudge and Greg Jones.
If you’ve not yet had the opportunity to enjoy one of the Hendry County Cattlemen Association’s delicious dinners, then you might just be missing out. Approximately 15 times each year the HCCA Board of Directors and members travel the roads and light up their custom made grills to cook steak dinners and the fixings for large groups of people. They are even known to smoke a few delicious chickens from time to time.
In order to cook for such large crowds, the HCCA utilizes their expansive 10 ft. long open flame grill, a huge smoker, two 50 gallon pots, a portable commercial grade deep fryer and two utility trailers to haul all of the necessities. Known as some of the greatest promoters of the agriculture industry in our area, you will recognize the HCCA grills and trailers as they each display the phrase "Proud stewards of Florida agriculture."
According to Lindsey Wiggins, UF/IFAS Regional Livestock Extension Agent, the HCCA host its own annual events such as fundraisers, farm tours and the membership meeting. They have also cooked at the local Farm Bureau membership dinner, the youth livestock buyer’s dinner, Gulf Citrus events and other civic group functions – just to name a few. Wiggins noted that, "one of the largest crowds HCCA has ever served was 2,400 extension agents and their families at the National Association of County Agricultural Agents conference!"
These Hendry County Cattlemen have also showcased their cooking talents at the Florida Cattlemen’s Association’s (FCA) Beef Brisket Cook-Off. This is a statewide contest held in Kissimmee during the Ranch Rodeo Finals and Heritage Festival. The HCCA was awarded with the 2nd place "People’s Choice" award for their delicious brisket. Interestingly enough, the cattlemen also served one of their legendary swamp cabbage fritters alongside the brisket sample. Swamp cabbage fritters are simply deep fried swamp cabbage mixed with a few secret seasonings. As Wiggins proclaimed, "they’re pretty much a hot, crispy ball of Heaven!"
The fritters were so popular that the cattlemen have been asked to cook them each year at the FCA Legislative Quarterly in Tallahassee. They proved to be a very popular snack for the lobbyists, legislators and their aids in attendance. People around the Florida Capital can look forward to the arrival of the Hendry County Cattlemen again sometime next March!
The Hendry County Cattlemen’s Association, in conjunction with the Hendry County Extension Service, has participated in a few farm tours every year. For nearly 36 years, these events have helped promote and educate people from all around about Hendry County’s agricultural affairs. Not surprisingly the 650 participants of these farm tours are served the Cattlemen’s fare for lunch. Mrs. Wiggins admitted, "some have been attending the same tour for the past five years just for the meal!"
A very humble and behind the scenes group, these cattlemen volunteer their time and efforts for both the youth of Hendy County as well as to help educate others about agriculture. These men do not receive a paycheck. You will most likely see some of their wives and children working right alongside them at these events. This dedication will help preserve a very important part of Hendry County’s culture.
The money raised from fundraiser dinners, farm tours and the qualifying ranch rodeo during Swamp Cabbage allows the HCCA to award scholarships to students who are pursuing a college degree in agriculture. There is also a scholarship for students wishing to attend a vocational school and study a trade that can be applied to an agricultural field such as mechanic, welder, farrier or an agri-science related course of study. Along with these scholarships, HCCA offers financial incentives to youth beef exhibitors who show county bred steers in Hendry County.
In closing, these steak dinners are so well known that the HCCA and many other organizations they cook for actually print "Hendry County Cattlemen Cooking" on their tickets and flyers as an incentive to attract people to their events. The meals are just that good. Expect to receive a mouth-watering, thick 16 oz. boneless ribeye steak grilled to perfection accompanied by sweet corn on the cob and your choice of a baked or sweet potato. Of course, don’t forget the dessert table!Look for the Hendry County Cattlemen to keep promoting the BEEF industry and their love for agriculture one ribeye steak at a time. A special thanks goes out to Dallas Townsend for assisting with the historical research. For further information about this organization’s events, or if you would like to participate in the rodeo or farm tours, please contact Lindsey Wiggins at the Hendry County Extension Office at 863-674-4092.