OKEECHOBEE – Woody and Grace Larson were honored at the Nov. 16 Okeechobee Farm City Week Luncheon with an award in honor of their “Dedicated Service to Agriculture in the Community of Okeechobee.”
Florida Future Farmers of America (FFA) State Secretary Jenna Larson, who was the guest speaker for the luncheon, proudly announced her grandparents as this year's receipients of the annual award.
“Woody and Grace Larson have a lifetime of work and service for Florida agriculture,” she said. “Born in Delray to an optometrist and home economist, Grace dreamed of living in the country. Woody was raised on a dairy farm in Palm Beach County and from the beginning has been a ‘cow man.’ Grace and Woody met in high school, polishing the school seal with a toothbrush as student council officers. Little did they know this was the beginning of a lifetime of teamwork and service.
“Grace graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in Food Science in 1972. Three days later, she and Woody married. Woody brought his bride home to the ‘Little Livery,’ a small 5 acres in Gainesville while he finished his degree in Dairy Science and graduated from UF in 1973.
“The couple moved to Highlands County in 1973, Woody working as a manager at Larson Dairy Barn #2 and Grace teaching English at Okeechobee High School. They officially moved to Okeechobee and to the Dixie Ranch in 1974, where they initially raised diary heifers.
“The years sped by as Woody dedicated himself to growing Larson Dairy, striving for high quality milk, efficient production, herd health and advocating for all dairy farmers, large and small. In the mid-1970s, they took out their first commercial loan for 20 beef cattle. What began as a side hobby flourished into a significant part of their business today.
“Grace’s days were filled raising their three children: Travis, Jacob and Ginger. Grace and Woody have always been passionate about bringing agriculture to the classroom, long before there was an official program. Grace organized dairy farm field trips, 4-H workshops, field days and camps. Both Woody and Grace were highly involved 4-H leaders in a variety of clubs. They hosted dairy judging workouts for 4-H and FFA, Woody coaching kids on what to look for in a dairy cow and showing them ‘Woody’s angle,’ Grace organizing the calendar and ensuring everyone has sustenance with homemade chocolate chip cookies and cooler of drinks. For years, Woody and Grace have sent steers to the Florida State Fair so that youth could have an opportunity to raise and show livestock,” Jenna continued.
“The saying goes that ‘farmers are the first environmentalists’ and Wood and Grace whole-heartedly believe this, looking for ways to work the land with the future in mind – practically, economically, and environmentally. In the late 1980s, environmental pressures led them to switch entirely to beef production at The Dixie, where they continue to raise a commercial cow-calf operation to this day. Bringing his background of detailed record keeping from the dairy industry, Woody established a strong health program with their beef herd and The Dixie’s reputation for healthy cattle, topping the market on several occasions. Wood and Grace continue to strive for collaboration amongst environmental organizations to ensure that farmers are the leaders in conservation.
“Over the years, the couple has supported many young farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses starting out. Often, they are behind the scenes, coaching, advising and investing – some with great risk but always with humility and the strong desire for agriculture and farmers to succeed in Florida.
“Woody was named Outstanding Young Farmer by the Florida Farm Bureau in 1980. He served on the National Milk Board of Directors in the mid-1980s, the Board of Directors of Farm Credit for 27 years, and as a director on Southeast Milk Cooperative for 25 years. In 2012, Woody served as president of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association.
“Grade has served on the board of directors for Hospice and the Cattlemen’s Foundation. Woody and Grade’s cattle operation has been awarded the Beef Quality Assurance and both their beef and dairy operation have been part of the CARES program with Farm Bureau. They have been pioneers in the progression of marketing Florida raised beef. While this is an incomplete list of their awards and service roles, perhaps their greatest achievement was to instill a deep love and respect for the Lord and the land in their children and eight grandchildren,” Jenna continued.
“Woody continues to be sought after for his business intellect, cattle knowledge and creativity in problem solving, personnel searches, program development and more. An idea day for him though is spent with the cattle. Grace works diligently keeping the books, organizing the calendar, and providing wise insight. You will be hard-pressed to find someone more organized and efficient than Grade Larson.
“As a county, as a community, we are stronger because Woody and Grace Larson have done their part in living the 4-H motto: Make the best better.”