Driving through the towns, cities, and beaches of Florida, it can sometimes be hard to remember the long history of the state, much less, the history that some families can have. For the Adams family, their story began in 1895 near DeFuniak Springs in the western part of the Florida Panhandle. Alto “Judge” Adams Sr. was born here in 1899 and steadily worked his way up in Florida’s society through the University of Florida’s law school, eventually finding his way to Florida’s Supreme Court in 1940 and becoming Chief Justice from 1949-1950. During this time Judge Adams bought the property out in St. Lucie County in 1937 and steadily began building an agricultural and ranching operation with his son Alto “Bud” Adams Jr. Taking the reins in 1948 Bud Adams began to expand the family’s operations and selectively breeding their cattle in hopes of breeding cattle that could handle South Florida’s harsh environment while having as small an impact on the land as possible, the Braford cattle. In the 1990s Bud’s three sons, Alto “Lee” Adams III, Mike Adams, and Robbie Adams began taking over operations at the main ranch in Ft. Pierce, Florida; expanding and turning the ranch into what you can see today. Mike Adams is the current president of Adams Ranch, and the next generation is beginning to learn the ropes of managing the ranch, its properties, and its day-to-day operations.
Current Operations of Adams Ranch
Mainly a cow-calf operation, Adams Ranch has been expanding its horizons in other ways as well aside from land purchases. Since the 1990s the ranch has held an annual Bull sale and for the past few years, Adams Ranch has been getting into the beef business. They now make weekly deliveries to customers throughout St. Lucie County, have a tent every Saturday at The Downtown Farmers’ Market of Fort Pierce, and are currently working on opening up a brick-and-mortar storefront at the Ft. Pierce ranch. Once open, their on-site country store will sell their beef, brand apparel (hats), and other local goods such as raw honey, soaps, jams, and jellies. Along with all of that, Adams Ranch also distributes its beef to Whole Foods, bringing Florida-raised beef to Floridians all over the state.
Adams Ranch also has a strong sense of preserving community and history. The family has been known throughout the Ft. Pierce community for supporting local performing artists, artists, and historical preservation efforts. One example of this is the preservation of the P.P. Cobb building in downtown Ft. Pierce, saving it from demolition and letting it find new life as a local coffee shop and historic/cultural center for the St. Lucie Historical Society.
Currently, Adams Ranch has a number of properties ranging throughout Florida, from Ft. Pierce to the Kissimmee River area, and into Florida’s Panhandle with a property in Madison, Florida. Their two properties in south Florida each have several conservation easements on them, and Cow Creek Swamp runs through the property in Ft. Pierce. Adams Ranch owns more than 50, 000 acres throughout Florida and is the 13th largest cattle operation in the country. All of the land that the Adams property runs cattle on is kept as natural as possible, doing what they can to preserve the pine, sable-palm, and oak hommocks found on their properties, and keep the water sources on their properties clean by refraining from the use of widespread pesticides and fertilizers.
Land Stewardship and Conservation
“Take care of the land and it will take care of you.”
This is a common sentiment echoed by cowboys, timber farmers, and anyone who lives off of the land. The cattle ranching industry in Florida is 500 years strong, from Spanish Conquistadors to indigenous tribes and finally to early settlers of Florida in the 1800s. When speaking with Adams Ranch’s semi-retired ranch manager Buddy Adams (no relation) he echoed the same sentiment when he said, “If we take care of the land… animals will come on through.” Buddy has been with Adams Ranch for 57 years, starting at the ranch in 1966 and since he began his time with the Adams family, they have been strong supporters of conservation and environmentalism efforts.
Looking to talk about conservation efforts, we spoke with Mike Adams about some of the current conservation and environmental projects in which Adams Ranch is currently involved. They began participating in conservation easements in 2012/2015 through the Rural Family and Lands Program and are also involved in a payment for environmental services program with the South Florida Water Management District. They refrain from using pesticides and clear-cutting their land to preserve the natural habitat and ecosystems, and wildlife corridors, even if they never outright planned for it.
Setting Aside Working Lands
The Adams family and others like them see the diminishing environment and ecosystems as an eerie foreshadowing of the potential future of cattle ranching in Florida, it is a symbiotic relationship. As long as the ranchers support conservation, they see hope for a continued tradition for future generations to continue working cattle. When asked about this Buddy said, “Well, we have a bunch of grandkids and great grandkids. They need a place to work and it’s all they know.” According to Mike Adams the lands that they have under conservation easements, “are lands that we wanted to keep in a more natural state. We still are allowed to run cattle on it like we have been, but we won’t be able to intensify the use.” By taking on practices concerned with conservation and environmental efforts Florida’s cattle ranchers are protecting the land, ranching history, and the Florida Wildlife Corridor.