September 25, 2017
Iris Wall, or Miss Iris as those around call her, is a special soul. One of the FarmHers we planned on visiting during a trip to Flordia fell through at the last minute so I did a little digging into my emails to see if I could come up with a woman to visit. I found a message from the Florida Farm Bureau telling me about a spirited lady named Iris. From her status as a community leader and matriarch who has been involved in ranching most of her life, she sounded like a great FarmHer. They told me that her ranch, in the interior of South Florida, is an example of the hidden Florida tourists never see. I called her up, not even 24 hours before I was hoping to visit her and without skipping a beat she invited me out. Her response was,
“Honey, listen. This is what I do. I have 1200 acres out there. I hire an old man 3 days a week. When I get ready to work cattle, I hire me 4 cowboys, my family comes and helps and we work cattle. You come to the back door at my house, we’ll get in my old truck and I’ll drive you around…”
I knew almost nothing about Iris when I pulled into her driveway. She invited me right on into her house, the same place she has lived for fifty years. She told me a little about herself, sharing some precious memories and photographs with me. She even let it slip that a children’s book has been written about her. Before long, we jumped in her “old truck” to head to the ranch. We made a quick stop at the local lumber store, which she and her late husband Howie opened decades ago. Soon, we turned into the sprawling ranch, pulling under a beautiful sign telling us we were entering the pasture.
We started out at her little cabin, a place that she cherishes. She told me she spends weeks at the cabin with her two sisters and also invites groups of school kids out to show them about life on a ranch. Inside the cabin I accidentally stepped on and crushed a little lizard who had taken up residence there, giving Iris and me both a fright. It turns out neither of us has a great love for reptiles, as evidenced by the dance we both did when we saw the lizard!
Iris then took us on a tour of the almost 1200 acre ranch. As we drove through the cleared area and entered into the trees I couldn’t believe my eyes. Everywhere you looked there was wildlife, trees and as I had been told, a real vision of untouched Florida paradise. Iris explained that she believes we should preserve the land as much as we can. That is why she has worked to clear only about half of those acres and only runs as much cattle as that half will hold, and leaves the other land to rest. We drove and drove, twisting and turning through the property. As we drove through the thick brush, Iris laughed and her eyes twinkled, telling me that her and her old truck are quite the story amongst Florida cattlemen. Just when I was sure there was no way Iris could have any idea of where we were, she popped out into a clearing where the cattle were. She threw the treats out to them, taking a look at the animals a little closer and telling me a little more about her operation. We finished the tour with a stop in the pasture where her Cracker Cattle herd was. The Cracker Cattle are a breed unique to Florida and thanks to cattle owners like Iris, are being preserved to maintain the integrity of the breed.
Riding with Miss Iris in her truck through the pristine Florida land, it was clear that she loves each and every corner of her land, and the cattle it raises. She loves it much so that she protects it with everything she has and has passed that love down to the next generations of her family to live on, love and enjoy. Miss Iris is a true treasure and one that I couldn’t be more proud to have met and learned from for a day.
October 16, 2017
October 10, 2017
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