Practically Ranching

#6 - Lydia Yon, Taking Initiative

June 29, 2022 Matt Perrier Season 1 Episode 6
Practically Ranching
#6 - Lydia Yon, Taking Initiative
Show Notes Transcript

Lydia Yon and her husband, Kevin, are the founding owners of Yon Family Farms, Ridge Spring, South Carolina.
A first-generation ag venture, they have quickly become a leading source of Angus seedstock in their region and across the country. They--alongside their three adult children and their growing families--continue to turn Yon Family Farms into a diversified agribusiness including cattle, farming and retail beef and pecan business, the Nut House.
Their story is a wonderful testament to the American values of faith, hard work and determination. They are loyally dedicated to the land, their family and the legacies of folks who have farmed the land before them.

Learn more about the Yons at...
www.yonfamilyfarms.com
www.nuthouseandcountrymarket.com

Matt:

Welcome to practically ranching. I'm your host, Matt Perrier. Each episode, we'll deliver a mixed ration of tradition, business, philosophy, and the emotions evoked when these principles collide. We won't try to make you the world's smartest rancher. That's not our goal. But each week we will hold a discussion that will stimulate critical thought, broaden our perspective and help determine practical solutions for the challenges facing ranchers today. And in the process, we may even offer some worthwhile wisdom while we are practically ranching. If you know me very well, you know that I'm a bit of a sucker for someone with some passion. You know that I'm a sucker for someone with some business sense. And. a, faith in God. A love of their family. I'm a huge sucker for folks who want to improve and preserve and too see rural America make progress and be thriving and vibrant. And you know that I'm a sucker for a good story that brings all these things together. So it should come as no surprise without spoiling anything in this week's podcast that I absolutely love the conversation that I get to have with someone like Lydia Yon. Lydia and her husband, Kevin, run Yon Family Farms in Ridge Spring South Carolina, and their story is one that... as we approach independence day... ought to make any of us proud to be Americans There's risk and reward. There is emotion. There is passion. There is a love of their family and of the businesses that they are involved in. And as great as this conversation came out. For just a little bit, I thought it was all going to be for not, and again, I don't want to blow anything, but I will explain that about three quarters of the way through this conversation in what is the absolute best part of the entire podcast.... Maybe any podcasts that I have gotten to record... my internet went completely silent. And I think Lydia was talking away... I found out later that she was talking way, luckily. And I thought I'd lost it all. And, uh, I ended up losing about a second and a half or two seconds of it, thanks to her good internet connection and some modern technology and editing software, but I thought I'd lost the best and maybe all of this whole thing. So there is a little bit of glitch, um, that you might or might not notice But, uh, luckily we did get to save it and I think you, and I know I ...will be very thankful, As you listen to my conversation with Lydia. So without further ado, Happy Independence Day.... A few days early ...and enjoy our conversation with Lydia Yon. Hi, Lydia.

Lydia:

Hey, Matt, how are you?

Matt:

I'm doing well. How are you today?

Lydia:

good, thanks.

Matt:

Good. Good. Well, welcome to practically ranching. Appreciate you making some time for us here today. Um, I'm gonna jump right in and a lot of times I like to start with an issue first, but, your and Kevin's story there at Yon Family Farms is such a great one that I, I wanna let you just take off and kind of tell us how it came to be and, and, bring us up to present day, and then we'll talk a little bit more about, um, all the additional business interests that you all have going on there.

Lydia:

Okay. So Kevin and I both attended Clemson university and got animal science degrees. I minored in journalism and interestingly enough, we grew up in the same county, but we didn't know each other until we went to Clemson. So he was from one side of the county, I was from the other. And we actually probably met at a block and bridal cookout and I was quite interested to find out that this fun guy was, um, actually from the same county I was in my whole life. Anyway. Um, we got outta school and. I was a little older than Kevin. So I finished and decided to hang around and get a Master's degree rather than getting a job while I was waiting on him to get outta school. And one of the equine professors, um, came to us one day and said, have you guys got a job yet? Plural, like both of us. And we were like, no, we sure don't. Why do you ask? And he said, well, I know gentleman that has a big horse operation that has some Angus cows that says he wants to take his Angus herd to the next level. If I knew of any, um, animal animal science students that he thought could do that. And he said, are you guys interested in that? Well, um, we jumped at the chance because we had kind of always thought that'd be the coolest thing. If we could work together managing a operation. And, um, that Angus would be our choice if we got to choose. But so that kind of just fell out of the sky. And, we went for an interview, met the people, our super nice family. It was only a couple hours from, from Clemson and where we grew up. And, so we accepted that job without much hesitation at all. there were, uh, handful of cows there that had been adequately managed off and on, um, for a period of time. And the owner was, um, he had a lot of different business interests. He was in the construction business, he had an Arabian horse farm and, um, he just kind of oversaw all of those deals. And, he basically, after letting us work for a few weeks, said, I want you guys to give me a report every week about what you're doing and, tell me what your plans are. And so we kicked it around, we didn't know what the world, that we were actually doing, cuz you know, they say the smartest day, your life is when you finished school. And then we found out as soon as we got outta school that we really didn't know anything, that we thought we did. So, so here we are with these cows and, long story short, we had made a good many contacts with folks when we were at Clemson and, and doing all the block and bridle and livestock judging and this and that. And as our good fortune would have it, Randy and Beth Daniel at Partisover Ranch were thinking about reducing their herd size significantly. And, I'm not sure how we found out about the opportunity, but our boss was very agreeable to the idea and we about bought their entire herd, with the exception of just a few donors. So talk about getting a great jump start without having to go to a bunch of different places and different sales, so anyway, we started with a nucleus of cattle that had been bred for, you know, performance breeding. Forever with records that were up to date super EPDs. Well, at the time, I don't know if we had EPDs that's so long ago, but anyway, they were definitely a performance oriented herd with a lot of look to 'em. So that was just, um, the biggest blessing, I guess, looking back is that we had the opportunity to buy that herd of cattle to start with, without having to use our funds to do it. And so the, the owner of Congaree Farms brought those cows in, and boy, we were pretty much on fire. We, um, we got to make all the breeding decisions and the mating decisions and things were rolling along pretty well. Um, Kevin wanted to start a, a own farm bull test and we sort of pulled that together for the first year or so, that we were at Congaree. And up until, until we left Congaree, we did just a... kind, he, he served as the auctioneer and it was obviously, he's not a real auctioneer, so it was more or less just a, this is where we're gonna start on this bull and keep your hands in the air until you don't wanna play anymore. And whoever's left standing at the end gets the bull. So we, we did that method of, selling yearly bulls for, um, probably six years since we were, when we got to con and, um, one day out of the blue, the owner called us into his office, kinda like going to the principal's office, I guess. And he said, um, with no warning, um, that we, and the cattle would need to be gone, within about six months. And I think that was probably in November. And so needless to say we were floored, cuz we didn't really know of anything we had done wrong. Financially, it wasn't a disaster and nothing was like bad, but apparently he just decided he didn't want that business interest anymore. So at the time we were pretty devastated and thought it was, you know, the end of our world as we knew it. Uh, I forgot to mention by that time we also had three, children, the eldest of which was five. Four five. Yeah, we had three kids and it was like I said, we were in a perfect situation. They let, um, let us bring our kids to work with us. We'd have playpens all around the barn. I had kids climbing on the computer keyboard during the day at the office at the house. And

Matt:

Glad you call that the perfect situation, Lydia

Lydia:

was, it was perfect enough at the time we were too. We didn't know any better. So, um, I mean, we kind of felt like we were a member of their family. We would go to Thanksgiving dinner at their house and everything. So not only was it sort of crushing from a professional standpoint, but from personal standpoint, we sort of were like, "Wow, so we weren't really part of their family after all." So we were pretty, um, pretty bummed out and, anyway, We, we didn't know what we were gonna do. So Kevin started applying for some jobs and, you know, it didn't make a lot of sense for me to be applying with three little people that needed, to be cared for, with daycare being what it would've cost. So, um, here we are, um, in this situation and plus at the same time, not knowing what we're gonna do, it's supposedly needing to have a dispersal for the 200 mama cows that were now there, that we were very attached to. You know, put a whole lot of faith in. So, anyway, this is a long story, Matt, you might need more than an hour to talk to me, but, and I, and I do get wound up, so you just have to butt in and interrupt me, but the story is good. So, so we drove to this little town called Ridge Spring one Sunday afternoon during Christmas, and Kevin said You've never been here, but this place I've delivered bulls to. I just, I think we should just get outta here, go ride through the country. This is a cool little town. You'll like it, I think." so we went and the town of Ridge spring is very quaint and old fashioned and they had these old Chris oldtimey Christmas stars hanging over the, the street. And there's no stoplights in Ridge spring, so it's a tiny little country town and. It was real foggy that day. I kind of actually remember exactly what it looked like. It looked like a, a scene from a hallmark movie, uh, at Christmas time, honestly. And so, you know, that made me even more sad to think, oh man, this is such a great little place. Wonder who gets to live here. And, um, We rode around and I kept saying, maybe there'll be a, a for sale sign and we can just buy a little piece of property and, and get a job near here. And Kevin said, oh no, that's not gonna happen. This is, um, you know, farmland that people have owned for years and years, and it doesn't change hands. And there's certainly not gonna be a for sale sign. If it is for sale, it's gonna be sold privately. And I went, okay, well, that kind of bummed me out too. And I, I, I know I made the statement. I had no idea there was a town in South Carolina that looked like this because it was so beautiful and it was all agriculture. Um, I didn't see any plants or industry. It was acres and acres of row crops and peaches and vegetables, just a very fertile ag oriented kind of place. Everything was kind of kept up nicely. I didn't see any like, Places that look dangerous or unfriendly. So I thought, oh, this is really cool. It's like Mayberry. And um, so Kevin said, yeah, it's nice. Isn't it? I, I thought you'd like it it's, it's really pretty. And I was like, oh, this is great. Why'd you bring me here? We can't come here. So we, we started to go back to Columbia. and the middle child Drake said he needed, um, to go to the bathroom. And Kevin said, "he does not need to go we're he just wants you to go inside, cuz he knows you're sucker and you'll buy him candy or whatever." And, and I was like, "well, you know, he's, he's four Kevin and it's two hours back to where we're going and we probably."

Matt:

This sounds very familiar, lydia.

Lydia:

So here I go in with the three little people and Kevin sat there, stamping his foot impatiently in the car, and I come back out and he's, there's a guy leaning in the window talking to him and I recognized him as one of our bull customers. But, you know, I didn't really think a whole lot about it. And, um, so I got back in, we got all, everybody buckled back in their car seats and you know... and I spoke to, to the gentleman we parted ways. And Kevin said, you're not gonna believe what he just said to me. And I was like, why? Well, you know, what could he have possibly said that I wouldn't believe? And he said, um, he said, what are y'all doing over here? And Kevin said, oh, nothing. Cuz he didn't, you know, wanna tell him that we are basically unemployed, jobless, homeless, the whole thing. And, um, so the guy goes, well, it's funny that I ran into you. He said, you know, my brother and I were just talking about y'all the other day. He said, I know y'all are happy where you are, and you're in a great situation. Um, he said, but we were just saying the other day, if y'all ever were not there, that you would be a great addition to our community. And Kevin said he basically dropped jaw and went, what'd you say? And he said, yeah, I was, we, it's funny that I ran into you cuz we were literally just talking about y'all this week and said that y'all would fit in really well here. Um, but that you had such great situation where you were so,

Matt:

Emphasis on

Lydia:

had, so Kevin goes well, it's interesting that you would bring that up because we actually, um, are in a position that we need somewhere to go and are gonna have to sell the cows and find new jobs. And so we really don't know what we're doing. So he was pretty honest with the guy and he said, "Hmm, well, let me go home and talk to my brother. And he said, we might have a hundred acres with an old tenant house on it that we would be willing to sell ya'll.". And so Kevin, um, and I were pretty darn excited. And of course, you know, we were like, that was God, how did that happen there? That doesn't just happen. And somebody said, boy, the moon and the stars lined up for y'all. And we're like, no, that had to be God. Moons and stars can do things, but that was God. So the next day Kevin came back, talked to he and his brother, and that was in December. And I guess it was in May that same year; we had remodeled a tenant house and figured out a way to buy a hundred cows and move them um, pretty much a bare bones pasture that we had to haul water to that didn't have fencing or anything. Um, and we would come work on the house on the weekends and grill hot dogs in the yard and the kids would have a camp out in the house which had no furniture. And I mean, literally, Matt, people would drive by and slam on brakes in the road, in front of our little house and just stare cuz they thought, you know, we had lost our minds. these people, first of all, there's not many new people that move into town and what are they doing? What are they, what are they thinking? You know? And we can't believe that they sold them this land. They don't sell land what's going on here? So we were the talk of the town that summer, I'm pretty sure. But long story short, we came here and it has, um, never, I don't think crossed either of our minds that it wasn't exactly where we were supposed to come and, and supposed to make our home. So, um, that's the, that's the short, long version of how we ended up in Ridge Spring. And I guess the next part is how did we end up with the hundred cows when there were 200 to start with? That's kind of a cool story. um, we didn't wanna do a dispersal obviously. And part of our deal at Congaree was, um, that we would acquire a percentage of ownership in the cow herd, um, in lieu of salary for, you know, years served, in that position. So we had a few cows that we had earned that way, but, we needed a lot more if we intended to continue farming full time. And so, word travels pretty fast in the Angus business, and, and I guess people got word that, that we were gonna disperse that herd. And like I said, you know, keep in mind that the herd that we had was essentially, um, 98% from the Partisover Ranch that everybody knew and respected. So those cattle were sought after, By not just us, but other people were interested in 'em too. So we had a gentleman that interestingly enough, only lived about an hour from Ridge Spring, which is the town we were coming to. And his farm manager said, what are you guys gonna do with all those cows? And we said, well, we can't, you know, We can't swing buying all the cows. We can only figure out a way to buy about half of 'em. Cause the farm service agency is already scared to loan us that much money. Um, so we've gotta do something with the other half. And he said, I tell you what, you get on Excel and make me a spreadsheet. And you split that herd in half and you put a hundred on list A and you put a hundred on list B and then I'm gonna pick which list I want and you're gonna get the others, so that's exactly what we did. Because I mean, what's, that was brilliant on his behalf because that way we had to, we didn't know which list we were gonna end up with. So we had to make it is like, you cut the piece of pie and then you get, your brother gets pick which piece he's gonna eat. So it was brilliant, you know, and, and it was fair. And I mean, we wouldn't have tried to done anything otherwise, but it was a great way to make a equal and fair list to split with them. So that's what happened. We, um, ended up coming to Saluda county, South Carolina with, three, three truckloads of, of mature cows and the county agent. Phil Perry, he rode in the truck with the truck driver for all three loads. We made the state newspaper, because it's not every day that somebody in the state capital in Columbia, South Carolina loads up with, like the I'm sure you probably remember the Beverly Hill Billies. I swear. That's what we look like with kids and toys and cows and trailers. And here we go. Here we go. The Clampett moved to Ridge spring that summer of 1996 and been here ever since.

Matt:

Well, I think it must be a Clemson thing because I think I saw a quote from, your football coach Dabo when he said something along the lines "We're the rednecks who moved into the nice neighborhood, but we belong."

Lydia:

yeah.

Matt:

uh, I I'd say that you've, uh, you've proven that you belong there. I, I have heard that short story, as you said, a little long... I don't know how many times and every time I hear it, whether it be you or Kevin telling it, there's something that I missed the first time, And, and the one about the two Excel spreadsheets was, uh, was a new one to me. So I'm glad to glad to get, to hear that. And, and I know everybody that who hasn't heard that story, it's just, it's one of my favorites of any Angus breeder anywhere that got their start. Um, it's just pretty cool. And so that would've been what, the mid nineties, 96, when you left.

Lydia:

We, we, we were able to save, you know, most of our salary because as, as the farm managers for Congaree we, we really did have a, a great deal. And, um, you know, we were, I would be remiss not to say, for for a little while, I'd be dishonest too if I didn't say that for the first couple of years after that deal happened, we were, we were still a little hurt feelings about that. And we, we didn't understand exactly why we were let go or, you know, we were kinda a little bitter about it or at least I was, I'm not, I can't speak for Kevin, but I know I was a little bitter that I felt like he didn't give us any warning, but you know, really it was his business and his his right to do whatever he chose to with his business. But those years that we spent there, we, there's no way that we could have come gone straight out of Clemson and started doing what we did in 1996, straight outta college. We learned so much, it was like a, a hands on internship that we got paid for, had housing for got take our kids to work. Um, he was really very agreeable about pretty much all the business decisions that we made. It taught us about working with other people, gave us the opportunity to network and join Cattleman's groups and associations and, and whatnot. And so really those, those seven years that we had there were hands on training that were invaluable and that we will be forever grateful for having had the opportunity to, to go. And, and really, it doesn't matter how it happened, that that, that operation ended. But I mean, what matters is the fact that it did, and then the things fell into place, the way they did to allow us to keep doing it. Um, all we did, I remember, um, the first time we had a bull sale here, after that, we said same people, same cattle, different name, and that's that was pretty much all there was to it.

Matt:

And it is, it's a people business and it's the people that are making the decisions and the management choices and the customer service and, and everything else. So, that's, that's the driving force behind any of them. And, and obviously when you've got good people that stay with the good cows, it, uh, it's even it's even a bigger bonus. You mentioned going to some meetings and I was vaguely familiar with you and Kevin, I don't think unless I'd met you at a BIF symposium sometime through the late nineties, early two thousands, I don't think we'd ever met, but 2003, Kevin, I believe spoke at the national Angus conference up in North Dakota. And I remember you and him, I think maybe were both there with young Sally who would've been what? 12 or 13 years old at the time? Maybe it was just Kevin.

Lydia:

It was just Kevin. And I think Sally and D Drake got to go and I stayed home with the littlest one cuz um, they, the kids have never forgotten that. Um, and I know.

Matt:

a blast with him.

Lydia:

Yeah, I know. Um, I think Sally Northcut was on that trip and, um, bill Davis was on the bus with the kids and, um, he, he paid special, special attention to them and made sure that they, um, learned to never to let schooling get in the way of their education, because I think they had to miss school, and Sally still says that quote today and says, don't forget, bill Davis always said that. And it's the truth. So, um, yeah.

Matt:

That was a fun, fun meeting. And, and when I first got to hear that story of your all at the time, six years, seven years into Yon Family Farms, but the theme of that conference, I just looked it up before you and I visited here this afternoon was, "Take Initiative." In. And, um, I would say that if there's ever been a story in the Angus, really in any business beef business or otherwise of taking initiative and not just like you said, being bitter and looking for a new job and giving up on, on what you all had done there at Congaree for six or seven years. Um, I'd say you and Kevin took initiative and, and continue to do so. Which is, is something that, uh, that I think's just pretty special and pretty cool. So tell us about some of, tell us about Y family farms today. Uh, cow herd, breeds, maybe even some other business ventures.

Lydia:

So, we now probably have, oh, I'm gonna guess about 1500 mama cows and about 500, bred heifers. So about 2000 cows and we sell about 500 bulls a year, we do a fall sale and a spring sale that have both bulls and females in 'em. Um, we started selling bulls with Kempfer cattle company in Florida at their sale also in November. So we really do two sales here at our place, and then send a small, small group of bulls to Florida to sell with the Kempers. But, um, whole family, interestingly enough, ended up coming back here after they got their educations. And so the operation has definitely grown, Both in size and scope and what we do since 1996, and it's been a slow growth. cuz like I said, the kids were little, I mean we, the first year we were here, the oldest one was going into, um, kindergarten. So, they essentially, and we we've used this term over and over, we say they grew up with the farm, but they really literally hands on, did grow up with the farm. I mean the youngest one was in pullups and um, we were digging fence post holes, and he'd be filling them in as Kevin was digging them, you know, he was coming behind us with a shovel filling 'em back up with dirt. So, I mean, they helped, they helped as much as they could help when they were little guys, but, you know, we didn't wanna overdo 'em and and cram farming and cattle business down their throat, so we, we tried to provide them a lot of opportunities to do things. Otherwise, but we also wanted them to have a strong work ethic and learn about family and responsibility and all that. So, so they really did grow up, um, as the farm grew up and of course they did all the four H and FFA and American Angus junior stuff. And, you know, they did sports and art camp and Bible school and all the other things that kids are supposed to do. But, you know, they, they grew up learning, How to have a good eye to notice when something's not right. And when something needs to be fixed or when there's a problem, it taught them how to try to solve solve problems. I think that's why a lot of times farm kids are so highly sought after for employment opportunities is because they do learn to think on their feet and they may not have somebody right there with 'em to tell 'em how to, how to fix a problem or solve a problem. So they have to figure out something like that and learn to think. So, we thought that was really the way we wanted our children to grow up. And then it, it really, I mean, I guess... We always hoped that they would wanna be part of the farm when they became adults, but we certainly didn't try to encourage them nor discourage them as they grew up. I mean, there was a time when Drake talked about joining the air force and being a pilot and, you know, we thought, oh, that'd be kind of cool if he did that. Anyway, it didn't really matter to us what they did. We just wanted them to have an appreciation for hard work and where food comes from and, and for agriculture. And so we got that, squared away and I think they all did. And then they. We didn't tell 'em they had to go to Clemson, but we didn't discourage that either because that was kind of legacy for us. Our family members had all gone there and it was our state land grant school. So, so they all go to Clemson, just like we did, nobody majored in animal science. They said they had enough hands on training growing up in that. so we had a, a ag education with Sally, a. Econ was Drake and then Ag Mech and business was Corbin. And then Sally went to Oklahoma state and got an ag com degree, um, master's degree. So, you know, they came back to the farm with a lot of, you know, skills and, and knowledge, but we didn't, we didn't dare want him to go to school work here every summer and then just come back like it was a birthright to join the team and, and become a farm manager. So, Kevin... and this was Kevin's rule and I definitely agreed with it. He told him they had to spend, um, Four, some four years away from the farm and that college could count, but they couldn't just come home for the summer and work here. So they all did a internship every summer that really was super, super helpful for them. And we're once again, very appreciative to the people that allowed them to internship at their farm or ranch or wherever they were. Um, they went, anywhere from SISs to Kempers to Ang H feed yard to a potato farm, to a cotton and commercial cattle operation, I think Sally spent a summer at certified Angus beef in Ohio. Um, she also worked at a peach farm that's pretty local here that's a big player in produce industry. Um, so they, they got to work at every single place they worked was a family operation and it wasn't by design that that's what they did, but it just turned out that way. Um, they might have been a big corporate, um, Potato farm or they might have been, you know, just like I said, a, a family farm that was growing row crops in south Georgia. But every one of those folks that they worked for was willing to share things that they brought home as far as, you know, how they, how they worked together all day and then still sit down at dinner table at night and, and get along or how they can, can keep from going crazy and getting frustrated with their family members that are always gonna be their family members and, and maintain a good work relationship. And, you know, it was just, it was just really great that they were willing to tell their family story, not, not, not any secrets or anything they shouldn't have told, but just sort of told how it worked for them. And, and those kids really listened and brought that home and helped us, cause heck we didn't we're first generation, we didn't know who we were supposed to do it. So that was really helpful.

Matt:

And so in that process, as the farm grew, as the number of family members grew, you increased the cow herd. six or seven times? It sounds like from 200 to 1500 plus heifers. Uh, what else? I know you've got some other ventures in addition to those, to those cows and I guess, what breeds? I know Angus, obviously... some Angus.

Lydia:

In, has always been the main bread and butter of the place and will always be, um, probably 90% or more of the cattle are, are Angus. And then we have a few ultra blacks and we have a few SIM Angus, and we once upon a time had a small Charolais herd, but, um, adding those other breeds was mainly due to customer request. Some folks, you know, wanted something other than just, just Angus and. So we didn't want 'em to have to go to multiple places to buy their bulls, so we tried to listen to our customers and, and provide 'em with that. And by doing it slowly, and the beauty in the ultra blacks and the SimAngus is that we were able to use our Angus cows. to make those cattle instead of having to go out and purchase. So we knew the knew the maternal side of it, and just tried to research what, what Brangus bulls and what Simmental bulls, or SimAngus bulls that we wanted to use to make those females. And then we had the mates to the bulls, we were selling in our herd. so that's pretty cool to be able to see how they work on that standpoint. In addition to the cattle. Um, we have have some crop land and, and grow, um, wheat and oats and corn silage, and a little bit of corn for grain. But all of that's for cattle feed, except for the little bit of corn that we might sell to, um, the chicken integrators down the road. So most everything that we grow from the farming side, which is mainly overseen by our youngest son, Corbin, all of that is for, feeding the cattle. Another thing that we added a few years ago was a pecan orchard. Pecan pecan, however you wanna say it. Um, that's another interesting story. Our closest neighbor the closest house to the house that Kevin and I ended up living in, The gentleman was 95 and he had a Pecan orchard and a retail store in the middle Ridge Spring called the nuthouse, which is a great name. Um, anyway, he, um, he fell and broke his hip when he was in his mid nineties and he didn't have a plan in place, how to harvest the nuts if he got hurt and his kids were, A couple hours away. And they came to us and said, do you, do you wanna buy daddy's business? And we said, well, we hadn't really given it much thought. Um, when are you talking about? And they said, now the nuts are on the ground and ready to be havested. And I was like, wait a minute, whoa, wait a minute. We're about to have bull sale. What are y'all? The boys are all sitting there all ears. And I'm like, wait a minute, we're calling a family meeting right now. I need to know a little bit more about this and they're all excited. And so anyway, Literally sat down and talked about it, and, um, that's kind of funny too. Our ag econ son said, "actually I did a, um, I did a project in school about that for my senior project. And I think we can actually incorporate that and make money. And it's not gonna be that big of a deal. I think we should do it." So, you know, what can you say if the kid did a senior research project on it and it's sitting there telling you it's a good thing to do, and you know, you always know that you should diversify if you have opportunity to. So, so we did that and along with the orchard came a retail store where, there was a kitchen staff already in place and a, and a store staff. And basically what they do is take those raw nuts and make seven varieties of homemade candies, which are to die for as far as taste and presentation. I mean, it's just good old fashioned candy. So, like I said, the guy that had been running the business was in his nineties, and my goodness, he was pretty darn progressive to be that age and doing it on his own, but he had a website and a little bit of a social media presence, but, At that time, my Drake, the middle son, he's married to a great gal that just happens to have a food science degree and they have small children that are infants. And she said, I, I think I could, I could run that store and really increase sales and so forth. So she took the reins in the store for a couple of years, and it has grown by leaps and bounds. And we, um, really ramped up the corporate side of gift giving, uh, at the holiday time. Cuz really pecans are something people eat year round, but obviously they're in greater demand around the holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and so forth. And so we have these little sampler tin that make great gifts for customers. So we have some large clients like their insurance business people or a hospital or something, and they'll, um, give it to all their staff or give it to their customers and we can personalize a little message. And if you're a good bull customer of Yons you might get one of those special tins, too. But, um, anyway, it's pretty cool. We, um, decided that since we were in the cattle business, we needed to match it up. So we work with CJ brown, who's a fairly famous Angus artist and she, gives us permission to use one of her, her prints each year as the cover of a holiday tin, that is cattle oriented. So, so that's been kind of fun. Um, since that time Drake's wife has, taken a different position, um, that that allows her to be at home and work, work remotely completely with two girls now. So, um, we hired a nuthouse manager and, and she's really taking it to the next level. Another thing that she has done and is continuing to work on is, um, ramping up our freezer, beef sales, um, selling custom halves of, of beef to folks. And we saw a huge increase in demand for that. Um, especially during COVID when supply was tight on beef in the grocery store, and people got really antsy about where they were gonna get their food from. And, and so we've, we've always sold a little bit of freezer beef, cuz we, you know, obviously we, Even though we'd like to think we raised really great bulls in that they all are merit being breeding, stock, you know, some of 'em don't for any number of reasons. So we have a little bit of a feed lot up here. Um, we used to send all our cattle out Kansas to feed 'em, but We started feeding them here ourselves and, and have pretty much developed enough of a freezer beef trade or, and, and we also sell beef at the nuthouse to local folks that don't need quite that much at a time, but that's been an area of growth too, for the farm that, um, that we've allowed the nuthouse people to kind of serve as the outlet for marketing it, because I mean, we, we all enjoy eating our beef, but that's not our passion, like our passion for our family is more on the live animal side and, you know, raising the live bulls to go out and send to somebody's place. whereas somebody else might enjoy, you know, talking to folks at a farmer's market all morning about you know how great the beef is, but that's just not our, not our deal. So, so we're glad to produce it, but we are happy to have another way to market it than us being the ones responsible for it. say So that's about it. Pecans the little retail store for beef and nuts and, and then, um, just farming, growing grass. grads.

Matt:

that that's all you've got, Lydia?,

Lydia:

That's it.

Matt:

I, I gotta know... how long it has taken or when it will wear off the jokes about the nuthouse.

Lydia:

They don't people love to like come to town and they just, they might not buy anything in the store, but they go down there and get their picture made under the sign. It's kind of cute. I mean, that's a pretty clever name he came up with, so it works.

Matt:

So how long had he had... the 94 year old gentleman... how long had he had the nuthouse? The, the retail

Lydia:

Oh, wow. You know, I'm, I'm not a real good person to keep up with dates, but it's been there for a pretty good while. I mean, he's, he's a, and he's still, he's still alive and kicking he's in a retirement home and he, he checks on us periodically to make sure we're doing things right. But yeah, he's, he's a, A veteran and just a super nice guy. A lot of people, always that have been customers of his for years, still ask about him when they come in the store. So it was a good thing

Matt:

That's great. That, that is a great story. So I think I know the answer to this question. Uh, maybe it's kinda like your grandkids and you can't pick, but which is your favorite what's what's your favorite part of Yon Family Farms?

Lydia:

Ooh. That's a tough one. Um, so I think it, my personal favorite part is just the fact that, um, that we get to do it together as a family. And I, I don't know, my kids probably wouldn't say that part, but as the

Matt:

they're my, they're my podcast next week. So we'll

Lydia:

OK. They dunno that yet. Um, so as the grandma of the crowd, I mean, that's kind of cool for me. I don't. You know, they, I don't sit down and eat dinner or whatever with my kids. They're all three married now. We've got the last one married off, um, two or three weeks ago. So everybody's, everybody's settled in and has kids or married and, they're all here close. Um, They all have their own homes, obviously, but they're close enough that we can drop by and babysit. And, you know, my role has changed quite a bit since the grandchildren came along. Pre grandchildren. I, I worked like the guys. I mean, I would come to work at 6 45 and work from sun up till sundown like they did. And then I kind of said, you know what? I've been doing this a long time. I'm gonna, um, and I laugh. I say I'm semi-retired, but I, I'm not, I do probably more work now than I have my whole life, but it's a different, different deal. Um, so that that's rewarding to me just to see the fact that they take a lot of pride in the operation and its growth and its continuance for their children. So. You know that that's probably the part that I like the best. And I mean, you can't are the guy that we worked for initially at Congaree, he used to always say there's nothing like black cows, green grass, and blue sky. And I mean, that's pretty true. I, I, I don't ever, I, or at least I hope I don't ever take for granted that we get to work outside and see such beautiful masterpieces right in front of our face every day that, you know, especially city folks, they just don't even know. I mean, they have to go, go take a vacation and spend a week like touring somewhere to see what we get to see every day. So that's pretty cool too.

Matt:

Yeah, no doubt. I, we had that same topic or same discussion a few weeks ago when I spoke with my local pastor about how many opportunities that farmers and ranchers get to see God's blessings that we take for granted and even worse are so busy we don't even notice. And yet there are people, millions of people that don't even know that view exists and

Lydia:

mm.

Matt:

Probably do anything. Um, go, go to pretty large extents to be able to witness that. So, those are special times and I kind of knew as I asked it that that's, uh, probably where you'd land one thing I've never gotten to work day to day with you all, obviously at the, at the farm, but just. Watching you and Kevin, both... in, in leadership capacities, in our industry and at conferences and with your family and, and just whatever the case may be. I've always thought that you both were really good at recognizing the situation and what needed to be done and getting to a place where you could help do it. And so it doesn't surprise me a bit that you've gone from a huge part of the labor force to a huge part of the, um, Family force, in, in just a short amount of time. And, and so that's, that doesn't surprise me a bit, cuz that, that is the, the important part, like you said. and I've said before the farm kids that we raise here in rural America, they're problem solvers, they're leaders and, and that's our most valuable commodity, if you will. And far from that, but that's the most valuable thing we, we produce, uh, in, in my opinion.

Lydia:

Absolutely. I agree with that. A hundred percent.

Matt:

So where are we going from here? Future plans for Yon Family Farms... without, uh, without telling all the secrets?

Lydia:

Well, uh, there's more to the, the initial story too, I didn't tell you the whole entire story at the beginning, but I had to catch my breath. So, um, so the

Matt:

Well, let's hear it. You got us on the edge of seats...

Lydia:

Rest of the story, the rest of the story is that the family that sold us our original piece of land and the little tiny house that the five of us lived in happily for a long, long time, um, were big landowners in this area and they, um, Had tons of different farming enterprises over the years, anything from peaches to row crops, to cattle and, and anyway, the two brothers were probably, oh, I don't know I'm gonna guess how old they are... they're uh, they're 10 years older than Kevin and I are. So they worked pretty, pretty darn hard, and we worked with them. And they were kind enough to allow us to take care of their commercial cows in exchange for borrowing their tractor when we were unable to have our own tractor. Or we'd helped bail their hay in exchange for part of the hay on shares or whatever. So, so those guys, okay. Once we got through with our seven year um, stint at Congaree... had it not been for that set of brothers that gave us the opportunity to start with, not only did they give us the opportunity to buy that first a hundred acres, they allowed us to lease a little bit more of their land. Since 1996, they they'd they'd allow us to lease a little bit more and then I don't know how they knew, but somehow they would have a good guess, I suppose that... Okay, well, they might be close to being able to borrow some more money, let's dangle this piece of property, um, that adjoins, what they just bought. So it was like they'd dangle a carrot in front of us every time we'd, we'd get a little closer to feeling like we were, um, Starting to see some light at the end of some of our debt load, but it was a situation where from the big picture perspective, you couldn't say no. And you didn't wanna say no, because you wanted to preserve what you started and grow it, especially as the kids got older. And so they sort of, they sort of sold us a little bit more, and a little bit more, and a little bit more. And then I guess it was, would've been in 2021. They both, um, decided to retire and sell every acre that they had here and, and be fully retired. And so that was when we had to have a real big family meeting and we called the boys and Sally, and we said, look, guys, um, we have the opportunity to, to buy some of this land that we've been admiring for our whole lives, that backs up to other property that we have, and.... You know, they didn't hesitate. They were like, absolutely, we're gonna do this. And so, you know, it's the truth. It's not gonna be for Kevin and I to work for, for the next, however many years it takes to pay it off. But it's something that they, they wanted bad enough to make that commitment. And, and I guess, I mean, that was really gratifying to us and to that family. Because had it not been for them, we would've never had Yon Family Farms in Ridge Spring. And, um, I mean, that's, that's really pretty cool. That's what ag is... That's what ag should be about is people that, um, that respect and treasure our way of life, make sure that it continues. so the fact that they didn't have kids that, um, that they could pass their farm down to, to continue doing it, um, open the door for our family to step in and continue something that their family started. And I think that's, that's been a win-win for both of us. I think they're happy with the outcome and we're happy with the outcome and, and that just, I don't know, that's kind of the rest of the story and we'll let the kids write the ending of it. I mean, we pretty much watched one family transfer their farm to another family over a long number of years. And, you know, I, I'm not gonna say that we are a success story or that we've made it because I mean, I'll be the first to tell you, we still owe a lot of money, you know, for the property that we've purchased. And, um, You know that you gotta have money to, to make money. And, and so we, we try to be good borrowers and we've made all our payments so far. And that's, that's the goal that we'll continue to do that and, and let the kids do what they wanna do with it in the future.

Matt:

Yeah. That's um, that's part of agriculture and I think. Probably the part that non-production ag businessmen struggle the most with is looking at returns on whatever you want to put it against returns on assets, return on investment. Um, they shake their heads and say, there's, this is a, this is a horrible business model. and, and how many businesses can you sit there and tell the story of growth and get choked up because of all of the stuff that you can't put down on paper, you can't quantify, the memories and the emotions and the passion that you all put into that. You can't you can't explain on any number of spreadsheets or diagrams or any other business models what happened on that restroom stop that... was at Drake that needed to go?... Um, and, and that brother, you know, one of the two brothers approached Kevin and, and you made that offer you, you, it's just, it's nothing you, in my opinion. And I think in your opinion, obviously, um, you can't explain it any other way than that's God's plan. And, luckily you all were willing to listen because sometimes folks aren't. And I, I think again, I go back to that term of taking initiative, Regardless of the situation you all have, have done exactly that you've taken the initiative and yet done it in a way that is, very giving and very trusting and very uh, Christian in your motives. sometimes I think as we hear about business growth, we think that somebody has to lose in order for somebody else to win. And, and you mentioned it, um, win-win situations or, or what you all get involved in and, and what make agriculture so great in my opinion. So, yeah, that's just, that's awesome. Um, just, you just can't, can't seal it up any better, better than that. And I think as we right here within a week of independence day, I think that, um, if that's not the American dream and the American story of, of two young kids going out on their own after being handed a, a pretty, uh, pretty rough dealing or, or pretty rough fate, uh, with your first job and, and taking the steps that you all did. It's just, it's, it's inspiring.

Lydia:

Well, you'll have to get Kevin to come on and talk to you one day, because I don't know if you know this or not, but he, um, he, his parents, neither one of them were cattle people or farmers. So it's an interesting story too, for him to have not grown up doing what he does, how he got to that path. And, um, Why that's part of the reason why we've had lots of interns and, and he'll pretty much give any young person an opportunity to learn that wants to, because it's what got him to where he is now, too. So it's an interesting story... you don't have to grow. We talk about a lot of times we talk about, um, you know, legacy and passing it down from one generation to the other. And that, while that is true, and while that is probably true of the majority, Of cattle and ranching families. It's not, the be all end all, cuz um, it wasn't the case with us. My parents were farmers and um, they still have a cattle operation are successful at it, but um, it wouldn't have been successful for us to have gone back to their place. wasn't big enough and couldn't have supported us at the same time. So, I say all that to say... Multigenerational farms are probably more prevalent than not, but you can sure be first generation and no ag background, and if that's where your heart is, you, you can do anything, you set your mind to.

Matt:

No doubt. And you all have proven that about as well as anybody I could, I could point to. So thank you very much for all that you do for agriculture and, and for us as, as Americans. And, um, thanks for joining and telling us all the Yon Family Farms story and we'll look forward to, uh, to yeah... hearing, hearing more about it, whether it be from Kevin or any of the kids or, um, whomever. I know that there'll be a lot more than just me that are wanting to keep up on, on the growth and on the progress. So thanks again, Lydia. We

Lydia:

You are welcome.

Matt:

being here and, um, give our best to the entire family and can't wait to catch up with you again.

Lydia:

Sounds great. Thank you.

Matt:

You bet. Thank you. Thanks for joining us for practically ranching, brought to you by Dalebanks Angus. If you enjoyed the podcast... Heck even if you didn't... help us improve by leaving a comment with your review wherever you heard us. And if you want to listen again, click subscribe and catch us next week. God bless, and we look forward to visiting again soon.