By REID TUCKER
When Steve Pridgen was a little boy he played with toy tractors and dreamed of one day being a farmer like his father and grandfather before him. Nowadays he works his family’s 430-plus acres with real tractors, but that doesn’t mean farming has stopped being his life’s passion and favorite pastime. It is certainly still his dream come true.
“I remember longing for the day I could be in a tractor out there,” Steve said. “As soon as I was old enough to get on a tractor I was on one, and I’ve basically been on one ever since. [Farming] is my passion. Some people like to hunt, some like to fish, and others like to play golf. I love to be at the farm and to do work on the farm.”
The family, which includes Steve, his wife, Ronda, and their children, Stephanie, Chase, and Madison, as well as his mother, Martha, was recently selected as Walton County’s 2013 Farm Family of the Year in recognition of their four-generation-long devotion to working the land. Walton County Extension Service Director Mike Goodchild and Agriculture Agent Mindy Hittle-McNair presented the Pridgens with the award on Friday, Sept. 13, at the family’s farm, located just off U.S. 331 North in the Liberty Community. The family will also be honored at the Walton County Fair in a special ceremony to be held Oct. 10.
The Pridgens’ history on the land goes back to Steve’s grandfather, C.R. Pridgen, who bought the property from the Jackson Lumber Company, and continued when Max, Steve’s father, purchased the farm in the late ‘60s. Steve planted soybeans and peanuts and raised cattle with his father up until Max’s death in 1983, when Steve, then a high school junior, took over operations.
Though Steve studied criminal justice at the University of West Florida and now works full-time for the Federal Probation Service, he still makes time to take care of 65 head of beef cattle and 120 acres of pasture land as well as 300-plus acres planted in pine trees. The Pridgens are no strangers to recognition for their achievements in agriculture, having been named Florida’s Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year by the Florida Forestry Association in 2007. Indeed, the stewardship of the land is a central part of who the Pridgens are as a family.
“The land is very special to me,” Steve said. “Working on it is an opportunity that I’m grateful to have. It’s a piece of God’s Earth that you get to tend. You get to watch things grow and see the change of seasons, and that’s something I deeply appreciate. Although we’re a very small operation in comparison to some of the others around here, I take pride in trying to keep the land looking good and in keeping everything productive.”
The family’s farming legacy is still going strong into the current generation, as both Stephanie and Chase regularly wake up early on weekends to help their dad on the property, and so they very much deserve to share the Farm Family of the Year Award, Steve said.
“My kids have helped me a lot over the years,” he said. “They’re here for me whenever I need them. My son drives a tractor for me, whether it’s breaking land or moving hay or mowing. My daughter helps out when she’s home from school, even if that means building a fence with her brother and me.”
The Pridgens expressed their gratitude for being chosen as Farm Family of the Year, and they thanked their neighbors and the Extension Office for their help and support over the years. Steve said having his family’s generations of hard work be recognized by one’s peers is a “tremendous blessing,” but, that said, the opportunity to work the land has always been a reward into and of itself. For the Pridgens, farming is more than an occupation – it’s truly a calling – and it’s something Steve plans to always make a part of his life.
“To be selected for this award is quite an honor,” Steve said. “It’s a tremendous blessing to get that recognition when you aren’t seeking it. You think you’re doing a good job, but it’s really great when other people appreciate what you do.
“As long as I’m able to physically to do it, I’ll always farm. I’ll farm until until I can’t do it anymore.”