If you travel down I-95 on your way south, you don't notice the farming quite as much, but follow more interior routes like I-75 and even U.S. 301 and it is ever present. You'll see picturesque horse farms reminiscent of Kentucky and expansive cattle operations plus many others. . Most of the middle of the state is the home of small towns and farms and it presents a much different picture than what visitors expect.
I bring this up because I wanted to write about something light, interesting and even funny this morning. I think we could use a change of pace after the last few weeks of political mudslinging and fighting. Oh, I know that I am as guilty as anyone else, God forgive me, but it is just the way that our system seems to work or not work as the case may be.
But here's what I wanted to pass on because I think it's amazing. Prior to 1951, Florida was a free range state for farm animals. That's right, farm animals such as cattle, pigs and goats, even horses, were allowed to freely roam with no mandatory fencing requirements. In the early days of the Sunshine State, this wasn't too much of a problem although animals sleeping on the roadway caused a number of accidents. Traffic was less and slower for at that time there weren't too many people and farming was king. But once the beaches became the scene with the major influx of tourists from the North it became a real problem and, of course, nowhere was it more of a problem than down the central spine of the state where most farms were located.
Reading an article from the Bradford Telegraph and Times, a small rural regional newspaper, I learned that the problem became acute as even the small towns grew and the roadways were improved, allowing faster and higher volume traffic. In the late 1940s, the government decided to turn US. 301 into a major North-South corridor. While it was already a busy roadway in Virginia and the Carolinas, it was decided to extend it right on down through Florida by means of incorporating and improving already existing roadways.
Extensive roadwork meant award of big dollar contracts and that's when the state government decided that something had to be done with the free ranging animals. Accidents on the highways were mounting with four hundred car-animal wrecks killing most of the animals and even four people by 1950. Not only that but often the poor animals were left on the road to die a slow and agonizing death.
Even in Bradford County, in the county seat Starke, the county fathers decided it was time to install a cattle fence around the entire town. Prior to that cattle would just saunter through town at their leisure and, in the process, destroy Aunt Jennie's flowers and plants. Being a small farming hub, farmers ruled and it was just the way things were.
Governor Fuller Warren finally got the legislature to require fencing for cattle in 1951, but the law didn't take full effect for two full years. Even then, when the first farmer charged with violation of the law decided to go to trial instead of paying the penalty, he was acquitted by a jury of his peers. It seems, as we all know, change does not come easy.
I found this information interesting as it sounded more like a story out of Wyoming or Texas but no, this was Florida not too long ago. And to this day, Florida maintains a rich tradition of farming and cowboys, with large rural fairs and even rodeos common throughout the state. The Sunshine State will surprise you if you look around. Next time you visit, don't limit your visit to our beautiful beaches; check out the slower style of life and God-given wonders of our more rural, inland environment.
Everyone have a great day.