Ed and Imogene Yarborough started ranching in Seminole County in 1954 on 8,000 acres—land that had been in Ed’s family for generations. They called the place Yarborough Ranch and spent 46 years raising cattle and children there, until Ed’s death in 2000. Over the years Ed and Imogene became well-known leaders in the agricultural community. Teaching young people about agriculture and promoting the industry were special areas of focus from early on.
Ed was born in 1931 into an old Florida cattle-ranching family and started learning the business from his uncle at the age of four. He grew up on a horse amid the saw palmettos and mosquitoes, rattlesnakes and muck. In those days, most of Florida was still open range. In fact, Ed’s family was one of the first in the state to fence large tracts of their land. They were also among the first to plant improved pastures and to improve their herds of scrub cattle through crossbreeding with the beefier Brahman.
Together, Ed and Imogene continued the family’s tradition of improving pastures and herd quality. They kept their children involved in the day-to-day running of the ranch, teaching them to work cattle when they were no older than five or six. Ed and Imogene were excellent teachers and the kids made good cowhands—so good that the family was able to run the sprawling ranch with the help of only one outside employee.
The Yarboroughs were always good stewards of their land. In 1997 they negotiated with the St. Johns River Water Management District to create a 3,400-acre conservation easement on Yarborough Ranch. This agreement protects seven miles of the Econlockhatchee River and two miles of the St. Johns River. It also allowed for the building of a public canoe landing and park.
The ranch demanded time and attention, but the Yarboroughs still managed to give back generously to their community and their industry. Ed served on the Seminole County Soil and Water Conservation Board and on the board of directors of the Seminole County Farm Bureau. For eight years he was a Seminole County Commissioner. Imogene has been president of the Seminole County Farm Bureau since 1996 and serves on the Seminole County Agriculture Advisory Committee. She is a leader in her church and volunteers her time to numerous charitable projects.
Both Ed and Imogene were actively involved in the county, state, and national cattlemen’s and cattlewomen’s associations. Ed was president of the Seminole County Cattlemen for 12 years, and in 1999 the Florida Cattlemen made him an honorary director. Imogene was on the Florida Cattlewomen’s board of directors for 12 years, and in 1984 she was elected president. Imogene has long been a member of the National Cattlewomen’s Association and has been active in planning and organizing the National Beef Cook-off.
Promoting agriculture was a priority for the couple from the beginning. To encourage better understanding between farmers and urban residents, they opened the ranch for tours every year during Farm-City Week. School kids came to the ranch, too, for field trips, getting hands-on experience with farm animals and machinery. For years Imogene had a booth at the Florida State Fair with displays promoting Florida’s cattle industry.
Teaching is a passion for Imogene, and she educates young people about agriculture through 4-H, the Girl Scouts, and Ag in the Classroom. Many years ago she started going into classrooms to teach about all the useful products that come from cattle. To improve her communication with the students, she created lots of kid-friendly teaching tools (including a wooden cow named Beef An’) and even went to clown school. In 1983 Imogene was honored with a National Farm-City Award for her efforts to educate children about the importance of agriculture in their daily lives. In 1995 the Girl Scouts of Citrus Council named her a Woman of Distinction in Lifetime Achievement.
Preserving the history of Florida’s cattle industry was important to the couple. Imogene is a founding member of the Florida Agricultural Museum and is active in the Geneva Historical Society. Ed and Imogene worked together to help organize the Great Florida Cattle Drive of 1995, which celebrated Florida’s 150th year of statehood, and its ranching heritage. Seven hundred riders and 100 horse-drawn wagons moved a thousand head of native Florida cattle 70 miles along the historic Peavine Trail in south-central Florida. The drive took six days. Participants dressed in period costumes, and at night they camped under the stars. Ed and his sons rode horseback, while his daughters drove teams of draft horses pulling wagonloads of family and friends.
Ed will be remembered as one of Florida’s last true cowmen. He instilled his love of the land and the ranching way of life in his children. Today, his sons run Yarborough Ranch, under the watchful eye of Imogene, who remains one of agriculture’s most effective ambassadors.