Spotlight on the Perez family of Father & Son farm in Jasper, Florida, and Kayle Farm in Lee, Florida
"The Perez clan is a great family. It's a family-run business, they work very hard at what they do and they do a good job. It shows with the chicken they put out," says Gene Tomlinson, Grower Manager, Pilgrims Pride in Live Oak, FL. "The chicken that is grown right here in Florida is grown with all natural products. The consumer can rest easy knowing families like the Perezs' are growing the chicken, families that are very conscientious about growing a good chicken. These farmers go to the same supermarkets that you and I do and they want to have a good product to purchase just like you and I do."
Theirs is a Cuban immigration story. Esmildo Perez, a Cuban farmer born in 1941, brought his wife, Idolidia, and their children to Miami seeking a better life in 1980. There, he and his wife Idolidia raised their son Yovany and daughter Niuris into adulthood. As his children went off to work themselves, the Perez family longed for a simpler life - a life where they could spend more time with each other, with their children and grandchildren, a life closer to the land, as Esmildo had when he was raising his young children on a cattle and sugar cane farm in Cuba.
In 2006, the Perez family left the city and purchased two farms and obtained Pilgrim's Pride grower contracts.
The family maintains two very large farms and grows hundreds of thousands of chickens every year. Each farm is around 40 acres with eight chicken houses on each. They grow around 250,000 birds per flock. They raise five or six flocks of birds per year. The Perezs' plant a two-acre garden every year, growing about 30 percent of all the food they consume.
"We heard about poultry farms and we wanted a change. We wanted a place where we could be close to and around our family. When you're in the city you go to work and there's not much time with your family. Here on the farms, we see our parents more because we're there working with them. This is a family operation and we work with each other. We work more here on the chicken farm, but we enjoy it more because we're with our family," says Yovany.
Yovany and his wife, Amanda Ortega, live at Father & Son farm, though Yovany acts as Operations Manager for both farms. His 14-year-old son, Giancarlos, helps around the farm on weekends. From his laptop, Yovany can control the temperature, food, water and ventilation systems of both farms. He also maintains both computer systems and the machinery around both farms.
Niuris and her two children, eight-year old Wilham and the farm's namesake 14-year-old Kayle Kopke, live on Kayle Farm. Niuris acts as the Financial Officer of the family business. Wilham and Kayle often work around the farm after school and on weekends, often tagging behind their grandfather as he works.
In another farm house on Kayle Farm, patriarch Esmildo lives. Esmildo is in the chicken houses every day. He checks the houses for illness, makes sure a standard of cleanliness is observed at all times, and adjusts food and water lines so the chickens, which grow daily, get adequate nutrition.
Yovany credits his father for the family's strong work ethic, "I'm really proud of my dad, he works really hard and he taught me all the right things, my dad is in the chicken houses all day long, from 6 am to 9:30 pm, being the type of guy that he is."
"What I respect about them is that the father makes all the decisions, but they work just as hard, side by side with one another. They are very good farmers and just very good people. They help out in the community. They are very conscientious. I feel fortunate not only to work with the, but also to call them friends of ours," says Tomlinson.
"When consumers see the Florida grown emblem, they snatch it up right away, because they know where it's coming from. They know that what goes into them is all natural products and they are hormone-free. We also have antibiotic-free raised chickens for those who are even more health conscious. We have these healthy choices available here in Florida, grown by farmers like the Perezs'," says Tomlinson.