Meating up with the Boyds

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The only side Allen Boyd concerns himself these days is of beef.

And when it comes to trying to fit under a big tent, the only polar opposites he has to draw to the middle are the four legs of the Boyd Farms Fresh canopy tent he puts up when he’s at a farmers market, hocking hind quarters.

A lot of young people who come by to peruse a laminated sheet depicting the many fancy cuts of beef, or a giant poster Boyd will happily unroll and point out the different quarters to them, are content to just enjoy what the farm calls MEATUps, and learn what parts of the cow produce what, and buy some.

They’re more concerned about gluten and hormones than they are about fat and cholesterol, which is more the focus of the Baby Boomers who remember, if they’re from here or have lived around here for a while, that Boyd once had the good fortune, granted repeatedly by the voters, to jiggle the levers of government power on behalf of the people of the 2nd Congressional District.

The outline of a pair of dogs stitched in blue into the brow of his cap, strike the younger people as cute, the historic implications of the threads lost on them.

They haven’t much knowledge of this Florida congressman, who rose up from the ranks of the state legislature, who was among the most prominent Blue Dog Democrat in Congress, his party affiliation deeply rooted in the rural South’s affection for what the New Deal meant to them, to their farms, to their families.

Boyd is no nouveau riche rancher, his family goes back seven generations as Florida farmers.

It’s been nearly a century since his grandmother, Finlayson, was left a widow with four children after her husband died in 1932, in the pit of the Depression, the year before President Roosevelt assumed office.

The family managed to hold on to the farm, and after daughter Margaret Finlayson married Fred Boyd, the future congressman was born their junior, in 1945, right after the war ended.

Boyd was going to go into the business, he studied accounting but never sat for the CPA exam,  honing his sharp-eyed calf-counting skills that would eventually serve him well in practical politics, as a trusted federal budget hawk.

“I believe that background endured during hard times, how to stay in business,” he said. “We had land and no money, making a living for the family off of the farm, with three kids in college.”

To pay for all of it, Boyd’s mom went back to school in her 50s, to get a teaching degree and then teach elementary school in Jefferson County.

The farm would raise cattle and peanuts and cotton and corn, and some chickens, diversified as many small operations in Florida were.

Boyd, who was 18 the year President Kennedy was assassinated, earned a degree from Florida State, where he graduated in 1969 with an ROTC commission and an officer assignment at Fort Benning, Fort Leonard Wood and then nine months in Vietnam as a second, then first, lieutenant.

After two years on active duty, he was done with military service, and went back to the farm, which was not in its heyday.

Boyd’s time in politics, 22 years in the Florida Statehouse and the US. Congress, is relevant to what he’s busy doing now, back on the farm, making sure he not only holds on to it, but adapts it, profitably, to the current “farm-to-table beef business.

 “We wanted to focus on what’s best for our neighbors, our cattle and the environment. Our happy herd grazes in green pastures, producing a nutrient-dense beef that is better for your health and the planet.” reads the website, the wording likely the work of the company’s “Chief Mooover,” daughter Suzanne Boyd, who spent 25 years in the TV news business and now runs her own production company in Delray Beach.

“Our cattle never leave the region. After they are bred, born and raised on pastures in North Florida and South Georgia, they are grain-finished in open fields to choice grades,” it reads. “Our beef is then harvested and processed at a USDA-certified plant in Florida.”

Boyd continues to work as a lobbyist in Washington, on issues close to his background. In 2020, the firm’s top four clients were the Florida Peanut Federation, Veterans Assembled Electronics, Enozo Technologies and Summit Wireless Technologies.

Still, based on looks alone, he’s still got the silver white shock of hair, the sharp eyes and lean frame, and the down-to-earth courtliness of a farmer. His wife Jeannie, whose Georgia roots are deep in farming, works alongside him, and she seems just as sturdy, and as polished.

“We can tell you about the quality of the cow and calf we raise, and the nutritional value of that product and how it interplays in our day-to-day lives as a better, healthier society,” she said, on the deck Saturday at Lynn’s Quality Oysters, after finishing up an afternoon across the street after a morning spent at the Salt Air Farmers Market in Port St. Joe, and later on St. George Island.

The day had closed on a flat note. “People tell me, when they come down here, they don’t come down to buy beef,” he said.

The Eastpoint MEATUp had come about based on Boyd’s ties with the owner, Lynn Martina, once a prominent spokeswoman for the oyster industry, who worked closely with Boyd during his lawmaking days, to save the bay and its oysters. The chief threat back then had come from a crackdown on raw oyster consumption by zealous New England progressives, and the crimp in commerce that regulators placed on tongers and processors.

“She let us set up,” Jeannie said. “What Allen does, he has a large net over the years he’s gathered, from Miami to Washington DC, a network of personal phone numbers. He knows a lot of people and that has been a good entrance for us.

“I’m fascinated that no matter where we go, his name recall, that’s a gift he has, and he’s genuinely interested,” she said. “Every politician has to get on the ground and meet the public and Allen has that skill. We’re starting a new business and we’re on the ground trying to achieve that goal.

“It’s not a matter of if, it’s going to succeed, it’s when is it going succeed,” she said, and that’s coming from a woman who while she did teach for a time, has a farm of her own adjacent to Boyd’s land.

“We’ve already started to see some play,” she said. “We have a huge following in all these different places. This type of infrastructure of selling beef is rampant all over the county. We do it because we’re committed to making it work. It’s not a money thing, we could stay at home.”

She said her husband does a lot more than just greet customers at the MEATUps

“We run the cattle herd and we’re still heavily involved in the day-to-day farming,” Jeannie Boyd said. “I’m just the typical farm wife. If he weren’t there to throw the hay out, I’d be next in line.

“For three months we literally had no one to run the farm. We could pull occasionally from other places on the farm, but we couldn’t find the right person,” she said. “We did all the manual labor. We moved the cows, we got on the tractor, we fed the hay, we put out the metal, just he and I did that.

“I told him ‘When I was teaching fulltime and I was a young mother and had three kids under 4, I never worked as hard as I’ve had with you,’” she said “I think they should just appoint him secretary of agriculture but that’s me.”

Boyd and his first wife Cissy had been married for 40 years, and they remain on good terms, their split coming about just before Boyd’s days in Congress ended. Ever since the Republican-friendly redistricting following the 2000 Census, Boyd had managed to fend off challenges from the GOP, and even in 2010 had overcome a stiff intra-party challenge from Al Lawson.

But in the general election that followed the first two years of President Obama’s first term, Boyd was a casualty of a national red wave that handed Republicans control of Congress, after a net gain of 63 seats, the largest shift in seats since the 1948 elections.

I was a Republican and worked in the Republican party all those years. My first husband ran five times in Georgia, he was president of the Young Republicans,” said Jeannie Boyd.

After moving the Boyd Farms Fresh truck, Boyd joined his wife on the deck.

“That guy I sold the chuck to, from Arkansas, he used to own a beef plant,” he told her, right after sitting down.

Jeannie said that one of the first discussions she and Allen had as a dating couple was about the Affordable Care Act, and the vote Boyd took that ensured he would have a hard time winning the general election. “Every kid I’ve had has been on Obamacare,” she said. “The value of that has never been really appreciated.”

With Obamacare a prominent factor in the election, Boyd lost decisively in 2010 to Steve Southerland who then served two terms before giving way to Democrat Gwen Graham, who lasted one and then read the writing on the wall and didn’t run for reelection. Republican Neal Dunn, a former supporter of Boyd’s, has served in Congress since 2017.

“I took a lot of votes in the U.S. Congress. I probably could go back and find some that I regret taking,” he said. “The health care vote is not one of them. I do not regret taking that vote,

“It was the right thing to do for this country. 50 million people without health care, 15-20 percent of the population, and health insurance costs rising at 7 or 8 percent above the inflation rate annually,” he said. “People standing at the side, saying ‘Don’t change my health care.’ Are you kidding me?”

Asked about his career, Boyd has some thoughts.

“I don’t look back that much; I certainly don’t look back with any regrets or I wish I was back or anything like that,” he said, “When I do look back, I look back with a smile and pleasure on what I was able to do, to assist people up and down this area of Florida with their lives.”

Along with legislating, he said he considered it a duty to “be an advocate for my constituents with governmental agencies, Internal Revenue Service, Social Security, Veterans Administration, immigration, Food and Drug Administration, all those things.

“I can look back and say ‘Hey I really enjoyed that,” he said. “When I do look back I’ve met a lot of really good people, really good people in north Florida and really good people around the country. And had a chance to interact with them and understand how certain people live differently from other people.

“What’s been fun about this, this meat business, is not a day goes by that I don’t reconnect with somebody who I worked with or had some dealings with when I was either in the state legislature or in the US Congress,” Boyd said.

He offers one recent instance.

“The most heart-rending was in Panacea, we were up there and this car drove up and drove up close to the table and the window rolled down, and the woman was sitting on the passenger side and the man was sitting on the driver’s side and I looked over and he was crying,” Boyd said.

“The woman said ‘He just recognized who you were. In 2006, when he had problems with the Veterans Administration or the Social Security administration,’ I can’t remember what it was, ‘and we could not shake it loose and we were in bad trouble and you helped shake it loose and we got what we needed,” Boyd said.

“That kind of thing,” he said. “That makes your day.”

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