The Lewis Friend family has worked Florida soil for nearly 100 years. This pioneering Florida family has known every facet of South Florida farming, from machetes to Best Management Practices.
Members of FFVA since 1949, the Friend family came to South Florida in 1914, when Frank Friend cast off from Lamar, Colo., with his wife and children to try farming in a warmer climate. He settled in Fellsmere but soon heard about opportunities farther south. They relocated to East Beach, which is now Pahokee by Lake Okeechobee.
Frank was a nurse, but his first love was farming. He dedicated himself to it. He and his partners lived in tents and cleared the land by hand with hoes and machetes. He brought one of the first tractors, a Fordson, to the area by driving it through wilderness lands from what is now Loxahatchee to Pahokee.
Frank’s son, Lewis, worked by his side after graduating from Pahokee High School. Lewis married his childhood sweetheart in 1935, a Mississippi transplant by the name of Gethie Smith, in the first wedding to take place in the brand new local Methodist Church. They were married 72 years until she died. The couple had three girls: Kay, Cyndy and Merry Ann.
Lewis grew vegetables and raised cattle with his father until 1949, when he founded Lewis Friend Farms, Inc., and became a member of the board of directors of FFVA.
In addition to raising cattle for many years, Lewis Friend Farms grew an assortment of vegetables in its early days, including sweet corn, green beans and celery. Not only was Lewis Friend a full-time farmer and rancher, he was extremely active in the agriculture industry and in the community, serving as Pahokee’s mayor from 1950 to 1955.
Friend was chairman of the Florida Sweet Corn Advisory Committee, a member of the board of directors of the Bank of Pahokee (now PNC Bank) and a director of the East Beach Water Management Drainage District. Later, when the farm turned to growing sugar cane, he was one of the founding members and served many years as a member of the board of directors of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida. Friend also was a member of the Elks and Rotary clubs and active in the Methodist Church.
The Friends’ daughter Kay and her husband Dick Korbly moved to Pahokee in 1963 to help with farming responsibilities during its expansion. “Dad didn’t believe in getting into debt. He also was an American through and through, and for years he wouldn’t own a foreign vehicle or support anything that was not made in America,” Kay Korbly said. The Friend family was honored in 1994 as Western Palm Beach County Farm Bureau’s Farm Family of the Year.
Lewis Friend passed away in 2011 at the age of 98.
Today, Kay, her sisters, and her son Craig manage the farm. Craig is the farm manager in charge of day-to-day operations. Kay, Cyndy and Merry Ann serve as officers and directors of the farm and are available for consultation when needed. The sisters have their own sugar cane farm, Triple F Farms, growing about 250 acres. Sugar cane grown on about 1,300 acres of Lewis Friend Farm is marketed through the cooperative. They also own about 1,000 acres of ranch land near Yeehaw Junction, which is used to grow pine trees. They lease fallow cane land to sweet corn growers such as FFVA board member Paul Allen of RC Hatton Farms.
Craig Korbly serves on the Farm Service Agency board of Western Palm Beach County, where he served as chairman for a term. He also serves on the East Beach Drainage District board, the Pahokee Chamber of Commerce board and is a member of the Rotary Club and the Belle Glade Elks.
Craig names water management regulations as the top issue of concern for agricultural interests. But he’s pleased with the results of his company’s Best Management Practices, enacted in the mid-1990s. “The Everglades Agricultural Area as a whole has reduced its phosphorus level,” he said. “It was required by the government to achieve at least a 25 percent reduction per year, but ever since they’ve started, the farmers in the whole EAA have really outdone that. Farmers have exceeded it. Most years it’s more like a 50 to 75 percent reduction in the phosphorus levels,” Craig said.
He also pays attention to regulation of the level of Lake Okeechobee. “There have been concerns about flooding … on several occasions decisions made by the Army Corps of Engineers kept the water level so low that we’ve run into drought restrictions. There was concern the Corps would cut us off,” said Craig. Right now the lake level of 14 feet, six inches, is ideal. With reinforcements and a containment wall being built on the dike, we’re hopeful it might be allowed to rise to an even higher level.
“As for the future, we hope the farm will be in operation for many more years,” he added. He and his wife, Kim, have two sons. Matthew, 21, works part time on the farm while going to school. Michael, 23, works at the University of Florida’s Research and Education Center in Belle Glade. “He is helping conduct water studies while finishing his college studies,” Craig said.
FFVA congratulates Lewis Friend Farms on many years of successful and principled producing and thanks the company for its long-term support of the association.