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Peter Vole named Agriculturalist of the Year in Manatee County

His work with kids in 4-H, FFA and at the Manatee County Fair earned him the award.

Although he grew up in a Chicago suburb, Peter Vole learned to love agriculture after moving to Manatee County.
Although he grew up in a Chicago suburb, Peter Vole learned to love agriculture after moving to Manatee County.
Photo by Jay Heater
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In 1993, Peter Vole III was not really a rancher despite his 19 acres of land.

That all changed with one phone call.

Vole, who in November was honored as the Manatee County Agriculturalist of the Year by the Bradenton Kiwanis, was living on Oxford Road in Parrish just under 20 years ago when he received a call from his neighbor, Savilla Oxford.

According to Vole, Savilla and her husband, Ox Oxford, were well respected ranchers in Parrish, and if either asked a favor, you answered the call.

In this case, Savilla Oxford wanted Vole to get across the road as quickly as possible to help his neighbor, Gerald Groover, "pull" a calf.

Peter Vole says it is important to teach the public what it takes to raise cattle or to run a farm.
Photo by Jay Heater

He ran across the road, and found a cow struggling to give birth. Groover told him to grab the end of a smooth, special chain that was attached to the calf, and was made to assist the birth.

"You need to pull," Gerald said emphatically.

So he did.

"It was a little overwhelming," Vole said. "But I wanted to do something to help."

When the calf finally popped out, it wasn't breathing. Groover directed Vole to grab the calf's hind legs and to swing it around.

"It weighed about 70 pounds, and I was swinging it around in a circle," Vole said. "You could see stuff coming out (of the calf's mouth)."

Groover was acting as a cheerleader.

"Come on boy! Keep on going."

Finally, Vole saw a lot of fluid come out and asked how he should stop swinging the calf. Groover told him to just let go. The calf hit the ground and began breathing.

"It was neat," Vole said with a laugh. "After that, I acquired some cows."

Gone country

Growing up in Indian Creek Village, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, Vole never expected to be a rancher or farmer. He was selling insurance and working as a stock broker when he moved to Parrish in 1992.

Then he had his fateful encounter with the calf, while at the same time his three kids began to join their new friends by showing livestock or riding horses. His son, Peter IV, decided to show a steer, while his daughters, Laci and Kristi, began to ride. The kids all joined 4-H.

Add to the fact that he and his wife, Kim, wanted to be more involved with giving back to their community, and their course was set. He began to work with local Kiwanis' youth programs and the Key Club at Palmetto High.

As his family warmed up to ranch life, Peter and Kim moved them to Rye Road in Parrish to live on 130 acres. They purchased purebred British Whites cattle and were on their way.

What did Vole like about British Whites?

"They don't talk back to you, and they are beautiful to watch relaxing," he said.

Meanwhile Vole became more involved in Manatee County 4-H, eventually becoming president and spending 12 years on the board. He also is on the boards of the Manatee County Fair, and FFA at Braden River High.

All the while he tried to work behind the scenes, helping kids.

"It was an awesome thing they gave him this award," said Kelli Kennedy, the assistant director of career and technical education for the School District of Manatee County. "He never would have put himself forward.

"I've been working with him the last 10 years and he is a heavy hitter, but quiet about it. You would never know all the stuff he is involved in." 

Mill Creek's Chris Chaffee said he was more than deserving of the award.

"He has helped so many youth through 4-H," said Chaffee, who took over from Vole as the 4-H Association President. "Our son (Adam Chaffee) wanted to raise pigs for 4-H and Peter kept them in his barn. At the time, 10 kids already had horses or pigs in his barn.

"He has the biggest heart, and he always is out there giving his time."

Peter Vole and Tim Lewis make sure to entertain kids who attend agricultural events.
Courtesy photo

Although Chaffee said Vole, who moved to Myakka City in 2008, would rather work behind the scenes, he said he is a huge practical joker who once filled up a friend's pool with watermelons.

When 4H kids would go to Camp Cloverleaf in Lake Placid, Vole would order pallets of fireworks. Chaffee said it was like a professional show.

According to Chaffee, the good deeds always kept coming.

About eight years ago, Peter had a freezer full of meat because he had purchased a steer and pigs at (a fair) auction

"He called me and asked that I give the meat away, which I did to a struggling family at our church. The head of that family still sees me in church and yells 'This guy saved my family.' I say, 'It was Peter.'"

Chaffee said during Hurricane Ian, Vole took his truck to Arcadia and literally saved a family there from floodwaters.

"It's a regular thing for him," Chaffee said.

Life lessons

Vole said it just made sense to put so much time and effort into 4-H and other agricultural programs.

"It teaches the kids responsibility, manners and respect," he said. "It teaches them that what you put into it, you get out of it. And the leadership skills were unbelievable."

Laci Vole now is 27 and owns Parrish State Farm. Kristi, 24, works for her. Peter IV, 26, just moved to Miami to pursue a career in real estate.

Peter IV took a shot at citrus farming, but the industry is suffering in Florida. Vole III said he has sold his own 400 acres of citrus in Duette to a strawberry farmer.

"(Ranchers, farmers) need to have more than one source of income," Vole said. "No way can they make it on their own. Small farmers just are not as plentiful now.

"We have to be proactive in making the public understand what it takes to care for cattle ... what it takes to raise cattle ... that our cattle have a good life."

Vole said his reward for all his volunteer hours have been watching 4-H and FFA members go to state and national competitions, and watching them go to summer camps. 

But he said the agricultural organizations need to find ways to attract more members.

"This area is changing rapidly," he said. "(Agriculture) is something new to them. They need to learn that (farming, ranching) is a business, and it's harder to run than you would realize."

On the plus side, he said Braden River Middle School, Myakka Elementary School, Imagine School at Lakewood Ranch and Inspiration Academy in Bradenton all have added a 4-H program in the past two years.

Still active

At 57, he still fills many roles, such as being the youth livestock chairman at the Manatee County Fair.

"You get tired," he said. "But you keep going. If I stopped to think about it, I wouldn't be doing this. Then I see the families that come together because of 4-H or FFA. Their son takes a project and the family actually spends more time together than they did before. It happens more than what people realize."

Kennedy agreed with him.

"It's about responsibility," she said. "It gives students a goal and allows them to be judged. It gives them a chance to see that life is bigger than themselves."

For many of the students, Kennedy said Vole has been a key adult figure in their lives.

"They see a caring adult who has their best interests at heart, and it's not their parent," she said. 

Diana Smith, the 4-H Extension agent emeritus with the University of Florida, said she has seen Vole perform his roles as 4-H club leader, fair barn superintendent, 4-H Leader Council President and 4-H Foundation president.

Smith said Vole actively promotes agriculture with a smile and is deeply committed to "youth learning the value of agriculture in a changing world."

It's all rather simple, Vole said of his philosophy on life, even more so than pulling a calf.

"If I do the right thing every day, when I put my head down at night, I don't have to think about it," he said.



Jay Heater

Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.

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