BRADENTON -- Seventh-generation Manatee County farmer Callon C. "Buddy" Keen, 64, has been named Agriculturist of the Year in recognition of a lifetime of distinguished agricultural service.
The award, always a closely guarded secret, was announced Tuesday at the Bradenton Kiwanis Club meeting.
Brenda Rogers, chair of the Kiwanis agriculture committee, quoted Keen's friend, John Hamilton, in announcing the award:
"Buddy epitomizes what
a true agriculturist is. He grew to know and love the land, he learned to make a living from the fruits of his labor from the soil, while preserving the land for future generations, and most importantly he has embraced helping and sharing with others."
Keen, a Palmetto native and graduate of Palmetto High School, was recognized for the citrus and tomato crop production and farm and grove management services, as well as his support for FFA and 4-H programs, and as president and co-founder of Palmetto Little League.
Keen's five adult children are also farmers.
"This is very humbling. I was amazed," Keen said of his surprise at receiving the award.
Jimmy Keen, Buddy's second-oldest son, said his father "doesn't go fishing. He works and he goes to church on Sunday, and his grandkids' games."
One of his passions is drag racing, which is a family sport.
The agriculturist of the year award has been awarded annually since 1957, said Ralph Garrison, chair of Manatee County Farm City Week.
More than 253,000 acres are in agricultural production in Manatee County, making it the second largest contributor to the local economy, said county extension director Samantha Kennedy.
It's estimated that 30,000 local jobs are related to agriculture and natural resources in Manatee County, accounting for $183.6 million in exports.
Manatee agriculture ranks seventh among Florida's 67 counties with an economic impact of $2.36 billion, Kennedy said.
Manatee County is the state's top tomato-producing county, and Manatee and Hillsborough counties combined account for more than 60 percent of the state's tomato production.
James A. Jones Jr., Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.