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Kevin and Lydia Yon will never forget October 1995. On one day that month, the owner of Congaree Farms called the young couple into his office and told them the cattle needed to be gone in six months -- and so did they. It was not a good day.
The couple had built the Angus operation at this Columbia, S.C., farm into a thriving, performance-based herd. Now, it was all about to be gone.
"It was a huge surprise," Lydia said. "We were devastated."
Managing the herd at Congaree was the beginning of a dream the two had begun talking about while they were still students at Clemson University. One day, they hoped to have their own farm with their own herd. It was a dream they both had nurtured since childhood.
Lydia grew up on a commercial cattle farm and had showed heifers and steers from the time she was 9 years old. Kevin's parents didn't farm, so he had to look back a generation and to nonfamily members to get experience. At 13, he started farming, growing soybeans and small grains, on 30 acres of his grandmother's farm. He traded labor for the use of a neighbor's equipment. When he was a sophomore in high school, he bought a 30-cow commercial herd from his great-uncle's estate, financed by his great-aunt. In college, he worked at the Clemson beef unit while getting his animal science degree.
All of that experience meant the Yons both knew what it took to be successful in the cattle business. And both of the 27-year-olds knew when they had that sit-down with the owner, telling them Congaree was done, that it just wasn't the time to start something on their own. They had saved every penny possible while working there, but they had no land, no cattle and three children to support -- Sally, 5, Drake, 3, and Corbin, 1.
FATE STEPS IN
As Christmas approached one foggy Sunday afternoon, Kevin asked Lydia if she and the children wanted to take a ride to the tiny community of Ridge Spring, S.C., where he had delivered bulls to Congaree customers. The antique Christmas lights were up, and it looked like a postcard, Lydia recalls. She said the quaint little ag town is one of the best-kept secrets in South Carolina. The drive was a wonderful distraction from the worry and sadness they'd been dealing with since October.
As they drove around, Drake announced he had to go to the bathroom. So they made an unplanned stop at Ridge Spring's convenience store, where they saw one of their Congaree bull customers. It was then that fate stepped into the young couple's path.
"He asked what we were doing here, and I told him we were just riding around," Kevin recalled. "He told us he knew we were happy where we were, but if we ever got ready to move, to let him know. He said we would fit in good in Ridge Spring."
Kevin told him they were leaving Congaree, and that night, the farmer called and offered to sell them 100 acres, financing it himself.
Soon, the Yons found themselves in possession of a former peach orchard and a couple of permanent pastures. Most of the land wasn't fenced, but there was a dilapidated tenant house on the property. They worked on the house weekends. During the week, they helped get the Congaree cattle sold off.