Farm dinner supports mental health, recovery services

OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee Livestock Market was the unique setting of a sold out Farm-to-Table Dinner on Nov. 7, hosted by ranchers and business owners Jeff and Debbie Clemons, and benefiting New Horizons of the Treasure Coast and Okeechobee, a nonprofit mental health and addiction recovery agency.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
Mayor Dowling Watford, Ron Mixon and City Councilman Bob Jerrill were among those enjoying the Farm to Table event.

More than 100 guests filled the historic landmark, which was built in the 1930s adjacent to the railroad tracks on U.S. 98 North. Otis “Pete” Clemons, a legendary rodeo champion who is honored in both the Florida Sports Hall of Fame and the Agriculture Hall of Fame, acquired the market in 1961. Now, Pete’s sons Jeff and Todd Clemons own and operate the livestock market with their families.

“The Farm-to-Table Dinner is an opportunity to celebrate the family-oriented, self-sustaining, rural lifestyle in Okeechobee that we truly cherish,” said Debbie Clemons, who is a director on the New Horizons board and has worked extensively with substance abuse recovery programs.

Last year, New Horizons served 1,500 children and adults from Okeechobee at an outpatient clinic located at 1650 S.W. Second Ave., and at inpatient crisis units at the main campus on Midway Road in Fort Pierce. In addition, New Horizons served more than 1,300 students in Okeechobee schools.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
Rancher-Author Clint Raulerson read poetry from his book, “Cowboy Legacy: A Lifetime in the Saddle” and Rancher-Artist Brad Phares exhibited some of his paintings depicting life on the Florida plains.

Almost 60% of New Horizons client have no source of income or insurance, yet no one is turned away due to lack of financial resources.

Proceeds from the Farm-to-Table Dinner will help cover the cost of care to those who cannot afford to pay.

“We have received such positive feedback about the event, we plan on making this intimate gathering an annual tradition,” said Debbie.

The meal consisted of an assortment of produce, dairy and meats that was either grown/raised locally by commercial farmers or distributed by area businesses. Adams Ranch donated 130 steaks, grilled to perfection by County Commissioners David Hazellief and Brad Goodbread. Chefs Gary and Debbie Frazier prepared appetizers and side dishes consisting of white acre peas, Robert Ernestine’s squash and zucchini, Fifth Generation Farms corn, and Colab Farm avocados. Rancher Joey Davis made his renowned swamp cabbage; and Breezy Hill Berries completed the meal with scrumptious blueberry cheesecake.

Brad Phares, an Okeechobee artist, rancher and environmentalist, exhibited paintings depicting life on the Florida plains. Robert Adams’ photographs of wildlife and livestock were also on display. And, author-rancher Clint Raulerson read poetry from his book, “Cowboy Legacy: A Lifetime in the Saddle.”

The evening’s keynote speaker, Molly Steinwald, a biologist and former executive director of the Environmental Learning Center in Indian River County, discussed the need for children and adults to step away from computer and cell phone screens in order to reconnect with nature.

“It’s taking a toll on brain development, our physical health and mental health,” she said. Molly recently founded Human Nature Foundation to encourage taking deliberate breaks from technology.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
CEO George Shopland, Board Director and Public Defender Diamond Litty, who also led the live auction, and Judge Thomas Walsh.

A program highlight was the presentation by Debbie Clemons of Mental Health Champion Awards to Okeechobee residents Leah Suarez and Representative Dr. Cary Pigman for their work championing mental health issues.

The evening culminated with a live auction, led by Public Defender Diamond Litty, who is also a board director at New Horizons, Mayor Dowling Watford and Jeff Clemons.

Special thanks went to Lone Star Sponsor Gulf Coast Supply and Manufacturing, Gilbert Family of Companies, Luviano Roofing, Mixon Real Estate, CenterState Bank, American Drilling Services, Okee-Tantie Title, Law Office of Jeffrey Fadley, Larson Dairy, Reed’s Metals, Camp Impact, Skip’s Quality Cement and Construction, Region’s Bank, The Farmer’s Son, Fort Pierce Central High School, Mustard Seed Ministries, Side Door Brewing Company, Mary Ann’s Corner and Publix.

Established in 1958, New Horizons is the largest mental health agency in the region, with eight offices across Okeechobee, Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties. As a 501(c)(3) non-profit, New Horizons serves 15,000 children and adults annually, regardless of their ability to pay. To learn about specific services offered and upcoming events, please visit www.nhtcinc.org or call 772-696-2729.

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