Brad Phares: The Businessman, the Artist, the Cowboy
by MARY TOOTHMAN
He majored in agriculture at the University of Florida, went on to get a law degree, has written several books and wound up in a cow pasture in boots, a Greeley cowboy hat, a paintbrush and an easel.
No law office was in store for Bras Phares, 49 — a renaissance man of multiple talents. “I grew up in a family where I was encouraged to pursue my interests from a very young age,” Phares says.
With his boyish good looks and multifaceted repertoire, one might expect to catch a hint of arrogance while having a conversation with Brad Phares. But it’s just not going to happen.
Phares, 49, is the real deal. A genuinely good-natured soul, he is just what he appears to be: a good guy on a horse. You are more likely to find him at work within the Florida Cattlemen’s Association than with his nose in a law book.
Speaking of books, he’s written several — mostly about the lifestyle of a cattleman and the world around him. That is, when he’s not making products such as hot sauces, working on a podcast, or finishing up one of his paintings, which are clearly inspired by his surroundings.
His business, “Cowhunters Unlimited,” is family-owned and operated and showcases Florida ranching traditions through the creations of the eighth-generation rancher and his family. Phares and his wife, Sam, have raised two grown children and are proud of their heritage.
“Whether it be through art, photography, writing, or other ranch-inspired products, our hope is that others will learn more about Florida’s iconic and enduring cow culture,” Phares says.
The company logo is designed to depict this centuries-old tradition by featuring a cow whip, the primary tool of Florida cow hunters, as well as the red St. Andrew’s cross of the state flag.
It is a reminder of the early Scots-Irish pioneers who migrated into the Florida territory helping to initiate a cattle industry and way of life that continues to influence culture and traditions.
“Cowhunters Unlimited is a nostalgic reference to our 500-year-old ranching heritage, and it houses my Florida ranch and landscape-inspired art, my writings, my ‘Between the Beaches’ podcast and other ranch-related merchandise.
“Florida cattlemen were historically known as ‘cow-hunters’ because they would have to cover vast amounts of open range, searching out the cattle to gather them” he says.
“I’m usually juggling quite a few things,” he says. “One of my primary focuses is in preserving rural Florida and our ranch lands. We need to try and protect and
preserve our rural landscapes.”
It is reflected in his artwork, which primarily depicts rural florida landscapes. Asked to select a favorite, he pauses for a minute before saying “That would have to be ‘A Job Well Done.’ ” That piece features a man on a horse leaning down to give his dog a good scratch. The dog had done a good job rounding up cattle, he explains.
Through all of his outlets, he seeks to spread the word about the importance of water and soil preservation. “It is so important to educate people about how important it is, really, to everyone in the state.”
With a state population that is growing at a high rate of speed, Florida’s natural resources are more and more precious. “We have got a density problem,” he says.
“We are dedicated to protecting and preserving rural Florida and its ranching landscapes through education and entertainment about our hidden culture,” he says. “The goal with the ‘Between the Beaches’ podcast is to reach our urban neighbors who don’t know about Florida ranches so that we can educate them in an entertaining format on the vital importance of protecting Florida’s ranch lands.”
Phares came by most of his talents naturally, though he did have some mentors along the way. When the urge to paint hit him, he could often be found with an easel set up next to established painters, allowing him to fashion his techniques in similar ways.
Photo realism is the type of painting he enjoys, and he also writes poetry. “I have dabbled with it all for a bit,” he says.
He married Sam, who recently began teaching, in 1994. “A lot of us cattlemen have wives who have more “regular” jobs, he said. “It supports our cattleman’s habit.”
He loves the 1,800 acres he lives on in Okeechobee with his family and his dog, June. He’s also got a soft spot for a few special horses. “Your horse is really a reflection on your temperament,” he says.
His concerns about the environment run deep. “It is a pressure we are all facing,” he says. “It’s 1,000 people a day moving into Florida, give or take. That equates to more impervious surface, whether it be asphalt roads or concrete house pads and driveways and sidewalks. When there’s more impervious surface, then you’ve got less natural landscape out there to store and filter water before it reaches all the different ditches and conveyances and our aquifer. Ranches are the one thing out there that is still able to offer that natural water filtration.”
In the last 60 to 70 years, Florida’s population has increased from 2 million people to just over 22 million. That’s a 1,000 percent increase, he says. “During that same period, our cattle inventory has remained relatively constant at around 1 million. Understanding this fact alone should make it readily apparent to anyone the root cause of our state’s environmental challenges.
“While I’m certainly not anti-growth, this state has to begin planning for it in a much smarter way. Florida has a historical record of poor planning and inadequate growth management. We’ve got to do a better job of protecting and conserving our working rural landscapes.
“Ranching is an extremely low-intensity land use, second only to pristine undisturbed land. It supports biodiversity and ecosystem functions, providing healthy watersheds and wildlife habitat. We can choose to have ranches with all these intrinsic benefits for our ecosystems, or we can have rooftops as far as the eye can see, because that’s the final crop on the landscape.”