7th-Generation Rancher Leigh Ann Wynn Talks About Female Role Models, Her Future as Next PCFB President
Leigh Ann Wynn didn’t have to search very far for examples of strong women in agriculture. Wynn, a seventh-generation Florida cattle rancher, grew up around two of the best: her grandmother, Marnel Lightsey, and her mother Marcia Lightsey.
“Mom wasn’t raised in agriculture, but she learned from my grandmother — my father’s mother,” says Wynn. “I remember growing up and watching them be involved in the day-to-day operations.”
They showed her how to manage the cows at the family’s dairy farm in Brandon. When they moved to Central Florida to start in the beef cattle business, the tutorial continued.
“I remember watching her and learning how to maneuver through the cattle pens,” says Wynn. “When I showed steers in the youth fair, she was there helping me learn how to care for the animals, the day-in and day-out tasks I needed to do.”
Wynn also credits her dad and his philosophy on work as shaping her view of women in the agriculture industry.
“He really did not have a problem with my mom taking a leadership role in the business,” she says. “I think he saw her as a partner who could oversee some aspects of the business, which freed him to do other parts.”
Now, as a partner in a cattle ranch, a mother, an entrepreneur, and a growing leader in the Central Florida agricultural industry, Wynn can see how those early-life lessons shaped how she prepares for the future.
Growing up, Wynn got a firsthand look at how to manage all parts of an agricultural enterprise. She raised, showed, and sold steers to save money for college and learned the ins and out of setting up microjets for irrigation in the family’s citrus groves, where she also learned how to replace citrus trees by hand.
“Looking back, it seemed like we were always short on labor,” Wynn says with a laugh. “But now I see that my dad was showing us how to do things as a family.”
During freeze warnings, Wynn and her siblings would put the caps on the watermelon plants to protect them. She would then stay up late with her father to make sure the plants survived the cold.
“I really got to see a lot of different parts of the agriculture industry firsthand,” she says.
After graduating from Lake Wales High School, Wynn went to the University of Florida to pursue a degree in journalism, but an interview with a television anchor changed her mind.
“Our TV production class took a field trip to WFLA in Tampa, and I got selected to do an interview with one of their anchors,” Wynn says. “She told me all the reasons for not working in TV news and I was like, ‘Thanks for setting me straight.’ ”
Wynn majored in Public Relations, which she knew she could use in the agriculture industry, with a minor in Agricultural Communication. It was also at UF that she was reintroduced to J.B. Wynn. Both were from Polk County and knew each other through county and state ag events. JB managed a ranch south of Gainesville, and she spent time there, helping out as she would at home. The pair married in 2004.
It wasn’t long afterward that the course of their marriage changed. JB’s father always had cattle on the side, says Wynn, with the idea of cattle farming full time after he retired. However, when his father died of brain cancer at the age of 53, J.B. realized that he shouldn’t wait to start doing what he loved to do.
While he worked with the Lightsey Cattle Co., his entrepreneurial spirit led the couple to start Wynn Cattle LLC in 2015. They have been growing their own herd as well as managing other herds ever since.
In addition to the cattle business, Leigh Ann is also Assistant Vice President of Advancement at Warner University, a role she first took at the behest of another woman who stood tall in her life, former VP of Advancement Doris Gukich.
“She started calling me a year before I started working there,” says Wynn, who was best friends with one of Gukich’s daughters. “She was definitely the role model of a strong woman. I learned a lot working under her.”
Wynn started working at Warner in 2015, just as the Agriculture Program was starting. “That was part of what drew me to Warner,” she says. “Now I work to help raise money for scholarships —not just for the agriculture program, but to help grow the whole institution.”
Wynn also sits on the Polk County Planning Commission. In that role, she sees development in Polk County from a different perspective.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one voting ‘no’ when it comes to development,” she says. “I am not trying to hinder growth for the county, but I am still trying to preserve a key industry for this region. Once the land for cattle is gone, it’s gone forever.”
Wynn will take another leadership role in October when she becomes the president of the Polk County Farm Bureau. She will become the organization’s first female president since Lucille Colbert in 1984. As she begins planning for this role, Wynn feels that she is ready. After all, she’s been training most of her life for it.
“I grew up in a family where it was totally fine for a woman to have a voice, but as I got older, I crossed paths with people who didn’t think a woman could do it,” she says. “I am always up for a challenge, and I enjoy proving that women can.”