RIDGE SPRING — Kevin Yon and his family are wrapping up a banner year, not only having begun a new generation in their household but also having been honored for running one of the South's top cattle operations.

The Yons, whose farm is focused on purebred Angus beef cattle, added the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award to their accolades. A Clemson University press released noted that Oct. 16 was momentous for the family, when Kevin received the honor and also had his first grandchild come home from the hospital.

Kevin, who was announced in July as South Carolina's top farmer, competed for the regional honor with counterparts from nine other Southern states, from Virginia to Arkansas. His turf — some owned, and some rented — includes about 4,000 acres spread among Aiken, Saluda and Edgefield counties.

The expo, held Oct. 16-18 in Moultrie, Georgia, is billed as "North America's premier farm show," and includes hundreds of acres and dozens of exhibitors putting a spotlight on agriculture's latest innovations. 

Helping run the Yons' operation is Kevin's wife, Lydia. Both are Anderson County natives. Also riding the Ridge Spring range are sons Corbin and Drake, daughter Sally Yon Harrison (Clemson graduates, one and all, as is Drake's wife, Nicole) and son-in-law Reid Harrison (of Piedmont Technical College). 

"Lydia and I are first-generation farmers," Kevin said. "We started on our own in Ridge Spring in 1996, and we managed a cattle farm prior to that."

The current arrangement includes "roughly 1,400 mama cows," he added, noting that pecans are also part of the package. Alfalfa has also been a mainstay but is not currently in the mix. 

Priorities include "perseverance and treating others like you'd like to be treated," he said. "You don't have to be the smartest and you don't have to be the best. Just work hard and do what's right." 

The family tree includes recent farm roots, as Kevin's dad was a son of a sharecropper, and Lydia's parents still operate a cattle farm in Starr, Anderson County. "Kevin and I both grew up working with cattle all of our lives, even though he was not from a family farm," Lydia noted.

"It's just like any other successful business," she added. "You have to be passionate about what you're doing, and our whole family is passionate about it. We enjoy it. It's hard work, but we love what we do."

The holiday season is prime time for the Yons' relatively new outreach in downtown Ridge Spring, as they own The Nut House and Country Market ("specializing in pecans, gourmet pecan candy, and pecan pies," as noted on their website). The business dates back more than 20 years and was established as The Nut House by World War II veteran Joe Watson, who retired (at age 93) in 2015 and sold his business to the Yons. 

Kevin offered a thought on the day-to-day occupation. "To us, it's a real joy and a blessing to get to wake up every day and to work on the farm and produce food for others. We take that very seriously, that it's both a blessing and a responsibility."