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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 10, 2014 4 years ago

Down on the farm

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The construction industry struggles have walloped many executives with daily doses of stress. One industry leader discovered his Zen in an unlikely spot.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Executive: Jack Cox, president of Halfacre Construction Co., Sarasota. Longtime local construction executive Bill Halfacre founded firm in 1970. Cox's father, the late John Cox, worked with Halfacre and bought the company in 1984. Jack Cox worked his way up in the business, starting in 1985. He has been president since 1999.

Diversion: Cows. Cox not only took over the family construction business. He also took over a cow farm his dad ran for decades. The farm, on Fruitville Road, four miles east of Interstate 75, covers about 30 acres. The elder Cox enjoyed the farming life so much he sold his house on Siesta Key to move there with his family when Jack Cox was in college. So when Jack Cox came home from school on breaks, he had the backdrop of a barn, not a beach. “It was my dad's hobby,” says Cox. “We made fun of him for it as kids.”

Times change: Now Cox has fun at the farm — something he never envisioned. The house has a tenant, and a horse breeder with Spanish horses rents the barn. Cox and his brother, Chris Cox, oversee and maintain the property. They mow the lawn, fortify the fence and tag cows, among other chores. Cox, in a way, has become his dad. Now he's the one who spends spare time at a feed store or the farm. Says Cox: “Everyone thinks I've lost my mind.”

Get clear: The farm is actually where Cox goes to find his mind. He will stop by three times a week, at least, usually after work at Halfacre. He will tinker, tidy up or do something in between. “It gives you time to decompress and think,” says Cox. “You don't even have to be out there too long. I get out there for a half-hour and I feel a million times better.”

Monkey see: He feels better at the farm, in fact, than when he goes to the gym. He tries to workout three times a week, usually cardio. “But that's just boring,” says Cox. The farm, on the other hand, has owls, snakes, critters, and of course, cows. There has even been an unconfirmed report of a monkey on the property, however Cox hasn't seen him or her. Then there's the pasture, woods and a pond. “The property,” says Cox, “is beautiful.”

Learn by doing: Cox recently started a small business on the farm, where he breeds Zebu cows. Zebu cows, sometimes only 30 inches high, can cost anywhere from $500 to $2,000. Cox has picked up most of his knowledge through online research and by visiting other small farms statewide. “We've made a little bit of money,” says Cox, though he stresses farming isn't going to replace his day job.

Hand it down: Cox often takes his two children, 8 and 6, to the farm on weekends. While there's no official farm succession plan, his kids seem to have the passion, too. Says Cox: “They look forward to going out there every weekend.”

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