Category: Farm

American Farmer: Dyess Colony

My mama always taught me that good things come from adversity if we put our faith in the Lord.
We couldn’t see much good in the flood waters when they were causing us to have to leave home,
But when the water went down, we found that it had washed a load of rich black bottom dirt across our land. The following year we had the best cotton crop we’d ever had.

“Five Feet High and Rising” Johnny Cash

The countless tales of overcoming adversity is one reason I love American history. From the Revolutionary War to the Great Recession there are so many stories that illustrate the resilience of our spirit. And while I love a good book, I find the best way to get a full sense of these narratives is by visiting the sites where the events occurred. I recently got a lesson on the courage of the American farmer when I visited the historic Dyess Colony in the Arkansas Delta region.

The Dyess Colony was created out of east Arkansas swampland in 1934 through Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. The idea was to relocate 500 farmers from barren land to an area where they could start again. It was the largest agricultural resettlement community in the country. About 500 families took part in the program and each family was given 20 acres, a house, tools and livestock. In addition to the homes there was a town center with a cannery, movie theater and hospital. Being chosen for the Dyess Colony was like winning the lottery for the families, many of whom had never lived in a house with exterior paint before coming to Dyess.

This was a helping hand, not a hand out. The families were responsible for clearing the land and paying the government back – around $2,000. Paying off the debt took a few years, but it gave them the opportunity to own their property rather than farm as tenants.

In 1937 a flood wiped out the farmers’ crops and many families left, but those who stayed learned that “good things come from adversity.”

The population of Dyess began to decline after World War II when better jobs than picking cotton became available. The colony might have been overcome by kudzu were it not for the efforts of Arkansas State University. The university has embarked on a project to restore the town center buildings and the home of its most famous resident – Johnny Cash.


Today you can visit Dyess to learn the farmers’ stories of survival and overcoming incredible odds. These folks made something out of nothing. You can literally touch soil that is part of our American heritage. The experience is a real testament to the human spirit.

Good to Know:
The Cash family arrived in Dyess in 1935. It’s said that Mrs. Cash sat on the floor and cried when she discovered her new house had painted walls. Today you can see the Cash home exactly as it was when Johnny Cash lived there including his mother’s piano. Visiting Dyess gives you context to understand the man. The hardships and successes he experienced helped form his music. If you are a fan or just love American history, it’s a must see.

Dyess Colony Visiting Hours and Location.
Tours begin at 9 a.m. with last tours of the day at 3 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays

Admission (includes the administration building and the Cash family home):
$10 general admission
$8 senior rate
$8 group rate (groups of 10 or more- comp tour operator and bus driver)
$5 student rate (children 5-18 or with a university ID)
$5 field trip rate (comp all bus drivers and 1 chaperone per 10 students)
Free-children under 5 and ASU students

American Farmer: The Urbanite

Imagine for a minute that your neighborhood doesn’t include a grocery store. Not unusual, but what if you don’t have the means to travel outside of your neighborhood to find a store? You live in what is referred to as a food desert – an area that lacks a source of affordable, healthy food whose residents don’t have access to transportation. It’s a jarring thought and sadly not uncommon in the U.S. The good news is American farmers are stepping up to the plate to reach these communities in need.

One type of farmer is bringing the mountain to Mohammed by establishing urban farms in the nooks and crannies of their cities. You might see a farm on a rooftop or in an abandoned lot or in your neighbor’s backyard. Some farmers have converted warehouses to year-round grow houses. Their efforts are pretty amazing and, in some cases, ingenious.

The concept of urban farming as a way to alleviate food insecurity isn’t new. Consider Victory Gardens during WWII or go back even further to the 1890s when “Pingree’s Potato Patches” sprung up in Detroit as a way to help people through an economic downturn. Urbanites have a rich history of shoring up our larders by producing food within the city limits.

The 21st century version of a philanthropic urban farm works to promote awareness, education, and empowerment as well as supplying inexpensive, homegrown food to the community. These groups want to show others what they can do for themselves and their neighborhood.

In most cases these urban farms get financial support by selling what they produce to local restaurants or directly to the consumer at farmers’ markets, retail stores and through community support agriculture (CSA) programs. Supporting a local urban farm couldn’t be easier. All you have to do is buy their products or participate in their workshops.

Wheelbarrow Gardens for Salad Greens

Resources for finding out more about urban farming:
Urban Farm Magazine
USDA Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food
EPA Steps to Create a Community Garden or Expand Urban Agriculture

Urban farms in my home state of Arkansas:
Arkansas Grown
Little Rock Urban Farming
The Field
Farm and Food Innovation Center

Meet Farmer Tyler

Every now and again I meet someone who is so full of joy and gratitude I can’t help but like them. And when he or she shares my love of gardening? Well, that’s a friend for life. So it went when I met the winner of our 100,000 Fan Giveaway sponsored by the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau. Tyler Baras (a.k.a. Farmer Tyler) entered the contest last summer and was selected as the winner of a trip to Little Rock to visit some of the city’s hot spots and to tape a TV segment with me.

Tyler wasn’t the only winner in the deal. I got to learn something about his specialty – hydroponics. Tyler works at The GrowHaus, which is a non-profit urban farm in Denver that provides fresh vegetables and education on healthy living to the surrounding community. The GrowHaus uses greenhouses and hydroponics to produce greens year-round in the cold Colorado climate. Hence Tyler’s expertise in the method.

Tyler and I taped a segment about how to build a home hydroponics system.

Another talent Tyler shared was playing the accordion.

While Tyler was in town we wanted to make sure he saw some of the best of Little Rock and good food was on the top of the list. He had barbeque and greens at Lindsey’s Hospitality House, fried black-eyed peas at the Capital Hotel and catfish with hoppin’ John at South on Main. We also made sure he tried a locally brewed beer and some of Kent Walker’s cheese at Stone’s Throw Brewery.

Having a beer, homemade pickles and Kent Walker Artisan Cheese at Stone’s Throw Brewery. The pickled squash was our favorite.

Tyler couldn’t leave Little Rick without walking The Big Dam Bridge, visiting Central High School and touring the Clinton Library.

We had lunch at the Clinton Library. Tyler was tickled to see that Moss Mountain Farm was listed as a food supplier on the menu.

At the Clinton Library Tyler demonstrated how he would drive the Presidential state car. He should probably stick to growing lettuce.

 This is the mid-way point across The Big Dam Bridge. It’s a gorgeous view any time of the year.

Because Tyler is into urban farming we wanted to make sure he got to visit a few area agriculture-related attractions. The first stop was Little Rock Urban Farming in the heart of the city. He spoke with Chris about the farm’s operation and intern program. On Friday we headed to Lonoke to meet with Dr. Anita Kelly at the Cooperative Extension Center. And finally we toured Barnhill Orchards also in Lonoke.

Chris and Tyler walking through a bamboo thicket heading to Little Rock Urban Farming’s high tunnel greenhouses.

Dr. Kelly demonstrated her work combining aquaponics with hydroponics.

Bob Barnhill toured us around his farm.

Even this late in the year Mr. Barnhill has crops he harvests to sell. Tyler got to harvest a few persimmons and learn how to operate a pecan cracking machine.

I want to say a BIG thank you to everyone who entered the 100,000 Fan Giveaway. We received some fantastic videos and it was hard to pick just one. I also want to thank the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau for making Tyler’s trip possible. They hooked him up with a hotel room, passes to the Clinton Library and a $250 gift card to use for pocket money. Thank you Little Rock for being such a swell place to live!

Ohio National Poultry Show

It’s November again and the much anticipated 3-day Ohio National Poultry Show was a couple of weeks ago. Yes, so thankful the weather was perfect for the drive. I still remember clear as yesterday my first poultry show as a young boy. I was so excited and full of wonder. My love for poultry was nurtured at such an early age by family that believed in the preservation and respect of all creatures big and small.

If you didn’t know, poultry shows allow breeders, young and old, to exhibit their best birds in show. Many of these birds are beloved pets too. You would be amazed at the hundreds of chickens, geese, turkeys, and ducks at the show. It was quite an exceptional presentation of breeds in Ohio this year!
Like every year, I returned home with renewed vigor to improve upon my efforts to preserve our heritage breeds and encourage our young enthusiasts to do the same. I will miss seeing old friends until next time.

What I like best of all, this competitive yet amazing forum gives everyone who shares my passion in poultry a chance to network and promote education, conservation and rare breed preservation—which is especially important for junior participants. So glad to be a part of it and I can hardly wait for the next show.

First day at Ohio National

Reserve Champion Spanish Black Turkey

Dr. Keith Bramwell with a large Light Brahma Rooster

Spitzhauben Rooster

Bantam Salmon Faverolle

African Goose

Naked Neck Buff Silkie

Royal Palm Tom

Mandarin Duck

Young junior participant

The Beekman Boys Explain How Goats Transformed their Lives

“Life gives you goats you make goat milk soap,

goat milk cheese and goat milk,

whatever you can make.”

If you’ve been on my Facebook page, you may have noticed some of the fun challenges we’ve been doing with people like Lisa Steele of Fresh Eggs Daily, Justin and Amy of The Chubby Vegetarians, Georgia Pellegrini, and the Beekman Boys. It’s a way for us to all work together on projects which have been really fun.

Most recently, the Beekman Boys stopped by the farm. If you don’t know their story Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge were two Manhattanites who moved from the big city to a farm in upstate New York. While at the farm we did some filming, cooking, a little turkey wrangling, and then threw a summer bash out under the Big Sister oak. It was a blast!

Big Sister Oak at Moss Mountain Farm

After dinner we held a panel discussion about local food, heirloom vegetables and heritage livestock breeds. The evening ended with a Q&A session.

Here are a few of the questions Josh and Brent answered.

How long have you guys had your farm?

Josh: Well we bought our farm in 2007. And we call ourselves accidental farmers because we were Manhattanites, obnoxious Manhattanites, who would drive up to upstate New York and bother all the locals and buy their apples on the weekends. And we found this farm and we fell in love with it and purchased it thinking it would be a nice weekend place. And then we got a letter in our mailbox from a man named Farmer John who was losing his farm and he said, “I’ve got 80 goats and can I come put them on your farm?” And we thought, still obnoxious Manhattanites at that time, we thought “Oh great! We’ve got a petting zoo.” So he came in with his goats. So that was 2007. In 2008 us obnoxious Manhattanites lost our fancy-pants Manhattan jobs; both within 30 days of each other. And when life hands you lemons you make lemonade. Life gives you goats you make goat milk soap, goat milk cheese and goat milk whatever you can make. That’s how we became accidental farmers.

You guys are doing a great job getting the message out about local farming and buying local. What’s that like? Do you ever feel pressure about the message you have to deliver?

Josh: One of the things we realized in moving to a small community was everyone has their own unique gift to offer. They really do. And when we first moved there we were like, we’re going to have a goat farm and we’re going to make the soap, and then we’re going to make jam and we’re going to sell all this stuff and then we realized we weren’t really good farmers at heart. When the goats would shy away from us every time we’d try to go milk we’d be, “You know, that’s Farmer John’s strength.” And so we had this community of all these great people who were doing great things and it took us a long time to realize that the reason we were there was we had come from a marketing background. Brent worked for Martha Stewart. I worked in advertising. The thing that we could give to them was we knew how to take their talents and bring them out to the world. That was the only thing we could do.

Tell us about the new cookbook.

Josh:Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook So the cookbook that just came out is the Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook. We’ve done three cookbooks – the original Heirloom Cookbook, the Heirloom Dessert Cookbook and the Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook. And we’re like you with the heritage breeds… there is so much history in farming and gardening that’s been lost in the last 50 years. And to bring back not just the heirloom varieties of plants but heritage breeds. And it’s not just a quaint fad. It’s not just a trend. It’s something that’s really vital for us to continue our food supply. Having more than three commercial tomato varieties available is vital. Because just like human beings, animals and plants, they need to have genetic diversity.

Allen: That’s the whole reason that we have the heirloom vegetables that we are growing in our vegetable garden here. We save the seeds, the Heritage Poultry Conservancy is all about preserving genetics of these brave old breeds. They are out of work! And the way to put them back to work is to put them on your plate.

Josh: If you look at a garden catalogue from the turn of the century there used to be over 100 different varieties of garden peas that you could choose from. There are now only eight commercial varieties of peas. So if there was a disease that came along and wiped out those peas, we’d have no more peas on the planet. So in order to save these different old heirloom varieties, it’s just genetic diversity. It’s just nature.

Allen: And everyone can participate in this movement just by supporting local producers. I think it’s so important to connect the producer to the consumer and the more that we can do that the more this movement will grow.

I’d like to hear about your experience on The Amazing Race.

Brent: The Amazing Race experience. It is was the worst three weeks of our lives. Except for that very last moment when we won. That was the best. For those of you don’t know, in addition to our life on the farm, two years ago we were on this TV show called The Amazing Race. The premise of The Amazing Race is that teams of two people race around the world and the team that is last one standing wins a million dollars. And so we won. And we always talk about our life and opening yourself up to the universe and taking opportunities when they are in front of you. So many times there are opportunities in front of you and they are knocking but you aren’t answering the door. For us we always are opening the door. People often ask, “Why did you decide to run The Amazing Race?” We, that was not a life goal, we had certainly seen the show.

When our first cookbook came out we were in Santa Monica, at the Santa Monica library doing a book signing. And this little old lady came up. She was like 80 years old. She had her oxygen tank that she was carrying with her. We were signing her book and she was like, “Oh I just love your TV show The Fabulous Beekman Boys and every week my next door neighbor comes over and we watch your show together. And that’s our bonding time.” We were like “Well that’s so nice.” And she’s like, “And she’s the president of CBS reality TV.” And honestly I did not believe her. So really flippantly I asked, “If she’s such a big fan, why aren’t we on The Amazing Race?” And she’s like, “I’m going to tell her.” And honestly we didn’t think another thing of it. Two days later we were at home and the phone rang. I picked it up and someone said, “Hi, we’re calling from The Amazing Race. We heard you want to run. And that’s how we got on the show. And for those who have watched our story unfold on The Fabulous Beekman Boys; that show really chronicled our attempts to start the farm and start a business that was successful enough that Josh could be there full time. And you know, I’m sure there are entrepreneurs in this group, any time you’re starting your own business you are overly optimistic. You think I’ll be successful in a few months. So we said. Josh ended up getting another job in the city which was helping cover the mortgage and we said, “Oh it will just be a year of sacrifice. We’ll live apart for a year.” Well, that turned into five years of sacrifice because if you are trying to grow a business there are always things that you don’t anticipate that you are going to have to do. It wasn’t until we ran The Amazing Race and won it that we could pay off our mortgage on the farm and he could move to the farm full time. And so as of last February he’s been at the farm full time.

P. Allen Smith with Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge

You got us started on the Marshall Strawberry Project and it’s going very strongly on our farm in Fayetteville. I want you to tell everyone because it’s the most amazing thing ever. So would you explain?

Josh: Sure, actually Allen you should be doing this too. The Marshall Strawberry Project. There’s a strawberry called the Marshall strawberry that James Beard declared the best tasting strawberry in the world. This was probably in the 1950s when he would have said this. And it fell out of production completely. It was not a commercially viable strawberry. So you know those terrible strawberries you get at the supermarket today? When those took over the world the Marshall disappeared except for one plant that was at the University of Oregon as a saved specimen. This woman got the university to loan it to her so she could grow out a runner and start another Marshall and now she is sending Marshalls all over the country to have different farms grow them out. I tell you, we planted them last year. This was the first year we had fruit and they are the best strawberries I’ve ever had. So look it up If anybody loves to good strawberry, the Marshall Strawberry Project.

P. Allen Smith, Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge

Tell us the story about how the three of you met.

Allen: I had been invited to participate in an event at Sotheby’s called the Art of Farming that Brent was very involved in and I guess you were too Josh. It was really exciting. It was a black tie event at Sotheby’s to raise awareness about local food and to benefit the schools in the inner city to teach children where food comes from. I only participated in that I provided some art and we sold some fowl. We actually shipped the birds to the winner bidders. And all I have to tell you is that I wish I could sell chickens every day for the price we sold them at Sotheby’s!

Brent: That project, it was the first time that Sotheby’s had ever auctioned off vegetables and probably live chickens. It was actually a really amazing evening and we ended up raising about half a million dollars. Allen gave one of his paintings. It was really amazing.

Brent Ridge, P. Allen Smith and Josh Kilmer-Purcell

I’m just wondering if there will be another Beekman television program.

Brent: Yes, so the question is whether we are going to do another show and we are always working on new ideas. So you never know. Maybe we’ll do a show with Allen? You never know. Maybe we’ll take over his farm and he’ll come up and take over our farm. You never know.

What an enchanting night with the Beekman Boys. It was a beautiful blissfully cool evening.

Our next farm to table dinner will be on October 15, 2014. That’s a Wednesday night. It will be with Regina Charboneau from Natchez Mississippi. She’ll be cooking up some recipes from her latest book Mississippi Current. And our special guest will be Rebecca Darwin from Garden and Gun magazine. So I hope you can join us. Find out more about the event and purchase tickets.

Pet Chickens? You bet.

About this time last year I sent my friend Mary Beth home with 2 dozen hatching eggs and one of the roosters from the group made into Cooking Light’s Fun issue and not as an entrée! And if you are considering a backyard flock, but haven’t taken the plunge yet pick up a copy of this Cooking Light and read Mary Beth’s article. You can get a sneak peek here.

The top dog at Moss Mountain Farm is not a dog at all but a rooster named Amos. Amos is a Buff Orpington you’ll find strutting around the front lawn with his entourage. I like to think of them as the welcoming committee.

Amos is one of my favorite characters at the farm. I would even go so far as to say he’s a pet, which will not come as a surprise to those who have raised chickens. Their plucky personalities can be very endearing. In fact, some folks treat their poultry with as much love and devotion as the family dog.

Thanks to products like chicken diapers birds can live indoors and special leashes allow Foghorn Leghorn to join his person on a stroll around the neighborhood. I even hear tell of chickens wearing sweaters and scarves to protect them from the cold.

Now, I adore the poultry at the farm, but I think we are all better off not being roommates. And Amos probably prefers life in the buff to wearing anything that would cover his beautiful feathers.

What about you? How do you pamper your chickens?

A Treat Toy for Chickens

The girls love this treat ball from Manna Pro.

How do you pamper your pet chickens? The Chicken Chat community weighs in.

I asked members of the Chicken Chat community to share pictures of their beloved roos and hens. Click on an image to enlarge and read about the chickens.

Ohio National Poultry Show

I first fell in love with poultry when I was a kid and my mom was my biggest supporter. Mom would load the station wagon down with birds and off we’d go to the poultry show with my little brother in tow. She was kind of like a pageant mom without the sequins and she facilitated a passion that has never faded. That’s why it’s important to me to do the same for other youngsters who have been bitten by the poultry bug.

Poultry shows are a fun way to encourage a child’s interest in poultry. It’s a great venue for learning solid breeding practices, discovering heritage breeds and finding a community of peers. Over 100 years, let’s them compare their birds and breeding practices with others. It’s like an art critique allowing breeders to get insights from more experienced breeders and learn how to improve their birds.

I recently returned from The Ohio National in Columbus, Ohio. It’s an event that is considered the Westminster of poultry shows where breeders show the best of the best. This year there were close to 6,000 entries including chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks and even pigeons.

Frizzle Cochin

White Crested Black Polish

White Leghorn

White Crested Black Polish

Tobunt Polish

Blue Ameraucana

Dark Brown Leghorn

Dark Brahma

I was at the Ohio National representing the Heritage Poultry Conservancy. The Conservancy gives prize money for winners in youth competitions.

Good to Know

The American Standard of Perfection is the poultry bible for poultry judges and entrants alike. It explains how each breed and variety should look from the angle of their tail feathers to the color of their beaks. It’s a great gift for young poultry enthusiasts. You can purchase the latest edition of the American Standard of Perfection from the American Poultry Association.


News from Moss Mountain Farm

Close to 98 percent of U.S. farms are family owned.Arkansas farmers aren’t the only people talking about soybeans in spring. For the second year in a row we’ve held two events at the Moss Mountain Farm Garden Home to help spread the word about the importance of agriculture and soybean farming in my home state. Both events were born out of my partnership with the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board.

Soybean University
First up on the calendar was Soybean University. Students from the Brinkley FFA and Arkansas 4-H visited the farm to learn about careers in agriculture and soybean farming.

More than 30 students attended.

Rhonda Carroll lives on a soybean farm with her husband Jim. She showed the kids how to make soy milk with raw beans. If you don’t have soybeans growing outside your back door like Rhonda you can purchase them from a feed store, a health food store or online.

Students then test tasted soy milk with soy nut cookies. Get the recipe.

We walked up to Poultryville to discuss the importance of soy in animal feed.

Moose was in heaven.

As were Smudge and Squeak.

Ben Thrash, a student at the University of Arkansas is an Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board Fellowship recipient. He spoke with students about careers in agriculture, the impact of agriculture in Arkansas and his background as part of a farm family from Conway, AR.

Students planted Arkansas Kirksey Edamame seeds, which were developed as a part of an ASPB research project and are now grown throughout the river valley region of Arkansas.

We ended the day with an ice cream social featuring soy ice cream and candy-coated soy nuts.

Mid-May the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board and I put together a day of workshops focusing one of our state’s most valuable assets – the soybean. All the attendees were Arkansas women bloggers so we got to celebrate a talented group of women too.

The bloggers heard from West Higginbotham, Vice Chairman of the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board and an Arkansas farmer, about soybean uses and farming life.

Tamara won the Bean2Blog ticket giveaway on Facebook and arrived at the event looking for ideas for the farm she recently purchased. I think the highlight of the day was holding Amos.

Once again Moose was the center of attention.

Lockstars was on hand again this year to demonstrate how to make soy candles.

I demonstrated how to make edamame hummus.

We asked each of the bloggers to come up with a new catch word for soy. Soy-licious, soy-tisfying, soy-percalifragilisticexpialidocious, soy-ragious, soy-lovely, soy-izzle, and soy-tastic are just a few of the creative words they suggested.

During a round table discussion we got to learn from the bloggers about their industry and receive feedback about the day’s events.

Everyone took home edamame seeds to plant.

The 2013 Bean2Blog group!

Here’s a list of the participating bloggers with links to their blogs.

Clever Chicken Coops

For more information on raising chickens read my column in this month’s AY magazine.

If there is one thing that people know about me, it’s that I love chickens! Buff Orpingtons, Silver Laced Wyandottes, Black New Jersey Giants, I couldn’t pick a favorite if I tried. It’s important to have safe and stable housing for our feathered friends and there are so many alternatives to the standard chicken coop. Let’s take a look.

Here is a custom chicken coop that I built. The design of the coop makes it a pleasure to look at while providing a great home for my friends.

Beautiful and fully functional!

You never know when your environment may change; here is a mobile chicken coop I have at the Garden Home Retreat that can go just about anywhere because it is built on a trailer.

Take your coop with you wherever you go!

Here is one of my favorite chicken coops, the Chicken Tractor. It weeds and fertilizes your garden at the same time while providing great housing for your chickens.

This chicken tractor serves several important needs around the farm or garden.

I saw this coop at my friend Jerusalem’s ( house. Her husband made it from old doors and windows.

Use your imagination! A chicken coop can also be a focal point in your garden

I hope these chicken coops inspire some great ideas for your own homes and gardens! For more information on unique chicken coops, visit my website at