This week’s Seed and the Story column is part of the McElroy House: Organization for Folklife, Oral History, and Community Action’s ongoing series featuring the stories of local growers in the Yell and Pope County regions of central Arkansas. To learn more about the Garden Book project, go here. Interested in supporting this work? Click here to contact us! We’d love to hear from you.
Chuck and Phyllis Campbell are both teachers in the Russellville Public Schools. Chuck teaches A.P environmental science and helps students grow a small garden on the high school campus. Phyllis is an elementary teacher with an art background. They’re both proponents of a more sustainable form of living, raising chickens, goats, and a large garden on their property a few miles outside of Russellville. As part of the McElroy House: Organization for Folklife, Oral History, and Community Action’s ongoing outreach meeting with area growers, we had the chance to visit the Campbell’s place, meet their goats and learn more about their decisions to live closer to the land.
Phyllis was born into a family of eastern Arkansas tenant farmers. Chuck grew up near Sherwood with a backyard garden. Like so many modern homesteaders, raising their own food has been an extended process of trial and error. “My grandmother raised chickens and slaughtered hogs, explains Phyllis, “but then it skipped a generation.” Over the years they’ve taught themselves, drawing from books, online resources, and the inspiration of a former generation. These days their free-range chickens lay enough eggs for the Campbells to occasionally sale to market; they regularly milk their goats and make their own cheese. As Phyllis talks about the taste of homegrown eggs, she shows us the homemade chicken roost they made from scrap lumber salvaged from their kids’ former tree house. “Basically, we’re living like my grandparents did. We’re reusing things.”
Their goats are friendly and follow us around, checking out Saira’s camera and my recording equipment. The garden near the front of the house is filled with rich soil they’ve been working for years now. They get horse manure from a neighbor; they use the waste from both their chickens and their friends’ rabbits to make a rich fertilizer. Given the growing price of fresh food, their garden is, at least partially, a necessity, they say. But it’s rooted in a way of life that goes much deeper than money.
Chuck notes that he’s been inspired by the material he teaches his high school students, including Aldo Leopold’s 1949 landmark book Sand County Almanac, especially the closing essay entitled, “The Land Ethic.” This idea, wrote Leopold, is “simply enlarging the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.” “That the land is a community is the basic concept of ecology,” penned Leopold, “but that the land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics.”
When we visited the Campbells it was still chilly outside and we discussed the rhythm of a life spent closer to the land. “With me it was a growing awareness,” explained Phyllis. “You know, waiting for eggs. And I looked at all the work that went into it…it’s not just mindless consuming at a grocery store,” she explained. “Peaches,” added Chuck laughing. “You only get them in the summer and watermelon. And apples in the fall.” It’s learning about these seasonal changes, they say, that makes them grateful. The more they grow, they added, the more they enjoy their decision to live a more sustainable life. Click below to meet the goats and chickens.
Click here to see more of Saira Khan’s photos of the Campbell’s goats. Learn more about Saira’s photography here.
Go here to learn more about the McElroy House and our ongoing projects in community-based media.
The Seed and the Story is a partnership with the Courier and Post Dispatch newspapers in Pope and Yell County, Arkansas. This weekly column explores folklife, oral history, and community in central Arkansas, particularly the Yell County area where the column originates. Columns are often written in partnership with the McElroy House: Organization for Folklife, Oral History, and Community Action and humbly attempt to bridge intergenerational themes in the region.