This is part of our ongoing series profiling regional growers as part of the McElroy’s House’s Garden Book Project to be released this spring. Go here to learn more!
The temperatures are growing cooler and gardens will enter their dormant phase to prepare for the birth of spring. At the McElroy House: Organization for Cultural Resources and Community Action we’ve spent much of the spring and summer meeting with area growers, visiting their garden sites, and hearing the stories behind their gardens. All of this information will be compiled into our locally produced Garden Book, a community-based publication to be released this coming spring. Throughout the winter, this column will introduce readers to a few of the growers you can meet in the book.
James Obie Woods makes his home on Green Street in Dardanelle. He recently retired from Entergy, is known to be an amazing grill chef, and has been active in the River Valley community for decades. He says he first learned to garden by watching his father work the soil at their Pecan Street home. “Later they built a house on the south end of town on Love Street,” Woods explains. “And that’s where it’s been ever since,” he adds. His father grew peas and tomatoes, squash and greens, and his mother would can for the winter, including making her own pickles and sauerkraut. “Dad used to get peaches and apples,” Woods recalls, describing the abundance of homemade food their garden provided, “ and we had one peach tree there, and we’d dry them, and all through the winter we had peach and apple fried pies,” he explains.
Once his father was no longer able to garden, James started working with his brother Waymon to put in a garden on his parents’ land. His mother gave him a copy of the Farmers’ Almanac so he could plant by the signs, he explains. As she grew older and had a hard time getting around she would supervise from the window of her bedroom, which looked out onto the large garden plot. “She was the supervisor and I was the worker,” Woods laughs. “Put your corn there and your tomatoes there, and it’s time to put this out, and it’s too early to put this out,” she’d say. So she kept me going,” he recalls.
Today Woods grows his own garden on that same patch of land, a large backyard plot surrounded by native pecan trees. He continues to grow many of the same things his father grew. “Just the normal stuff,” he says, “Peas, green beans, corn, cabbage; some carrots, beets, squash, okra, cucumbers.” Although he no longer plants watermelon or cantaloupe, he says he still gets regular vines pop up from years gone by. “I’ll nurse them,” he says, which provides a few melons for the summer. His wife blanches the vegetables and puts them up in the freezer for winter, providing homegrown food all year long.
James Woods isn’t sure the family gardening tradition will be carried on within the family, but hopes someone picks it up just like he once did. When asked what brings him back to the garden each year, he talks about the time spent in solitude and the ability to create food for his family and friends. “I enjoy the time I have out there and I like seeing things grow and I like seeing the results,” he says. “I enjoy eating it and most of my family does. It’s sort of garden like that,” he adds. “I just share it with everybody.”
You can see photos of James Obie Woods and learn more about the Garden Book at boileddownjuice.com. Thanks so much for reading!
Meet more growers!
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Intergenerational Gardening with Whitney Wills and Bryan Mader
Radio Piece with Whitney Wills and Bryan Mader
The Seed and the Story is a partnership with theCourier 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.