"I don't mind admitting that I am the best catfisherman in the world. And by that, I mean I am the best catfisherman in Arkansas. And that's saying a lot."
As the 92-year-old Bob Barnhill chauffeured me around his strawberry patch, he proudly shared a few off-topic nuggets about his life. The patriarch of Barnhill Orchards, this legend in the business with bright blue eyes, was making his morning round on his golf cart as we passed by the workers diligently filling their red buckets.
"A good farmer goes out and checks on his crop. You need to be out there and see it for yourself," he says to me (or something along the lines of that). What knowledge I have of gardening and farming is in line with his sentiments. To really know your product, your story, your animal, whatever it is you are growing ... there's nothing that will take the place of surrounding yourself with it. Fully immersing yourself in it and around it and from every angle makes sure you know what is going on and what is thriving ... as well as what needs to be changed.
This gorgeous, sunny morning of our field trip started in the berry patch where we chatted with Rex, one of the second-generation Barnhills. These rows are picked every other day during harvest season. The workers start at sunrise and make it halfway through the rows until mid-afternoon. They'll come back the next day to finish the field and then start over the next. Seven days a week of strawberry picking while they are in season – which isn't long enough for many folks. The market sells out every day. "We're selling them faster than they can pick 'em," Mr. Barnhill says with a gleam in his eye a little later standing in the market.
The market is where a hustle of about 10 people (most of which are family) are doing their job in harmony with the others around them and getting the berries out the door as fast as they can. From the patch a quarter mile down the road, strawberries journey to the market shelves, are poured into the appropriate size container, loaded onto a wheeling cart, roll through the door and are packed into a customer's car: I guarantee some of these berries were still stuck to the vine living their best lives just an hour earlier.
Before we left, Mr. Barnhill sat with me under a tree and – unbeknownst to him – made so many memories of both of my grandfathers flood back to me. My grandfathers both grew peaches and tomatoes. They wore suspenders like Mr. Barnhill.
They had straw hats to wear for working in the fields and ball caps for "going to town". Like Mr. Barnhill.
They knew that early mornings, sweaty brows, sore backs and dirty hands were what made a successful harvest. Like Mr. Barnhill.
The Bee’s Knees
We never found the queen, but that's not to say I didn't have a royal time at Bemis Honey Bee Farm. This place – south of Little Rock and popular for its pumpkin patch in the fall and Christmas trees in December – has made its mark on the map and become quite a destination for visitors of all ages. Inside the building you'll find the "Bee Store" that is a delight to anybody looking for bee- or honey-themed gifts. But there's so much more: the kits, supplies, clothing, tools ... anything a beekeeper might need. (Or want!)
Jeremy Bemis and his wife Emily bought this area when it was an airport. What was once the hangar is now the store, workshop and classroom.
When it was time to suit up, I wanted the full enchilada. There were half uniforms to cover the top portion of the body. But, as this was my first time to the row of hives, I wanted full-body-armor (and I wanted to look a bit like an astronaut).
Jeremy puffed the smoke and pried the hive open. Ever heard the term “busy as a bee?” It is an extremely accurate analogy. They don’t stop. Everyone has a job and everyone does it.
Protect the queen? Got it! Scout for a new hive location? Will do! Spread the pollen? Yes, sir!
And these jobs aren’t just “ … because that’s what bees do." Their jobs are important for the world around them!
It’s the bees who pollinate those flowers that make us smile and crops that keep us fed.
It’s the bees who create honey, a liquid gold boasting a long list of fascinating benefits for health and wellness.
It’s the bees who communicate to their friends and family by dancing for them!
And, to me, that makes them the bee’s knees.
I can’t wait to show you more of what makes Arkansas agriculture – carefully cultivated by amazing producers like Mr. Barnhill and Jeremy – so unique and important this week on “Good Roots”! Watch with us Friday, May 14, inside “Arkansas Week” starting at 7:30 p.m. It’ll be great inspiration for your own amazing adventures at a farmers market near you this weekend.
About the author: “Good Roots” segment host Lauren McCullough – who grew up on the family farm in Nashville, Arkansas, showing registered Brangus cattle and raising chickens – is a creative entrepreneur, dividing her time as a photographer, videographer and on-camera talent. Now a resident of The Natural State’s capital city, Lauren’s passion lies in capturing and sharing the special moments that make up the "everyday" as she meets fellow Arkansans and shares their unique stories with the world.