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Moss Mountain

From Cumberland Plateau to Culinary Mountaintop

Volume 6 Issue 1 Spring-Summer 2019
P. Allen Smith calls himself a fourth-generation nurseryman and horticulturist. This is an excerpt of his story as told to Kerry McCoy on her radio show, Up In Your Business with Kerry McCoy.

P Allen Smith in his rose garden

Let me begin with my father’s family coming to this country in the 1680's through the Port of Charleston. They were English and they were greedy for land. So, like many Europeans, they made their way west. By the 1790's they had settled on the Cumberland Plateau, located in the Appalachian Mountains in middle Tennessee.

After the civil war, there was a great deal of economic instability. The cut tobacco and cotton that were traditionally raised by our family became difficult to sell, so they began to produce fruit trees. By the 1880's our neighbor, Mr. Boyd, began a nursery. Legend has it that Boyd began providing trees for a rather large property that was being built over in North Carolina called Biltmore.

In the 1970's, the small family farm began to change. It became difficult for people to make a living on the farm. That created a new type of farmer, the weekend farmer. That was my dad. He had about a hundred acres. We had a big garden and row crops. We also had cattle and poultry and swine.

He accepted a job offer in Little Rock. He wanted to come here and find a farm for us. It was really something he wanted to kind of go back to full time, because he grew up that way. But finding a farm to buy takes a while. So my parents bought a house in the suburbs. I was just adamant that I was going to bring some of my animals with me from Tennessee. I wasn’t going to give them all up. So I brought some chickens, a pair of turkeys, our dogs, a cat and a parakeet. I started a little farm. In the backyard, I made a garden and built coops for my chickens.

An entrance to a garden on Moss Mountain

But sadly, after we moved here, my father had back surgery. He developed a blood clot from the surgery and had a pulmonary embolism. He died when he was 37. My mother raised us, all four of us children, here in Little Rock. My neighbors were extremely generous and kind in allowing me to have my little ‘agri-hood.’ It was really a way for me to stay connected to that life I’d had before losing my father. 

I had a keen interest in botany and learned a lot about farming and horticulture. I went to Hendrix and studied biology with an emphasis on botany. I just kind of knew a lot about plants and it made those courses easy for me.

After graduating college, I went to England for my master’s in garden history and design. When I returned, I began a nursery and a design company. In ’93, I began a media company and we started broadcasting. I just talked about the things I was doing every day and answered the viewer’s questions like, “What’s going on with my tomatoes?” That grew into talking about other aspects of life and helping people make better choices to improve their lives through using no chemicals and applying organic methodologies and practices.

About 12 years ago, we bought Moss Mountain farm, originally built in the 1840's. It’s high above the Arkansas River Valley and provides a picturesque studio set that enables us to help people understand how to grow things in the garden. We have a kitchen studio where we prepare healthy meals, showing how to go from garden to table. I like very simple meals. We have a five ingredient rule and try to bring everything we cook out of the garden.

An aerial view of Moss Mountain

We’re now in the throes of our 20th season on PBS. It’s very much a show about healthy living. I think that connectivity to nature, that growing something, is good for our souls. I also think that when the good food that we eat is locally grown, not only are you getting something that you know how it was grown, where it was grown, but you build a relationship with someone and that’s so important. Socialization is so important. We really enjoy sharing the farm and the interaction of those who come there. This virtual stuff has its place, but you know, you just can’t beat meeting people and having that one-on-one time with them.

That’s why I’m a big believer in being in the garden and having that time to really think about the Creator and think about your place in the world and to watch these amazing things grow and bloom. I mean, it's just a miracle every day. brave flag

To hear the full interview, click here.

Up In Your Business with Kerry McCoy

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