Postcard from the Road
It’s February, a bright, sunny 50-degree day in the southern Ozarks. We’ve come to talk with veteran truck gardener and roadside marketer Glen Swighart, who is hard at work repairing his tractor. It’s planting time again.
“How did you learn to garden,” we ask him. “Why grow produce to sell?”
He carefully sets his tools aside and collects his thoughts. “I’ve been gardening all my life,” he begins with a gentle smile. “Grew up on a Missouri hillside and learned how to garden from my family. The past 30 years I gardened for my own enjoyment. Three years ago, I opened this place.”
“This place” is Fantastic Farms, a thriving produce u-pick and roadside market near Ash Flat, Ark., where Swighart grows and sells a plethora of luscious edibles, from tomatoes (his best seller) to berries to regional favorites like okra and greens.
Swighart sells on the honor system, a unique feature of his business. Prices are posted on a hand-lettered sign. Customers choose pre-picked produce or harvest their own from the handsome garden adjacent to his stand. They do the math and drop payment in a clever partially buried pipe cash box that Swighart designed. Does it work? He sighs, “Yes and no. People pay for their vegetables just fine. But I live over in Cherokee Village—it’s a long drive and I can’t always get back by dark. So I’ve been broke into and had money stolen. Twice.”
What advice has he for prospective roadside gardener/marketers? “Think it over,” he says. “I enjoy it but it’s quite a job. And you’ve got to pick your land wisely. You need a good, prime spot out on a highway with lots of traffic and room for off-road parking. And you need good, fertile land without a lot of rock,” he chuckles, “unless you like picking rock.
“Buy good equipment, you spend too much time fixing if you don’t. You want to grow what folks in your area like and sometimes you’ve got to rethink your decisions. Like turnips. Young people don’t eat turnips, did you know? So they didn’t sell well at all. Now raspberries and blueberries—can’t have too much of them—they’re sellouts every year. And tomatoes. And lettuce. People buy a whole lot of lettuce.”
Swighart grins, “Why do I grow to sell? I like being my own boss. It’s something I love doing. And ‘If you grow it, they will come.’”
Cherokee Village, Arkansas