In the early 1900's, Leona Wells Forrester, Keith's great Grandmother, a widow with four children, settled in Whitton, Arkansas. Leona came to Whitton to seek life as a sharecropper in order to support her family. For many years, Leona and her sons tended the land from dusk til dawn. Keith stated that his Grandfather Jess would talk about how he could see chickens running under the house through the slates of wood in the floor. It was from those humble beginnings that the Forrester Family farming legacy was born.
Jess Forrester (son of Leona) and wife Helen, took on the responsibility of expanding the farm. Over the next several years Jess spent many days behind a mule and plow, raised show horses, and was able increase the family's acreage tenfold. Jess and Helen were blessed with 5 children, which were all birthed in their loving home. Helen was a talented cook, and piano player. She played the piano every Sunday in church. After several decades of raising cotton, Jess was able to retire from farming. Eventually the land was passed on their children, Doug, Willis, Bob, and Phillip. Peggy, their daughter, passed away many years earlier at the tender age of 3.
Phillip Forrester, (Keith's Dad), married a lovely lady by the name of Mary Virginia, and together they spent the next several decades raising cotton, and soybeans. Phillip and Mary Virginia had 3 children: Mary Helen, Paul, and Keith. While Phillip tended to the farm, Mary taught school, and kept her children active in a wide variety of hobbies such as sports, music, hunting, farm chores, and church. In 1974, the Forrester Family was named Farm Bureau's Mississippi County Farm Family of the Year. In addition, Phillip served on the local bank board, and was President of the Wilson Arkansas School Board for nearly 20 years. In 1996, Phillip retired from farming, and passed away shortly thereafter due to ALS. A scholarship at Arkansas State University was established in his honor by family and friends. Mary has since remarried, and resides in Osceola, Arkansas. She spends her free time traveling, and loving her children and grandchildren alike.
In 2001, Keith and I got married in Jonesboro, Arkansas. We were both looking for a different way of life than city living. Keith reached out to his mother about the possibility of us living in house is grandfather Jess built many years ago. In no time, we received word that we were welcomed to liven the simple farm house in Whitton. We packed all we had, and headed to our new home. For the next year, we both taught public school. Keith taught P.E. and coached, and I was an algebra teacher.
In the spring of 2003, Keith asked me what I wanted for my birthday. For nearly a year we'd been mowing several acres of ground surrounding our home. I told Keith I wanted a huge flower garden right by the road for all to see. When I was a child, my Grandparents would take me on leisurely Sunday drives. We were always delighted when we'd come upon a beautiful garden during our outing. That's what I envisioned, a surprise for someone's eyes if they happened to venture through Whitton.
Keith immediately got to work. He ordered a pound of zinnia seed, and purchased a 50 lb sack of sunflower seed. He tilled up a quarter acre, and together we scattered the zinnia and sunflower seeds. We had no idea how much we'd enjoy this project. Each day steadily watching the seeds germinate, and eventually grow into something quite magical. There's something to be said for a mass planting of flowers. It was an experience that drew us closer together as a couple, and although hard work to maintain, was unbelievably gratifying for us individually as well.
By July, we had more flowers than we knew what to do with! At one point Keith remarked that I had so many flowers in the house, it looked like a funeral parlor. A sweet neighbor down the road, Mr. Lindsay Chandler, suggested we take his booth one weekend at Agri-center Farmers Market in Memphis to sell our buckets of flowers. (Mr. Chandler had been flower farming for decades. He was an established and well respected flower farmer in the region, and offered loads of encouragement to us throughout the years to come.)
We took Mr. Chandler up on his offer, and decided to give selling flowers at the farmers market a try.
That Saturday, we loaded both our cars, and Mary Virginia's, with buckets of flowers and headed to market. We sold out that very first Saturday, and ultimately generated revenue that surpassed our weekly teaching salaries. You could say that kick started our passion for growing anything and everything we could think of on our little plot of land in the Arkansas Delta. Not only had we found a new passion, career wise, but we'd be able to work alongside one another daily. We were over the moon!
After attending a few more markets, we decided at the end of the school year, Keith would begin to farm full time. I continued to teach for two more years. We made many sacrifices over next few years. We've always felt profoundly blessed to have family members from days gone by, lay the true foundation of of our farm. Without them, our dream would not be where it is today. We will never take our land for granted. So many before us worked tirelessly, year after year, in order to pass this gift on to the next generation. Good stewardship of the land is our fundamental goal at Whitton Farms.
Now we're in our 16th year of farming specialty crops. We grow everything from arugula to zucchini, as well as a wide variety of cut flowers, and herbs, WE LOVE FARMING!
After completely giving up hope of having children, in November of 2011, we welcomed our lovable son, Fox, into the world. Each year he continues to be the light of our life, a true gift from God. He loves spending time outside riding his bike, shooting hoops, playing catch, picking carrots straight from the ground to eat, and helping his Daddy around the farm.
After specialty crop farming for twelve years, we were named Farm Bureau's Mississippi County, and Northeast Arkansas Farm Family of the year, (2014) exactly forty years after Phillip and Mary represented the county.
At Whitton Farms, life is what we make it. We're at the mercy of Mother Nature, have loads of fun, work hard, have massive failures, grow, eat, and spend the days scouting at the land, and dreaming of ways in which to leave it better than we found it.
Thank you for taking the time to learn a little more about our family farming tradition. We wish you bountiful memories of love with loved ones.
Keith, Jill, and Fox Forrester
-2019 Memphis Farmers Market Tomato "Taste Test" Winner
-2018 Memphis Farmers Market Tomato "Taste Test" 2nd Place
-2016 Memphis Farmers Market Tomato "Taste Test" Winner
-2015 Memphis Farmers Market Cream of the Crop Award
-2014 Mississippi County Farm Family of the Year
-2014 Northeast Arkansas Farm Family of the Year
-2012 Arkansas Delta Byways Hospitality Award for Agri-tourism
-2010 East Arkansas Development Regional Business Pacesetter Award
-2010 Arkansas Governor's Tourism Conference | Henry Bootstrap Award
-2009 Arkansas Delta Byways Agri-Entrepreneur Award
-2008 Northeast Arkansas Agricultural Leader Award
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