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 close to the farm. 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 were packed, and headed to live in the little country town of Whitton, Arkansas. For the next year, we both taught public school. Keith taught physical science, 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 was 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.
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!
Keith quit teaching school, and I continued to teach for two more years to have steady income flowing through our household. We made many sacrifices over next few years. We didn't live as comfortably as our friends. No new cars, or fancy trips. Heck we didn't take a vacation for 6 years. Our home, also didn't have central heat and air, needed new windows, and a new roof. We lived on a strict budget, and dove deep into researching sustainable agriculture. You could say farming took our love for one another to a new level. We were learning this new way of life together, totally relying on each other, and we loved it. We've always felt profoundly blessed to have family members from days gone by, lay the true foundation of this 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! In 2010, we opened our farm to table restaurant in Memphis, Tn - Trolley Stop Market.
After completely giving up on the 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, as all children are. He's a country boy for sure! He loves spending time outside, and 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.
In the fall of 2017, we added Bryan Dennis to our team, along with his lovely partner and artist, Amy Lynne Hofstetter. Together they round out our Whitton Farms team!
At Whitton Farms, life is wild. We are 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 Forrester
2018 Tomato "Tast Test" 2nd Place | Memphis Farmers Market
2016 Tomato "Taste Test" Winner| Memphis Farmers Market
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
What does "Certified Naturally Grown" mean?
CNG farmers don’t use any synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, or genetically modified organisms. CNG livestock are raised mostly on pasture and with space for freedom of movement. Feed must be grown without synthetic inputs or genetically modified seeds.
Is your program for farmers who are ‘almost organic,’ but don’t qualify for the USDA Organic Certification?
No! CNG participation requires a full commitment to robust organic practices. Our standards for produce and livestock certification are based on the standards of the National Organic Program. We developed from scratch our standards for Apiary certification, based on organic principles, and we're currently developing our own certification standards for mushrooms and aquaponics production.
Why create a whole separate program?
Certified Naturally Grown provides a much-needed complement to the National Organic program. While the NOP is an important program that primarily serves medium and large-scale agricultural operations, CNG is tailored for direct-market farmers producing food for their local communities. These farmers often find the NOP’s heavier paperwork requirements are not a good fit for their small-scale operations. CNG enables them to get credit for their practices while offering accountability to their customers. Some CNG farmers become certified organic after a few years with CNG, and we think that’s just super.
So how is CNG different than Certified Organic?
CNG is a private non-profit organization that's not affiliated with the USDA's National Organic Program. CNG's certification approach is based on the participatory guarantee system (PGS) model that relies on peer reviews in which inspections are typically carried out by other farmers. The PGS model promotes farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing about best practices and fosters local networks that strengthen the farming community. This model minimizes paperwork and keeps certification dues affordable.
Another difference is that Certified Naturally Grown’s certification process is transparent and open to the public. Every CNG producer has a profile on the website. On it you will find the information they submitted in their application, as well as scanned images of their inspection reports and signed declaration.
When was CNG started?
CNG was founded by farmers in the mid-Hudson Valley in 2002, the same year the National Organic Program took effect.
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