P. Allen Smith Remains Rooted in Little Rock and Garden Grown
On any given day, P. Allen Smith is up to his elbows in projects. He hosts the public television program, “P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home” and the syndicated 30-minute show, “P. Allen Smith Gardens.” He has a quarter of a million gardening books in print, a new cookbook, 100,000 weekly e-newsletter subscribers and, at press time, more than 8,000 Facebook fans. He’s also a regular contributor on NBC’s “Today” show, and he’s been featured in numerous national magazines, including House Beautiful and Elle Décor.
At his 650-acre Moss Mountain Farm 30 minutes from Little Rock, Smith cultivates hundreds of varieties of fruits, vegetables and flowers, heritage poultry and livestock. He regularly hosts dinners for guests made with his garden-grown produce, and he’s even been dubbed the “Martha Stewart of the South” by the New York Times.
All of this is inspired by Smith’s childhood spent on farms and much of his lifetime spent in Arkansas, the state where he chose to spread his agrarian roots and grow his gardening empire.
Although born on a farm in Tennessee, Smith and his family moved to Little Rock when he was 12. During the move, his father injured his back and underwent surgery. While recovering at home, and less than a week after Smith’s 13th birthday, his father passed away.
Coping with his father’s death, Smith immersed himself in nature, gardening and raising poultry and livestock with 4-H.
“I came to understand the environment I was raised in,” he said. “As a child, I wanted to have my own gardens and chickens, like every kid does. I was surrounded by [farming].”
Smith attended Hendrix College in Conway, then the University of Manchester in England where he studied garden history and design and was appointed a fellow in the Royal Horticultural Society, an honor he mentions nonchalantly.
After college, he came home to Arkansas to work in the family nursery, Birnam Wood. “We figured since we moved trees, that’s what we’d call it,” Smith joked of the “Macbeth” reference. “So we had a lot of patrons that were English majors.”
In 1993, he started a production company which delivered 90-second gardening and lifestyle reports for local news affiliates. Smith said they became so popular that stations began requesting a longer format. Soon, the reports blossomed into 30-minute shows highlighting Smith’s gardening expertise.
Some of those shows are filmed at Smith’s Garden Home Retreat at Moss Mountain Farm, an estate that serves as a “model” farm, demonstrating different ways to grow a myriad of plant varieties.
“We planted 1,700 blueberry plants last year,” Smith said, “and that’s about 47 varieties. Bonnie Plant Farms is one of our sponsors, so we grow all the varieties of strawberries that Bonnie offers. They offer Ozark Beauty, which is an Arkansas berry. It’s very popular; they sell them throughout the South.”
Since Arkansas’s four temperate seasons lend themselves to year-round production, the farm also grows more than 225,000 daffodils, a garden of Noisette roses, 50 different types of heirloom tomatoes, several types of asparagus, potatoes and much more, all of which, Smith says, are organically grown.
The abundance of fresh food Smith’s farm produces is one of the things that inspired him to write his first cookbook, “P. Allen Smith’s From the Garden,” which came out in December 2010. The book contains about 120 recipes using foods that can be grown in the garden. “They’re all seasonably based,” he said, “so they encourage people to buy locally, grow their own food and eat foods grown in that particular season.”
Several central Arkansas restaurants purchase Smith’s produce to prepare fresh, seasonal dishes. “We sell eggs and lamb to The Capital Hotel, Trio’s and several other local restaurants, and Terry’s Finer Foods in the Heights sells our eggs and extra produce.”
Additionally, the farm raises livestock, including a flock of white Dorper sheep, horses and heritage chicken breeds, the latter of which garners most of Smith’s attention.
Inspired by his time showing livestock and poultry with 4-H, in 2009 Smith founded the Heritage Poultry Conservancy, “an organization dedicated to the preservation and support of all threatened breeds of domestic poultry.”
He’s so passionate about heritage chickens that he brought three to the photo shoot for this story: a handsome Black Jersey Giant rooster, festooned with shiny, blackish-green feathers and a crimson comb, and two Silver Laced Wyandottes, a rooster and a hen.
“The chicken that I’m holding [the Wyandotte] is a breed that my great-great-grandmother Foster raised in Lonoke,” Smith explained. “It’s a dual-purpose breed; it would’ve been the kind of chicken people had on farms because it produced eggs and meat.”
For his work with heritage chickens and agriculture in Arkansas, the Arkansas 4-H Foundation is recognizing Smith at its October 2011 Celebration of Excellence. “Allen is the embodiment of the mission and purpose of 4-H,” said Charlie Conklin, president of the Arkansas 4-H Foundation board of directors. “4-H helped him develop his life’s passion, and people across the country now enjoy the benefits of his gifts.”
One of those gifts is Smith’s innate sense of Southern hospitality. His Garden Home at Moss Mountain Farm is available for tours, and Smith is more than happy to show guests around the grounds, its numerous gardens and the estate’s Greek Revival-style cottage. Visit PAllenSmith.com for more information and to book a tour.
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