0

Truck farmer looks back on 60 years of growing

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

Jack Parris sits in the living room of his house on East Fairview Road in Stockbridge, the house he has called home for nearly 60 years. He built the house in 1950, in much the same way that he has built a reputation as a truck farmer.

A truck farmer is typically someone who owns fewer than 40 acres of land and grows food mainly for his family, according to photographer and University of Georgia professor, Perry Dilbeck, who released a book in 2006 entitled "The Last Harvest: Truck Farmers in the Deep South."

According to Dilbeck, truck farmers like Parris sell their surplus at local farmer's markets, on the roadside or, in Parris' case, in their own yard.

"I harvested 95 bushels of sweet potatoes in '06," says the 89-year-old Parris. "The largest was 8 pounds, and a lot of them were 5 and 6 pounds."

If those numbers weren't impressive enough, Parris says he had 150 bushels of potatoes last year.

"I took 40 five-gallon buckets full out of one row," he says. "That was enough for 20 bushels."

Parris says that he has been farming on the side all his life, while working other jobs through the years.

"I worked for the railroad for 9 years, and I built commercial freezers and coolers all over the U.S.," he says. "I built this house at night while I was working on the railroad. It took me 6 months."

Parris and his brother moved in 1943 to the property he now lives on. He and his late wife of 67 years, Agness, raised 5 boys, and when the boys were grown, Parris sold some of the land to each of his boys and built a house for each of them on the property.

"I've got about 33 acres now," he says. "I grow corn, watermelons, squash, okra, tomatoes and potatoes."

Parris also tells a story that may sound like an exaggeration -- a turnip in his yard that measures 23 inches.

For years, Parris has grown vegetables to sell, producing as much as 100 pounds of tomatoes a day during the harvest. Today, he sells about $4,000 worth of vegetables per year -- and he does it all on the honor system, simply placing vegetables on a table outside his house next to a bucket that customers put money in. He says the system has worked well, for the most part.

"I've only been cheated a couple times," he said. "One time, I found out who did it, but I didn't do nothin' about it, because the boy's daddy was a friend of mine."

Parris says that people come from "all over" to buy his sweet potatoes, including places such as Valdosta and Cleveland, Ga.

"You can't get fresh stuff out of the store," he says.

While Parris' simple, honest way of doing business has earned him a measure of success as a farmer, it has translated into a measure of fame as well. In addition to Dilbeck's book, Parris has been featured in a variety of magazines and newspaper articles.

Still, he appears to be taking his fame in stride, according to Ed Dilbeck, father of Perry Dilbeck and a close friend of Parris.

"He told me, 'I got fame, but I ain't got no money out of it.'"

When asked if he, at 89 years of age, ever thinks about slowing down, Parris says, "I gotta keep moving as long as I live. If I sit down, I won't last no time!"

As Parris walks his garden, while watching his two Jack Russell Terriers, Trouble and Max, bound through the tall grass, he encounters a large purple vegetable -- the turnip. He measures it and, sure enough, it is 23 inches around -- yet another testament to a farmer and his lifelong passion.