For 20 years, John Coykendall has overseen Blackberry Farm’s gardens in the Great Smoky Mountains outside Walland, Tennessee. The 76-year-old, classically trained artist has traveled the world, sketchbook in hand, to collect heirloom seeds, with a particular interest in the farming traditions of southeastern Louisiana’s Washington Parish.
What you’re looking forward to this winter: Sitting by the farm’s wood-burning stove on a cold day, shelling seeds.
Pairs of denim overalls in your closet: Oh, probably about 30.
Seeds in your library: Somewhere over 700.
The oldest seed in your collection: Runner beans. They date back to the days of the Aztecs.
If you could tell one seed’s story to the world, it’d be: “The Unknown Pea of Washington Parish, Louisiana” – I searched for it for 30 years.
A plant you’ll never tire of sketching: Garlic. I love the colors and shapes of the cloves.
Favorite fruit or vegetable to harvest on the farm: Our heirloom tomatoes – I love the old varieties’ many flavors. It’s wonderful sharing them with guests, especially on tomato-tasting days in August.
…and the one thing you’d hoard all for yourself: Summer savory – it brings a great accent to bean dishes.
For a taste of true Appalachia, you’d serve us: Green beans and new potatoes with slab bacon or saddling meat from the smokehouse.
Around Walland, moonshiners are more likely to reveal their still’s location than foragers are to give up: Their spots for ramps or ginseng.
The Farmer’s Almanac: Divining rod or astrology for plants in today’s climate? Trustworthy rod. I’ve had good luck with it over the years, even with the changes.
Turnip illustration photo: Korena Bolding Sinnett