Spec Hall Sr., Pioneer of Farm to Table Agriculture

as-tears-go-by

When I hear Millennials waxing on about farm to table, the need to know who grows your food, and the advantage of eating locally, I think of Daddy.

My father was earning a living from farm to table agriculture in middle Georgia when Alice Waters was one.

truck farmer
“Truck Farmer” Spec Hall Sr., 1945

These photos of him come from 1945. In those days farm to table was known as truck farming. Michael Pollan would not be born for another ten years.

“He loved truck farming,” my mother wrote in a family scrapbook. “We’d drive to Atlanta and Jacksonville in his one and a half ton truck with his vegetable crops.”

My father and sister (6 months old) on Daddy's tractor

My father and sister (6 months old) on Daddy’s tractor

My father was a gentle man with a giant green thumb.

When growing food on a small scale was no longer a viable occupation, he grew bedding plants in greenhouses, he grew grasses for golf courses, and he grew stephanotis for bridal bouquets. My mother said he grew the most beautiful cyclamens she’d ever seen.

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At his funeral in 1980 the minister said Daddy loved working in our family flower shop. This just showed how little that man knew about Francis Langston “Spec” Hall Sr. The last thing my father enjoyed was arranging cut flowers he didn’t grow that arrived on ice in cardboard boxes from South America.

Daddy excelled at arranging bouquets of foliage. No flowers at all. They were exquisite forest vignettes. He’d use moss and branches and greenery he’d cut from the yard, pebbles and stones he found lying about, jardinieres made from natural objects like stumps or scraps of lumber and tubes from his workshop. Some had a whimsical flair (he’d add little hand-written signs), some resembled ikebana, but most were thoroughly and artistically original. I doubt the clientele understood them. But one daring bride did. She chose to have no flowers in the church, opting instead for candles and luscious displays of greenery created by my father.

These creations seemed to be his attempts to return to the essence of the Earth.  He may have seen commercial flower growing as the antithesis of nature, like some see zoo animals as an oxymoron. This was at a time when the term organic farming had been coined yet rarely heard.

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Many people were meant to work outdoors with their hands in the soil, sweat dripping from their brow, the sun burning down on their backs. They weren’t meant to work inside the sealed confines of a building. My father fell into this category.

I recently heard on NPR that membership in the Future Farmers of America is at the highest level in nearly 100 years, blue corduroy jackets and all. The attraction is not industrialized farming but instead the appeal is small-scale organic farming, grass-fed beef and cage-free eggs, NPR reported. I wish Spec Hall Sr. were around to see this.

 

Massey Ferguson
My father on his tractor “Big Red.” Before farm to table was a concept he was a truck farmer.
451 family farms in Georgia have earned the designation Centennial Farm by operating for more than 100 years.

Lyrics in the box above: “As Tears Goes By,” The Rolling Stones

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