Published on Monday, July 17, 2017
Nelda Mitchell grew up on a dairy farm. As a girl, she milked cows twice a day, 365 days a year. “On leap year it's 366 days, and it’s rain, shine, sleet or snow. Ball game, party, whatever, you still had to milk cows.” She recalls.
As she got older, there was one thing she knew for sure. Nelda was not going to be a farmer. “I didn't want to farm, there was never any money.” She continues. “If the farm made money, it had to go back into the farm so you could keep on farming. My mother and daddy were very frugal. We always had plenty to eat. We had beautiful clothes to wear, my mother was a wonderful seamstress and we had ruffles and lace and ribbons and bows. But, we didn't have what I visualized that town people had. I wanted to be free to sit on the porch and read a book in the summer.”
After she married her husband, Dennis, Nelda kept dreaming about her future in town. “He was going to be a chemical engineer because in high school he loved chemistry. That was his favorite subject. He was going to be a chemical engineer and he would go to Louisiana or Texas, or wherever. He’d work for big oil companies and make money and live in town and wouldn't have to farm.” Nelda smiles.
Dennis adds, “I went to school and I wanted to be an engineer, but I was not cut out for it. It was just not a burning passion to be an engineer. But it was a burning passion to come home and farm. And I had to change.”
Nelda was not happy. Farming was exactly the lifestyle she was trying to get away from. “I farm because my husband. That is the only reason.” She says firmly. She only tolerated his farming ideas with the hope that Dennis would become a county agent. “But he didn't. He came back. He said, 'Nope. I'm not going to do that. I'm going to farm with daddy.'” Nelda recalls.
“Pushing a tractor in a sand bed was one of my first memories. It was a little old red tractor. It looked just like that Farmall out yonder.” Dennis explains. “We worked our hinny off. Had a little one row tractor. I enjoyed it. It was a good lifestyle for me. And I don't know how to explain, but it was just something I wanted to farm. I just loved growing things. I love harvesting things. It was a joy. I loved cattle at that time in my life.”
There was no changing Dennis’ mind. “He loved it. And he wanted to be here. So, I could either fuss and gripe and be miserable, or I could just say, 'Oh well. What the heck.' Just get out and enjoy it.” Nelda laughs.
Soon, she began to realize that the people in town that she visualized living comfortable lives actually envied her. “I was out there riding the combine sacking oats. On the old timey combines you rode and changed the sacks and that was my job.” She explains. “Well I was out there getting a wonderful sun tan and I didn't know that they envied me.
As her perspective changed, she fell in love with the farm too. “We've had a wonderful life. Right down the road was a nice swim hole in the creek. Every day that it was warm enough, I carried my children every day, even if it rained, I'd carry them to the creek and go swimming. And we went camping, float the river in a John boat and inner tubes.”
However, this wonderful life hasn’t come without it’s challenges. After hurricanes blew away multiple cotton crops, the Mitchells decided to switch to peanuts. Hurricane Katrina ruined their nearly mature timber crop and left them without power for 16 days.
Despite the discouraging tough times, the Mitchell family kept pushing forward. Other family members have joined the farm, as it’s grown to include agritourism and more produce. Nelda retired from teaching in 1994 and became an avid collector of mini skillets, and devoted more time to her wood carving artwork. As their historical collection grew, the family incorporated more agritourism. Now, thousands of people each year come to enjoy the playgrounds, pumpkin patch, and boiled peanuts.
The Mitchells take pride in sharing their way of life with people that come to visit. “After we started having this pumpkin patch, and all these school kids come, even on weekends when it's family groups, one thing I've noticed that the children enjoy doing is being able to run free and scream as loud as they can scream.” Nelda beams. “When you think about it, even now days, city children don't get to get out and just run free. Somebody is telling them 'Watch! Stop! Look!' And to scream, and holler, and play and shout, here nobody says, 'Shhh! Be quiet! You'll disturb the neighbors.' They love being able to run free. So it's a wonderful life.
“There's a lot of good people in Mississippi. It's home and we love it here. And it's just heaven on earth to have our family around.”
That’s why Nelda and Dennis Mitchell farm.
Author: Natalina Sents
Categories: Why I Farm, Why I Farm Roadtrip
Tags: Beck's Blog, Why I Farm, Beck's Hybrids, Natalina Sents, Why I Farm Roadtrip, peanuts, agritourism, Cotton, Mitchell Family Farm, corn maze, pumpkin patch, playground, Mississippi family farm