By Adam Armour
Itawamba County Times
“I bought her from an old Amish fella up in Tennessee,” said Stanley Underwood, 83, giving a firm couple of pats to the neck of his mule, Hat.
Yes, that’s her name. It started out as Pat, but …
“I didn’t much like that,” he said, brushing his hands on his Liberty overalls. “So, I called her Hat.”
From where she was tied behind Underwood’s Fulton home, Hat could look out over several of her owner’s eight acres of farmland … rows of corn and beans and fruit. It’s land she helps plow every year.
Yes, Underwood still plows his fields with a mule. He has for years.
“I can do a better job with Hat here than I can with a tractor,” he said.
The crops he grows – corn, peas, watermelons, green beans, cantaloupes, squash, onions, potatoes and tomatoes – are mostly sold at a little stand in his front yard. He’s up before dawn every morning and spends most of his day outside. With the help of some family friends, he harvests thousands of ears of corn (more than 15,000 last year), hundreds of bushels of peas and dozens of watermelons each year.
“I pulled 700 ears of corn by myself last Wednesday,” he said. With the back of his hand, he wiped away the sweat beading beneath the brim of his John Deere hat.
“I can’t do that every day,” he added flatly.
With the exception of the occasional trip to the county farmers market, most of what Underwood grows is sold from his home. There’s a series of dangling signs swinging at the end of his driveway that lists a handful of what’s available: “Squash,” “Onions,” “Potatoes.”
“We sell everything right here in the yard,” he said. “We started by backing a pickup truck to the road and started selling watermelons out of the back of it.
“We sold them all,” he said, and smiled. Over time, he planted more and more fruits and vegetables, often selling them long before they’ve been harvested. A customer will drop by, purchase however many ears of corn he has available that day, then place an order for more whenever they’re grown.
“People know about it. They know we have good stuff,” Underwood said. “Fresh. That’s the name of the game here.”
It’s been about eight years since Underwood began selling fruits and vegetables in front of his home, though he’s been farming in some form or fashion most of his life.
“I helped my daddy farm way back yonder,” he said. “We farmed and logged and did a little bit of everything … My daddy could have a ripe watermelon by the Fourth of July, but I just can’t. I don’t know why.”
Underwood spent his working years at JESCO, where he was employed for 33 years. While working there, he’d also farm cattle and corn as a hobby.
Underwood has a genuine love of the earth and the gifts it bears. When asked what keeps him working in the fields every day, he shrugged and said, “You got to stay busy.”
When pressed a little more, Underwood admitted, “I just like to see stuff grow.”
For a man way past retirement age, spending his days working a handful of acres with a mule and a plow seems like a good way to do just that. He doesn’t use pesticide on his fields; his watermelons are grown using a technique he lovingly referred to as “barnyard fertilization.”
“I guess you could call it organic,” he said with a dry laugh.