By JB Clark
TUPELO – Community has been a priority for Will Reed at his family’s Native Son Farm since it began in 2010, but the number of people coming together along rows of strawberries or a sink full of freshly harvested lettuce since his daughter’s cancer diagnosis last month has been overwhelming.
An email went out to members of the farm’s Community Supported Agriculture program April 26, saying Magnolia Jane Reed, Will and Amanda Reed’s 19-month-old daughter, had been diagnosed with neuroblastoma and they needed help on the farm while they spent the following weeks at the hospital.
“It’s been our goal to get people on the farm just because we think it’s important for people to know where the food comes from and to have kids out there,” Will said Friday morning with a sleeping Magnolia in his lap at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “To us this is just amazing and unbelievable.”
Emails flooded in to Jana Eakes and Chris McAlilly, who organized a volunteer effort to keep the farm moving through harvest.
McAlilly said he has received well over 100 emails from people asking how they can volunteer, and just this week the Tupelo High School baseball team took to the fields.
“When I was there (Thursday) there were people washing lettuce that I had met for the first time,” Will said of his trip home from St. Jude to check on the farm. “They were having a good time and eating lunch together, and it’s good to see.”
Magnolia’s journey to St. Jude began April 25 when Amanda took her to Dr. Richmond McCarty’s office for a persistent cough and general malaise. A chest X-ray revealed her right lung was not functioning, and she was sent to Le Bonheur where a CT scan showed a large mass on her chest. They moved to St. Jude on April 28 where Magnolia prepared to begin chemotherapy.
“We basically went from watching her get very close to death and have her revived and (we were) then told that she was going to be stage four and things were looking very grim,” Will said. “Literally every bit of news we’ve gotten since the diagnosis has been good, and she’s stage three and not stage four.”
The Reeds have many ups and downs on the horizon, but they remain optimistic things will begin to normalize and Magnolia will finish her chemotherapy, have the lump removed and put this behind her.
While Magnolia was beginning chemo, an EF-3 tornado slammed down on Tupelo, following a path straight across the Native Son field on Lumpkin Avenue. Will said, in what seems like divine intervention, Mother Nature only swept away some of their mulch, harvest crates and irrigations line.
“We still have lots of plants growing out there,” he said.
The farm family has had a very brutal few weeks, but Will said he sees a lot of positivity moving forward.
“I honestly believe all the prayer and positive energy has put us in a better situation than we would have been in otherwise,” Reed said. “I think this is changing my perspective on some of those things quite a bit because of some of the miraculous things that have happened.”
The volunteer efforts have been led by Starkville farmer Sam McLemore, who has been splitting time between his farm, and farmers Taylor Yowell, Cliff Newton and Gabe Jordan, who have been working as interns on the farm.
Eakes said more than 30 people have been out and spent time in the fields or at the farm stand, harvesting, planting, pruning, washing and packing vegetables for sale and for CSA members.
“I’ve got moms with kids, teens, old people, young people and middle-aged people,” she said. “I did not expect this many people to come out and am still very overwhelmed. I’m very proud of Tupelo – it’s huge. People are stopping by the farm stand while we work and say, ‘Hey, I’ve heard about this place and want to be a part of it now and help’ – people who aren’t even in the CSA.”
Going forward, she said the farm will need volunteers to continue to pledge their time to keep the farm moving through the summer. She hopes to sign people up for hour or four-hour shifts each week or every other week.
Anyone interested in helping with farm work can email jana.eakes@ comcast.net or firstname.lastname@example.org. Two funds have been set up to help support the family while they are displaced in Memphis, one at any local BancorpSouth branch and the other online at www.GoFund Me.com.
Support efforts are being organized on the Facebook page Thoughts and Prayers for Magnolia Jane Reed.
“We want people to come out as a positive reaction to this and hope people are volunteering and enjoying their time out there and the camaraderie of being outside together,” Reed said. “We hope this will continue in the future after all of this is behind us.”
Magnolia has finished her first round of chemotherapy and is recovering in preparation for the second. Will said they were told to expect eight rounds of treatment and then a yearly checkup until Magnolia is 18 years old.
“We’ve had some dark days and have more to come, but this is life and it’s unpredictable and we’re doing good,” Will said. “We’re in good spirits. Magnolia is doing good. We’re in good hands at St. Jude and the farm is in good hands and this isn’t going to stop us. We’re just rolling along.”