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Meet the man behind all of the fresh fruits and vegetables at Blackberry Farm

3:50 PM, Jun 20, 2012   |    comments
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One of the most prestigious small inns in the country is located right here in East Tennessee, Blackberry Farm. But did you know the farm is all homegrown and all organic? It is and one man is responsible for helping the gardens grow.

Master Gardener John Coykendall loves the smells, the sounds, the spring. "I don't think there's anything prettier than soil that's been turned in the springtime. You get that good, damp earth, life being revitalized," says Coykendall.

You don't get the title master gardener without knowing what you're doing, but John claims he didn't come from a farming family. "It would be much more romantic possibly if I said that I came off of a hillside farm in East Tennessee and was plowing mules since I was 10 years old," says Coykendall. "Truth of the matter is I have absolutely no farming background at all. My mother was a school teacher and my father was a banker, but it's like I came from generations of just plain farmers. Ever since I was little I always loved it, seemed to be in the genes."

He did have a garden, though. "I had my first garden in 1954. My father took me out beside the garage and we dug up a little plot and we raised corn and potatoes," says Coykendall.

Now his garden is a little larger. Now top chefs pick his produce. Now he is a local legend in the world of agriculture. "I still have the same excitement today that I had in 1954 when I had my first garden," say Coykendall.

But he has a rather interesting hobby associated with his profession, bean collecting, "I've been collecting for probably 40 years now and I've collected a lot things from right around this region."

He sees it as preserving our heritage. "In the mountains of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina, beans alone, there's more genetic diversity in this region than there is in the areas of what we call the centers of origin, where these seeds originated," says Coykendall.

He has a great appreciation for food and encourages all of us to slow down a little and savor the unique tastes from our region. "Today we are so used to going to the store, go to Kroger or any store and you buy something go home and cook it that night."

But food is more than that to John Coykendall. "Family, heritage, history, farming, growing. It's part of the culture that's really a celebration. It's a celebration of food," says Coykendall.

And he celebrates his life's work every day in a region he holds dear to his heart. "I think there's so many things from the beehives and the honey we get. You get honey from bees that have been out on the locust blossoms in the spring, clover during the summer, sour wood," says Coykendall. "The crops that we grow, there is nothing in this world better than something that has come straight out of the ground, it's unique."

John Coykendall, a master gardener who cherishes the fruits of his labor. One of 'Your Stories" because there's no place like this one.

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