BETTING ON THE SMALL FARM
A Growing Family Affair
By Deborah Horn
Jack Daniels and his wife, Sunny, were named Nevada County Farm Family of the Year in 2013. Jack and his parents also received the Farm Family honor in 1983 in Hempstead County. Pictured left to right, top row: Sunny Daniels, Tara Carlton, Jack Daniels, Jimmy Daniels, A.J. Daniels, J.C. Carlton, Emma Daniels, Tabby Stone, and Tammy Daniels-Baldwin. Front row left to right: Cora Carlton, Maggie Daniels, Charlotte Daniels and dogs, left to right: Fancy, Miss Kay and Lollie.
Becky and Bruce Goyne drove about 100 miles across Southwest Arkansas on a recent Saturday morning to Miracle Farms Market. They came for grass-fed beef but stayed for hours, relaxing under the shade of native pecan trees, drinking homemade lemonade and discussing the year’s excessive rainfall as cool breezes blew across the hot afternoon. Instead of traffic or sirens, the afternoon is occasionally interrupted by chirping birds, baaing lambs or laughter.
The market, a co-op of local farmers, is the brainchild of Jack and Sunny Daniels, and set on their three-generation-owned farm on County Road 15 near Bodcaw (Nevada County). As well as offering visitors a family farm experience, there’s a hand-squeezed lemonade stand set up on the lawn. And inside the market, there are old-fashioned fried pies and fresh-baked breads, jellies, jams, teas, spa products and whatever veggies and berries are in season, either fresh or canned—and more.
In the market, there are four freezers filled with grass-fed, USDA processed beef, Berkshire Pork and lamb, and, in the refrigerator, real Jersey milk. Bruce, who lives at Crossett, says, “The meat is worth the drive … It’s healthier, and it’s the most tender beef that I’ve ever had.”
The meat comes from the Daniels’ farm, with Jack running about 60 head of cattle and 25 ewes on their 200-acre spread, and the milk is a product of the Daniels’ teenage son, Jimmy, who raises and milks the cows. They hope to add hand-churned butter to the refrigerator’s lineup soon, Sunny says. She cans all they sell in the market’s commercial kitchen, and that’s where their teenage daughter, Emma, prepares her cakes, pies and breads. Emma, who sells under Emma’s Baking Co., says her inspiration is driven by whatever’s in season. But there are also bath and spa products and hard lotions made by nearby Stone Farms and teas packaged by Laura Ward. What’s in the market’s fresh produce section depends on the month.
Inside the market, the day’s last customer grabs a dozen eggs, a quart of locally grown blueberries and a loaf of sweet white bread before checking out. Because of their rural location, Sunny said, “We want people to be able to get everything they need here.” Jacks says there are about seven farms selling their wares at his 4-year-old market, and in Arkansas it’s an unusual but creative arrangement. Most often, co-ops allow farmers to pool their resources when buying seeds, fertilizers, fuels or machinery.
Tara Carlton, a co-op supply member who sells pastured poultry, eggs and breads at the market, says she had no doubt the market would succeed from the first moment the Daniels family talked about it. “I was excited. It works … and the word [about Miracle Farms Market] is spreading,” Tara says.
Jack also takes their products to farmers markets in Hope, Texarkana and Camden. For a time, Sunny says, “we worried these would steal business from our market,” but it’s proving the opposite, and she adds, “It gives people a taste and they want to see what else we have.”
Jack, as well as his grandfather, I.J. Daniels, and father, Jim Daniels, grew up on County Road 15. In fact, I.J. Daniels started the family farm there in the 1940s and retired in the 1970s, but it was the 1980s that were rough on the American family farm. It was so devastating that Jim, who had taken over the farm, went back to work as a civil engineer for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a division of the USDA.
But father and son were determined to farm. The original plan was that Jack and Jim would work the farm together, but unfortunately, Jim was killed in a car accident in 1997. Instead, Jack and his family tackled it alone. His mother, Tammy Daniels-Baldwin, helped make their dream of a sustainable family farm possible. In addition to working the land, Jack toured with gospel and secular musician David Phelps as a pianist for about 20 years.
It was “hard to do both,” but in the long run, Jack says, it was worth the hard work. “It was a great time in my life. I got to see much of the world and perform in places like Carnegie Hall in New York and The O2 in London,” he says. And while traveling around Europe as a musician, Jack says, he “enjoyed seeing the small-scale farms … and I knew that’s what I longed for. Small family farms and community.”
After traveling to Swoope, Virginia, for a tour of Polyface Farm, owned by Joel Salatin, Jack says, “We came away encouraged that we could support our family with our family farm.”
The mood inside the market and out is light and welcoming. So it’s not surprising that Norway’s Ole’ Hartwedt tour owner asked if he could stop by with two separate groups in early May for a farm tour and lunch. The tourists, who were traveling from Little Rock to Dallas, were treated to grilled meat and fresh side dishes. Later, the group voted Miracle Farms their favorite stop on the 14-day trip through the U.S., and the Daniels family hopes to host more groups in the future. Armed with the knowledge that agriculture is Arkansas’s No. 1 economic driver, with tourism a close second, Jack believes that agri-tourism holds possibilities, and he says, “People really seem to enjoy the experience.”