Salt of the Earth
Story Shannon Bardwell | Photograph Luisa Porter
Jack Reese knew something about raising things, like an orchard full of fruit and a passel of kids.
In 1955 Jack and his wife, Gloria (who’s been called the most beautiful woman you ever laid eyes on) bought a farm in Oktibbeha County’s Sessums community. The farm came with 100 dairy cows, but by 1981 the land had been transformed into a “U Pick ’Em” blueberry orchard.
Jack was as humble, funny and smart a man as ever graced good soil. He and Gloria raised seven diverse children. By 2002, Jack and Gloria both had passed away, and David, the youngest of the seven, took over management of the now 20-acre Reese Orchard.
David describes the brood of seven growing up on the farm as “athletic, lean and agile, climbing everything climbable.”
Only a few months old when the Sessums farm was purchased, David never knew anything but farm life. “We helped maintain a massive garden or so it seemed as a young boy,” says David. “I think it was probably just an acre. You can grow a lot of food on one acre. We ate very well with home-grown everything.”
David went on to attend Millsaps College in Jackson, where he studied music. He considered studying engineering like his father, but David’s talents drew him elsewhere. “As a farmer,” he says, “I’m a manager, laborer, retailer, mechanic, plumber, electrician, accountant, public relations agent and probably a few other things. It’s not all fun, but it’s satisfying.”
“Originally some of my family members gave me a grief over not mowing the orchard on their time table,” David says. But he has a system. “All farms are short on organic matter, and it is easier to grow it in place than to import it from elsewhere. In the late fall through late spring I allow winter grasses, clover, vetch and even weeds to grow until they all re-seed for the following fall and spring. The cuttings are left in place to decay; the root systems rot and decay right where they are. The organic matter acts as a sponge to hold moisture and nutrients in the soil for fruiting plants to take advantage of.”
A primary problem in the South is lack of moisture, but as David explains, increasing the organic matter by a mere one percent can increase an acre’s water-holding capacity by thousands of gallons — resulting in an abundant persimmon crop as well as pears, muscadines and blueberries.
During harvest seasons, a sign out front tells prospective buyers to honk if they need service. The orchard provides containers and some “long-reach pickers” at the checkout stand.
David tells the story of a year following two extremely dry seasons when they sold out of fruit early. He wrote on the chalkboard behind the checkout stand, “Closed early due to extended draught,” absentmindedly misspelling the word “drought.” Discovering the mistake, David says, “I could only wonder what customers thought — some knowing my propensity for word humor and some knowing my Irish Catholic background.”
Reese Orchard opens for summer the last week of June on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 7 a.m. to noon and 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. In October, during persimmon season, the orchard is open all day Saturdays and by appointment. For harvest reports call 662-324-1509 or check online at reeseorchard.com.
REESE ORCHARD PERSIMMON COOKIES
2 large ripe persimmons, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 cup honey
2/3 cup canola oil
1 large egg
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts
• Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
• Process chopped persimmon in a processor until smooth, stopping once to scrape sides.
• Measure 1 cup pulp.
• Combine pulp, honey, oil, egg, stirring until mixture is smooth.
• Combine flour, soda, and cinnamon in a large bowl.
• Add persimmon mixture, stirring until blended. Stir in walnuts.
• Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls onto lightly greased baking sheet.
• Bake for 9 minutes. Transfer to wire racks placed on wax paper.